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Social Anxiety Is Tough, but I'm Tougher

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Social interactions are a challenge for me.

Every word is an effort.

Every movement a dance I don’t know the steps to.

Like with my other mental illnesses, I didn’t really have a term for what I was going through until I was much older — or rather I should say in this case I didn’t have the correct term. “Shy” was a label stuck to me from when I was a very young child, but it always felt wrong, like a shirt that doesn’t fit quite right. When I came across the term social anxiety, things fell into place.

My inability or difficulty to start, have or keep a conversation suddenly made sense. The dread I felt in my gut and the way my blood ran cold at the thought of making a phone call, talking to someone I didn’t know or of authority, and public speaking had an explanation. My constant fear of judgment and obsessive preplanning of conversations were no longer confusing. They were all pieces of something.

The thoughts stuck on repeat were the worst because, really, if I could just get my mind to shut up I might not have this issue. My brain likes to plan things to perfection, because if a situation is perfectly planned out, then it can’t possibly go wrong. Contradicting itself, my brain also insists it will go wrong anyway and I ought not go or do anything at all.

Stay at home where it’s safe, it would say, because every botched social situation was a death sentence that I couldn’t risk.

I missed out on so many opportunities growing up (too many to count) because of my social anxiety. Sometimes even something as simple as hanging out with my friends would get passed up because I was always worried that too much time spent with me would reveal how much of an awful person I was or I would do something silly and they would laugh at me forever. Because of my social anxiety, I skipped as many social interactions as I could because that was somehow better.

Sure, maybe in the moment I felt better, but thinking back on those missed opportunities makes me a little sad these days. People talking about fun memories of times out with friends or going to a concert or whatever the situation is leave me feeling seriously lacking. Many of my memories consist of being by myself.

Have I defeated my social anxiety? Not by a longshot.

I still feel my nerves go on edge when I have to make a phone call or talk to people. Public speaking chills me to the bone and makes me lightheaded.

The difference now is I fight through the social anxiety and do these things anyway. Admittedly, not every time, but most times I at least make the effort.

Having a job involving intense customer service helped me realize I could push through and handle social situations and make it out alive on the other side, but it also taught me not to push myself to the breaking point. One of the key things I’ve learned about all of my mental illnesses is that I can’t let them control my life, but the other key thing I’ve learned is that sometimes I need to slow down and practice self-care instead because constantly pushing myself can be just as detrimental as the disorder itself.

So while I still have to make a huge effort to have social interactions and I still have no clue what the dance steps are, I know I can fumble along and still be OK.

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Thinkstock photo via Alextype

Originally published: March 10, 2017
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