Before the holidays, my anxiety was through the roof.
I found it hard to commute on public transportation, something I’ve been doing my entire life. I found it hard to go into work, a place I’ve been at for a little over 2 years and I actually like my job and my team. I wasn’t really getting a good night sleep because I had all these thoughts running through my mind. It felt like I just closed my eyes and already had to get up. Rather than my morning shower helping me to wake up, I was already wide awake, doing my deep breaths because I was feeling anxious and short of breath with a stomach in knots. I would count down the days and hours until it was the weekend so that I could isolate myself in my apartment and be alone. I would dread when Monday’s would roll around. Hell, I would dread when mornings rolled around and I had to leave my house.
My anxiety was taking over my life in a way that it hadn’t before. I’ve done a pretty good job keeping it in and keeping it to myself and quiet. Putting on a smile and putting out a “yeah, I’m fine” when necessary. They call it high functioning anxiety where you still live your life, but inside you’re in your own personal hell. But, it started getting harder to keep it in and hide it.
I have a really hard time asking for help and admitting I have a problem. Even at work, I’m the one most likely to stay till midnight finishing something than admitting I can’t do it alone. This post is really hard for me to write and I’m really nervous to hit publish. I know there is some stigma still attached to mental health and EVERYONE is so sensitive towards it and has an opinion on it.
There was a moment where I was so frustrated about my anxiety and at a lost with how to make things better. There’s so much information out there, but I didn’t want the medical articles and the technical terms. I wanted to hear about someone’s first hand experience. I wanted it to be personal. I wanted the details. I wanted it to make me feel like I wasn’t the only person in the world suffering from this. I wanted it to make me feel hopeful in some way. And I couldn’t find anything. So today, I wanted to open up and share what it’s like for me, living with social anxiety and create that post that I wanted to find and hopefully help anyone feeling alone and lost like I am.
Living With Social Anxiety:
I’ve always been anxious. But then again, we all have some level of anxiety. It’s actually normal. The difference is, how intense that anxiety is, how we handle it and if it actually has an impact in our day to day lives.
Growing up, I would hate to be the center of attention. When it was my birthday in school, my mom would come into the classroom to bring cupcakes and I had to stand in the front of the room while all eyes were on me as they were singing happy birthday and then I had to lead a game of Heads Up, Sevens Up. In theory, sounds so fun! In reality, I hated it, I felt like everyone was judging me. I felt like everyone’s party was fun and happy, but because I was awkward, I was making the party awkward.
If I had to give a presentation in school or speak up in some way, my palms would get sweaty, I would choke up, I would start shaking and it would make it hard to speak and present. Hell, I still feel that way. But, there was a time in the 7th grade, where my teacher tried to teach us some tips for public speaking. He said he would keep a paperclip in his pocket and while he would teach, he would play with it and mold it and it helped him present and focus. He then made us all present in the class. Terrifying. But, after I presented, I remember two of my friends in class, laughing and saying “Why was your head shaking so much?? You looked like a bobble head!”
I don’t even know how I got through public speaking in college to be honest. My actual nightmare.
I made a point in college to always be early to classes that way I could get in, find a seat and settle in and blend in. If for some reason I was late, I felt so anxious walking into the classroom. All eyes on me, judging me. I would think “Am I walking funny?” “Are they laughing at me?”
Even now, opening a closed door and walking into a meeting at work with so many people in there, those same thoughts and feelings kick in.
I chalked it up to me just being nervous or shy or thinking that everyone feels this way. But, over the years, those feelings have intensified. Instead of pushing past them, I started to let them get in my way. Feeling nervous walking into that room? Then don’t go in. Rather than overcoming those fears and anxiety, I let them guide me. I let them transform into other worries and concerns.
I no longer only choked up around my peers, I would choke up around random strangers that I probably would never see again.
Need a mid-day coffee break? Just go to Starbucks. Need to get lunch? Just go out and pick up something to eat. Need a snack? Just go to CVS and pick up a candy bar. All simple tasks. Who cares? What’s the point? The point is, for me, those tasks are not simple.
My thought process goes something like this:
“Go to Starbucks alone??”
“I have to order in front of all those people.”
“What if the person is calling next and I don’t see and the people in line get mad and start yelling at me?”
“What if my drink never comes out and I have to speak up and tell them. They’re gonna be mad at me. This is my fault. Why doesn’t this happen to anyone, but me?”
“What if I walk into this place to order lunch and don’t know where the line starts”
“Those people are definitely looking at me and laughing at me.”
“Everyone is staring.”
“Am I walking funny?”
“Everyone seems so normal and fine, why am I the only one that can’t do this?”
One of the biggest problems is that I overthink absolutely everything. When I meet someone new, I worry if I was awkward or if I shook their hand funny. Hell, I’m even nervous to be the first one to put out my hand out of fear they turn away or don’t shake my hand.
Whereas that person may have moved on and not thought twice, I replay every interaction in my head to see if I was awkward or if I could have done something differently and worry that someone noticed I was weird.
At work, I put so much pressure on myself to work hard and be perfect because I’m terrified of feedback. I take it in a negative way and think I’ve disappointed someone and let them down and now they don’t trust me anymore. I never want to put myself in a position where my boss has to tell me “You shouldn’t have done that.” Because I know it will stick with me. Whereas they may chalk it up to a mistake and move on, I think “Every time they look at me, they’re thinking about that one time I screwed up and they had to tell me.”
I’ve come to realize that one of my biggest triggers is the feeling of being trapped or being locked in somewhere or to something. Like making plans with friends or having some kind of commitment.
I know I have a commitment, I know someone is relying on me or expecting something from me and I just start thinking of every worse case scenario that could happen that would stop me from going and I start feeling pressured to not let this person down and then I feel pressured to push myself to not disappoint this person and it’s such a vicious cycle that I essentially created for myself.
This fear of being trapped also applies to large crowds, like in a store or on the train. I just keep thinking about how many people are here or in my way and if I have to get out, how exactly do I do that? I think of every ridiculous worse case scenario and I spiral.
The funny thing is, I could be perfectly fine and calm and I can sit there and think to myself “wow, I’m calm, I feel great, I can do so much because I finally shed the anxiety beast!” And then that goes from 0 to 100 real quick and evolves into “Well, why are you calm? Why aren’t you feeling anxious?” And then I start overthinking why I’m not feeling anxious and start feeling anxious about my anxiety.
Sound ridiculous? I know. It is. Believe me, I hear you.
But, that’s the thing about anxiety. I know I’m being irrational. I know my thoughts are worse case scenarios that I made up in my head. But, for the life of me I can’t reason with myself and brush it off.
On a daily basis, I feel like I don’t have control of my emotions or my thoughts. My thoughts are constantly putting me down and encouraging me to feel anxious.
“Why aren’t you freaking out about this?”
“Do you remember the last time this went wrong”
“It could happen again, but be ten times worse.”
I read a quote once that really stuck with me. To paraphrase it, it basically said, if you’re feeling depressed, you’re living in the past, if you’re feeling anxious, you’re living in the future and if you’re happy, you’re living in the present. And I couldn’t agree more. A lot of my social anxiety is rooted in me worrying about the future and essentially worrying how I’m going to screw something up, one way or the other.
I wanted to write this post about my social anxiety for a few reasons and for a few different audiences.
For the person also struggling living with social anxiety so that they know they’re not alone and that I and many other people struggle with this. When I spoke to my doctor, I said “Is this normal?” To which he chuckled and said “Absolutely normal. You may not see it because people don’t talk about it, but I know because people obviously tell me. But, this is normal.”
Anxiety can be such an isolating thing. You feel alone. Frankly, you feel crazy because you’re living in your own personal hell in your head. And you’re scared to speak out because you don’t know what someone will say or think.
I have a tendency to shut down and shut everyone out when I go into a really dark place. I don’t respond to texts, DMs, tweets, etc. Because I just don’t know what to say to anyone and I just feel like I can’t carry a conversation. I put a guard up to protect myself because I’m so scared to say what I’m going through. And even if the person knows, I’m scared that they’re just going to be like “ugh again.” And then when I manage to pull myself out of the slump, I’m so scared of what people will say and if they’re mad at me for going MIA.
Which brings me to the second person I wrote this for. The friend or family member that may not understand anxiety or brush it off.
I’ve opened up to a few people about feeling anxious. But, I’ve never once said out loud “I have and struggle with social anxiety.” I’ve been told in the past, “Just relax” or “You have nothing to worry about, why are you anxious?” or my personal favorite “Everything is fine, just brush it off.” If I could, don’t you think I would?
The vicious cycle of anxiety is feeling anxious about certain things, constantly being in your head, feeling worried to open up because people may not understand, open up and be brushed off as if your anxiety is not a big deal and go back into that dark isolated place in your head.
I don’t know how to end this post. I’m not even sure if it made sense or if I got my point across. When I was doing research on anxiety and trying to find some personal stories, I read one article of this girl struggling with anxiety and then the post just ended. No solution or closure and it just made me think, “Wow, there really is no end to this.” So when I set out to write this post, I knew I wanted to create at least one happy moment. One bit of closure.
One thing my doctor told me was to give people more credit and open up more. And while it’s been hard, it’s also been such a weight off my shoulder. My friend at work, Anna, has really helped me through this time because she’s been patient with me and always offering a listening ear. And more importantly, she’s always telling me that my feelings are valid and while it’s not easy, there is a solution, there is some kind of silver lining.
I’ve also seen a lot of support from my friend Liz. I remember we were shopping in Henri Bendel’s around the holidays and it was so crowded because they were having an event. I was going through an internal panic and she basically told me that if I had to leave, I could. Just knowing that she understood how I was feeling and not pressuring me to stay was a weight off my shoulder. I didn’t feel trapped anymore and I did’t feel like I was keeping this secret inside. At one point, I pretty much told her, I’m sorry, I’m feeling anxious, I’m gonna go and she said okay. No questions asked, no upset feelings, just an okay.
The closest people to me are the ones that allow me to go into that dark place and not text me being like “hello, where are you??” and when I emerge, just welcome me with open arms with no guilt or explanation needed. The ones who shoot me a quick text to just say, I love you and I’m here if you need me, no questions asked.
So again I’m not sure how to end this or if this was even anything, but I’ll leave you with 5 takeaways.
- If you are struggling with anxiety in any form, your feelings are very much valid. And they are okay.
- Work through them how you need. For some people that’s medicine or that’s therapy or that’s exercise. Whatever it is, do it. For me, I’m trying to get back into being active. I’m trying to start going to the gym again at 5am to work off my stress before I tackle the day.
- Try to be more open and honest with the people in your life rather than keeping your feelings in. I remember one day my boyfriend asked me “Where did this come from? Why are you anxious all of a sudden?” and I pretty much said, it’s always been here, I’ve just done a good job hiding it and moving on, but for some reason or another, I just can’t keep it in anymore. And being honest with him was such a weight off my shoulder. I didn’t feel like I was keeping a secret in, I felt like I had a support line.
- For those of you who don’t struggle with anxiety, just be supportive to those in your life that may struggle with anxiety. You may not understand what someone is going through. Hell, you may not even believe anxiety is a real thing and that’s okay. But, just be supportive.
- Be an open ear and lift the person up rather than putting them down and belittling their emotions because believe me, we do enough of that ourselves in our heads. Anxiety is truly a vicious cycle and we are trying to work through the cycle and break out of it and you really don’t know how much your support means.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read what I had to say today.
I’m hoping I made sense, but if not, I really appreciated these two articles that shared what it’s like living with social anxiety. This one shares 24 quotes from people struggling with social anxiety and this one shares the top 10 feelings.
Last year, I really made a point to open up and share more personal posts and I want to thank you for allowing me to be vulnerable and creating this safe space for me to open up.
Loving this living with social anxiety feature? Take a look here for more of my personal favorites!