At some point alcohol became the weighted blanket for my mind something solid to make me feel secure a heavy shroud to hold me down in the present moment Over ten years of diligent practice I've become a master of self-medication caffeine, cannabis, kratom, and liquid courage a witch's brew of corrosive ingredients to subdue my writhing soul Quick fixes never work for long so many mornings left picking up the pieces of poorly planned promises to myself smoothing over the soft doubt deep down that this really will be the last time Sometimes it is strange to see others experience true joy without chemical assistance I wonder if my synapses are too damaged to do that now Imagining a life without my caterpillar quantity of crutches seems just as alluring as it does absurd Still nothing could be worse than this ritual self-denial this refusal to allow myself to exist as I am accepting that I am unable to overcome my small fears by burying them stealthily beneath bottles of booze next time I'll try harder to be brave
I wish someone had told me to hold onto all the people I once knew. I wish I had some way of knowing what I was throwing away, or at the very least letting fizzle out, watching with disinterest as my many fertile gardens of companionship withered in the hot sun of time. When you’re young, it’s hard to realize what you have. Everything just feels like it’s always been that way, that it will always be that way. Friends come and they go without much fear of social isolation. There will always be new peers, new classmates, new friends to take their place. Every school year is a new start, a new chance to build connections. After high school, there is always college to find your chosen family.
Six years after getting my Bachelors and only now am I beginning to realize the opportunities I squandered for all those years. I would always hear people saying that high school doesn’t matter. That you’ll leave those doors and all the people inside behind forever once you graduate. Not to worry about those relationships, because there will be plenty more that are more important in the future. Looking back, I wish instead they had said those years don’t have to matter. I realize now this was a message for people struggling in school, the social outcasts, the kids that felt like they’d never fit in or find friends. This message was a beacon of hope for them, a call to keep their courage as they moved out into new avenues of life. The point wasn’t that I shouldn’t invest effort in maintaining the relationships I did have. It wasn’t about devaluing the whole idea of childhood friends.
At the time, it seemed like a waste of energy, pathetic even, to try to cling to old friends that were no longer around you everyday. After all, there was a whole new pool of peers to meet and mingle with. Why reach out to people from the past? I never really gave much thought to the fact that the bonds I formed in college would one day become less convenient as well. What then? It was quite a shock when I started working full time to feel the difference between a classroom and a work place. Not only were there far less people to interact with in general, but those people were vary rarely of an age that I would consider my peers. We had very little in common. I already had trouble finding companions within my age group, let alone outside of it.
All these years later, I often find myself looking back on all the bridges I burned, wondering if there is any way I could salvage them, or if the other party has already forgotten me. I never understood how precious a childhood friendship truly is until it was too late. There is an empty space inside the new connections I make. There was something so special is the knowledge that the other person really knew you. They knew all of you. They had watched you grow up and you had known them just as intimately. That’s something you can never have with someone else, even if they tell you about who they used to be. You are still only seeing it through their eyes, only getting the bits they want to reveal. And something aches inside of me when I acknowledge that.
Where Do I Belong
They say that connection is an essential component of human happiness buried deep within our DNA we know we were not made to stand apart This obvious fact haunts me and hovers above my timid heart like a phobia of food and water what I fear is other people prickling skin and sweaty palms is this what happiness feels like? What a cruel, ridiculous irony to be afraid of what you need encountering so much pain alongside the brief pleasure of each pathetic attempt to belong self defeating, sinful nature I feel mostly bitterness towards my own kind I've forsaken them long ago to find refuge somewhere else I've learned to quench my thirst for connection among the dirt and dust of forest floors saying hello to passing birds the innocent caresses of angelic animals that offer me far more love than I could ever hope to have from humanity I was never proud to be a person like every one else seems to be I'd much rather place myself with those I trust and admire resting in the peace and simplicity of my true brethren in nature
Questions to Get to Know Someone
I often have a hard time getting to know people. I’ve noticed that I tend to be very passive in my relationships with others. I am not great at coming up with good, open-ended questions to ask, nor am I forthcoming with my own personal information. For these reasons, I get along best with people who are very outgoing. The people that know me best are the ones that ask me a lot of questions. The people I know best are those that talk freely and openly about themselves, their likes/dislikes, their hopes and desires, their values, etc. Unless someone offers that information to me, I basically never find out. And if I’m not asked something directly, I don’t volunteer it.
I haven’t given this aspect of my social life much thought. However, now that I am dating someone who is extremely similar to me in values as well as behavior, I find myself in a strange spot. I desperately want to those conversations where you really get a good sense of who someone is at their core, but I don’t know how to initiate such conversations. Part of me is extremely frustrated by this. I want to pout or pull away from the relationship all together. But I’m tired of only doing what’s easy in a relationship. I think it’s time for me to be mature and put in the work. Besides it could be fun to learn how to get someone to open up as well as learn how to express my genuine self without waiting for others to pull it out of me.
So here is a list of questions I’ve been coming up with that will help me to discover the things I really want to know about someone:
- How would you describe yourself to someone who’s never met you?
- How do you think a friend would describe you to someone else?
- How would you like for the world to see you/who do you aspire to be?
- What about yourself (qualities, accomplishments, etc.) are you most proud of?
- What are 5 values that are important to you?
- What are 5 memories that you cherish?
- In what ways do you think you have grown and changed since childhood/high school?
- When you are upset how do you like to be comforted?
- Who are three people (famous or otherwise) that you admire? Why?
- What is one of your biggest regrets?
- What is one experience in your childhood/youth that you believe impacted who you are as a person? How did it change you?
- If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
- What qualities do you enjoy most in friends/partners?
- What does your inner voice sound like? What are some common phrases you say to yourself?
These are just a few of the questions that I’d eventually like to ask my boyfriend so that I can get a better sense of who he really is. I may end up just giving him the full list one day and maybe we can both answer the questions for one another. Even if it feels gross and artificial at first, I want to make an effort to step outside of my comfort zone in my relationships this year. I’ve always been a curious person, but I’ve never had the confidence or skill to allow that curiosity to guide me when it comes to people. My natural inquisitive nature is stifled by my social anxiety. I know with practice, though, I will overcome that and hopefully discover even more things that will bring me closer to the people in my life.
Christmas Shopping Anxiety
I just returned home from yet another bout of Christmas shopping after my yoga class. It seems like I do this every year, but never learn my lesson. I start my Christmas shopping early to make sure that I don’t have to rush around at the last minute. I make a list, I get all the items on said list, but then, I continue to buy things randomly for the rest of the weeks leading up to Christmas. It has become something like a compulsion. I can’t stop myself. I am in a continuous state of oscillation between feeling like I didn’t get everyone enough stuff and feeling like I got them too much stuff.
For the majority of the year, I am the cheapest person you’ll ever meet. I very rarely buy any one item that’s more than $10. I spend the vast majority of my money on groceries every week. I don’t go out to restaurants or movies or shows. I don’t buy myself clothes or jewelry. Hell I even procrastinate going to the dentist because I don’t want to pay my new copay. I pretty much solely shop in the clearance section of any store. I honestly can’t remember the time I bought something for myself at full price. Yet when Christmas comes around I become blind to the amount of money I am spending.
The money thing is more just something I find intriguing. I’m not worried about the money. I have plenty to spend and I much prefer spending money on other people than myself. The bigger problem is my fear of what other people will think about how much I’ve spent on them. You see, I like to at least get something little for everyone in my life. I want to get my two closest friends at work gifts even though I didn’t pick either of them for our secret Santa, I want to get my boyfriend’s parents something, I want to get my friend’s husband something, my sister’s boyfriend and his daughter something, etc. I never think much of doing so, until I realize that they may feel bad for not getting me anything, or feel like they are expected to get me a gift the following year.
It seems like no matter which way I go, more gifts or less, I feel like I am going to make people uncomfortable. I think my anxiety/autism has a lot to do with my difficulties during the holidays. I’m an extremely affectionate person. Yet I honestly doubt most people in my life know that about me. Normally, I am too self-conscious or afraid of being vulnerable to express it. Christmas is the one time of year that I have a socially acceptable way to show the people in my life how much they mean to me. I spend a lot of time and thought on the gifts I get, trying to make sure it’s something the person will like and actually use. I write vomit inducing, heartfelt Christmas cards. I get much more excited to give to others on Christmas than to receive anything myself. Honestly, I don’t care about the latter part at all.
However, being the socially awkward person that I am, I have no way to gauge what is enough and what is too much. I don’t know how to find the balance between expressing my love and going so over the top that the other person feels guilty. I just hope that the people in my life understand that it is truly a joy for me to have an opportunity to give them tokens of my affection. It doesn’t matter to me if they didn’t get me as many things or spend as much money or even get me anything at all. In my mind these gifts have already been reciprocated in kind by their presence in my life the rest of the year.
Opening myself up to others has never been one of my strong suits. Yet I know from experience, and many things I’ve read, that vulnerability is necessary in order to achieve true intimacy. This is exactly where my dilemma lies. I was fascinated by the realization I happened to stumble upon the other day surrounding this idea and how it has influenced my own life.
Sometimes I end up resenting and pushing away the people I most admire. I become frustrated by how much better I think they are than me. I paint this picture in my head of someone on a pedestal. So far above my strange little eccentricities and flaws that they could never possibly understand me. At first I feel embarrassed and unworthy of their attention and/or affection. I think to myself: well if they knew who I really was they wouldn’t want anything to do with me. Whether that’s really true or not, that thought eventually turns angry and I think: oh, fuck them then. I don’t need them anyway. I grow tired of pretending to be someone I’m not to maintain their approval. (Whether I even need to do so or not, remains unknown.) I either retreat myself or begin to push them away. This seems like a better option than what I view as the only other: that I am seen for who I really am and rejected.
I was running this problem over in my head the other day, when I began to wonder how I have any intimate relationships at all. I mean, of course there are plenty of people that I am able to be vulnerable with, people that I feel safe showing myself too. So what’s different about those relationships? I discovered that there are really only two ways I’ve been able to get close to someone in the past.
One way is when a person gets to know me before I decide I really give a damn about them or what they think of me. This happened more often when I was in high school and college. My first boyfriend knew all of my dirty little secrets before I fell in love with him or even became close friends with him just because we had classes together. In these instances, the fact that this casual acquaintance does not reject me for what they discover is extremely endearing to me. I begin to like them more because they’ve seen who I am and have not turned away, or perhaps even like me better for it. It feels so good to be seen. And I feel that they must be an exceptionally kind and compassionate person if they could still like me after truly seeing me.
The other way is when the other person is very outgoing and open. If they pour their heart out to me, I am usually so touched by their vulnerability and trust that I feel safe enough to offer my own. The closest people in my life have historically been extremely extroverted. Their bravery gives me the courage to open up. They also tend to ask me lots of probing questions, which I actually enjoy. Some people might find that rude, but I love nothing more than having someone ask me about myself or my experiences. I’m far too self-conscious to offer up that information willingly. So unless I’m directly asked, a lot of my life remains unknown to even my friends. Even if I desperately want them to know. I just feel too embarrassed to offer up unsolicited information about myself because I think no one would care.
So having noticed this pattern, how can I get close to someone who does not fall into either of these two categories? I am genuinely at a loss on that one. Not only am I too afraid to let this person find out too much about me and my past, they also don’t ask about it at all. Even if I wanted to tell them, I would have no idea how to bring it up besides just blurting it out randomly. And I don’t think that would be helpful even if I could muster up the courage to do it.
I’m not sure where this fear of being seen began. I cannot even remember a time where I was rejected for showing someone who I truly am. I’ve always been accepted and shown compassion. And each time this simple act of decency and kindness has touched me deeply. Each time I can hardly believe it, can hardly accept it, and feel certain that I don’t deserve it. Even though I know that I only end up liking someone more after they’ve shown me their flaws. I don’t love them despite these imperfections. I love them more because of their imperfections and the fact that they trusted me enough to share them with me.
I can’t seem to let go of this belief that I am not worthy of anyone else’s love until I am perfect. But that is obviously ridiculous. People don’t want someone who is “perfect.” (I certainly don’t.) People like other real, imperfect people far more. Consider the popularity of the anti-hero. Everyone loves a deeply troubled TV or movie character with redeeming qualities more than one who is infallible. Because no one is perfect. We see ourselves in the revealed shortcomings of others and we love them for it, as we can only hope others will love us for ours.
I am not being fair to myself or the people I hold dear by withholding and hiding these imperfect parts of myself. It’s not fair for me to breed resentment towards someone for my perception that they could never accept or understand me. Especially when I refuse to even give them the chance. I know deep down that I don’t have to be afraid. Certainly some people will reject me, but so many more have already embraced me and my flaws. Not only that, but by hiding myself away for fear of judgement, I am sending myself the message that I am not enough as I am, that I am unworthy of being seen and loved. And that’s not what I believe, not really. What I really believe is best summed up in the words of my favorite poet:
No matter how insignificant I may be, I believe I deserve to be loved.Federico Garcia Lorca
Anxiety From the Outside
Even though mental illnesses are be discussed more and more openly, and average people have a better understanding of them than they once did, it is still hard to tell if someone without mental illness really “gets” the struggles faced by those who do. I still remember talking to a client of mine and explaining to him the way my anxiety used to make it impossible for me to talk to people even in the most innocuous circumstances. His own brother was the same way and I was explaining to him that it wasn’t just an excuse for being anti-social as he suspected. Even after hearing my story, he seemed skeptical and unable to wrap his mind around what I was telling him.
Since that day, I’ve become more and more concerned with the way others may interpret my behavior. With both my social work career and my yoga teaching, there are expectations that I am unable to meet even after years of practice. My yoga studio constantly urges me to walk around the room more, watch my students more closely, offer adjustments, etc. The child advocacy center where I work, encourages me to stay in the waiting room with the kids and family the entire time that they are hear not just at the beginning and end of their appointment. Neither of these tasks seems too daunting. Even when I contemplate the idea myself, it seems doable.
However, even with the best intentions going in, I can never manage to do as well as I hope. In the moment, my fear takes hold of me. Nothing besides avoiding the situation seems to matter at all to me at that point. I would do anything to just escape, regardless of the consequences. And usually, I give in to that fear and fall into my usual pattern. I’m not sure even the possibility of losing my position all together would be enough to rival the fear of the action itself.
Not only does this constant internal battle make me feel guilty, like I’m not serving my students and clients well enough, it also makes me wonder what my coworkers think about it. I’ve expressed to them that the reason I resist their advice is because of my anxiety. Even so, I don’t know if they are able to fully comprehend what I mean. I am afraid that, like my former client and his brother, they think I am just making excuses to get out of doing my job. To a certain extent, I even feel like it’s an excuse. But it’s not an excuse to avoid working, or because I don’t care, it’s an excuse to avoid paralyzing fear. I would happily do ten times the amount of paperwork if it allowed me to have less interaction with people. It’s not that I’m lazy and don’t want to do work. I’m just afraid. I’m afraid to the extent that sometimes it really does feel like I am unable to do what is expected of me.
Because I have lived with this anxiety my entire life, it makes perfect sense to me when I see someone else avoiding a task that to others seems simple. But I also see the way others judge them for that avoidance. People who have not experienced this irrational anxiety just can’t comprehend how it feels. Which is why I always go out of my way to accommodate people I meet who are clearly socially anxious. For instance, I have a neighbor that never looks at me or waves or says hi even though we pass each other quite regularly. I know that most people would be offended by that and think he is a rude person. But I find him endearing because I know how he feels. Honestly, I wish more people were like him. It’s a huge energetic effort for me to smile and wave and make small talk with neighbors every time I leave my house.
I understand why these behaviors seem odd and uncaring from the outside. I don’t expect people to be able to understand something so illogical if they’ve never experienced it. I just hope that the people in my life understand that, even when it might not look like it, I really am trying my best. Making a phone call or siting with someone for an hour might seem extremely easy to most people, but just know that there are a lot of us that find it comparable to walking a tight rope or holding a python. Imagine if you had to face your greatest fear each and every day. It’s exhausting at best, and traumatizing at worst. So please try to be patient with us. We really are trying.
I cannot believe I have only been taking 5mg of Paxil instead of 30mg for nearly two weeks now. Back when I was around 22 or 23 I began taking this SSRI every day and only recently found the nerve to try to wean myself off of it at 27. There were many times throughout the years when I wanted to do this, but when you read the horror stories about Paxil withdrawal it’s quite intimidating. A big part of my hesitation to give up the medication was also psychological. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to manage without it.
Before I began taking Paxil, I was petrified of most (if not all) social interactions. It was a monumental task to even call my doctor to set up an appointment or to order food in a drive-thru. Meeting new people was always a nightmare, and I had a very difficult time making friends. After a month on an SSRI though, I was a completely different person. I didn’t think twice about making a phone call or talking to a stranger on the street. I felt like the shackles I had been wearing all my life were finally removed. That ever-present fog of fear had finally lifted.
But what if even after years of living in this newfound freedom, Paxil was still the only reason I was able to do these things? What if that old fear came back to overtake me as soon as I stopped? Not only that, I was afraid there would be no turning back for me once I began this journey away from Paxil. There are many accounts online of people attempting to cut back only to realize they desperately need this drug. However, upon increasing their dosage again, they found the medication didn’t work like it did the first time. I was afraid if I was making the wrong decision, I would be stuck with it.
Despite all these fears, with the support of my loved ones and primary doctor, I managed to start weaning myself off my Paxil. I tried not to think too much about it or look for any negative symptoms rearing their ugly heads. Much to my surprise, everything has remained pretty much the same, even now on practically no meds at all. I have only noticed positive changes such as rediscovering my formerly blunted range of emotions. And I could not be happier or more proud of myself.
The other day as I was driving home from an impromptu meeting with my boyfriend and his family, something incredible dawned on me. I can’t believe I just did that, I thought. I just spent the whole day with my boyfriend and his family. I just met his developmentally disabled aunt and elderly grandfather without having any idea I would be doing so beforehand. Wow. This might not sound like anything out of the ordinary to most people, but imagining how I would have handled that situation before Paxil vs. now is like night and day.
At 21 if my boyfriend had sprung meeting these people on me at the last minute I would have been petrified, angry, desperate to get out of the situation somehow. But that day, it never even occurred to me that it was of any significance. I simply shrugged and agreed when he said we’d be going to see them. I had no problem at all talking with them. I feel like I even managed to make a great impression. It actually brings tears to my eyes to say that. (Tears I now feel forming much more often and easily on my lowered dosage.) I am just so proud of myself.
Even though I’ve been through many similar experiences in the years since starting Paxil, this was the first time I can remember doing something like this pretty much on my own, with no significant chemical assistance. I genuinely never thought I would be capable of maneuvering social situations on my own. This incident has allowed me to more fully appreciate the things I’ve continued to do every day with no problem since lowering my dosage. I’ve still been meeting new clients every day at work, making follow-up phone calls, shooting the breeze with my coworkers, etc. All things I have become accustomed to, but had always given all the credit for to Paxil.
So to anyone out there who has been leaning on an SSRI for support, wanting to venture out on your own again, but are too fearful to try, don’t be afraid. You can do it. (With the help and support of a medical professional, of course.) I had hoped that the new pathways I have been building for years inside my brain would be strong enough to stand on their own after so many years of Paxil assistance, but I couldn’t be sure. Now I am. I know I can do this.
In summation, first I was throwing total support behind psych meds, then I was wavering more towards being against them all together. Now I have a better understanding of how to use these tools without becoming dependent on them. SSRI’s are not a miracle cure. They are also not something to avoid entirely. I finally see that they are like training wheels. Paxil gave me the courage and the confidence to gather new experiences, to learn that social situations don’t have to be scary. It gave me the time to practice better coping skills. My brain used to associate small talk, phone calls, meeting people, etc. with terror. Now I have years and years of conditioning under my belt to remind me that I can do these things and be perfectly okay. There is nothing to fear. Paxil has taught me that, and I am so grateful. Now with my new neural pathways in place and the old self-destructive ones faded and withered, I am ready to forge ahead on my own.
Using Curiosity to Combat Fear
I’ve struggled with social anxiety for the majority of my life. The only time I can remember interacting with other people without hesitation or fear was when I was a very young child. It used to be so easy to go up to another child that I didn’t know at all and become friends with them in a matter of minutes. I miss those simpler times. The longer I’ve lived, the harder it has become for me to make new friends.
The last few years as a social worker have really inspired me to try harder when interacting with others. I see the way that my coworkers are so easily able to make meaningful connections to the clients we meet everyday. I’ve tried my best to mirror their social behaviors and improve my own ability to connect, but it always feels somewhat gross and fake. It’s impossible to make a real connection with another person when you are wearing a mask. Even when they don’t know you, there is a different energy that I think we are all able to pick up on whether we consciously realize it or not.
I used to make excuses to myself about why it wasn’t even worth my time to put in the effort to bond with new people. I had convinced myself that the vast majority of people just aren’t worth getting to know. Everyone is an idiot with nothing interesting to say. At least that’s what I used to believe. However, after meeting so many shockingly amazing people in the last few years, that conviction has all but eroded. Now I am happy to say that I truly believe their are still wonderful people out there for me to meet. The issue now is, how do I learn to put myself out there and keep my heart open to that possibility each time I meet someone new?
One thing I have been trying to work on is focusing on curiosity instead of fear. One of the most anxiety provoking parts of my job each day is sitting with the child while my coworkers discuss the next steps with the parent. I am always extremely nervous any time I am alone with someone I’m not close to, let alone a child that has just disclosed horrific abuse of some kind. Even though my time one of one with the children has always ended up going well, often resulting in a swell of admiration and tenderness toward them, I still can’t manage to placate my fears for each new case.
I’ve noticed that when I am faced with these types of situations, my initial instinct is to shut down. All I want to do is run out the clock or avoid the encounter entirely. I also struggle to avoid prattling on about myself instead of getting to know the person I’m talking to. I guess I find it easier to talk about myself because it’s always easier to talk about what you know. And what do we know better than ourselves and our own experiences? I think this is also a subconscious attempt to control the conversation and avoid being taken off guard. When asking questions, you can never predict where the conversation may lead. One of the hallmarks of social anxiety is attempting to plan out a conversation before it happens. Obviously this never works. It just makes you less able to immerse yourself in the natural flow of conversation.
I’m working on letting go of my need to control the situation and open myself up to discovering what/who is in front of me. I would consider myself a very curious person. I am always wondering about the way others think and see the world, what interests them and why, what their goals are, etc. However, my fear easily overpowers that natural curiosity under the pressure of meeting new people, especially in a work setting. It’s always been hard for me to toe the line between authenticity and professionalism. But I’m hoping if I can keep guiding my attention back to that curiosity inside of me, eventually it will become easier to overcome my fear so that I may learn more about the person I’m talking to.
I want to practice shifting my focus from myself, my fears, worries, what this person may be thinking about me, etc. I’d rather focus on the other person and finding out who they are. I’m sure that with enough experience I can teach myself that there is nothing to fear. Sure, maybe it will be an uncomfortable conversation, but it may also be a lovely, enjoyable interaction. Based on anecdotal evidence, I’d have to say the latter is even more likely. Either way, I am going to keep trying. This world is filled with so many fascinating people with minds as mysterious and unique as my own. I can’t wait to meet them. That is going to be my mantra from now on when we have a new family coming in: I can’t wait to meet them! I wonder who they will be.
Bonding & Social Anxiety
Maybe no one really seems to be the person that they mean to be.Conor Oberst
Probably my favorite man in the world (besides my boyfriend) is the man I work with at my small little three-person office. I’m not quite sure I’ve ever held someone in such high regard. I genuinely view him as a member of my family and I look forward to talking to him every day. If we were closer in age, I’d definitely have a crush on him. Since he’s my parents’ age, I think of him like a father instead. Strangely enough, he and my real father go by the same name.
Earlier when I walked into his office, he was telling another coworker/friend of ours that he had been talking about me with his wife last night. He was telling her about how close we’ve gotten over the last few years and how much he’s grown to love me. I nearly teared up as he listed off my best qualities proudly. I was so close to telling him that I view him as a father, but decided to bite my tongue. Maybe I’ll tell him one day, but not today.
Never having been close to my biological father, seeing him in this way means a lot to me. I honestly have never had a closer, non-sexual relationship with a man before in my life. He has taught me so much. I am filled with admiration and love for him. He’s one of those people that I just mesh with extremely well. He has such an open, accepting, light-hearted aura.
However, despite all of this, I struggle with the warm emotions I feel for him. It is a constant balancing act whenever I start to feel attached to someone. There are only a small handful of people I’ve ever felt strongly enough about to be vulnerable with. Even so, that vulnerability terrifies me. My anxiety tells me I’m not safe, that I’ll only end up getting hurt and rejected if I show the world who I really am. No matter how safe the person may make me feel, that pinching fear in my chest never fully leaves. Even when I so desperately want to be closer, I can’t help but keep myself at arm’s length.
I think when you don’t have personal experience with social anxiety, you imagine it’s only being afraid of negative social interactions such as being humiliated or not knowing what to do or say in a given situation. But actually, positive social situations can be just a stressful. Even after a great moment of intimacy with someone I genuinely care for, I find myself feeling anxious afterwards. Thoughts start to pop up: Did I share too much? Maybe I shouldn’t have said that. Do they like me as much as I like them? I feel awkward and embarrassed by getting closer to someone, even when it’s what I want. It’s quite frustrating and isolating as you can imagine.
I think most people in my life notice a striking difference between who I initially present myself to be: cold, distant, quiet, serious, soft-spoken, reserved and who I reveal myself to be later on: warm, loving, sensitive, affectionate, funny, loud, outspoken, passionate. Although most people seem to change once you get to know them better, I don’t think it’s usually as drastic of a difference. I doubt most of the people I am close to even realize how deeply loving and affectionate I can be. I’m just too afraid to be that vulnerable with practically anyone.
It really makes me wonder how different those around me might be from the way they present themselves to the world. I tend to take situations and individuals at face value. I can be pretty gullible and have to make a great effort to integrate the various layers of a person into a cohesive image. That’s one of the many great things about my friend at work. He is not without his flaws, but somehow his flaws make him all the more endearing. Loving someone despite their flaws is such a beautiful and profound thing to experience. Not only that, I am able to see the way he loves others who are deeply flawed themselves. He is open and accepting of just about everyone no matter how different they are from him. Witnessing this in another has helped me so much to come to terms with my own issues.
So for those of you out there also struggling with creating close, meaningful relationships despite your earnest desire to do so, know that you aren’t alone. And for everyone else reading this that may not have much knowledge of social anxiety or mental illness in general, I hope this has given you a new perspective and a better understanding of some of the issues others are going through.