This post is definitely out of the norm of what I usually post on my blog. Most, if not all, posts are about books and that entire world. However, this post is something a little more personal which is why I am writing this “introduction” of sorts (if that’s what you want to call it). I needed to get my story out on paper (metaphorically) and out there. I don’t know why I feel like it needs to be out in the world for more than just my eyes to see, but I do. Maybe someone out there can relate. Or maybe I just like writing. I don’t know. What I do know is this is a different style of post and I won’t do this style too often, but this is something I want out there. So before you read it, please don’t be mean if you choose to comment. This is a safe space.
Today I went back to my high school. I went back to see old friends and teachers and be back in a place that was my home for four years. I expected to be happy seeing old teachers, feel old looking at the new group of freshmen, and feel nostalgic about what life once was. I didn’t expect to find something completely different that I didn’t realize I had until today.
Over the last year and a half or so I’ve be grappling with the realization that I think I have social anxiety. I’ve never been diagnosed for anxiety, but I know that I have had minor anxiety attacks and the symptoms of social anxiety are something I suffer through everyday. I didn’t realize this until I was in college and about halfway through my first year. I was going to a open bid sorority recruitment event (it was more relaxed than formal recruitment and much more up my alley, at least that was what I convinced myself when I signed up) and I couldn’t get myself to walk through the door. The event was held at a dormitory basement and not at the actual house, but I was still a nervous wreck. I froze up when I saw the door and made excuses to be late. I was shaking walking there. This wasn’t normal nerves. I felt sick about to walk in. I ran back up to the main floor and frantically texted my friend about how scared I was. I was on the verge of tears and I didn’t know how to control myself. I knew that the event I was invited to wasn’t going to be as bad as I was making it in my head. I knew that. I told myself that I could leave at anytime if I didn’t like it. I didn’t believe myself. Finally, my friend texted me and she said something along the lines of “wow I didn’t know it was this bad.” Only the “it” she was referring to was my shyness. Or what I believed was shyness. After that text from my friend, my determination kicked in and I forced myself to go back down to the basement and walk through that door. I was still quivering a little bit as I signed in and met some of the girls in the room. After a few minutes I calmed down enough and I found myself having fun. I relaxed and went to another event and then found myself a new member of a sorority. This was a place I never thought I would find myself. I never thought I was the right “type” to be greek but there I was. I met women who embraced me for who I am and invited me to lunch, events, snow cone adventures, and even took me in when I found myself alone at events. I found people who gave me confidence. Then somewhere between last summer and the start of this semester, I realized that I might have social anxiety.
I constantly googled symptoms, what someone might do if they had it, took endless (ridiculous) quizzes that rated my anxiety, and I even tried to look up how to help social anxiety on my own (I was/still am too scared to ask my parents for therapy). As I looked through the endless guides and blogs and everything else google spit out at me, I realized that everything looked familiar. So I started learning how to cope with it on my own. I threw myself into events regardless if I had someone there I knew. I tried really hard to overcome it. And… it worked for the fall semester. Then after finals, I went home for the month long break and I regressed. I regressed worse than I had been in a long time. I made excuses to not go to dinners at the house, I went home a lot, I laid in bed all the time, I stopped reaching out to text people and people stopped texting me. It was bad enough that people were worried about me and thought I dropped off the grid for a while. Then, I got closer to my little and my sorority family and they gave me my confidence back, piece by piece. I’m still trying to build where I was, but I’m on my way. I am finding myself in a better position than I’ve been in a while and I went back to my high school with my newfound (okay, not so newfound) knowledge in the back of my mind to see people regardless of the ever present whispers of anxiety.
I walked the halls of my high school with friends I spent 7 years with in orchestra. People who I had been comfortable with in high school. We headed to see a teacher and we walked past the cafeteria and I remembered how bad of shape I was in in high school. I remembered how I skipped eating lunch every day of sophomore year because I was afraid of what my friends would think of me depending on what I ate. What if I got food on my face? What if it was considered gross even if it was something as normal as a salad? What if it was a strong smelling food and they didn’t like it? Ridiculous questions circled my mind and drove me to never bring a lunch or even buy one. I might’ve snacked on someone’s food if they offered but it was still rare.
We went into old classrooms and I looked where I was too afraid to raise my hand in class if I had a question because of the judgement that might be passed. Would they think it’s a stupid question? Would my classmates laugh? Would the teacher roll his/her eyes? Everywhere I looked I saw who I was in high school with new eyes. Things that were hidden for years I finally saw two years post-graduation. I remember clearly the anxiety just walking between classes. I remembered sitting alone at tables because I didn’t have friends in those classes. So many years where I had cries for help but everyone thought I was shy or didn’t really talk so no one noticed. Years where even I didn’t hear my own cries for help. Instead I thought that I was ridiculous, but I didn’t know how to fix it.
Today, I recognized that what I thought was a new development is actually something I’ve been living with for years and I let it take over my life. It controlled everything I did in high school. It still controls me now. I have learned how to fight it off better though. I am learning how to spin the narrative and empower myself instead of putting myself down with every breath. Anxiety and other mental health issues aren’t easy to live with, but recognizing the problem is the first step on the road to recovery. One day we’ll recover and come out the other side stronger. Take care of yourselves.