How the Inner Dialogue of My Social Anxiety Changes When I'm With People
I avoid social situations of all types. I’m not afraid of disliking the activity or the people. To some extent, it’s being afraid of other people not liking me — but it’s more that I cannot turn off my inner voice.
When I am alone my inner voice may go on and on about things I dislike about myself or things I will never be able to achieve or have because of my failings, but when I am in social settings my thought patterns change. To the person who has never experienced social anxiety, it’s easy to assume that the reason I dislike being around people is because my thought patterns are like what I have described, like they are when I am alone.
When I’m around people, be it people I know and love or complete strangers, my inner dialogue becomes what I think those people think about me.
“She’s so ugly.”
“I thought she was smart?”
“I would rather be talking to anyone but her.”
It may seem selfish that I seem to think everyone is thinking about me, but it is never being selfish, it is visualizing my greatest fears. I want to turn and run and hope that I can be “out of sight, out of mind” because that is so much better than the alternative.
When I was young, I did not have this pervasive anxiety. I was outgoing and loved attention because it was always positive. I felt funny, smart, beautiful. I don’t mind admitting it now because I no longer believe I am these things as I once was. Sure, I’m smart enough, but to the people who have known me all my life, I have fallen short of what was expected of me to achieve. I am no longer the “beautiful dancer.” It took me many years more than it should have to get my degrees. I stopped dancing. I am not where I expected myself to be and not where I imagine those who knew me best and loved me most expected me to be. And that is hard to face.
Around people I take my negative thoughts and expand them. I imagine the popular girls from high school seeing me and then whispering behind my back.
The best I can do now is remind myself how far I have come. I’m not at my rock bottom anymore. I am climbing out of my sinkhole. I am having more control over my emotions and my actions. I did find someone who is my best friend who decided he wanted to be my best friend for the rest of our lives. I try to see me the way he sees me. And when I can’t, I ask him to remind me. I tell myself that yes, it took me a lot longer to get my college degree, but I got it in the end. And I’m getting a graduate degree now. Sure, it was supposed to be a two-year degree and I’m having to stretch it to three, but I did that for my physical and mental health. That’s a big thing! I didn’t run away; I didn’t let myself fail. I am working slowly and steadily towards my goal.
That doesn’t make it any easier to walk into a classroom of strangers. It doesn’t make going to a birthday party bonfire for my cousins any easier. It doesn’t mean I won’t make excuses when I’m terrified of meeting people for plans. I hope that one day I will be able to do all these things with ease. I hope the medication gets better, treatments get better and that doing the work slowly and steadily builds my confidence and tool set to go out without feeling the desperate urge to just run away or for the Earth to open up and swallow me whole.
I hope that by reading this article you may see that when it comes to social anxiety, I can only do as much as I can do before my brain tricks me into believing things I have no proof of. If you know someone with social anxiety, tell them often and honestly how you feel. Help them combat the lies their own mind is telling them. But don’t push too hard. They are doing the absolute best they can do. Be thankful they think you’re worth the work and discomfort. Let them know they are too.
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Thinkstock photo via tixti