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Explaining My Social Anxiety Is Hard, But Trying to Understand It Shouldn’t Be

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There is a dark figure. It is tall and wears a black cloak with a hood that casts a shadow upon its maimed face. It follows me around every corner, lurking. It stands on the other side of the door, waiting. It does as it pleases, unrelenting. During the day, it holds me on a leash. At night, it haunts my dreams. This figure brings out my fears in shaky hands and beads of sweat.

It digs its long, sharp claws into my skin, bringing me to my knees, bringing screams of agony and tears from the worst pain I have ever felt in my life. It’s worse than any physical pain I have ever felt.

This tall, dark figure is my version of anxiety.

This dark figure recently made an appearance once again in my life after having been gone for quite some time. I got used to it being gone, hoping I had left it in my high school days, maybe in my chemistry class during my junior year. I was accustomed to not feeling those feelings of intense fear.

This intense fear is the reason why I no longer go to grocery stores and haven’t been to a grocery store in a very long time. This intense fear is the reason why I took four college classes each semester my senior year of high school. All of my efforts have been to escape it. So when it came back, I was surprised and caught off guard. So much so I didn’t even recognize it at first.

The reason it came back was because I started a new job at a department store. I realize now it was stupid to even apply for it, but when your anxiety has been gone for a long while, some part of your brain thinks it’s “cured” or “better.” I knew I wasn’t because I was still avoiding certain people and certain group gatherings, but I was so used to avoiding certain things it didn’t even phase me anymore. I thought I could handle the job. It turns out I was very wrong, and I have the “stress rash” to prove it. I lasted nine days on the job.

It was terrifying for me to admit to myself, to my parents and friends that I could not do the job. I came home mentally exhausted, more so than physically even though I was on my feet all day. I came home so drained all I wanted to do was lie in bed, watch countless episodes of “Friends” and then sleep for 12 hours.

I knew I had to tell them. I could not stay at a job where for every shift, I came in terrified I was going to do something wrong, have to speak to a customer or be by myself. My parents and I are pretty used to the dark figure creeping around my life, but I was afraid telling my friends would make them think less of me.

My social anxiety made me afraid that my social anxiety would be judged for being social anxiety. Yeah. It’s hard to explain.

The past week I have found myself reflecting on my sophomore and junior years of high school. Those two years were the worst for my social anxiety. My intense fears became good friends with me. They showed themselves in panic attacks in chemistry class, in keeping my eyes to the floor while walking through the hallways and in not participating in class. I can’t even tell you how red my face would get if I raised my hand and said the wrong answer. It shouldn’t be humanly possible to be that embarrassed about something so simple, but it definitely is in my life.

I have been thinking about the words that flowed through my mind in those moments and finding myself struggling to fully comprehend the feelings those words created. It seems once the moment of anxiety is over, it leaves my mind. If it’s hard for me to understand, how can someone who has never felt those things understand?

I think it all comes down to a type of understanding. An understanding that says something like, “I have no idea what you’re feeling, but I’m going to stand by you and not judge you for quitting that job. I am trying to know how hard it is for you. I am trying to understand it when you don’t want to go to crowded places. I am trying to understand you not wanting to hang out today because you’ve reached your limit.”

I can’t always explain my exact feelings to you, but I can give you the gist of the unrelenting voices I am hearing in my head. While it’s hard to explain, it’s not hard to try to see where a socially anxious person is coming from.

Follow this journey on Emily’s blog

Originally published: July 9, 2016
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