Growing up I was always the shy, quiet kid. I didn’t think any more of it until I was 19 and diagnosed with social anxiety. I didn’t believe it at first, thinking that because I was able to leave the house, talk to people and go about my life, I couldn’t have social anxiety. I remember after accepting my diagnosis, looking at a social anxiety support forum and reading someone say that if you can talk to people, have a job/go to school or have friends, you don’t really have social anxiety. I suddenly felt invalid. I felt like I was making this up.
But I wasn’t. I just had a different experience.
If your experience is like mine, it’s valid. If your experience is different to mine, it’s just as valid. Here are the ways I know I had, and continue to struggle with social anxiety:
1. When I was 4 and started school, making friends was hard. I was scared to approach anyone on the playground.
2. When I started school, and throughout all my schooling years, I was scared of asking questions or of talking to a teacher at all. Instead I would just sit in confusion.
3. I was terrified of all authority figures, and even more terrified of getting in trouble. I would never talk when a teacher was talking, or even take one step out of bounds.
4. When I was 5, for six months I didn’t say a word to my teacher. She’d call
the role and I wouldn’t say that I was present. She’d speak to me and I wouldn’t answer with more than shaking or nodding my head. I wanted to speak to her, but I felt that I couldn’t.
5. When I was 12 I had my first oral presentation. I was shaking uncontrollably. When other students had to give feedback that was the first thing they mentioned.
6. This continued for a few years. I got the shaking under control but even now still feel sick to my stomach at the thought of presentations.
7. Parent teacher interviews always came with comments of me not contributing enough in class.
8. I always had very few friends, at some points no friends, because I was scared of rejection and I was too quiet and “boring.”
9. The thought of a phone call meant hours of planning what to say, and often not making the call.
10. I would always rehearse my order over and over again before ordering food at a restaurant.
11. And then I would panic if they asked for extra information.
12. The constant worry that strangers are staring at and judging me.
13. When friends did things without me I’d worry they hated me and were
talking about me, or hiding something from me.
14. And every time I’d see them having a conversation without me, I’d feel
the same way.
15. Every time someone would cancel something I’d assume they don’t want to be around me.
16. When I’d overhear someone saying my name, I’d assume they were talking about how terrible I am.
17. I’d be careful of what I say and what opinions I express for fear of
being judged, figuring it’s best to stay quiet and agreeable.
18. Planning conversations ahead of time — both serious ones and minuscule
19. And never having them go as planned.
20. Spending hours analyzing conversations I’ve had and thinking of all the
things I should have done differently.
21. And then finding myself lying in bed in tears hating myself for not saying the right things.
22. Feeling nervous around new people and shutting down, finding it hard to say a word.
23. And then feeling assured that they hate me for being so quiet.
24. Assuming that every slow text response must mean this person doesn’t
want to talk to me anymore or something terrible has happened.
25. Starting therapy and having the thought of talking to a stranger reduce
me to tears for days on end.
26. And the all too familiar fear that everyone dislikes me and no one wants to talk to me.
If any of these sound like your experience, know that it’s valid, and that it doesn’t have to stay that way. You can get help, you are deserving of help and you can get better.
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Thinkstock photo via EvgeniiAnd