“I did a good job socializing tonight.” I say to my spouse as we leave a dinner party. He says, “yes, good job.” We both laugh. It’s interesting to me that I have to pat myself on the back for doing something that should be normal. I should be able to have a conversation with other humans without obsessing over details. Without having to assess the night as good or bad. Without thinking about it every day of my life for the rest of time, but that’s anxiety. That’s social anxiety. I have it.
The real way to overcome social anxiety is to practice. To throw yourself into social situations and do the damn thing. According to the experts, with practice, you will get better. They’re right, but I know it’s not easy for a lot of us. I know some of you are awkward like me, but with practice and time we will get through this.
I have come far with socialization. I have always been, to quote every person I have ever met, “quiet”, “shy”, or “reserved”, coupled with, “I thought you were such a B when I first met you, hagahagaha!” *severe eye roll* Somehow after high school I was able to socialize a little easier, thanks to alcohol, thanks to friends, thanks to personal growth. I have learned a lot about myself. I used to tear myself apart wishing that I could be a social butterfly instead of wall flower. Shortly into my personal growth journey, I realized that I am an introvert. I prefer deep conversations to small talk, and I thoroughly enjoy being alone. I grew content with the fact that I was a happy little wall flower and stopped trying to be something that I wasn’t. The butterflies are pretty, I just wasn’t one. The truth I found is that both the introverts and extroverts need people, conversation, and human connection, but all that is easy to forget. I forgot it.
Late 2017 I took a job that I thought would be great. I would be working alone at a small office. I would have little to no human interaction. My thought was, “this is great because I love being alone.” But, I was overestimating that fact about myself. For eight hours a day I sat alone at a desk and then I came home at night and focused on my school work. I hardly saw my friends or family, I saw my spouse and told myself that was enough and that my situation was temporary, so I could get through it. I told myself that I was “fine” because, again, temporary. Lie detector determines, that was a lie.
Six months later I was sad. I started to miss working at my old job where I was around a team of bad ass women and men and conversation was plentiful. I started to miss my friends and family, long conversations and laughing. But, work and school were my priority and I told myself that in one year school would end and then everything would change. But one year is a long time. Fast-forward another six months and my sadness was worse. Any human interaction I had would become difficult and give me a lot of anxiety and fear. A year in isolation made me forget all the work I had put in to come out of my shell. I hadn’t practiced. I was a total sad weirdo.
It took me a full year and a half to recognize that I had a problem. I began to realize that what I craved and needed was human interaction, and to be around my friends and the people I care about most. Then the grand epiphany happened when I decided that being alone is, in fact, not as great as it seems. I realized that it takes effort to keep relationships, awareness to nourish my personal growth, and strength to support my progress. All these items are needed to have normal conversations with people without having a panic attack after. The people are needed to live a full and happy life.
It took me a long time to see that I did actually need people in my life. A supportive team in the workplace, at home, in my community. I see social media taking the place of real human interaction, I too got caught up in it. I thought that posting a comment on a status or pressing a “like” button was enough. It’s not. It’s really not. We have to work harder at building relationships, at being there for each other. We have to stop telling ourselves that we are awkward, weird, or not good enough, because we are all good enough. I have to stop letting my social anxiety be an excuse to isolate myself and I have to work towards breaking out of that comfort bubble. We have to pat ourselves on the back more.
Am I completely out of it now? No. Will I learn from my experiences? Yes. I think it’s important to tell ourselves the truth. Important to avoid saying, “in one week, month, year, I can be happy.” I was waiting. I was trying to get through the thick of being a full-time student/employee, as well as trying to be a daughter, aunt, sister, spouse, and friend. I ignored my mental health, forgot my personal growth, and took ten steps backwards. That’s okay. I took two or three steps forward since then. I remembered that I can choose to be happy instead of sad, I can tell myself that I am capable of having normal conversation and congratulate myself for little successes instead of picking apart every awkward thing I ever say. Life’s too short to be sad. Life is too short to pick myself apart. I can continue to give priority to my personal growth even if I put it on pause for a while. I am capable of having normal conversations even if they are painfully awkward. Same goes for you.
If you are a happy little wall flower, know that you are as good as those butterflies. Those extroverts need introverts to survive, and vice versa. Balance people, balance.
Read. Sip. Heal.