The reality of social anxiety

A while back I shared “Life with social anxiety”. In the post I go into great detail about what it’s like, from my perspective, to deal with social anxiety.

The reason why I mention that post today is because I want to, again, talk about social anxiety.

For people that don’t suffer from social anxiety, it’s hard to understand it. For people that do, it’s hard to explain it. This can lead to confusion, misunderstanding, misrepresentation of how conversations are carried out. It’s a tangled web.

See, I’m not very good with people. I’m not the type of person who will start a conversation. In fact, if you don’t start the conversation, we might not even have one. I don’t find silence to be awkward. I actually find silence to be calming. People often, though, mistake my silence for attitude.

If there’s one thing that this pandemic has done for me the past year-and-a-half, I haven’t had to explain myself as much. I haven’t had to come up with excuses for why I couldn’t go somewhere or do something. The pandemic did that for me. Now that I’m fully vaccinated and the majority of people in this province are also vaccinated, or getting vaccinated, it’s much safer to go out and do things. Events are starting again. People are meeting for coffees, or dinner and drinks, or just to sit around the table and talk.

All of those things are good. Believe me, ALL OF THOSE THINGS ARE GOOD. They’re just hard for me.

I’m awkward.

I don’t love hugs.

Most days I don’t even appreciate handshakes.

In social settings, I won’t deny someone a hug or a handshake if they gesture for it, but I’m definitely not going to initiate it. Sometimes I get the sense that people think I’m cold-hearted because of that.

It’s been nice to not have to force myself into situations that make me uncomfortable for a year and a half. I know, I know, I know all about how we’re supposed to do things in life that make us uncomfortable to ensure that we grow, but, when it comes to social anxiety, it isn’t a situation in which if I do it more, I become more comfortable with it.

I’ve come to the realization that I will always be awkward.

I’ve always been that person that smiles and nods at a stranger if they ask me a question or give me a compliment. Actually, when it comes to compliments, I don’t take them well at all.

Being vaccinated has given me a lot of freedom back. For that, I’m grateful. Wandering the aisles of the grocery story without worry is a really good feeling. It will take me some time to adjust, though, to being around people again. Conversations in passing, meeting for coffee, going to birthday parties (haven’t really started here yet but I know they will), getting my haircut… these things will take me time. I am that girl who will sit in the stylist’s chair for several hours (I have long hair) and maybe say two or three words the entire time. Over the course of those several hours getting my hair cut, I will worry about what the stylist is thinking of me. But, I won’t open my mouth to talk. That is social anxiety guiding me.

For those that know me, they know that I struggle with social interactions. For those that don’t, I’m all too sure they think I’m rude. I think about that a lot, actually. I think about what everyone thinks about me. All the time. They don’t dictate who I am, or who I get to be, but I still do worry I’m leaving the wrong impression.

I guess, as the world opens up again, it’s important to be patient with people.

I am who I am. My social anxiety guides a lot of what I do. If I say no to an invitation, that’s not a reflection of the invitee, that’s me. If I integrate back into the world slowly, there’s a reason for that.

Social anxiety is complicated.