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What It's Really Like to Be an Outgoing Person With Social Anxiety

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I am a very outgoing and social person by nature. I am also a person who has social anxiety. This is a very difficult combination to live with. I’m constantly torn between the need and desire to see people and be social, and the impulse to hide and stay away from them due to anxiety. This comes in to play a lot when I’m invited to social events.

When I’m invited to something I’ll usually say yes if possible, then cycle between excited and nervous as the event gets closer. The day of, I’ll sit and think of the excuses I could use to stay home. I will want to go and I’ll know that I’ll have a good time if I do, but then my anxiety holds me back. It tells me I won’t have fun, that I’ll be awkward or too nervous. Anything that could go wrong goes through my head — even trivial things seem so important. This can really frustrate those close to me because they think I’m simply being indecisive and just need to make a choice. They don’t always understand that it’s not that I don’t want to go, because I really do want to. It is hard to explain the feeling of this struggle between what I want and what my mental illness is telling me I shouldn’t want. If I overcome this and get myself up and out the door, I almost always am so happy I was able to. When I lose the struggle, I just feel even worse to miss out on something I was excited about.

The first step to avoiding that loss is to recognize the pattern. Before I just thought I was indecisive or maybe even antisocial. I thought I was one of those “flaky” people, but then I realized, with time, I’m not. The truth is I’m a person who suffers from a mental illness that makes me feel I’m someone different than I am. Social anxiety can make you stay away from people and situations you would normally enjoy. It’s an anxiety that can make your stomach hurt or your heart race, it can make your hands shake and your voice waver. It can make it so hard to get up and get dressed, to walk out the door or get out of the car. It’s also something that is possible to overcome with great effort. You can get out of that car, you can smile and enjoy yourself, you can do these things and be who you are. Sometimes it’s a matter of asking for help and understanding from those you love. Getting help from a therapist or doctor can make a huge positive difference in your social life.

I still get that physical ache that ties my stomach into knots. As I get ready I still get that nervous anxiety when I’m trying to find clothes. I still tell my loved ones I’m conflicted and not sure I even want to go and it frustrates them. But once I realized this about myself and identified why I was experiencing those feelings, it really helped me to face my illness and find strength during those moments. I am able to take deep breaths and do my best to relax my fears and anxieties. In my case, I also take anxiety medicine prescribed by a doctor that’s made a huge difference when dealing with it. Then I am able to build up my courage and confidence just enough to go.

The reality is that it’s a very difficult illness to live with, for both extroverts and introverts too. Unfortunately, I’m not always able to overcome it, but it’s so important to not give up. Mental illness is truly an illness, but if we work through it and find the help and support we need, we can fight it. When I do win and overcome my social anxiety, I have had some really great experiences and met people I really like spending time with. To me that is enough of a reason to try to fight my anxiety every time.

There are reasons not to go, there are excuses you can use to skip it. However, there are so many greater reasons to break through that anxiety and to be the person you are and not who your anxiety wants you to be.

Unsplash photo via Kal Loftus

Originally published: January 3, 2019
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