Growing up, I always just thought I was a shy person. In elementary school, I realized I had a speech impediment or a stutter. I had my mom order for me at restaurants for a pretty good amount of time, I absolutely hated speaking in front of people, and I never really spoke in class unless I got called on. Even that, I dreaded.
As I got older, my stuttering got better. However, I began to notice it would get worse at times where I was nervous or anxious around people. For years, I didn't really think that much of it.
Until things weren't getting better.
Looking back, I can see that around the age of 16 is when my social anxiety really started to make a big impact on my life. It's natural for people to get a little bit of anxiety when doing presentations. But I would have full-blown anxiety attacks in my seat before I had to get up in front of my class.
I vividly remember in my English class junior year, being in the middle of speaking during an in-class debate and suddenly being so out of breath.
I started pausing every few words to try and take deep breaths, but I would look at my classmates and my heart began to race. I just kept thinking to myself, "I'm making a fool out of myself" and "I wonder if they can tell I'm shaking". That's what it was like for me every time I had to get up in front of people. I hated the feeling of being vulnerable.
Another incident happened in class where I was texting my mom that I was having an anxiety attack and couldn't breathe, all because I had to get up in front of my class a recite a short poem.
Soon, my social anxiety started affecting other aspects of my life, not just school. When I got my first job at 16, I was a hostess at a restaurant. On the way to my first day, I called my mom in my car crying because I didn't want to have to talk to strangers or answer the phone. I was afraid of messing up or sounding dumb and what other people would think. I didn't want to embarrass myself. 3 years later, I'm still at the same restaurant where I'm now a server and have never left this place because I've built up security there. I'm too afraid to get a new job because I would have to start all over.
Even to this day, I struggle immensely with social anxiety. Being a freshman in college is a major adjustment for me because I'm not used to doing things by myself. I mean, it was only this past summer that I went to a public place by myself for the first time. It's challenging because a lot of the time, doing everyday things make me incredibly anxious.
A lot of people don't understand the mental strength it takes for someone with social anxiety to go out by themselves. I can't speak for others, but I know that for me it's embarrassing to get so anxious about it. There have been multiple times this past semester that I haven't eaten because I've been too afraid to get food by myself, even at a vendor.
To help others understand, I always compare it to the feeling you get when you're walking up the stairs at your house in the dark. You feel like there's someone watching you even though you know there isn't. that's what it's like to go out in public. I know people aren't looking at me, but I feel like every single pair of eyes is on me. Watching my every move, saying things to themselves.
Even though every day is a struggle, I am making small steps towards being able to control it. But a big part of that is having people around me who know that I'm not just shy or antisocial. I want to go out and have fun. It just takes a little time.