It’s funny. I always knew one of my entries would focus on Social Anxiety. That I would eventually delve into the topic and my personal experience with the disorder. But what makes this funny is…I really thought this entry would be inspired by one of the average days of my life where I deal with social anxiety. My social anxiety is commonly the source of my issues and it’s something I have often used to define myself. Literally. I had to write an essay in 7th Grade about my identity and I wrote a whole paper on how it felt to always be the “shy kid”. I’ve improved vastly, but it’s still a core part of my personality. It’s still a struggle every single day. So it would make sense that this entry would be inspired on a day where I felt particularly anxious. But that’s not what made me decide to finally write this entry.
Today I had work again. Fortunately, after today, I get a break until next Thursday morning. I need to get away from that place. Today was insanely busy and I spent every single second working. Cleaning, filling things, helping customers, and making food. There wasn’t much time to just stop and brood. It was actually kind of nice to be so focused on my job instead of worrying about what anyone thought of me or what I think of myself. All I could focus on was the work and getting each customer through successfully.
Then something happened that was completely unexpected and totally surreal. This boy who I had never met came in. It was only his second day working and he was clearly in over his head. He was overwhelmed, nervous, and terrified of everyone. He rarely made eye contact with anyone, he made an effort to make himself invisible, he apologized constantly, and he made every rookie mistake in the book. To be fair, it was only the kid’s second day. When my shift was over and I was leaving, I asked the kid how long he’d been working here. It was only his second day and I tried to compliment him on how well he was already picking things up. I know I struggled hardcore at first and had recurring nightmares where managers and more experienced employees sent me on wild goose chases and got mad when I didn’t know where I was going or what I was doing. His response was “I don’t think I did well, but thanks anyway”. My heart immediately went out to the kid. All I could think was holy hell this is what I sound like.
Earlier that night, another coworker was teasing him about his “humble, polite, and shy schtick”. Which has, for the majority of my life, always been my schtick. It felt surreal that someone else had taken over my identity. If he’s now the “shy nervous kid”, what does that make me? The whole night I was so busy, moving constantly, and worried about making sure I was on task with my work. I had to work with three newer workers this shift and I was hyper-aware that I had to make sure to do everything right. Which, for the most part, I did. I’m no longer the scared rookie. I think I actually intimidated the new employee. Me. Intimidating. Interacting with this kid was like looking into a mirror. So this is what a person with social anxiety looks like from the other side. So this is why people naturally feel protective towards me.
I’m no longer the socially anxious kid. Sure, I revert back to those shy ticks when I’m in a new situation. Sure, I get overwhelming anxiety about what others think about me. Sure, I often mumble and apologize. Sure, I have a dangerously low self-image. But I am so much more confident and secure in my identity than I used to be. College taught me to respect myself and to believe in myself. Even if I still doubt myself sometimes. In High School, I hated myself. I’ve been “the shy kid” since Kindergarden. My very first teacher wanted my mom to get me tested. I had to go to special counseling sessions for my social anxiety in 1st Grade. The amount of times people called me “the quiet one” is ridiculous. It gets old. I’ve had so many mentors think that they would be the one to cure me once and for all. Honestly, being the shy kid has become a bit of a crutch for me. It allows me to lean on my social anxiety. It gives me an identity that I’m used to and I know how to manipulate. The idea of not being the shy kid? That idea terrifies me. Who am I without the shy? What else is there?
That’s not to say Social Anxiety is fun. It’s being too scared to raise your hand in class, to call up a manager on the walkie talkie, or to talk to family members you’ve known since you were born. It’s holding in a sneeze because oh god what if I have to get up and get a tissue and everyone will be staring at me nope way too much can’t do it. It’s staying up late at night feeling like an utter failure and wondering why anyone bothers to put up with you. Are my friends really my friends? Why did I say that stupid thing? It’s obvious everyone just hates me and I’m clearly a waste of space. Social Anxiety is keeping your feelings locked inside and then angsting over how “nobody understands me”. Social Anxiety is no walk in the park. I just wish there was a way I could reach out to others with the disorder to let them know that they are not alone. To say the things that I wish others had said to me. To model the behaviors of my mentors. Nobody deserves to go through this alone.