When I go out I feel uneasy. A host of invisible eyes seem to be creeping on me. Making eye contact with other people requires a conscious effort, but by now it’s become a discipline, a little act of courage. On good days I even smile.
When I go out, the more clothes I wear, the more comfortable I feel, which usually means I’m overdressed. Hence the hat. Nobody has seen me walking on the street in short sleeves since my schoolboy times.
When I was a little boy, I was afraid to go out and play with other children. I played alone. I enjoyed it. I did not feel lonely.
It was during highschool that something that could be called “social anxiety” held me in its grip. Being around so many people for so many hours every day seemed to compress the air around me. It was one of the reasons I dropped out. I don’t regret that now, because I know I can resume standard education once I’m done educating myself.
I never had a panic attack, but I’ve felt many times that I’m in the spotlight on a stage, before an audience who has come to see a comic play whose protagonist was none other than myself.
There was a time when I was too afraid to go out. I spent about a year indoors. That was not right, and it saddens me to think that there was nobody to help me out of it. But then I think I hid it well — we anxious types are so good at hiding things.
In time I learned to help myself. I listened to my body, to the world outside it craved. I opposed less and less resistance. Now I can’t conceive of not going out every day, at least for a walk.
What I’ve learned so many times and what I keep on learning each time I make myself go somewhere is that once I push myself forward and leave the force-field of my anxiety, the going gets good, and I feel not only better, but even a little courageous.
What some call “social anxiety” isn’t something I suffer from — it’s just the way I am and have always been. I’m not sure that there are any meds or therapists who can help those like me. The best cure for social anxiety is to stay away from the bustle of the world. You can live a good life without it.
We will never be the soul of the party, but then we don’t have to be. We don’t even have to clap our hands before someone else’s performance. Being there is enough, even if a shadow hides us from view, because every one of us is in himself his own performance, one that happens day by day, hour by hour, thought by thought.
If all of us anxious types will try to fill out all the good social roles, we will fail pathetically, and we will suffer. But life has enough roles even for us. We can turn social anxiety into a compass that can guide us through life. “Don’t go there, stay here,” our mind will tell us. And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that. Not doing something is sometimes the right thing to do.
Have you ever experienced social anxiety? What did you do about it?