How I've Built a Circle of Friends, Despite Social Anxiety, to Help Support Me
So, a little background on me. When I was a child I had a lot of mental/emotional challenges, learning challenges, and social challenges. By 13, I was already diagnosed as manic depressive, bipolar, and having gross motor and fine motor disabilities. I didn’t have any friends. There were really no answers for me for a very long time. They finally placed me in an outpatient day treatment program through an alternative school. This is where I finally found people who were more like me. I had a friend who saw through my awkwardness, pain and challenges to create a real friendship. I know this person was the first person to put me on the road to being better.
Over the years, I have worked with many professionals and various spiritual teachers. What has helped me the most though has been finding people to connect to.
There are times when my depression may prevent me from taking action. There are situations where my social anxiety prevents me from pursuing an opportunity. And there are just some habits I cannot develop because of how I function. I used to believe these challenges would prevent me from ever having a happy, successful life. I have also seen many people feel the same way about their challenges. Here’s the solution that worked for me.
I have found through having a large social circle with specific individuals as my friends that my weaknesses do not actually really matter. It started out many years ago, as I mentioned, with my first friend. We found we both loved words, and we used to have competitions to see if we knew the most obscure words. This led to my realizing and recognizing that while many people will attack my weaknesses, there were some who weren’t offended by them. This first person opened me enough to start seeking and finding other people. Because of my social anxiety, it was not an easy process.
Luckily, AOL had just become extremely popular (yes, I am old). The chat rooms provided a forum for me to connect with people through the anonymity of the internet. I typically opened a chat room called “Good Listener.” I started hearing other people’s stories and talking about my own. This sometimes led to me meeting up with other people in person. I really started to find people who were capable of being compassionate with my challenges. While it did not remove my social anxiety, it reduced it enough for me to be able to talk more to people, especially on the phone. This whole process occurred during my late teens and early 20s.
I had just started working as an office temp during these years. I found my personal challenges made it difficult to hold down a traditional job. As a result, I was drawn to studying to become a massage therapist. While the academic portion was a bit of a challenge, I found I was a strong kinesthetic learner, so learning massage was a good fit. While studying for massage, I learned about Reiki. (If you don’t know about Reiki, I highly recommend a little bit of research.) Anyway, as a result of my first Reiki attunement, I started having a number of synchronistic experiences, one of which led me to a spiritual store where I started taking classes with people on divination, meditation, healing and different traditions. Through having my positive experiences with people on AOL, I was able to be open to connecting with some of the people I met through these classes.
The more I connected with people the more I started seeing how unique each and every person is. Over the years since then, I have learned that while I cannot do many things, the one thing I do well is love and appreciate those whom I connect with. I have found since a lot people are not used to gratitude and appreciation, that is often enough for them to want to support me. The important part of this practice is to not rely on just a few people. When someone feels they are the only person, or they are one of the only people to support you, it can become too much.
There are actually people who are afraid of co-dependent relationships. Some are even so afraid that they believe any dependent relationship is automatically a co-dependent relationship. We would not have the word “co-dependent” if being dependent was automatically that. The way I avoid co-dependent relationships is in creating a larger quantity of friends. It is almost like realizing if I needed help carrying 100 pounds of something, I could ask four people to carry 25 pounds or I could ask 25 people to carry 4 pounds. Having the 25 people means no one ends up feeling like I am too much weight. I do not expect or demand that people help me. I request and ask for support but recognize it is not anyone’s obligation.
The other thing I have realized in creating positively dependent relationships is I must accurately assess the skills of the person whom I am asking for help. I used to believe if someone loved me they could help me. At least for me, this is not true. I need people with a certain type of intelligence and/or various skills to support my path. Just because someone loves me does not automatically mean they are skilled in the ways I need. Fortunately, my work has led me to interacting with a wide variety of people.
I wrote this article because I believe it is important to teach people that when they build the right community, even though they experience challenges, their life does not need to be a challenge. I recognize this is only one possible solution, but it is a solution that most people are never educated about.
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Thinkstock photo by DAJ