My social anxiety used to be something of great embarrassment for me (when it shouldn’t) and it used to dictate my life. I missed out on so many of life’s beautiful moments because of it but right now I’m keeping it on a tight leash and I want to share with you how I do it. I feel that social anxiety is something that is hardly spoken about but it is so real nonetheless. Do note that I am not a psychiatrist, doctor, psychologist etc but I do have a general understanding of this anxiety disorder. So even though I cannot provide a specialist take on it, what I can provide is my personal experience. I also want to stress that everyone’s anxiety disorders vary in degree of severity so please do not feel confused or stressed if your story is vastly different from mine. Remember, each of us is a unique human being with a different story but one thing’s for sure- we are all beautiful in our own light despite our struggles.
Social Anxiety- The invisible tormentor
A piece of my history that few people know about is my social anxiety. During my ED, I isolated myself severely. Meeting up with friends became an intense obligation instead of a respite. Previously a cheerful and talkative girl by nature, I had become withdrawn and self-conscious. In fact, signs of my social anxiety began to show up before my full-blown ED, when my personality took a dramatic change.
When I was in the depths of my ED, the fact that I was losing my friends and sinking into society appeased my Eating Disorder. Absolutely nothing mattered more than numbers on the scale. I hid from people as much as I could, and spent my post-high school break inside my room. I remember the time my friend (one of the friends that did not completely decide to give up on me) showed up right outside my house, asking me to hang out. I was furious, panicky and nearly broke down into tears (but not in front of her). When she stepped into my room and tried to speak to me, my entire body tensed up like a stretched out rubber band. I forced myself to smile, feeling this desperate urge to be a funny, interesting person in front of her. Every sentence I spoke made me feel like I was treading on thin ice which was about to give way. Through every second of the conversation, I feared becoming a boring person to speak to, I feared allowing pauses within the conversation, I feared “awkwardness”. My smile was so extremely wide my jaw felt tight and almost numb. I longed for any excuse to get out.
About a month later when I actually decided to recover, my physical condition was improving. But I was still an anxious, insecure person on the inside. As I nourished my starved brain, I managed to come to my senses and remind myself that there was so much to my life which the ED had tried to vanquish completely. I knew that the ED had almost taken my life. So yes, I was in a much safer and more stable condition than before.
But my social anxiety nagged at me so intensely it broke me down often. I had just entered Junior College and longed to charter a new chapter to my life. I wanted to get back the ancient version of me- bubbly, unreserved. I so desperately wanted to have a good conversation with anyone, because for the longest time I could not pluck up the courage to initiate a conversation and if I ended up in one, it always made me feel uncomfortable, scared and backbreakingly tensed up. I could not even speak properly to my Mum. I had an image of myself freely connecting with people, but yet I didn’t dare to even try it out. These sentences describe my social anxiety- The conflict between what I wanted to do/ felt like I needed to be able to do VS what I feared that I would fail in and therefore frightened me to the core.
I still remember to first few days of Junior College. I was terrified. And the presence of boys in school for the first time in my life certainly did not help, either. Every morning I woke up crippled by dread and terror. And on one occasion I remember locking myself in the toilet cubicle in school because my heart had palpitated so hard I felt like I was about to go into shock.
And the above events took place while I was slowly starting to get comfortable with eating and nourishing. I remember even stuffing myself with chocolate while I had heart palpitations because I was desperate for anything to calm me down. On certain days, I even felt helpless and angry. I would ask:
WHERE ARE YOU? YOU PROMISED.
But the thing is, nobody promises you anything in recovery. I thought that as I kept nourishing, I would revert back to my “old self”. I expected recovery to be the genie in the bottle that realised all that I envisioned, exactly as I wanted.
But no, recovery is not a genie. Except that it is so much better than a genie. This is what recovery did for me- It restored my damaged organs, pulled together my body’s metabolic systems, rescued me from a lifetime with painful osteoporosis, nourished my starved brain, and reduced the number of times I cried or fought with my parents over the very sustenance that keeps up alive. Recovery SAVED MY LIFE.
Recovery is the reason I have air in my lungs and a pulse. Recovery is the reason I have the ability to think and a heart to love. Recovery SAVED ME.
That is a tall order, and something I will never, EVER, take for granted.
And whenever I find myself filled with reproach at how recovery did not instantly cure my social anxiety, I can almost imagine recovery wagging a finger at me saying, “I saved your life my dear. I restored your strength. Now you have the ability to find your own way. Run along now, it’s time to map out this journey for yourself.”
Run along now, it’s time to map out this journey for yourself.
That’s exactly what I have been doing. And I have never been prouder.
Through my years as a Junior College student, my social anxiety did not entirely go away. But you know what the difference was? I challenged myself. Not without fear, but in spite of it. I pushed myself to sign up for community events, did community service, and even ran for a leadership position in the Interact Club which I joined. And whenever things didn’t go as well as I planned (e.g. I felt scared, nervous, tense, uncomfortable or even sick speaking to people), I would always recover from it and remind myself, “I am a fallible human being and that is beautiful. Right now, I’ve got to put that aside and move on. I’ve got so many great things to do.” This statement was like my insurance. As I stuck to this, I realised that I was gradually attaining peace with myself not through eliminating my anxiety, but in spite of my anxiety.
Today, my social anxiety has calmed down tremendously, even though it still injects fear into my heart from time to time. And I have not stopped challenging myself to step up, do what I like to do. Because I can enter any kind of battlefield, and come out filled with love for myself despite the outcome. And I will always pick myself up and do it all over again. That is how I slowly conquered my social anxiety. I fought my social anxiety with love and acceptance, not with desperate opposition. I understand that my experience with social anxiety cannot fit that of everyone, but I hope you glean some lessons of self-forgiveness and persistence from my experience. And in case you have forgotten,
Run along now, it’s time to map out this journey for yourself.
You are loved. Xoxo