What it's Like to Have Social Anxiety as an Adult
As a heads up, this post is essentially a part two to my original post about my previously un-diagnosed anxiety. If you're looking for some background, check out my original post! Since that post, I have started seeing a therapist and now have a official diagnosis. YAY!!! It's the little things, people!
Discovering I have social anxiety as an adult has been hard...
It as around 2011, maybe 2012 when I realized something was off. I was experiencing random panic attacks which are different than anxiety attacks, although they are often used interchangeably- I suffer with both.
The simple way to explain the difference (for me) is that panic attacks tend to come on randomly, they don't really have a source, anxiety attacks are brought on by anxiety. For me, panic attacks often led to anxiety attacks because I always thought something was wrong and then it was this horrible cycle. That was a few years back, and those panic attacks led me to start doing research on panic disorder and anxiety attacks, which led me to self-diagnose that I had anxiety.
This post is about my social anxiety which is separate from other anxiety that I experience. My social anxiety is ultimately what led me to want to see a therapist because it started to impact my life and I felt like I wasn't really living. I know I used to be a really out going, extremely social person, and I’m wondering when the transition happened. I think I can pinpoint it, but it’s definitely something I plan to dive deeper into with my therapist.
When I first started college, I noticed that I didn’t really have the same experience as my peers. The parties, the social gatherings, it's not that these things weren’t happening, I just wasn’t participating in them. I thought I was just shy but I now realize it’s much more than that, I'm not "an introvert," it's more than that...
I get anxious when I have to meet new people...
I recently started a new job and there are so many people 100+ that I see everyday and if they don’t introduce themselves to me, I won’t ever know them. I don't know what it is, I don't know if I fear they won’t like me, fear I won’t fit in...I have no idea. This is a new discovery for me and when I look back on my life, I realize it has held be back so many times.
Ya'll remember that Alessia Cara song, Here. I don't think that song was about anxiety, but I could definitely relate to parts of that song. I remember going to one party in college and sitting alone on my phone the entire time, until I finally slipped out unnoticed.
That was such a reveling moment for me because it was the first time that I went to a party and really talked myself up and tried to be social , and when I left I felt so defeated...I never tried to go to another party alone.
When I tell people that I have social anxiety, their response is usually "omg I couldn't tell!" but they can't see my internal struggle.
They don't know that I pep-talked myself on the drive over, or that I'm literally reminding myself to smile, or laugh, and even to talk. If I'm standing in a group of people I don't really know and everyone is talking, my mind is that Mr. Krabs meme.
My mind is running every scenario, every possible way that this situation can go wrong, because it WILL go wrong.
Remember to laugh, everyone just laughed...
I haven't said anything in a while, they probably think I'm weird and don't talk...I AM weird and I don't talk
You can't go up to that person first...you'll say something awkward, you always say something awkward...maybe you should just leave.
Oh my gosh they're all looking at each other and haven't looked at me in a while..they must not like me
These are some thoughts that I have when I'm socializing with people...
I recall once in a class in college, we had to group up with people for a major, end of the semester project. Basically worth half our grade. The professor later asked “OK who doesn’t have a group” and I was literally the only one. Why? Because I got so anxious about going up to people I didn’t know and talking to them, that I sat there the entire time and didn’t move. It was so embarrassing.I had to go talk to my teacher later and redeem myself because he thought I wasn't taking his assignment seriously, when the reality is that my mind took it too seriously.
Anxiety isn't always crying hysterically, shaking, and struggling to breathe (although it has been for me, more than once.) But you can't always SEE it.
Don't always assume that someone is being standoffish, rude, or bitchy if they don't respond the way you expected them to. That "hey nice to meet you" could have just set off their anxiety and they may be trying to figure out how to handle it-fight or flight kicks in and they may just want to run.
I started talking about my anxiety and telling people that I have it, not to get sympathy but to avoid situations where people think I'm somehow shading them. I've been very vocal about it at work, as well as on my page because I am working on it but I'm not perfect, and I have my days. Sometimes I'm better online than in person, but some times I'll go hours or days without responding to a DM, because I don't want to say something "weird," no shade, it's not you, it's me.
It's growth, sis!!! For so long, mental health has been a taboo topic in Black communities, and it's no ones fault. We have always had to be so tough, that we didn't really have time for mental health problems. I'm glad that it is changing and we are having these conversations. I'll continue to be vocal about the parts that I care to share (because there are plenty I don't) and I really appreciate y'all for reading and for opening your DM's up for conversation when I need it. I appreciate y'all and I'm always here if anyone needs to talk!