What I Wish I Had Known in School About My Social Anxiety

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What I wish I knew in grade six:

In grade six, I wish I had known to remember how strong and capable I was.

I would tell that girl to take note of everything in life that fascinates her, what she believes she will be when she grows up, how many friends she loves and how nice it feels to run in fresh cut grass. I would tell her to tuck those notes away in the small of her heart and to hold on to them to help get through the next few years.

I would have told that little girl that she is special, empathetic and sensitive and that those things are precious gifts, and to remember that those are gifts and not burdens. I would tell her that I loved her so much and that I saw her as a passionate, social and happy individual. I would tell her to keep fighting, even when she feels like giving up, to fight like hell through each day and that I’m sorry she is going to feel so much in the next few years. And she would probably look at me with confusion, but in time it would all make sense.

What I wish I knew in grade 10:

I wish I knew feeling sensitive and empathetic is not a burden, it’s a gift. I would tell that 16-year-old version of me the very things that make her nervous and anxious now, talking to people and relating to people, will be the basis to the stories she will write. I would tell her all those thoughts that told her to shut people out, that she had no worth, that she has no talent and that she was socially inept, were only thoughts – not reality.

“Reach out your hand!” I would shout. “Find the courage to say ‘help me!’”

“You are not alone,” I would whisper. However, instead of those, I listened as people complained I had changed, feeling guilty that I was no longer “that confident, social butterfly” I was in my childhood. I would believe what I learned in sexual health class ,that my sadness and terror of social situations were a product of my changing puberty — it’s just a phase, it’s just hormones.

On days when I felt like moving forward, I told myself that if I achieved better grades, lost weight that didn’t need losing and kept up with social media then I would feel better. I didn’t know that my mental illness was a slippery slope on a mountain, and I felt alone on that mountain. I was scared all the time, scared someone would find out that I was scared — scared of leaving my house, scared of leaving my room, scared of people wondering why I never left my house.

The only fear greater than those fears was that no one would believe or understand my fear of social interactions. Why? Because, on the surface I was funny, my voice carried, I was a engaging public speaker, I maintained good grades and I hung around with the same sports friends I had when I was involved in team activities. So, instead I told myself: “It’s impossible that you have anxiety because someone who has social anxiety is quiet and doesn’t have friends, and doesn’t make jokes. You are alone in this because you don’t have the same traits as anyone else.” I was perpetuating the very stereotypes that I would spend my adult life trying break in my writing, but in grade 10. I didn’t know it yet, I just knew I was scared.

What I wish I had known in grade 10 is that many of my friends were going through the same thing, that strangers all over the world were going through the same thing and that by not being vocal about my illness, I was allowing it to grow fingers and hold me there. I wish I had been able to see the light at the end of the tunnel and to recognize that there is no shame in seeking medication, in talking to someone, in seeking help.

What I wish I knew in my first year of university:

I wish I had known to identify the emotional abuse I placed on myself. I wish I had known to recognize patterns of high-functioning anxiety before I fell into a panic attack. I wish that I had known that it’s important to treat yourself kindly, to eat well, to talk to others, to sleep well. Instead I spent long hours in the library, cut calories and ran until I would collapse in my bed… Until I collapsed in the school halls, and went to the hospital and first heard the term high-functioning anxiety.

I wish I had known why I always felt like an outsider, why I was uncomfortable around my best friends, why I projected this successful, happy girl and yet believed myself to be a worthless mess. I wish I had known that stress mixed with mental illness can be extremely dangerous, and that I should be diligent with the pills that a counselor suggested I take. In university, I wish I had known to listen to my gut when I knew I was pushing myself too far and that even once I achieved my goal, that wouldn’t fill the void I felt. Instead, I made sure it was impossible for anyone to believe that I was suffering by being one of the busiest, most successful students I could possible be.

What I know now:

What I know now is that everything I went through had a purpose — that I have a purpose. What I know now is that every year millions of people struggle in the same way I did (and still sometimes do). I know now that for 10 years I shut others out when I just needed to let someone in. There are still bad days, but there are always great days too. I know it’s a blessing to feel things as strongly as I do because it can be channeled into writing.

What I know now is that under all the mess my anxiety brings me, is that little girl in grade six who believes she is special and is fascinated by the world. I know now I don’t need to be scared to leave my house, that I can, and did and will continue to explore the entire world. We played an incredible game of hide-and-go-seek for 10 years where I couldn’t find her.

Mostly, what I know now is that it’s possible to find yourself even when all hope feels lost. Together, we don’t have to feel ashamed of suffering. The world is filled with support and resources to help get back on track. It can be hard to hear when you’re in the middle of it and when you’re a young adult, but I am writing this because I can. I know now that somewhere in the world there is someone in grade 10 who may feel the same way I did, and I hope if you’re reading this, you know that the mountain you are standing on, I am standing with you. People in The Mighty community are standing with you. The girl who sits behind you in math, or that you may sit near on the bus – they are standing with you. That mountain can be scary, and feel impossible to climb – but what I know now is that it’s possible when you have a hand to hold.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock image via Wavebreakmedia Ltd

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How I Became a DJ Despite Social Anxiety

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I have been anxious in social situations for as long as I can remember. Interacting with people I don’t know well or being in places with large crowds drains my mental and physical energy. For the longest time, I accepted this as something that I could not change. This limited my life experience and I imagine I have missed out on connecting with some awesome people. Through loads of self-reflection and a lot of help from kind therapists and my support network of friends and family, I started to think about ways I could combat my social anxiety and interact with more people.

I have always enjoyed music and can’t count the number of ways it is helpful to me. Years ago, I went to my first electronic music event and I discovered that even though the venue was crowded with people I didn’t know, I really wasn’t too anxious. I was excited to repeat the experience, which is a far cry from the attitude I normally have about social events. It helped that the electronic music scene is generally accepting and didn’t seem to be bothered by my Tourette’s syndrome or anxiety. After attending a few events, I wanted to become more involved with the scene and more involved with the music I had come to love. Several people suggested I take up DJing. At first, I was opposed to the idea. While I did have a lot of knowledge and passion for music, I felt like being in front of a crowd would be too difficult. I had doubts in my abilities and was afraid of being ridiculed.

I sat on the sidelines for a long time. I practiced DJing at home and found it therapeutic, but I felt like I could be doing more. I finally convinced myself I should be performing live, and I just went out and did it. It wasn’t quite as simple as “just do it” but it wasn’t terribly difficult either. My first few live performances were pretty bad, but I learned a great deal and as the years went on, I improved because I just kept doing it. Jake from the cartoon “Adventure Time” said, “Sucking at something is the first step to becoming sorta good at something.” I believe this to be 100% true. If you pick up a new thing and you’re instantly good at it, I feel like there is a loss of experience and growth.

Now, I am a DJ who regularly performs at shows, and I have a weekly online radio podcast. It took me a long time to get to where I’m at, and I am by no means perfect at it. I’ve been told I’m good, but I can always do better. The best thing I have done in terms of managing my anxiety for myself is jumping in with both feet and pursuing something I was passionate about and always striving to learn more about it. Go out and do the thing, whether it be writing, drawing, painting, basket weaving, whatever. Show it to people and don’t fear criticism. Take constructive feedback for what it is and always strive to improve. Find people who share what you are passionate about. Connect with them and be genuine with them. Even if it is just with a few people, the very act of sharing something creative with others helps train and strengthen the mind.

Anxiety doesn’t have to be a barrier to creativity. In fact, creativity often is a barrier to anxiety. I have found anxiety often takes a backseat when confronted with creative passion.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo by warren goldswain

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What It Feels Like to Live With Social Anxiety

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A woman goes through a morning in her head with social anxiety.

 

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My Constant Struggle With the Thoughts in My Head

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The thoughts that constantly plague me are returning. They crash into me, wave after wave. What if I sounded unintelligent? They must be so frustrated with me. Why can’t I be good enough? Am I too clingy? They must think I’m so immature. Why am I like this? Why can’t I just be normal?

These are the thoughts that haunt my nights and follow me in the daytime. These are the thoughts I don’t know what to do with because I have never been formally diagnosed with social anxiety but am 95 percent sure that’s what I struggle with. These are the thoughts that I try to hide deep in my mind. But they escape through my raw thumbs which bleed at least once a day from my constant tearing at them. They sting, but my mind isn’t on them. It’s on the conversation I’m having or the conversation I wish I could have. A conversation I need to have with a doctor or therapist. But I don’t know where to go or who to turn to.

Every once and a while I think I’ve made up my mind to tell someone, but my thoughts pound that idea to bits. They argue against me: You’re fine. You’re just an introvert. You’ll tell someone only to be wrong and be humiliated. Everyone will see you as someone who just overreacts.

If these thoughts didn’t affect me so much I’d be able to push them to the side and forget about them. But they do. They affect me so much so I don’t talk in class unless I’m 100% certain I’m right. And even then, I rarely put up my hand to speak. In a restaurant I can’t order anything new or different from the usual. If I am uncertain of the pronunciation of a word, I won’t say it. When I’m in a store and an employee asks how I’m doing, I’ll always say “fine” even thought I have a million questions and have no clue what I’m doing. And then after I say “fine” I freak out and overanalyze my tone of voice and how I said it, and then pray to God I’ll never see them again. And I can’t tell anyone. Because that would bring on the worst thoughts of all.

And I don’t know what to do. It continues to haunt me, and I sit in silence.

But my story isn’t over yet, and neither is yours. So hang in there because we’ll make it, one small step at a time.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo by stock eye

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Things People Don't Realize You're Doing Because of Your Social Anxiety

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We asked people with social anxiety in The Mighty’s mental health community to share one thing people don’t realize they’re doing because of their social anxiety.

Read the full story.

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Why I'll Keep Telling You 'I'm Fine' Despite Severe Social Anxiety

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When my friends ask me how I am, I will most likely say “fine,” even when I’m the throes of severe anxiety.

“I’m friends with the monster that’s under my bed. Get along with the voices inside of my head.”

These sentences, sung by Rihanna in the 2013 hit “Monster,” eloquently sums up what social anxiety feels like to me.

When people ask me how I am, I keep answering “fine” and “OK” to avoid the dreaded “why?” that inevitably follows if you reveal the true state of affairs. By the time I’m out and about, I may have forgotten what caused the initial panic attack, even if its effects can be felt like infrequent waves of racing heartbeats, sweating, shortness of breath,
inability to concentrate and abnormal circadian rhythms for weeks on end.

Even if there is a “why,” anxiety will often prevent me from saying it because of the very real stigma that can exist in others or myself: “How the hell can you get so worked up over something so small?”

“Do you want to die?” a doctor asked a friend recently. “No, but I do not want to live, either,” she answered truthfully.

I understand completely.

I go through life with a deflated worth of self, owing to the weight of the burden of feeling ashamed for the way I feel and having to deal with anxiety on top.

It can be hard, sometimes downright impossible to find reasons for self-preservation under such circumstances.

Now, logically, I’m perfectly aware I shouldn’t be ashamed for the way I feel, but logic also tells me the way I feel is completely unreasonable.

This conflicting logical conundrum is made more complex by the fact that I just want to be treated like everyone else.

I don’t want people to feel like they have to cushion everything they say to me to avoid setting me off.

All these things tend to trap me. Social anxiety is my self-made prison, where the only inmate is me, guarded by a monster of my own creation.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. 

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo Chalabala

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