Standing Still in a Field of Flowers: Living with Social Anxiety
Living with social anxiety feels like being in a field of flowers that you can’t enjoy. You can’t truly see them for what they are. You can’t smell them, pick them, or love them as you wish. You just stand there in the field, with beauty around you and no way to experience it fully.
You just can’t, sometimes.
That’s the best way that I can describe it. That’s my social phobia put into words. The flowers are people. Lots of people. New people. New places. New things. An abundance of fear and sweat emits from my body each time. New hellos. New hugs. New energy. New handshakes. New pictures.
People in general are not easy for me, and I’ve felt guilty about this for so long. It’s so incredibly hard to enjoy it all. After exchanging energy with new people, I feel drained almost instantly. Even being around my own family takes effort. I feel like my body goes into hiding without my permission.
There aren’t any triggers for me, so I can’t prepare. It just comes, sinks in, leaves when it’s ready. The next morning and for days after I feel depleted and lifeless. Recovering from social stimulation is a process in itself.
I feel like my entire life has been a test. Throughout the entire journey, I've had to overcome obstacle after obstacle just to be able to face the grandest test of all: interacting with people. And in my line of work, I have to. Often.
I don’t recall ever being good at it. Nurturing new energies without feeling safe enough has always been tremendously trying and difficult. For years, I brushed it off, thinking that I just wasn’t a “people person.” Even after speaking with different doctors, I would say, “I’m just an introvert,” and “I’m not outgoing.” They were the first words to come out of my mouth when I talked about zodiac signs with friends. They told me, “You’re the most anti-Leo I know.” In my heart, I knew I wasn’t anti- anything. I can just be scared to death of people.
I know that the feelings I’m met with are irrational, but they remain dishearteningly real.
I've been managing my anxiety for a while. “Managing” means not going out much, especially to situations that present a lot of unfamiliarities. If I do go out, even to my own events and shows, I make sure that I'm always with someone who makes me feel comfortable. But feeling alright is fleeting when social anxiety is trailing close behind.
I’ve tried to show up for myself. I’ve learned how to honor this thing that I carry with me. No, I’m not anti-. No, I don’t not like you. No, I am not standoffish.
I am a woman who deals with a phobia that forces me to put up barriers and walls without my consent. I am a woman who has to talk to people and has to show up for a living, even when she feels like she just can’t. I’m a woman who has been living with social anxiety since before she can remember. It’s not easy. But I'm getting there.
It took me years to trust and believe that no one means me any harm. People aren’t out to get me or hurt me. Recognizing that is what helps. There have been many self-pep-talks on breathing through it, and self-reassurances that, “This is almost over.” And when it’s over, I’m always OK.
God has a way of pushing us. He has a way of using us in ways that we can’t quite wrap our minds around. This, among other obstacles, has been a building block for my resilience. People are so quick to judge and label others without the slightest understanding of what that person is going through. Sometimes it’s just not about you, and it’s not personal. We are all programmed differently. It’s hard for some of us to run through our field of flowers with no uncertainties.
There are moments when standing still in the midst of it all is all that can be done.