It sweeps over me like a waive,
not a cool refreshing little beach waive,
this is an angry, destructive, title waive,
a tsunami consuming everything
and everyone in its path!
This is ANXIETY!
You know that sick feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you're nervous about something, anything? That nauseating feeling that you could throw up at any minute. You start to sweat. There's a gulf ball in the back of your throat making it hard to swallow. You start taking deeper breaths because you're struggling to breath and feel like you might pass out. Your vision gets blurry and it's hard for you to focus. There's noise and conversation going on but suddenly you can't really hear anything or make out words. You feel like you're up to your neck in quicksand and can't move. Your body starts to tremble. You're so nervous you feel like you could literally throw up, shit your pants, pass out, and die all at the same time. That's how I feel around people, all the time, for as long long as I can remember, even people I know and have known for years, even family.
I was always described as shy. Some people thought I was stuck up. I never really talked much. Wasn't good at making friends. I was perfectly content being by myself. Group projects and oral presentations in school terrified the hell out of me. I always thought I'd out grow it. Like one day I'd wake up and I wouldn't be shy anymore, the nerves would be gone. I'm still waiting for that day.
I moved to a different city when I went to high school. A city where I knew no one. I ate lunch in a classroom or outside of a class room by myself. I didn't have friends, or speak to anyone (outside of forced group activities) for the first two years. Then, I decided to force myself to take a speech and debate class. I actually used to want to be a lawyer. I was always into law. And I liked to debate, I liked to win. I've always been a writer so the class itself wasn't difficult; it was when I had to get up in front of everyone and give my speech or debate with someone. That's when I would get that sickening, paralyzing, nervous feeling, every time! Apparently, I was good at hiding though because people would always tell me I looked so confident up there, they had no idea I was "shy."
I started to get comfortable with the people in the class, I saw them every day. But even so, when I knew I had to get up there to present, I would get that feeling. The anticipation was always the worst for me. I'd be so nervous and get that feeling every freaking time before it was my turn. And it wasn't just right before. It started days before and lasted right up until I got in front of the class and started talking. Then, it was as though I went somewhere else, I got numb. My voice would start out shaky for about a sentence. Then, I'd appear to be the most confident in control person in the class.
I won pretty much every debate I was in and aced pretty much every speech. I even helped start a speech and debate club in school. But I never once attended any of the competitions. I just couldn't bring myself to take it outside that class room. I was used to that class room and the people in that class. I couldn't go to other schools and speak in front of new people. That was way too overwhelming. I did make friends though and I still keep in touch with a couple of them to this day.
When it came time to apply for college, I applied to all the local Cal States. I avoided the UCs because I didn't do well on the SATs and I didn't want to write the essays (a writer not wanting to write). Also, I just didn't want to get rejected. I was accepted into every Cal State I applied to. I chose the one closest to home because I didn't want to live on campus in a dorm with a roommate. I moved in with my grandparents, who lived about 2 miles from the school. My dad was living there at the time too so he could take me and pick me up. No, I didn't have my drivers license at the time because I was too afraid to learn how to drive.
College went the same as high school. I didn't speak to anyone unless I was forced to (for group work). Didn't have any friends. Ate alone on campus, unless I was able to go home in between classes. I did finally learn how to drive and got my license. In my junior year, my academic adviser asked me (and a group of other juniors and seniors) to help them start a pilot peer mentoring program for incoming freshmen. It was a paid position and I could use the money and practice at having a real job and interacting with people. So I reluctantly agreed. In order to be an officially recognized organization on campus, we needed a president, a vice president, and one other officer (secretary, treasurer, etc). There were plenty of volunteers for the third officer, a couple for VP, but no one wanted the responsibility of being the president.
After a lengthy discussion and everyone turning it down, multiple times. My adviser looked to me. I don't know why but she had faith in me, she thought I was a leader. She assured me it was just a tittle and I wouldn't be required to be too socially active. So, again, I reluctantly agreed. Along with the title of president, I was also the co program coordinator (along with my VP). It was our job to lead and the facilitate the weekly meetings, as well as organizing activities. Then, we were told we had to speak at New Student Orientation to introduce our program and recruit members. Speak on stage in front of the entire freshman class! I wanted to quit. But I was already committed. It wasn't a big presentation or a 10 minute speech or anything. We just had to get up there, introduce ourselves, and tell them what we were all about.
When I got up on that stage, I thought I was going to die! But, me being a perfectionist and not wanting to look scared or weak in front of people, I did my thing. I didn't fall or stutter, or throw up. I was clear concise, and to the point. My VP on the other hand, someone who was not shy or nervous around people at all, someone who made friends easily, and had no problem talking to people, started blushing and stuttering and was so nervous I couldn't believe it. We worked together all summer, in our program preparing, so we got to know each other. He knew I was shy and had a fear of public speaking and expected me to stumble or have a difficult time on stage. But I did not expect that of him.
After we got off stage, I said, "Dude, what happened up there?" "I don't know fu (we called each other "Dude" and "Fu" all the time). I got nervous," he said. "How were you so calm?" He asked in shock. "I wasn't, I was freaking terrified! But I didn't want anyone to know!" That sums up my social anxiety in a nutshell. I'm terrified, all the time, I just work really hard at hiding it. When you do that, though, people don't take your anxiety seriously. They think you're just shy, or stuck up, or anti social. They don't know the amount of work you put into every day life. They don't know you have to give yourself pep talks to leave your apartment. Or that you have panic attacks before interviews or going to the grocery store or doing anything that might involve people. They don't know that you avoid job interviews for fear of having to interact with someone. Or that you turn down invite and invite because the stress of group activities is too much. They don't realize how much effort it takes for you to do your required daily activities; such as going to school, going to work, going grocery shopping, all things you have to do to survive, that when it comes to extra curricular activities you're too exhausted to put effort in.
That's why I don't have many friends. That's why it's difficult for me to make new friends. That's why I can go days without stepping out of my apartment and why I used to rarely go out on weekends. Because, by the time the weekend came around, I was so mentally and physically exhausted from having to go to work every day and interact with people that all I wanted to do was shut myself inside and not have to be around people at all. And I don't say this for sympathy or pity. I don't want any of that. I'm just trying paint a picture of what it's like for those of us with social anxiety, for those who don't know. So that when you do have that friend or family member or coworker who you think may be shy or stuck up or anti social, you can stop and think for a minute, "Well, maybe they have social anxiety. Maybe they do want to go out and do things but they just need a little more time to adjust and get comfortable with you."
I started making myself go out because I didn't want to be that scared person who let their fear and anxiety control them. I made myself go to a movie alone, I went out to eat by myself, I challenged myself to step out of my shell little by little. I joined a gym, it took me a while to even go, but eventually I was going routinely. It wasn't easy and it's still not. It's not like I said, "Ok today you're going to dinner by yourself" and I did it. No, it took days and nights and several conversations with myself and even verbal abuse of me telling myself to stop being a weak pathetic loser and stop being afraid and start living your life. It's something I've been working on my whole life and I'm still working on it because I'm still terrified to be out in public and around people.
I was doing really well until COVID hit and gave me an excuse to hide away and become a hermit. And now I feel like I'm starting all over again. If I don't get called back to work, I'm going to have to find another job. That's scary. That gives me anxiety and keeps me up at night. But, I did it before it before. So I can do it again. I just need to stop making excuses and stop being afraid and start making myself get out of my shell again! One step at a time. One pep talk at a time. One panic attack at a time. Just put in the effort, some effort, any effort. And so begins my pep talk to myself!