Friends Laughing B&W

Finding My People While Dealing With Social Anxiety

I have had social anxiety since about sixth grade and was diagnosed with both general anxiety disorder and SAD in seventh. I would have panic attacks at the thought of even being around other kids my age. I found solace in solitude (and still do). Social anxiety, for me, is not just being nervous meeting new people. It is a constant worry I will say something wrong, look weird, be talked about, and ultimately be judged for being myself.


Before I came to Emerson, I had a few people I considered friends. One of them, who knew I had social anxiety, said something I will never forget. I had declined to attend her “get together” as I didn’t feel comfortable around the other people coming, and I just did not want to go. She lashed out at me later on, and said, “I really wonder how you think that you’re going to be able to socialize at a college thousands of miles away when you can’t even walk into a room with five people that you know.” However, the comment still hung in the air. How was I going to successfully socialize at Emerson? 


Freshman orientation arrived, and shit was I nervous. My mother criticized what I was going to wear, and I ended up in a sweatshirt and leggings. I had met the girls in my suite the day before and was still “recovering” from analyzing their impressions of me. Then it happened.


I was sitting in the auditorium, next to a girl from my group, and we just started talking. I am not saying my anxiety went away, but I was able to laugh and whisper to this total stranger. For dinner that night, I ate with her, and the girl across the hall from her, and it was actually okay. I was a bit anxious, but I got through it. 


Reflecting on this, now as a sophomore at Emerson, I can actually identify what it is. I found my people by being in an environment where acceptance is one of the biggest factors. My friend group here understands if I want to rain check a social event, or if I want to leave early before them. There is no negative lashing out or saying I’m a shitty person for not staying the whole time or not even coming at all. But what’s even more amazing is how I actually enjoy being around people here. It still drains my energy, and I do elect to be alone in my room sometimes to “recharge” and sometimes I get bouts of anxiety before speaking in front of peers. But the way I found my people was finding my environment, and being comfortable enough to explore, and make connections. And look at me, thousands of miles away, socializing. 


Social anxiety is still something I deal with, but being able to surround myself with supportive friends, and knowing that I can wear crazy shoes and randomly ask the student next to me to borrow a pen without fear of ridicule or judgment has made all the difference. 


(Probably helps that this is an art school too).