I AM Not My Social Anxiety
I always would use the term, "my social anxiety," when speaking on the struggles I experienced with social anxiety...until the therapist I was working with at the time told me to stop saying, "my." She wanted me to stop owning social anxiety and making it my identity.
When she explained her reasoning, I understood, but then several years and specific moments of my life replayed in my mind. I replayed stages of my life starting from where it was pinpointed that I started struggling with social anxiety...high school.
During high school, I became very self-conscious about who I was, how I dressed, who liked me, how others viewed me, and what they thought of me. I had an extreme fear of being embarrassed, embarrassing myself, saying the wrong thing, and looking the wrong way. I compared myself to everyone else. Essentially, I crawled inside my mind and lived there while my body functioned off of routine.
That routine continued into adulthood...I always say college was one of the worst times for me mentally. Deep in depression, general anxiety, along with social anxiety. Not being diagnosed and getting help in high school, I picked up so many bad habits mentally that directed me physically...so naturally, I got worse and crawled deeper inside my mind and with college being all about socializing...I did the bare minimum, what was required of me or what was presented to me. Networking and making connections, was difficult for me...I didn't stay on campus, so I would go to class and then go right home or to my part time job.
I recall one situation where one of my professors who was a radio personality for a local radio station took a liking to me and invited me to come to the station and sit in with her to get a real-life experience. She invited me several times, but I would never go because I was scared...being on the radio was my dream, but I couldn't pull myself out of my head. I made every excuse not to go...so of course she stopped asking and the opportunity passed me by.
I can tell you about several stories like this in my life...job opportunities, modeling opportunities, trip opportunities, random social events, family events, romantic relationship experiences, etc...lol...I can go on and on.
Social anxiety has been a pain in my ass for years...to the point where I started blaming myself and severely beating myself up. "Why do I have to deal with this shit?!?" "Why me?!?" I was the problem in my head and eyes...Friends stop inviting me out, stop inviting me on trips, casual and romantic relationships suffered...I was looked at as not being a fully supportive friend and lover...looked at in many ways that hurt me. I was being rejected and abandoned...adding on to my already severe rejection and abandonment issues smh lol.
Now after college and the building blocks of anxiety trapping me further...life is getting real lol. It became really difficult for me in my late 20s and into my early 30s to be in social settings. I remember a couple of times having full blown panic attacks in the club...man, that shit feels like yesterday.
Was I an introvert or was it social anxiety...I told myself I was just an introvert...I wasn't going to therapy yet so that's all I had, *shrugs*.
Eventually, I made it to therapy, and everything started to make sense. I was able to understand myself, give myself grace, and start to heal. It hasn't been easy because I picked up so many habits and told myself so many things in my mind. At 40 years old, every day is a new day for me to make a different choice. Therapy has helped me understand my triggers and all the tools and homework given to me has helped me push through the fear and uncomfortable situations that once made me hide and retreat.
I am proud of myself for the strides I've made...as the cliche says, "healing isn't linear." Now, every day I look forward to the new opportunities I am presented with...sometimes I make the choice I've more intimately known, but I don't beat myself up the same way. I have learned to see the lesson, accept my decision and move on. When I do face my fears, I acknowledge it and give myself kudos for the progress...and that's that. On to life's next opportunity.
Love, Derek Silver