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Why I Didn't Want to Believe I Had Social Anxiety

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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.

Social anxiety.

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.

hand drawn comic about living with anxiety

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

Originally published: July 24, 2018
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