Over the years, I’ve realized just how bad my shyness can be, especially at social events and gatherings. I always wondered why it scared me whenever I was invited to a party, and why I decided to never go. I’ve always enjoyed having a good time, so why did I never allow myself to by just saying yes to the invitations I get? I realized that as I got older, the anxiety got worse, and when I tried to take control of it one time, I realized that this wasn’t just a little episode of anxiety, but that I have some sort of social anxiety.
When I was younger, I was extremely outgoing. I had tons of friends in my neighborhood, school, and going to parties and to friend’s houses weren’t so nerve-wracking. I would classify myself as a leader when I was younger; I never followed anyone and I was always fearless to do the things that no one else wanted to do. I guess after I graduated middle school and moved on to a school in a neighborhood that none of my friends lived in, I became very timid and shy. Even though my high-school experience didn’t make me introverted since I had tons of friends in high-school, the fact that I felt like I couldn’t fit into most groups made me fall into the category of “quiet, smart people”.
The earliest memory I have of feeling anxious at a social gathering was when I was invited to a friend’s “Sweet 15” back in 2009. I went with a couple of my guy friends from middle school, and when I got to the party and they started to talk and dance with the other girls there, I was left at the table by myself. I left at midnight, crying because none of my friends were there hanging out with me, and I felt super awkward being there. After that whole thing happened, I declined Sweet 16 invitations and decided that my best bet was to stay home and be comfortable in my own setting.
When I graduated high school and started college, I realized that because the school was so big and filled with thousands of people, I knew it was impossible to be “popular”. It was also going to be impossible to make friends and actually keep them because most of these people lived in Staten Island, and me in Brooklyn. For four years, my only friend was Obie, my high-school best friend since 2009. I didn’t have a group of college friends until I was in my senior year of college when I decided to take acting classes for my drama minor requirements.
When I made this group of friends in acting, I was very anxious in interacting with them outside the classroom setting. The first time my friend, Tori, drove me home after class, I was definitely a different person than the one I was in that classroom. Tori was like my other half in that class, and everyone knew it. But something changed in me once we both left that classroom; I was nervous, I was quiet, I was wondrously looking around to keep myself from focusing in on the situation itself. I remember sharing this during a “human behavior” session in Acting the following class, and she admitted that she saw that happening to me. It was embarrassing, to say the least.
Because I was determined to keep this new group of friends, I wanted to put myself out there more. Not only did I have this new-found group of friends, but my best friend is Obie, aka “Mr. Social Butterfly”. No matter what day it is, he constantly has someone to hang out with because he’s just so sociable and outgoing. He’s been that way since as long as I’ve known him, and I realized that if I wanted to be a part of his friend circle and interact with everyone in it like a normal fucking human being, that I needed to fight this battle I have with social anxiety. For years, Obie has known my struggle with my social anxiety, and I appreciate that he doesn’t try to put me into situations where it could be overwhelming. At the time though, I felt left out in that part of his life. I wanted to be cordial and on a talking basis with his friends and family, I wanted to be invited to his gatherings or to the bar whenever he went with his friends; I just wanted to feel like I was able to fit in with him and his friend group. After the many failed attempts in trying to be sociable with the people who came over to his place while I was there, I told him I wanted to be formally invited to his 24th birthday party. He warned me, and after not listening to him, I realized I should’ve.
Over the years, Obie has cut down his “turn-ups” and parties a lot, but the only big bash he really throws his one for his birthday. His birthday is usually during the “unofficial start of the summer” weekend, aka Memorial Day weekend. Of course, he was throwing another party at his house, and I finally wanted to be a part of his birthday celebration. We went back and forth on whether or not it was going to be okay for me to go, yet I told him I needed to do this for myself. So, I went.
That Saturday night, I got to his place two hours before the party was supposed to start. (Red Flag #1: people who tend to show signs of anxiety usually make it their mission to be one of the first people at a social gathering so that they don’t walk into something that’s already crowded.) When I got there, I was one of 6 other people there, and these other six people were friends and family that I see whenever I’m at his place, so I felt comfortable. As more people came and the more crowded his apartment was getting, I was getting a little anxious. From the time I got there to the time I left at midnight, I stayed in one spot of the entirety of the night. (Red flag #2: people who tend to show signs of anxiety usually stay in one particular spot at social gatherings, making it hard for them to mingle and socialize with other people, and even feeling anxious to get up from their spot to use the bathroom because you’re afraid someone is going to look at you when you do get up.) The people who I was first there with were now all over the apartment talking to people, playing Uno (which I wanted to join in but was too scared to get up which is Red flag #3: people who show signs of anxiety don’t create opportunities to join into something, they wait until someone who is doing the activity ask them if they want to join, which in that case you say yes.) Of course, no one asked me to play, and I sat in my spot, just watching those around me, feeling awkward.
Every once and awhile, Obie came to ask me how I was doing, and when it became too transparent on my face to continue saying I was fine, I told him “I feel weird.” In his attempts to keep me company and to help me feel better, I knew he couldn’t cater to me all night; it was his birthday and his party and those who came to his party wanted to see him. He had to be the host that night, not my only friend at the party. After awhile, there was no room to get by and my anxiety began to skyrocket. By 11 o’clock, I was ready for my father to come and pick me up because I started to get really hot in the face and every person that came up to try to talk to me, I responded in jibberish. I was a mess, to put it kindly, and when my father finally texted me that he was downstairs of Obie’s building, I pulled Obie to the side and told him I was leaving.
In my attempt to remain calm and content, Obie saw right through me. He knew that something was wrong, and after trying to play it off all night, I finally told him that I was having a really bad anxiety attack. I saw him through blurry, panicky eyes. I was hot, I couldn’t breathe, and I don’t remember if I actually heard anyone or anything around me besides Obie. He handed me a glass of water and walked me downstairs. He hugged me bye and I cried all the way home.
Most people will never understand the severity of social anxiety, and that’s just a straight up fact. Every now and then, anxiety can go away and be prevented, but it takes more than “just start talking to people” or “just be yourself, silly.” It’s when you feel stuck in your seat and no matter how badly you need to use the bathroom, you hold it in because you don’t want anyone to see you get up. It’s when you rather let someone else answer the question that a professor asks because you’re too afraid of answering and being told that it’s wrong. It’s the awkward jibberish that comes out of your mouth when trying to socialize with people and then feel embarrassed when you sound dumb because your mind is too nervous to function right. It’s when you unintentionally make yourself the oddball in a group of people but at the same time screaming in your head “please talk to me first!”
It’s all these things and more, and it’s something that people will write off as being rude or “not being friendly”. Some of my old friends don’t even talk to me anymore because they think that I don’t care about them anymore because I never reach out when really, being the first to text someone scares the shit out of me because I’m afraid of annoying them. The truth of the matter is is that’s the last thing I’m trying to do.
I usually keep my anxiety to myself because it’s definitely one of those things that people will easily write off as being weak because everyone has anxiety in one way or another. I also keep it to myself because no matter how bad I’m feeling, I always feel like my little episodes of anxiety bother people when I express them. The fact of the matter is that yeah, I tend to make the littlest things and think about them all damn day, not realizing that it wasn’t that big, to begin with.
I don’t know.
I guess I’m just trying to be okay with myself and sometimes, it’s just not enough.