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When Social Anxiety Makes It Hard to Talk to Others

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This is what happens when I talk to people:

My anxiety is debilitating. It leaves me frozen, unable to speak. My throat closes up — I’m mute. No matter how hard I try, nothing comes out of my mouth. Nothing. My heart is pounding so loud in my ears that my hearing is muffled. I can’t stop trembling.

Crowds and loud, noisy spaces cause me to shut down. I’m so overwhelmed my mind stops working — it’s blank and I can’t process anything until the situation is over. All I can do is stand there, silent and panicking. The feeling of dread leaves my insides cold, as if they’ve been dipped in ice and my heart sinks to my stomach. My mind is reeling and my negative self-talk is deafening.

This anxiety welling up in my bones, threatening to consume me, is so very real. It’s not those nervous butterflies you get when asking someone out. It’s not the same — it’s on a completely different level. These butterflies have turned violent, churning my stomach, making me nauseous.

And this isn’t just asking someone out or even a job interview. It’s almost all social situations. Situations that may seem completely ordinary or like no big deal are one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done — saying “hi” to a new friend or ordering something at a restaurant. Just socializing! Almost any type of situation where I have to talk to people — especially someone new — causes my anxiety to burst through the roof.

A lot of the anxiety is from new situations. It’s something I have to get used to with practice, and after a while, it becomes less anxiety inducing. But sometimes it can take years. It’s incredibly discouraging. Some days, while looking for a job, all I can think of is, “Is this for me?” I mean, how am I supposed to do my job if interacting with people creates such terrifying results? Just the slightest negative reaction toward me, like someone getting annoyed for example, can leave me crying and panicking. I hate it.

My social anxiety has gotten better over the years. For the most part, these symptoms are more muted. Still there, but just less loud. I want to shed light on the difference between being nervous and having anxiety. I want people to understand where I come from; that it takes a long time for me to speak because I’m working up the courage. That I avoid people because talking is scary, and what happens when I talk to people, because yes, I mean it when I say it’s scary.

I’ve been told to “get over it.” I’ve been told it’s “no big deal.” I’ve been told to “just do it!” But it’s not that simple. I’m constantly being pushed way out of my comfort zone, and whether it results in good things or not, doesn’t make it any less difficult. I’m so jealous of people who haven’t experienced anxiety, but I want them to understand what I go through because my anxiety is debilitating.

At the same time, I feel my anxiety disorders and all my other numerous learning differences are not a gift per se, but they’re something that has given me compassion and a type of understanding that a lot of people don’t have. To me, that is very special. I’ve struggled. I’ve struggled so much it’s not even funny, not in the slightest. But I’ve also grown and bloomed and blossomed. I’ve learned from my bad experiences and I pray the people who treated me poorly change, because no one deserves the treatment I’ve endured.

I hate having a hard time talking. It’s incredibly frustrating and it’s something I want people to understand. I want them to know how real it is and that it’s a genuine problem people have. Talking isn’t easy for everyone. It’s not always just shyness or being an introvert — it can be way more than that.

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Thinkstock photo via Grandfailure

Originally published: September 14, 2017
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