Inside the Mind of a Socially-Anxious Wallflower

Trigger warning: This article contains details about anxiety which could be triggering to those struggling with it.

When I look around me, I see the ease with which people approach each other, and I think about how I would respond if put in a situation like that. My wording is such because it terrifies me. It feels as if I’m being inserted into a situation that requires more from me than I can give it, mostly because my mind just refuses to stop and take a second to figure out how to navigate the thoughts running through it. Nervous isn’t really the right word, but it’s close.

It makes me nervous when it comes to interacting with people. People that I know, people that I don’t know, people that I love, people that love me, and so on. What if the people I love stop loving me because of something stupid I say? What if they begin to think I’m weird or strange and, as a result, don’t want to talk to me anymore? What if, while speaking, I stumble and mumble and everyone around me thinks that I can’t even put one sentence together like a regular human being? What if a wrong word comes out of my mouth and changes the entire meaning of what I said? What do I do then?

A lot of my friends have told me not to worry so much about things. A lot of them ask me what the big deal is about a situation for me to be so hung up on it even before it has taken place, why I have trouble letting things go after they have happened, and why I can’t stop my mind from running all the time. I don’t know how to explain to them that it’s more complicated than merely telling myself to take a breath and calm down. It’s crippling to feel this way, and even more so when it’s not taken seriously by the people around me. It then feels as though I am, in fact, weird and strange, though my gut tells me I’m not. It only worsens every time I’m told to calm down and to ‘stop thinking about it’.

Recently, I tried to put myself in situations that challenge my anxiety. It has been as exhilarating as it has been terrifying. My therapist told me that I am the one in control of the situation and that I can leave it when I think I need to, and I took from their advice and have used it as best as I could. It has taken a lot of breathers in loos and walks by myself smack in the middle of a social situation, but it has helped me remain in control of my thoughts as I have done it.

My anxiety has manifested in me not being willing to give up control, which ends with massive burnout and exhaustion because I feel the need to do things all the time to not feel the thoughts writhing inside me. I have forced myself to take time to do nothing, and have worked on staying calm while I do it instead of allowing my thoughts to consume me. I’ve noticed that it has made me a happier and a more easy-going person. I have also talked about it with other people, and that makes me less nervous to be around them, knowing that they now understand.

I have seen myself progress over the last few months from a very socially-anxious person to one that is finding ways to work through it and who is less scared of socialising than before. I enter conversations and I introduce myself to people and I hold conversations with them as well as I can, until I can’t, and then I don’t. I’ve learnt that it’s okay to excuse myself and no one is going to think I’m weird if I do that. I’ve learnt to tell myself that a lot of what runs through my head is my mind playing with me, and it’s not the truth.

I’m not saying that I don’t feel anxious anymore at all, only that I’ve learnt how to manage it better now, and therapy has played a large part in helping me through it. My phone used to be my best friend at parties – but at the last one I went to, I forgot where I kept it, and that was okay. I have a long path ahead of me, but what brings me comfort and joy is that I now know that I’m not weird and strange, just a normal person trying to work through my problems, just like anyone else. It bothers me less now if anyone around me thinks otherwise, and that’s the progress I want continuing in my life.

Drishti Sahay is a student in Bangalore.

Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty