The Torture of a Text When You Have Social Anxiety
As I lay on my bed and stare, I can barely make out the posters on my walls or the paint scratches on the ceiling as my tears obstruct my vision. I bury my head in my pillow and let out a huge sigh that comes out more like a cry for help. As my sigh turns into sobs, my thoughts begin to take over.
I am disgusting. I am pathetic. I have so much to do, why am I just lying here? Go out with friends, do some readings, stop crying. Do something!
It is a Saturday night and I am a student in college. I should be out eating dinner with my friends or preparing for the latest parties. Yet, instead, I am lying on my bed desperately wanting to reach out, but also terrified that someone will ask me to hang out and my social anxiety will force me to disappoint them once again.
Sure enough, my phone vibrates, and while this should be comforting in that I have people who care about me, instead my heart begins to race and my thoughts begin to spiral out of control.
Who is it? What do they want to do? What’s your excuse? You can’t hang out. Conversation is too much effort, you have too much homework, they’ll be judging everything you do. Say no! You’re pathetic! Say no!
My heart only continues to race faster and the familiar queasy feeling in my stomach returns. In my mind, there is no right answer to the situation. If I choose to hang out, my thoughts will race and it will be an almost insurmountable challenge to get myself out of my room and to my destination. Then, I will over-analyze every word that leaves my mouth or every body movement I make during the gathering. On the other hand, after I decline, my mind will ruminate over how much I have disappointed everyone, how I am slowly losing all my friends, and how I am wasting my college experience and life away. No matter the decision I make, my thoughts will serve as a prison and trap me from feeling comfortable with myself or my choices.
Pushing myself off my bed and over to my desk, I read the text asking me to go see a movie with a group of friends and quickly respond with a “maybe” and a useless question as a method of stalling for more time. Taking a deep breath, I close my eyes and remain perfectly still for a moment, reflecting on how I got here and what it might mean for my future.
Reflecting back, this moment was a step forward in dealing with my anxiety, even if it felt like a moment of defeat. By taking a minute to pause and breathe, I was able to at least attempt to remind myself that this anxiety was not the end of me nor was it necessarily my fault for experiencing it. Moreover, by questioning how the illness might impact my future, I was only feeding my anxiety, which is constantly fighting to set one on a path of the unknown. In that moment, I was still not at the point of reasoning skills, such as reminding myself that saying no to an invitation was not the same thing as saying “no” to friendship. Nevertheless, I was acknowledging that forcing myself to breathe and gather my thoughts was not surrendering; rather, it was part of putting myself back together.
I ended up responding “yes” to the movies that night and, while I didn’t completely let go of analyzing my actions or my words, I still ended up having a much-needed relaxing night. Of course, that was far from the end of my anxiety and only one of many occurrences that I am forced to fight every day. Since that night, there have been many more texts and nights with racing thoughts, many of which I have declined invitations to dinner, shopping or a simple get-together. Yet, I am getting closer to realizing that a “no” does not make me a failure. Perhaps I am not a “typical” college student and I am no longer the most outgoing individual, but I’d like to believe, even on the nights that I spend in my room, I am not alone in my experiences. Instead, I am one of many learning more about myself, my values and my strengths through my mental illness — making it a part of my journey as I grow as a person through fighting for recovery.
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Thinkstock photo via ViewApart