"I'm Ok": Life with Social Anxiety

“Uh, I’m ok,” I say as my friend urges me to come meet her friends. I’m reluctant to go, but I introduce myself anyway. Meeting new people means I have to actually talk. My friend ignores my silent resistance as she drags me closer to the large, intimidating group. The circle opens up as we approach, and a happy burst of energy exudes from the group. I’m uneasy. Sweaty palms, dry throat, and trying to muster up a smile. I could hear the heartbeat in my ears. They start greeting me, and I greet them back the best I can. My face feels hot, and it felt like I was having an out-of-body experience. I felt pathetic.

Social Anxiety affects approximately 15 million American adults according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. It’s a fear of being watched, judged, and feeling self-conscious in everyday situations. 

I was officially diagnosed with social anxiety around the age of 18. As a child, I was stamped as, “oh, she’s just shy,” or “it’s just a phase, she’ll grow out of it.” I could feel the anxiety even as a young child. I never invited friends over for birthday parties, because I hated being the center of attention. At school, I grew a habit of averting my eyes whenever the teacher asked for an answer to a question. Unlike most people, I favored group projects, because then at least I could present in front of the room with three other members.

My confidence rose a little in high school. I still felt judged no matter where I went or who I talked to, but an inner voice would tell me it was silly to worry about things like that. My freshman year of college was tough. I was staying in a dorm with five other girls and the amount of college work was overwhelming. Everywhere I went, a constant, “It’s ok” looped over and over in my head. Even in my classes with over 70 people, I worried about them judging me. Was I sitting weird? Why are they all staring? My suitemates didn’t help the situation. They would invite friends over every other night, and when I opened the door, I could feel my face turn red even though I knew they weren’t looking at me. 

I didn’t want to admit I had a problem, but eventually I caved and went to get diagnosed. I felt slightly relieved when she said I had Social Anxiety Disorder. It was step one into figuring myself out. Because my symptoms were not crippling, I decided to go the non-medicated route. I would be lying if I said that everything is all flowers and sunshine now. I still feel nervous when I step out of the house. I still practice conversations in my head thousands of times before saying them out loud. But at least now I know that at the end of the day, my mind will wipe all the anxiety away as dusk settles rapidly into night.