I once read somewhere that social anxiety is self consciousness on steroids. That’s actually a pretty perfect description of it.
I’m not very good with people. If you don’t start the conversation, it’s very likely that we won’t have one. Every day activities like ordering a coffee or purchasing groceries can be extremely difficult for me. I live with a fear that I’m being judged. That if I slip up, that if I am not perfect, people are going to remember that, that it’s what I’ll be known for… forever.
People who know me describe me as quiet. And most days, I’d describe myself that way too. I’m quiet to those who don’t know me. I’m quiet because I worry – about what they think of me, about being enough for them, about not being an embarrassment.
People who don’t know me often describe me as having permanent resting bitch face. They say that I come across as cold and… uninterested. I listen, I hear, I understand, I just… don’t know what to say back when they talk to me. I stare blankly into the abyss hoping for something to come to mind, but it never does.
Small talk is awful. I mean downright awful. Having a simple conversation with someone – a coworker, a bank teller, the bus driver, anyone really… it takes a great deal of effort for me. Effort that quite often comes across with people believing me to be a closed off shell of a human being.
Some days are better than others. But some days, it’s all I can do to not live in terror of my non-existent flaws. Because they’re there. You may not be able to see them but I can definitely feel them.
I overthink absolutely everything. Even the smallest of interactions can send me into a fiery spiral of anxious energy that I don’t know how to control. It’s something that can keep me hiding in my house for days at a time. And I wouldn’t tell you if that was the case. I’d simply either not answer your calls or, make up excuses to try and convince you (and myself) otherwise.
I can say that their words don’t matter to me, that they have no value and there is no stock in what they say, but they still hurt. As much as I don’t want them to, some words cut like a knife.
There are handful of people in this world I feel truly understand me. Those who love me, those who appreciate me, those who tell me things like ‘I’m robbing the world of the chance to know me’, because they know I don’t like meeting new people. They know I have a hard time with human interaction. They know I’m afraid of what people will think and they love me anyway. That, well that’s the kind of love they don’t write books about. That’s the kind of acceptance I think we all seek to find.
I believe that people sense I’m a good listener. I think they can tell that I’m hearing them when they speak… not just ignoring them and moving on but actually processing their words. I think it’s irony in a sense… being terrified of human interaction whilst people find you to be the best listener they know. And yes, I know I just misused the word irony.
The most frustrating part of social anxiety is that I know I’m being irrational. I know the decisions that I make and the actions that I choose are not those of a rational human being. I can’t help it though. I’ve had anxiety for as long as I can remember. I’ve had anxiety for longer than I knew what anxiety was.
Social anxiety is hard to explain. If you’ve never experienced it, you might not understand why I don’t want to go out in public without my headphones. You might not understand why I try to get into and out of public places as quickly as I can, why I try to avoid conversations with absolutely everyone at all costs. I’m an introvert, but it’s so much more than that.
I’m trying to remind myself that there will come a day when people see me for me. When I allow them into my world without fearing what they think. I’m trying to believe that there will come a day when I set the standard, when I am the rule and not the exception, when I can play ‘Words With Friends’ without worrying if they’re really my friend. I’m trying to convince myself that I can overcome this feeling, that the anxiety won’t always win.
Until then, please go easy on me. Because like I mentioned earlier, if you don’t start the conversation, it’s very likely that we won’t have one…