The Day I Stopped Trying to Hide My Social Anxiety
It was a humid night in July when my worst fear was realized. I was unsuccessfully straightening my hair when I noticed my hands trembling in the mirror.
It was going to be a special night with my boyfriend — our sixth month anniversary — and for whatever reason, I decided to get nervous about it. Because that’s what I do. I find really convenient times to get anxious and then I get even more anxious about the fact that I’m anxious.
If you’re a person who struggles with social anxiety, you already know that one of its greatest triggers is simply trying to hide it from someone — even if that someone is a person you’ve been dating for six months.
I tried to tell myself to calm down and be a regular person. To be still. To finish off the bottle of wine sitting on the counter. But none of that was going to help. The reality is that sometimes the wires in my brain get twisted up and no amount of logic can unwind them.
When he finally arrived, we agreed to walk to the restaurant.
I glanced down at the leopard print heels I had decided to wear in true bewilderment. I am not a fancy person. I have no business wearing leopard print anything, let alone high heels severely lacking in both traction and comfort. Nevertheless, we ventured on, my feet clicking loudly with every step.
In two blocks’ time, I worked up a bit of a sweat walking uphill in those leopard print towers. And if there’s one thing you should know about sweating, it’s that trying not to sweat will only serve to make you sweatier.
The waiter placed a glass of wine on the table and I wanted to lunge for it like a flailing Olympian at the finish line. But I knew my shaking hands would give a clear window into the war of anxiety raging inside of me so I chose to sink even further into hiding and sit nearly motionless in my chair.
By this time, the warm, hazel eyes across the table were beginning to look concerned. In spite of all my smooth efforts at appearing normal, he had managed to find out I was anxious. I can’t imagine what gave it away.
“I’m nervous and sweaty and shaky,” I blurted out, as though it was new information.
“OK…” he said, smiling. “Thank you for telling me.”
I excused myself to the bathroom to pull myself together, and while staring at my frazzled reflection, I realized a miracle had just happened — I let someone in on my fear and I had survived the experience. At least as far as I could tell.
When I returned to the table, I was met with the same warm eyes that were there before my declaration of anxiety. The sweating stopped, the shaking stopped and in a matter minutes, my anxiety was the furthest thing from either of our minds.
That was the day I started the journey to healing and acceptance — the day I discovered that being honest about my fear gave me something even better than an anxiety-free life: it gave me the ability to truly connect with another human being.
Though it’s scary, painful and often unflattering, honesty is the road that leads to wholeness. Shame tells us that vulnerability will lead to rejection. It says we aren’t enough.
And the unbecoming reality is — we aren’t enough. No one is enough because we need each other.
It’s only when we accept our not-enoughness, our brokenness, our anxiety disorders and our poor shoe choices that we are able to move forward into the freedom of being ourselves. It’s only there in that honest place we can we truly experience the joy of deep and meaningful relationships.
I’m not enough. You’re not enough. And thank God, because otherwise, we’d miss out on each other. We miss out on the whole point.
Shame isolates. But weakness — if we’ll let it — leads us closer to each other.
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Thinkstock photo via ArthurHidden