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The Mental Illness I’m Hiding Behind My Outgoing, Fun Persona

If you asked my friends (you know, the people I think are only pretending to like me), they would probably say I’m outgoing, bubbly, talkative and fun. But I feel the most like “myself” when I’m alone, and I am none of those things. I want to enjoy socializing, but I’m so preoccupied with doing or saying something wrong, or what other people think of me, that it takes the enjoyment out of it and makes it feel like work.

I feel as though I’m always “on” around other people and that I’m trying to communicate with them “correctly,” like I’m an alien from another planet and I’m trying to fit in with “The Humans.” I’m deeply afraid people won’t like the quiet, extremely shy and “boring” person I really am, so I compensate by being overly outgoing and gregarious to mask how incredibly uncomfortable and nervous I am, even around people I know well. I talk nonstop, but it’s only because I feel pressure to carry the conversation and I’m terrified of awkward silences. I’ll talk the leg off of a chair just to avoid them. However, I also feel like people can tell this persona is somewhat fake, so being by myself comes as a relief because I can give the facade a rest and prepare mentally for the next social interaction.

I can be at ease when I’m alone, probably because there’s nobody around to judge me. I’ve always found it difficult to believe people may actually like me, so the outgoing image I project is a defense mechanism to protect myself. I’d rather people didn’t like the “fake” me than not like the “real” me. One of the core symptoms of avoidant personality disorder (AvPD) is feeling inadequate and perceiving yourself as inept, unappealing and inferior to others. I struggle so much with these kinds of negative thoughts about myself and my place in the world, but you wouldn’t think I did by the way I present myself.

But, I can only fake it to a point. I can’t do some things that seem to come so easily to others, like speak up at a meeting or making eye contact with cashiers. I love to sing karaoke, but I still shake like a leaf and my heart nearly beats out of my chest no matter how many times I do it, and I refuse to do contests because I know I wouldn’t be able to deal with the criticism and rejection. I can’t afford to lose what little self-esteem I have, and I’m heavily reluctant to take a risk or engage in any activity I think could potentially be embarrassing. I will only do something or get involved with people if I’m 100 percent sure it’s safe to do so (i.e., if I’m absolutely certain I won’t be ridiculed).

I also can’t help but think I’m just an annoying burden to my friends and boyfriend; I’m sure they only hang out with me out of pity and will leave me eventually, even when I rationally know that’s not the case. It’s exhausting to be so self-conscious to the point where it hinders me from doing things I genuinely wish I could do. I’ve missed out on so many opportunities due to this disorder, and it feels like a weight on my shoulders, holding me down from reaching the things I want to achieve. I’m even scared to submit this post for fear of rejection. I just want people to know how debilitating this disorder is and how much control it has over me.

Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash