Social Anxieties

Sweaty palms. Heart racing. Head buzzing. Nerves. Those damn nerves. Butterflies in my stomach. Is it hot in here? Is it just me? Oh no, am I sweating? Can people see me sweating? It definitely is hot in here. Shoot. I caught eyes with someone. They’re walking over. Fuck. I hate small talk. I’m horrible at it.
“Hey! Long time no see. How have you been?” … “Good Good, Anything new?”
Shit… they would of told that me in their response to my first question. Fuck. Now I’m not listening. How do I respond? What do I say? Smile. And nod. Breathe. Breathe. There’s a lot of people in here. Fuck, they’re still standing infront of me, and talking. Listen to them! Ok ok.. Focus on one thing they mentioned.
“Right, the wave of facism is threatening to eat the planet and turn us all into minions”
Wait what? Am I agreeing to that statement? Or did I just repeat what they said? Just smile. nod. Oh they’re laughing, try to chuckle. Laugh with them.
“Me? Oh I’m good”.. just trying not to pass out. I didn’t say that out loud. Did I? Shit. What else do I say? Compliment them. “I love your top”… Ok. Good. Breathe. Smile. Breathe. They’re still talking. Stay engaged. Smile. Breathe. Breathe.
“Yeah it was great talking to you too. Enjoy your night!”.
Oh geez. Now I’m by myself. Again. My head hurts. Is the ground moving? Oh fuck am I getting a migraine? here? Right now? seriously? I need water. Or maybe I should just leave.

 

Social anxiety exists. That uncomfortable feeling, knowing you don’t belong in any social gathering. That not knowing what is going on, feeling. Being called “awkward” by others who don’t know what is going on in my head. Don’t care, don’t feel the struggle. The pain. The exhaustion. Or maybe they do.

How does social anxiety evolve?
How does anxiety even exist?

Trauma?
Introvert-ism?

As a child, I’ve always been given the label as; quiet, shy and soft spoken. Not particularly a label I enjoyed having. My mother is bold, and strong, and loud. I thought I just took after my father; soft spoken, calm, introverted. Maybe I do. Maybe it is an innate personality trait. Being an introvert is something I’ve dealt with my entire life. I write “dealt”, because I do enjoy my solitude, being alone with myself, my thoughts, my comfort in being home; inside in my safe space. But it becomes an issue when I choose solitude over friendships, solitude over living outside of my safe space. And the longer I close my physical being from the world, the stronger my anxiety. So I have dealt with the illusion of wanting to be social butterfly or wanting to be a quiet hermit. Growing up, I remember, in comparison to my brothers bubbly personality, always being quiet, calm and well-mannered (not to say my brother wasn’t), and I specifically remember always being told to “Talk!. Say Something!” And always wanting to crawl under a rock and disappear. 

Fast forward several years, to college. Speech 101 (a public speaking course). The class I dreaded, the class I postponed, for obvious reasons. But, in order for me to graduate and receive my diploma, I undoubtedly needed to take the class and pass. So hesitatingly, uncomfortably, and fearfully, I did. And it was that class, and that professor who gave me my voice. Gratefully, the class size was smaller than the average lecture class of 50+ student, and smaller than the average general class of 30+ students, and the instructor would always pick me. He’d pick me to be first for every debate, and every presentation. He’d give me critique, tips and breathing techniques. He’d push me to speak louder and stronger. Every word represents something. Our final exam, was to memorize and present a written script, from our favorite author, in front of the class, in the quad, in the middle of lunch rush hour. And of course Ricky Henderson (yes the Hall of fame, Oakland A’s, Ricky Henderson) was a good friend of my professors and wanted to sit in on the oral presentations. The quad, the square shaped “hang out” spot was of course filled with people; talking, eating, walking, sitting. The most terrifying day of my life, but also one of the most impactful days. I did it:

Heart beating. Loudly. Racing. Sweaty palms. Head buzzing, blood rushing. It’s hot. My hands can’t stop shaking, is the ground moving? Oh. It’s my knees.
“Michelle”.. shit I’m first? Of course. Ok. Can I just bail?. And run? no. Ok. Breathe. 

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion models size.

Start walking around, speak louder. Don’t make eye contact with anyone. Fuck where was i? Oh

But when I start to tell them.

I can’t breathe. Breathe. Speak louder. What’s the next line? What did professor tell me to say to the crowd to buy myself extra time to breathe. Smile. Breathe. 

I’m sorry, I’m really nervous.

Breathe.

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion models size.
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips,
I’m a woman.
Phenomenally
Phenomenal woman.
Thats me.
Written by Maya Angelou


It was that poem. That author. That class. That instructor. That time and that day that I found my voice. The rush of adrenaline that hit me after I finished. That sense of pride. I did it.

My social anxiety still exists. But the more I force myself out of my safe space. I experience. I live. I breathe. The less I encounter my anxiety attacks.

I’ve been told, and I’ve observed, that anxiety is all mental. We get in our headspace and we lock ourselves inside. A lot of times, with anxiety, a panic attack follows. That fear of drowning, of falling, of feeling helpless. It exists. And it is different for everyone. My anxiety evolved from being pushed into the spotlight and being told to “talk!” In situations I felt extremely uncomfortable in. It evolved into being in a small over crowded space, and feeling suffocated. Claustrophobia. Small talk with people who probably equally hate it too. Being in places I just simply do not want to be in.

My brother gave me one of the greatest responses to being called “awkward”.. he said “You are awkward. You’re different. Unique. There’s only 1 Michelle. People who don’t try to understand you call you awkward because to them, you do not fit in their bubble of ‘normal’ ”.

To those with anxiety, I am with you.
To those who do not understand anxiety, try to.

Anxiety is all mental. The cure, I don’t know if it exists, but I do know that medication is not the solution. Remind yourself to stay grounded. Breathe. 

Tips:
   -I pinch my forearms and I bite my lip, to bring myself back to reality. Grounded.
   -Breathe. Slow. Long. Deep. Breaths
   -Fresh air. Step outside.
   -Focus on something, anything; smell, sight or sound. It’ll keep your mind from pulling out anxiety tactics.