Ever since I was little, I have been a very shy person. I only spoke when I was asked a question, and I constantly hid behind my mother’s legs or hid my face in her neck when someone who I didn’t know came to say, “hi.” Overall, I was a very quiet kid who kept to herself. As I grew older it was still the same. I did have friends who I goofed off with and hung out with, but I still wouldn’t even dare to introduce myself to anyone. If I was going to make friends with anyone, they either had to come up and be the first ones to start a conversation or I had to be introduced to them.
This shy behavior continued all the way through middle school. I was still just as silent and awkward when I wasn’t around my friends. I usually walked through the middle school hallways with my head down and tried to stay out of other people’s way. When the class was taking turns reading a book aloud, I would shake my foot and sweat and stutter when it was my time to read. Most of the time, I was too quiet and the teacher would have to tell me to speak up. Some kids would laugh which always made it worse.
At this point I still didn’t know anything of anxiety or depression or any of the other mental disorders. I just attributed my quietness with being shy.
Middle school is the time in most teens’ lives where they are awkward and going through puberty and trying to gure out who they are. I was no different. I still had the same friends as I did in elementary school, but they were changing so I decided to change with them so I fit in. It was in middle school that I started to be more comfortable around other people.
However, in 7th grade, I chopped off all of my long hair and had no idea what to do with it. As I walked through the halls, I would hear whispered insults about my hair or my clothes or my weight.
To add to the criticism, my brother’s friends constantly picked on me for reasons that I still don’t know to this day. This made me go back to my self conscious ways of covering myself in baggy clothes and walking with my head down.
This behavior followed me into high school where I decided I should grow my hair out so I could look “normal.” Now, I have never been a very confronting person. If someone makes fun of me behind my back or even to my face, I never knew
how to handle it so I would just accept the joking insults from friends and the insults from classmates. I never really dwelled on them, though. Or at least I thought I never dwelled on them.
I guess I never realized how much they affected me and how much I let them sit in my mind. My friends would jokingly make fun of me, but I would over process my emotional response to this and it would almost eat me alive. What seems like a joke that anyone would let roll off of their shoulders, I would lay awake at night and bash myself for doing whatever I was being made fun of for. However, I still wouldn’t defend myself.
I had, and still have, this mindset that if I stand up for myself over a silly insult made by my friends, then I would lose the very few friends that I had. So, I still just let the things being said seep into my mind.
Although I did start to open up in high school, I was still very quiet and stuck close to my friends. I remember how at the beginning of every school year, I would almost lose my mind thinking about whether I would have any of my friends in my lunch hour. For most people, if they didn’t have any close friends in their lunch hour, it wasn’t the end of the world because they could just talk to others. For me it would have been that end of the world. ankfully, I always had a friend in my lunch hour, but I hated being alone when so many people around me were having fun and talking with friends.
If I had to wait for a friend by myself, I was always worried that people were looking at me and judging me because I wouldn’t look up at anyone and my foot would constantly be tapping until my friends would rescue me.
Skip forward to junior year, I finally got my first boyfriend and it felt like a miracle. Everyone around me had a boyfriend or girlfriend and I kind of felt like I could finally fit in. His name was Troy, he was very fit and handsome and he even drove a motorcycle. We would take rides around Reeds Lake in the spring and to say that I had fun would be an understatement.
At first it was great and I was happy and I felt myself becoming more confident. About three months into the relationship, I guess you could say that his true colors started showing through. It seemed as though all he cared about was looks. It started with him taking the nice bike helmet that covered the whole face and giving me an old, partially covering helmet. He would tell me that I needed to shave my legs more often, eat better and workout more often.
I ended up breaking up with him after four months, but what he said about my appearance took a toll on my mind. I constantly looked in the mirror and thought that I needed to work on my body or else no guy would want me. I started worrying that if I didn’t have a boyfriend, then people would think that I’m weird or not a good girlfriend.
After Troy, my friends would always point out cute guys for me to go talk to, but I would hide and say I couldn’t because I truly couldn’t. I was seriously getting sick of my shy behavior and this was when I didn’t know or didn’t want to admit that I had social anxiety. In the beginning of senior year, my friends introduced to me to the possibility that I might have social anxiety.
I didn’t believe them. I didn’t want to believe them. It messed with my need to be normal. I didn’t want to be known as the girl with social anxiety and the girl who can’t make friends or start a conversation with a stranger. If I had social anxiety then that meant that I was different from others and that wasn’t good.
Although I shoved away the possibility away as much as I could, I knew I had to accept it if I was going to do something about it. After high school, I made the decision that I wanted to be a photojournalist. I love taking photographs and I love writing and talking about world news.
I think my family thought I was on some crazy drugs when I told them. What journalist has social anxiety? That doesn’t make any sense.
I thought so at first too, but my anxiety is very odd. It’s odd in the sense that, if I’m asking someone a question, I can usually do it no problem. For example, if I need directions, I won’t hesitate to go up to someone and ask them. I can also do the same for my journalism assignments. However, if you asked me to go up to someone and make friends with them or even ask them how their day is going, I can’t.
I’ve realized that I fidget out of control when I’m talking to someone new. Someone can immediately tell if I’m nervous because I stutter, constantly brush my hair back, shake my leg, and crack my knuckles even though they don’t need to be cracked. I start to sweat and it just turns into a disaster.
Although I have started to come out of my shell, my anxiety still cripples me in my everyday life. I have missed out on so many fun opportunities that people my age should do just because of my anxiety. I lose friends because of my anxiety because I always wait for them to text me first or invite me somewhere first.
My friend Gabi and I have been friends for nine years and most of the time, I still can’t text her first. As a result, I feel like she’s giving up on me. Because of my anxiety I’m still very quiet whether it be with friends, family, or walking down the street and going about my day. I’m often told that I don’t look inviting to others when I’m walking around by myself.
I still have trouble meeting new people. My mom is constantly asking me about boys at school or if I have any new friends.
“You just need to open up, honey,” she says. “You just have to get out there and be yourself and have fun.”
If I had a dollar for every time someone said that to me, I wouldn’t need to work. Many people who struggle with social anxiety like myself, struggle more than myself and it truly cripples them. Please don’t sigh or jokingly make fun of them when they struggle to order food or if they ask you to order for them. For those who don’t suffer from this problem, it can be hard to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Remind them that it’s okay and maybe encourage them to take small steps to defeating their anxiety.