First and Foremost
I don't reveal this aspect about myself to a lot of people, and there's a reason behind why. I'd say that before this article goes live, only about 3 people know. And sometimes I think to myself, is social anxiety such a big thing that I even need to share it with anyone? And the answer to that my friends is yes.
What is Social Anxiety?
For a more academic and straightforward definition, you can read this article. But here is a simpler way of understanding it: Social anxiety is the stress of normal, everyday situations heightened to a point where it's too much to handle. So much so, that avoiding all social contact that other people consider "normal" -- like making small talk and eye contact -- make you so uncomfortable. All aspects of your life, not just the social, could start to fall apart. All socially anxious people have different reasons for dreading certain situations. But in general, it's an overwhelming fear of being judged by others in social situations, being embarrassed or humiliated -- and showing it by blushing or shaking, or accidentally offending someone.
Social Anxiety for me
The parts of social anxiety that I experience the most are dressing in ways that won't make me stand out, not being able to tolerate crowded places where people have the opportunity to judge me, and acting in such a pristine way around people I don't know so that there's no room for me to mess up a conversation or make it awkward. Ultimately, what I want to avoid, is being the center of attention. Social anxiety happens to me every single day. It's not something I can turn on or off. And I struggle to make it less obvious that it already is. Each day is a battle starting from when I leave my room until I'm back in my safe space.
Whenever I am put in uncomfortable situations, all I can think of is that I can't represent myself in a way that isn't mature or appropriate for my age. I'm always thinking a level ahead. My day is organized depending on what kind of environment I'll be in, how much social interaction I'll have to go through, and what kind of people I have to interact with. So much detail and thinking go into these normal, everyday activities, making me even more stressed. Because of this, I like to call myself an introverted chameleon who changes their personality, attitude, and actions based on the person I am interacting with. Why do I do this? Because my social anxiety triggers the mindset that I can't let anyone see my flaws or that I am somehow imperfect. It sounds silly writing that but that's how it feels. If I show my true self, I become an open book and fear that I will be judged and stand out when all I want to do is blend in and not be noticed. It's not because I'm ashamed of who I am, it's more so because I don't want to share myself with anyone else. I am my own person and if I don't keep that person to myself, I am becoming just like everyone else, no longer unique and part of the norm. More importantly, I become vulnerable to strangers.
When did it all start?
During Winter 2017 and throughout the Spring 2018 semester, I realized, experienced, handled, whatever way you want to say it…a lot of change. I learned things about myself, people, relationships, maturity, and life in general. I learned not to have the single story, to be accepting of people who have different personalities, beliefs, and cultures, but most importantly: to be aware of myself and who I am as a person. I was introduced to the world of social anxiety and became fully aware that I had it. I can honestly and confidently say that since knowing I have an actual disorder, I have a much better sense of self and of the world around me. But unfortunately, my life didn't reflect that at the time. I lost friendships because of how I changed and because of the decisions I made that were for my best interest.
The Juicy Part
During my time of self-discovery, I had a conversation with someone who I thought of as a friend. My experience with this person was harsh and cold and opened my eyes to people who may not accept you the way you are. I was changing as a person and realizing things about myself I didn't know before. It was new for me but extremely necessary. After revealing my newfound struggle with social anxiety to my friend, he did not understand my feelings and did not want to accept that everything I was saying was true. I expressed things about my personality for the first time to someone else truthfully, and this was their reply:
"I hate who you are now. Everything was cool, we were great until you went and did whatever you did with that person. Nothing was wrong with you, you were fine."
This is why I don't tell people. I don't want to scare people off or make them think that they're a burden to me. I just want to make people aware of it so that they can understand me better.
Thank u, next
The moral of this article is to enlighten you about the reality of social anxiety. Especially if it's something you don't have and know nothing about. And in a broader sense, I hope this helps you see that everyone is different. Every day we conform to our own views that have already been falsely shaped by the negatives and bias of today's society and media. But it's important that we realize what's real and to avoid always being right or wrong. It's about coming to terms with yourself and how you affect other people. It's about creating a space inside your own mind that lets you see more positives than negatives and how it's more important to be at peace rather than influence the disorder and destruction of judgment, harm, and conflict. This may have been an intense read. But for the people that stuck through it till the end, I hope you learned something new.