Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you to meditate and eat berries to do it yourself.
After I was admitted to the psych ward, a kind-looking woman, about my age, approached me. Other than the knee-length dark teal hospital gown and socks, you wouldn’t have thought she was also a patient.
She said to me, softly, “I’m here if you want to talk.”
Attempting to navigate the mental gymnastics of looking like a “normal human being” required energy I didn’t have. Dread swept across my body.
“Thank you so much,” I said, crumbling internally. “I just really need to lay down right now. I’m so sorry, I’m just really anxious.”
She shrugged and said, “We all are,” like she wasn’t even surprised.
Friends and family didn’t really get it, as sympathetic as they were. I couldn’t just stop it, or get over it, or snap out of it.
With those three words, this woman validated a lifetime of experiences that had shaped who I’d become. That was the first time I’d EVER felt like anyone understood how debilitating and severe my anxiety was. No one knew I had depression or anxiety; I was good at hiding it behind the exterior of a bright, bubbly, human puppy.
Where I Was Wrong
I lived in panic. People can see everything I feel, I would think. Did I overshare? Say the wrong thing? Embarrass my friends or myself? Did I offend someone? Will I get in trouble? Will I lose friends or love?
That was all wrong AS FUUUUUUCK.
If someone could see how I felt, so what? We can play Being John Malkovich and pretend to see the world through each other’s eyes.
If I overshared and they didn’t react the way I’d hoped, so what? I am not responsible for their reaction. It says nothing about me or who I am as a person, but it says something about them.
If I embarrass my friends by showing my feelings, they’re not my friends. If I need to change who I am for them to accept me, then they’re only friends with the idea of me. People who care about me accept and love me as I am.
Yes, good friends, at times, may also (lovingly) hold you accountable and responsible for your commitments and actions; that may feel uncomfortable, but solid friendships will always have your best interests in mind. You can mend a relationship if you can set aside egoic pride and, instead, extend to them humility.
If I say the wrong thing or hurt someone’s feelings, I can admit when I was wrong (as shitty as it feels to be wrong), apologize, and learn from the mistake. My relationships are always more important than my need to be right.
If you don’t fit in, YOU ARE MEANT TO STAND TF OUT!
Be your weird n’ wacky, groovy, jazz-soup self, and you’ll naturally attract the people you actually want in your life.
What Helped Me The Most
- Opening up to a friend.
- In healthy relationships and friendships, you can lean on your friends when you’re in need. Your friends want to be there for you to support you and listen to you and hold space for you to safely and lovingly empty your heart to another human.
- If you have difficulty with this, it may be that the people around you are also not comfortable with vulnerability. In which case, it may require extending beyond your comfort zone and being vulnerable first, creating the opportunity for a more vulnerable friendship to emerge.
- Realizing that if anyone hated me for speaking out, that’s their problem. THANKFULLY, their reaction, has z e r o to do with me. Their opinions, whatever they may be, are not a reflection on me.
- Challenging the mean stuff I say to myself. If I catch myself thinking, “I am an idiot,” I’d ask myself: How do I know I’m an idiot? Do I agree that I really am an idiot?
- If you still say you’re an idiot after this, I’m going to reach out across time and space through this computer and flick your stinkin’ nose.
- Testing my boundaries.
- If I left a conversation feeling uncomfortable, I’d ask myself, “Why do I feel uncomfortable? When did I start to feel that way? What happened that made me uncomfy? Did I share too much? Next time, I’ll try not sharing that story/detail again and see how that makes me feel. This is how we can use our physical sensations and feelings to inform our actions and decisions.
- Paying Attention to How My Surroundings Make Me Feel.
- After paying attention to how different situations and different people make me feel, I’ve noticed that I don’t need to feel the burden of carrying an entire conversation. Sometimes, other people can’t hold conversations and it’s not actually my fault. I made tiny little movements out of my comfort zone and now, I feel, MUCH MORE at ease around all types of people.
- Stop judging other people.
- Remember that old adage, “Do unto others as you would have done unto you?” That’s like the major theme of all religions and yet *stands on a soap box* MOST PEOPLE IGNORE THIS “GOLDEN RULE” ALL THE TIME.
- In conversation,I’m not judging other people when they’re talking. Instead, I focus on listening, understanding, and trying to quiet my own monkey mind. I’ll think of a joke while they’re talking, but before I speak, I consider that I’m speaking with a real person. They’re communicating with me and I need to give them the same respect I want to receive. AND, with the interest of being an emotionally mature adult, I’m going to pay all people that respect and not expect that same respect back. Be the change you want to see in the world.
- Stop Projecting my Insecurities onto Others.
- When you project what others are thinking, rather than listening to what they’re actually saying, you’re not giving them the same respect you’re asking of them. This applies especially when you are the topic of conversation. If someone gives you a compliment, and you immediately dismiss it, you’re judging them for judging you, in a way. You’re subconsciously saying this person is not to be trusted because I don’t believe the compliment they are trying to give me.
- I have been guilty of this. I’d read into anything that would give me the slightest hint they wanted to end the conversation, from the micro-est of facial movements. I couldn’t stop reeling, thinking, “Why am I so bad at conversation? What do I do next? Shit, I forgot what I was going to say, oh wait, I think I just missed a huge detail. Omg they’re going to think I haven’t been listening if I ask them to repeat themselves…”
- I never judge a person when they’re talking, therefore, this person is most likely not judging me! YAY! If I’m constantly thinking about my weird-ass self, then this person must also be wrapped up, thinking about their own weird-ass self.
Most of the time, people are not thinking about what their face looks like when they are listening, because they are listening to you and paying attention. Focus on what you’re saying, on communicating your idea clearly; taking deep, full-belly breaths, keeping your poor little nervous system calm.
When you stop judging others, you will stop feeling like you are being judged. Let that idea go––I’m telling you that caring about what other people think is “good intention,” but good intentions pave the path to hell.Identifying and breaking “vicious cycles.”
8. Often, the more we do things that we think are keeping our emotions and mental health safe, the more we give ourselves permission for behaviors that may, in fact, only be making things worse. For example, I wouldn’t go to the grocery store because food shopping overwhelmed me; well, as I became more and more overwhelmed to shop for food, telling myself that this avoidance was good for my anxiety, I wound up only eating fast food. That meant not only was I not eating stuff that made me feel good internally, and made me so tired and my skin terrible, but I was also spending more money than I would have on groceries, money that I really didn’t have, and that added even more stress and feelings of being overwhelmed. I needed to step back and evaluate how this one small thing I was doing because I was convinced was helping, was actually precipitating so many other problems.
Positive Suggestions for Social Anxiety
- Right now, this person needs me to listen to them. This moment is not about me or how I feel. This person I’m speaking to doesn’t want me to stop talking and even if they have RBF it’s because they’re listening to me, and not because they’re judging everything I’m saying. All I need to focus on is listening to the words this person is saying, and asking them questions like I’m on a casual date with them (where I give them my full attention and I actively listen, trying to get to know the human in front of me.
- If I’m trying to remember what I wanted to say when a person is finished speaking, then I’ve stopped listening to what they were saying, and I’ve already decided how I want to respond. By not actively listening to them and assuming their words or intent, I miss important details and I have to pretend like I know what’s going on because they’re gonna be so angry if they find I haven’t been listening, but it’s not my fault it’s my ADHD, I can’t help it.
- We’ve become so withdrawn from connecting with other people because we feel like so few understand us. We feel like we need to perform for other people in day-to-day interactions, we stress about someone discovering how nervous we are inside. Remember that most of those problems start in your mind; your perception.
- Of course being with people is going to feel exhausting when you’re trying to perform for others, trying too hard to be a good conversationalist rather than having a good conversation leaves both parties unfulfilled. (Be more interested in other people instead of trying to make yourself look cool or whatever).
- Humility. You are a human. You are fallible. Other people are human. They, too, are fallible. We are not above or below any other human being. A CEO is no “better” than a homeless person; they only have more things. Having more things does not define one’s characters. No one is better than you and you are not better than anyone else.
- To me, this is a beautiful opportunity for compassion. We must shake the idea that people are different than us or vice versa. We’ve created unnecessary distance between us, in society, based on superficial reasons. If we could look at each other like humans, we could truly see the overlapping of life experience we all have, even if the details are different. Grief is grief no matter what causes that grief. We understand a lot more about other people if we start to see other people as ourselves.
How to Know What to Say
The Triple Filter Test
These problems are as old as society itself. Socrates created a triple filter test for when a student of his had some tea to spill about someone else, Socrates was like, “Hold up. IDGAF about what you’re gonna say if it doesn’t pass my triple filter test (because apparently I’m a tunnel troll and I ask you riddles or w/e).”
Socrates and his rude ass was like:
- The first filter is Truth. Have you made absolutely sure that what you are about to say is true?
- A.k.a., did you just hear this somewhere?
- Is what you are about to say, something good?
- A.k.a. if it’s gonna be mean, you can take that shit outside ‘CAUSE IT’S TRASH.
- Is what you want to say going to be useful?
- A.k.a. are you trying to make someone else look bad, you elitist a-hole? Are you trying to stir some shit up? What’s your deal, here, bruh?
So basically, before you speak, ask yourself, “Is this true, is this good, or is this useful?” If it’s not. Move along, sis. Keep it to yourself.
Wrap It Up, Theresa
Social anxiety isn’t a burden to bear forever. People are not as scary as I once thought. A year ago, I couldn’t be vulnerable with even my closest friends. Today, I see the power that good friendships have on life. 10/10 would highly recommend friends. There are some truly wonderful people out in the world, but they cannot find you if you don’t show up or speak out. Be afraid and do it anyway. You got this!