She’ll look over her coffee cup at you and the way she’ll smile at you will make you think she knows you, as if a long lost friend. As quick as the smile came, it is gone as she suddenly looks down. You’ll try to make eye contact with her, trying so desperately to remember if you know her or if she’s just a friendly stranger sharing her infectious smile. But you can’t seem to look her in the eyes. She’s darting them back and forth, never landing on a spot for more than a few seconds. You’ll notice her leg is starting to shake, not enough to disrupt the room but only a little twitch of the leg. Enough to make you wonder if she’s nervous to look at you. Could it be she’s attracted to you? Maybe she does know you and it’s not a fond memory on her part? So, you’ll think about approaching her, maybe making a little small talk. Then you’ll notice she’s reading, although she’s been on the same page for quite awhile now. Her eyes are still unfocused, her leg making small movements underneath the table. Well that’s a bit odd, you’ll think. You’ll gather up your items and make your way towards her, then you decide against it so you’ll send her a small smile and go off on your own way.
She’ll come to the coffee shop alone to try and discover herself. She can’t quite put her finger on why she’s uncomfortable in groups, but also terrified to be alone. Being in a group means the attention may be focused on her and that makes her nervous. So, she fights the voice in her head to go home and she takes a spot in the corner and digs her nose in a book. She’ll notice him right away. She did the same with everyone that comes and leaves the shop. She’ll make eye contact when he isn’t looking, intrigued by his presence but not enough to talk to him, that would be too difficult. Her heart will freeze for a moment because he catches her looking at him. She’ll know she should say something friendly, maybe a “Hi” or “How are you today?” but she won’t be able to. She’ll know it’s silly but her voice will become caught in her throat.
Instead she’ll send a smile over her coffee cup and look down immediately back at her book. She won’t be able to focus. What if there was something in her teeth? What was he thinking? Was it about her? She’ll keep her eyes moving, unable to focus on anything because her mind is overwhelmed with questions. She’ll know she’s overreacting but it’s not a switch she can turn off. Suddenly, she’ll feel her leg moving. She won’t be able to help it, but oh god she’ll try. She’ll be nervous. Not even from him being a male, she won’t be able to handle the attention. His eyes will be on her, only on her. What if he was to approach her? Would she say something silly, embarrass herself, or heaven forbid, say something out of context? The thought of it will consume her. He’ll start to pick up his things, she’ll feel relieved. He’ll start to walk towards her, she’ll panic. Her palms will become sweaty, her heart will race, she won’t be able to focus. Her eyes will burn into her book, as she refuses to look up. The thought of trying to hold a conversation with a stranger will terrify her. She will allow herself a peek, he will already be outside the coffee shop. She’ll finally breathe.
Social anxiety is not a personality trait one just outgrows or decides to change. It lays there, sometimes dormant. But it is always there, and when it strikes, it will not be ignored. Finishing a simple task has now become a heavy load. There will be a crash of waves hitting you, forcing you to lose focus on everything around you and analyze the situation from every possible angle. It does not discriminate. It won’t matter if you’re within a small group of friends or about to stand in front of thousands. Breathing is no longer natural, rather it is forced. Slowly you can feel your body start to shake. On the inside you’re crumbling to pieces, but on the outside it could be as small as a twitch of a finger.
Those around you cannot tell you’re falling apart, as you seem to be frozen in time. Everything on the outside seems okay, but inside you’re facing a major war. A war that does not end. A war that does not take breaks, rather it is constant, leaving no room for escape. Repeating to yourself that this is not real, that this not you, only a fear. What good does it do? Now, your palms are sweaty, and the room is spinning. You try to focus on anything, anything to take your mind off all the possibilities of going in front of people.
…what if I sweat and everyone sees?
…what if I’m not as great as so and so said I was?
…what if they judge me, how am I to prove their assumptions wrong?
…what if I say something offensive?
…what is he or she doesn’t like me?
…what if I’m not okay with he or she?
What if. What if. What if.
This is not a plea for help, this is not a cry for attention, but rather a call for understanding.
Understand I’m still working on a better me.
I am going to fall, my social anxiety will win some days and I have to understand that’s okay.
But, when you see me in a crowd with my head held high and a smile across my face, just know that for now, I have won.
For I do not want my anxiety to rule me, I want it to add to the beauty of my being me.