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Throughout my nineteen years of life, no one seems to understand why I am so quiet and withdrawn from the world around me. They fail to understand why I sit in the back corner of the classroom, or why I stand against the wall at a party. Most assume I am just overly shy and need to speak up more, while others think I am stuck-up. The truth is I suffer from social anxiety disorder. While I have not been diagnosed to find out if this is true or not, I know I have this disorder because every symptom of mine matches social anxiety symptoms. The main symptom is that I have a strong fear of others judging me in a negative way. For instance, when out in public, I become extremely self-conscious about the way I walk, talk, hold myself up, and so forth. I feel that as soon as I step out of my car to walk into Wal-Mart, for example, that everyone is automatically looking at me and making negative comments inside their minds. My anxiety becomes even worse when people actually do look at me, even if it is only a mere glance in my direction. I feel as if they think things such as “look at the way she’s dressed” or “why does she walk so funny?”
When I talk to friends or family about this anxiety, they assume I am just shy and will eventually come out of my shell. But the truth is I have been this way my entire life. When I was in Kindergarten I can remember feeling so awkward in front of all the other kids. The anxiety was bad enough to where I would not even play Ring Around the Rosie with kids who asked me to play with them because I was too self-conscious if I messed up or looked silly doing it. Looking back on it now, this was obviously very unhealthy for me as a child and I wish people would have realized something was wrong then. My teachers and even my parents told me to “speak up more” and would surprisingly get angry about how quiet and shy I came off to be. As a result, I assumed I was a “weirdo” for being so different from everyone else. Why did everyone around me have such an easy time talking to each other, while I was so self-conscious? How come no one else was as shy as I was? Why do I have such a silly and pointless fear that no one else seems to have?
It wasn’t until recently that I found out the cause of my social anxiety, and that I am not alone. Social anxiety, I found out, is a problem in the brain that about five percent of the population suffers from. This problem is caused by either genetics or chemical imbalances, where a small part of your brain is always “turned on,” when normally it should only be turned on once in awhile.
Thankfully, my social anxiety did improve as the years passed and I was exposed to more and more social settings. The reason it improved is due to the fact that I’ve gotten more experience around people, especially in school settings since it is so routine, and also I’ve somewhat learned how to tolerate the anxiety by forcing myself to talk to people. However, my anxiety is still far from perfect. I still feel as if everyone stares at me when I get out of my car and start walking, or when I end up being the quiet one at a party. When people compliment me, I become suspicious of their compliment and wonder if they are simply saying it to make me feel better. When I am in a social gathering, I am afraid to talk because I feel that anything I say will sound “stupid” or “silly” and people will think negatively of me. I would often assume I am uninteresting, boring, ugly, and any other negative thing one can think of.
Now, despite my social anxiety, I have thankfully managed to make and keep close friends. Two of my friends have been friends of mine since childhood. I also have a boyfriend who I have been with for a year now. While he may not realize this, he has greatly helped me feel more confident with myself by assuring me, “You are not ugly, you are beautiful” and “You are not boring, you are a very interesting person” and “You are the best thing that has ever happened to me. You are so different from all the other girls I know.”
The way we met was quite interesting. We first met in the high school cafeteria, but because I was so shy he had to come up to me, rather than the other way around. It all started when he sat down with some friends, who just so happened to be at the same table I was sitting at. I didn’t pay any attention to him at first, of course. I simply kept to myself and my own friends (the people I was comfortable with who were sitting around me). Shortly afterward, the guy who had sat down with his friends turned toward my end of the table and introduced himself to us, followed by asked everyone what their name was, including mine.
I found out his name was Ryan. Ryan came off as a very friendly and outgoing person at the time we first met, which attracted me because he was my opposite. And while this may sound like another Romeo and Juliet story, I felt something toward him, even though we only spoke for a minute or so. Something inside me wanted him to talk to me again the next day and the following days. And I was very glad when he actually did.
It wasn’t until the summer passed and school reopened, however, when we finally ran into each other again and really began to get to know one another. Mind you, I was still extremely shy around him, so he had to lead all of our conversations. But as time went on I very slowly came out of my shell with him and began to open up more.
During the first five minutes of lunch one day Ryan came up to my table, as he did every day before getting on his bus for Vo-tech, and smiled nervously as he said, “I want to ask you for your phone number, but I’m not sure what you’ll say.”
While on the outside I appeared calm, I was ecstatic on the inside as I gladly said, “Sure, you can have it.” He then got himself a pen and piece of notebook paper so he could write down my number, before saying “bye” to me and running to get onto his bus before it left without him. He was almost always the last Vo-tech student to climb onto his bus.
When I got home from school later on that day I was greatly hoping he would call me, but was extremely nervous at the same time because I am a horrible talker on the phone because I am so shy and therefore very quiet. I didn’t want to bore him, so I promised myself I’d do my best to keep our conversation going. However, he did not call that day. Nor did he call the next day. Finally, on the third day, my mom handed the phone to me shortly after answering it, so I knew right away it was him. I immediately became very nervous and happy at the same time. And surprisingly, our conversation went quite well. I’ll admit he was the one to lead most of our conversations. He also had to ask a lot of questions because otherwise I would not know what to say. If I am not asked a question, then I will most likely stay silent on the other end. He seemed to know this at the time, and therefore constantly asked questions such as “What do you like to do in your spare time?” and “What’s your favorite television show?” and so forth. He and I would elaborate on my answers to keep the conversation going, such as reasons why I liked the TV shows I did or why I like to do the things I do in my spare time. Amazingly, our conversation lasted a total of three hours. I was surprised at this because that night was the longest I’ve ever been on the phone with anybody. In fact, quite a few weeks we would talk on the phone each night for hours until my phone died on us. I guess him leading the conversations really helped us both stay on the phone for such long periods of time. Talking on the phone was a great way for us to get to know one another, seeing as in school we only saw each other five minutes each day before he got on his bus.
Eventually, it got to a point where Ryan grew comfortable enough to ask me to be his girlfriend, and I gladly said I would. Interestingly enough, this happened at my ex boyfriend’s house. My ex boyfriend was a close friend of mine named Jake who I dated for three months, broke up with, and then dated for an additional month before another breakup occurred. Jake and I agreed after the second breakup that we were simply better off as friends because our relationship as a couple just felt very awkward because we were both shy. To me it felt as if we were friends who lied and told everyone we were dating. The reason for this feeling is because our relationship and friendship felt exactly the same. When in a relationship there was laughter, smiles, and so forth. However, there was no kissing or hugging or any other type of affection shown that most couples often expressed. This didn’t seem to bother him much, but it surely bothered me, so that’s when I ended the relationship.
March 9th, 2008 is the day Ryan asked me to be his girlfriend. It was a Sunday. He, Jake, Raina (a good friend of mine and Jake’s), and I were all watching a movie together at Jake’s house during the evening. The movie was pretty enjoyable, especially with Raina making her humorous comments throughout the movie, making fun of characters and such. Halfway through the movie Ryan, who was laying on the floor right beside me, turned to me and asked the question I was hoping he would ask. The timing was pretty random, I think, so I assumed the question had been on his mind for awhile and he was simply unsure of how and exactly when to ask, so he decided to just go for it during the movie. I could tell we were both nervous, but I answered him quickly without hesitation because that’s what nerves do to me. Now, you’re probably wondering what Jake’s and Raina’s reactions were, but amazingly they were too focused into the movie to notice anything going on so I informed them after the movie had ended about Ryan and I. They both congratulated us, wondering when Ryan was going to ask me out because they had obviously seen that there was a connection between us.
Ever since then things have been terrific between Ryan and I. As I said, he has helped me greatly with my social anxiety. While my anxiety is still there, I have learned tolerate it quite well. When it comes to school work I can function pretty well with my classmates, mainly due to the fact that I am so used to it. Back in elementary school I literally had to be pushed into working with others, but this has obviously changed dramatically over the years as I grew more and more accustomed to group projects and such. As I write this now I am realizing that my anxiety is worse in situations I am not used to, such as parties and other get togethers. I have grown accustomed to school and my classmates due to the fact that I have been doing it as a routine ever since kindergarten, but when it comes to parties and such my anxiety kicks in greatly because I do not know what to do with myself or how to act around people. In school it is easy to know how to act. I sit in my desk and work with other students when assigned to. But for parties I do not know where to put my hands or where to go or anything! It is a very uncomforting feeling. I guess the best thing to do would be to get used to parties as well. Maybe by exposing myself more, rather than avoiding them like I usually do, I’d start feeling more comfortable. It’s amazing what writing can do, I just figured out a possible solution to one of my problems.