In fourth grade, I noticed something wasn’t right. We had been given a week to prepare for this moment. Nothing could ruin it. Or so I thought. Anxiously, I stared at the class. Unable to utter a word because the butterflies had flown through my stomach and were stuck in my throat. I shut my eyes, as I struggled to take a breath. What was happening? I was unaware… I turned to face the teacher. As tears began to swell in my eyes, she nodded at me to go take a seat.
From the age of nine, social anxiety had found its way in my life. Creeping and crawling through the cracks hoping one day I’d fall. Social anxiety became a fire, a fire so big I struggled to contain it. I quickly began to realize I was fighting in a war I would surely lose.
At the age of 13, I had just entered eighth grade. Surrounded by my close friends, we roamed the hall on our way to class. And just as we turned the corner kids stormed the halls. Yelling and screaming, banging on the lockers. I struggled to keep my anxiety in check. My breathing began to increase rapidly, I quickly turned to my friends in need of a sense of comfort. We pushed past the students and reached our class. Social anxiety began to consume me, I was lost with no way out.
I tried to cover up my anxiety with a mask. A mask so heavily built no one could tell as my anxiety tore me open every day. My emotional comfort ran out of gas the more I tried to push back. It felt like my breath had left my chest as I hit face-first into the pavement. Once again my anxiety won.
Age 16. I struggled to keep myself steady. After the pandemic came into play, it didn’t get any better. My social anxiety had made my life hell. Where every social interaction felt as if I was walking on a sheet of nails. Every little step was more painful than the last. My emotions swirled around me. I was unable to keep track of it all. And so I turned to a friend.
Sitting firmly on my bed, I picked up my phone and dialed their number. The ringing sensation blaring in my ears almost as if it was screaming at me. I waited patiently and before I knew it I heard their voice. “Hello?” I went on and on telling them how tired I was of dealing with my anxiety every day. They listened intently and when I was finished they suggested I try meditation and for once in my life, the butterflies were no longer stuck in my throat. Now, every morning I sit in silence as I set the intention to be calm, happy, and free. Meditation had become my guide, my favorite pastime, the one thing that kept my anxiety in check.
Social anxiety is more than just being afraid to speak. Our society is stuck in a mindset where we believe everyone should be comfortable in any environment. Well, I’m sorry to say that is not the case. Social anxiety makes it so you are afraid to do simple things. For example making phone calls, talking to people, and eating in front of others in fear of being watched or judged. There’s so much more we deal with on a day to day basis and sadly our society doesn’t realize that. They simply say, “Oh she’s just being dramatic.” We are trapped in a closet, shut and locked where no one has obtained the key.
Now at age 17 social anxiety is still a big part of me. Some days it’s a fire, while other days it’s creeping in the shadows watching over me. But I have learned to not allow myself to be held back by it. The fear, the thoughts, the dreadful feelings I get. I have learned how to cope with them and they have helped me grow as a person regardless of how bad they may be. I am still growing and with my anxiety, I must learn to not be against it but learn to use it to my advantage.