Social anxiety is overwhelming.
For maybe the second time this semester, I spent the entire day at the school I commute to. I only have classes in the mornings, so I usually just leave after I finish class because I don't really know anyone on campus and the school cafeteria is expensive. Today though, I had to wait around for a few hours to go to my professor's office hours in the afternoon, so I decided to hang out in the cafeteria while I waited. In recent weeks, I've made one friend on campus who I think also has social anxiety, so I started the day hanging out with her after class, but then other people from my major came and talked to me over the course of the day, and finally I talked to my professor for almost forty minutes.
Tangent on friends with social anxiety: I tend to gravitate towards other people with social anxiety because they tend to understand me better and I feel more comfortable around them. On one hand, it's nice to have people who aren't overwhelmingly loud or who force their opinion on you and who tend to be good listeners and who understand what you're talking about when you say you're terrified for the group discussion in class on Wednesday.
On the other hand, sometimes it's nice to have that one impulsive, outgoing friend who will find a way to get you to talk to the guy you like or who will push you to get out of the house and go on a spontaneous day trip every once in a while. Since so many of my friends are shy, I have trouble meeting new people (especially guys) because they tend not to have many friends themselves and I have a really tough time finding people to go to events with me. Sometimes I brave it and go alone, but I do occasionally wish I had a friend who invited me to do stuff and who would actually go to events with me, especially now that I'm a commuter and I've become such a homebody. It's weird to hear classmates talk about going to bars and hanging out with friends on the weekends because I spend almost all my time outside of school at home. I've started to feel embarrassed about it. But after days like today, I wonder how those people even enjoy going out and drinking and talking about stupid stuff.
I feel exhausted. (Back from tangent. Thanks for bearing with me.) All I did was have a few different conversations and diverge from my normal routine for a few hours, but I want to curl up in a dark room in the fetal position for forty-eight hours in an attempt to recover. I am definitely an introvert, but I don't typically consider myself that introverted because I'm not one of those "I hate people" type of people. But maybe I've underestimated my introversion. I do spend a ton of time alone. I guess I can enjoy an interaction if it's a good one-on-one conversation with someone I feel comfortable with, as when I talk with my fellow socially anxious females and get to make jokes and express my opinions freely. But today I had a lot of conversations with people I'm not used to (who were men, who I'm not very used to talking to) in situations where the social conventions were fuzzy.
Example: How much of your life are you supposed to share with professors? I shared with my professor today a little bit about how I come from and Evangelical Christian background but I've been shifting away from that sub-culture recently. Was that inappropriate? How long is it appropriate to talk to a professor? Did I overstay my welcome? Did I dominate the conversation too much? Did I offend him? Did I change his opinion of me negatively? Did I come across as trying to convert him? Did I keep him from something important? Did he have to stay late? What if that affected his relationship with his wife? Welcome to the mind of an anxious person.
It's exhausting to overthink everything. And even when I'm not consciously questioning these social interactions, I have this general uneasy feeling and steadily deflating sense of negative self-worth. All this unpleasantness makes me want to stay in my little bubble from now on. Because as empowering as it was to talk to a list of "cool" people and feel an inkling of what it might be like to belong to a community, in the end I feel self-conscious and scared and vulnerable and stupid and restless, obsessing over one thing after another. There are conversations I had months ago that I still go over in my head and kick myself for.
I hate living in fear. I hate how isolating it is. Isolating because I'm afraid to talk to people but also because when I do talk to people, I'm being controlled by that fear, so I'm only projecting a shadow of my real self. Isolating because after those conversations, I am stuck in a cycle of overanalysis and self-deprecation, unable to connect with my loved ones because of the misery I feel. Or I over and over ask my family for reassurance that I "did okay", making myself an annoyance, making myself feel even more guilty and juvenile.
Here's to the socially anxious men and women of the world. No one ever toasts to us. Our plight is seldom recognized and often mocked. We think we're the only ones. We think we're always the one who is wrong. We live in our self-imposed prisons that we didn't ask to impose on ourselves and everyone tells us we have the key to get out of. But where's the damn key? And have these advice-givers ever tried the exhausting task of constantly facing your constant fears in order to beat this monster that rules your life? It leaves you exhausted and feeling worse than ever. And if you give yourself a little break, the anxiety starts creeping back, like weeds. It's easier just to coexist with the rabid dog or rambunctious child, giving them whatever keeps them sated in order to give your exhausted self a break.
Whatever baby steps - or leaps and bounds - you took today or yesterday or the day before to chip away at that prison cell, I salute you. Let that anxiety lie in the place where it was first formed - the cafeteria, the office, the classroom, the grocery store checkout - leave it there and move on with your life. Give yourself permission to be imperfect. Give yourself a break - open the book, turn on the favorite song, press play on the remote.
The world may pressure us to change, we may pressure ourselves to change, but let us also for once we the ones to advocate for ourselves: We've tried. We're trying. We're still here. We're existing, even though it's really hard. Really damn hard. Even though people don't get that and we're ashamed to tell them because they'd label us as petty or look at us funny. We're here though. Even if we're quiet, we're survivors. We're warriors. We're on the front lines constantly but will never receive the medal of honor. But we will fight the good fight nonetheless.
Whoever you are, whatever people have said or might say, you're a warrior.