I’ll be the first to laugh at my own problems (I’d be the first to laugh at your problems as well). And my social anxiety is definitely something that, while absolutely terrifying in the moment, sounds actually ridiculous when explained.
For example, last night, I went to EB Games (I like to go shopping when I’m stressed) where I saw a shirt that I really liked. The shirt was on sale for $9, there was only one left, and it was my size; I had to have it. But, it didn’t have a price tag. This meant that, in order to buy the shirt, I would have to take it to the counter and either act surprised when the cashier told me there was no tag, or sheepishly admit it up front. Then I would have to stand there, in front of this stranger for minutes while they tried a variety of search terms in their system, making small talk in between queries because they take forever to load, or offering suggestions as to what to try next. I wasn’t having any of that, I went home.
I then bought the shirt online, and selected the “pick up from store” option. Today (different shift, different employees), I strolled into the store like a boss, whipped out my phone with the confirmation code on it (before I got to the counter) and then… awkwardly hunched over the counter, craning to stare at the screen as the cashier misspelt my name. I had a barcode, dude! I thought it would be easy: scan, grab, bag, go. But no. I had to talk to this dude; I had to spell my own name.
I’m not the only person that feels this way on a daily basis. Today, there was a post on Ask Reddit just for people to share similar stories. And as I (over)think about it, I can pinpoint more and more times anxiety has controlled the decisions I make. My friends went to a concert last night, and while I like the artists and love my friends, I didn’t go because the lights–the sound? Oh my god, just no. All through university, I sat in the same seat: second row, all the way to the right. No one else sat in that area (in any lecture hall) so I almost never had to sit near people or worry about someone else taking my seat. I went to a board game store, and the employee asked me if I needed help twice. I walked straight out of the store and into the sea. (Okay, not actually into the sea, that would be too awkward, but I came close).
With daily examples like these, social anxiety just seems like a ridiculous joke.
Which makes it more difficult when it gets too serious.
My best friend recently turned 21. She had an entire weekend-long sleepover planned with feasts, and friends, and clubs and… I couldn’t handle it. I ended up spending maybe a few hours with her through the entire four days. And on the drive to and from the party, each time, I ended up either screaming at myself or in tears because, my body just wouldn’t agree to the idea of hanging out with people I hang with all the time, anyway. Emotions flaring, heart racing, head pounding, I suffered through each of those agonizing moments while everyone around me was laughing, dancing, and playing Cards Against Humanity (the wrong way, I’ll add if y’all are reading this).
On my way out of Canada, my friends and I got together one evening for some undesirable social habits. That moment was the only time I could articulate how my anxiety feels, because I looked down and saw tar-black demon hands clawing their way out of my chest only to reach back in and wring my heart out like a Shamwow commercial sending burning shards of ice coursed through every capillary under my skin. And while I could only see it that night, it’s something that I feel almost constantly. There’s always something to worry about; there’s always something I’m doing wrong, and everyone knows it.
It’s easy to say “don’t worry about what other people think” because I don’t actually worry about that. I’m not sitting here thinking what’s so-and-so thinking about my outfit? What’s Judgy McJudgerson saying to his friends about my opinions on stuff? I don’t care at all what other people think. But that doesn’t help the sinking feeling that everything I’m doing is wrong. And it’s just a feeling, I know that not everything I’m doing is wrong. Heck, there’s stuff that I’m even good at. But it’s impossible to shake the feeling.
If you don’t suffer from some anxiety disorder, consider yourself lucky. It’s not easy to wake up every day terrified of the world around you. And yes, we do some crazy, stupid things because of our anxiety, and it’s okay to laugh at that sometimes, but don’t forget that we take those weird detours to avoid something more terrifying than it appears.