Why I Didn't Want to Believe I Had Social Anxiety
The other day, I asked a couple of my friends if it was OK if I sat with them. When one of them replied that I didn’t have to ask like I had been doing all semester, I realized the behavior was another portion of the (few) anxieties I have.
I am a fairly extroverted person — I love getting to know people, being in areas that people are in (as long as it’s on my terms) and just having fun overall. I love being able to celebrate different things with people I know, love and trust… and I am one of the worst people in regards to staying in touch with anyone. Last year, I found out that my fear of being labeled as the out-group, being “othered” or even just the constant dread of bothering people by getting involved in a social situation (even if they are my friends & family) has a name.
I didn’t want to believe it at first. I, an extrovert who has no problem talking to people or speaking in large settings, have social anxiety? I almost laughed when my therapist said I fit the criteria. I didn’t want to believe it. I didn’t believe it. It wasn’t until I saw one of the many Tumblr screenshots that goes viral on Facebook that I finally put it all together (yes, I didn’t accept the word of a mental health professional who has years of training, certifications and experience behind them, but I had no problem accepting the word of a Tumblr user of whose background I had no clue.)
I realized that constantly being “too busy to get in touch” was one of the lies I told myself to validate not getting in touch. Underneath, my thought was that I would be bothering or annoying the person I was trying to get in touch with — that the letter or text would irritate the recipient. I realized that when I do something with my friends and ask “is it OK if I [sit with you, if we hang out sometime soon, and so on], it’s social anxiety basically telling me: “even though they said it’s OK to do (x/y/z), are you really sure they want you to do so?” Most importantly, I realized why I do these things. It’s one of the first steps in trying to reframe my thoughts on them.
I’m still coming to terms with social anxiety; I’ve even tried drawing it out to conceptualize and cope with it and I am trying to embrace it. I’ve gotten slightly better at reaching out over the past year, but honestly, it’s like anything in regards to mental health: A work in progress that has good days and bad days. Yes, I still ask to make sure it’s OK for me to join in on (x/y/z), and I still might hold my breath for a second when I initiate a text/email conversation out of fear of being a bother or have days I analyze what I did for the “weirdness” factor of it, but not to the same extent that it was 365 days ago, and I’m happy about that.
I’m happy I found a support system and communities that encourage me to push myself out of my comfort zone, reassure me when my anxiety is trying to have a field day and cheer for the victories that I have, small ones included. Most of all, I found the place I am not judged for any quirks I have: the place where I can explain any social quirks that I have without getting a weird look in return.
Image via contributor