Buying postage stamps. You’d think this act is one of the easier responsibilities of adulthood. For me, however, the act of buying postage stamps recently threw me into a rage of frustration at myself for how foolish having social anxiety can make me feel, especially when attempting what should be basic tasks.
In my defense, I have never bought stamps before. However, I know myself well enough to anticipate being bombarded with anxiety prior to attempting anything new. That is why it took me three days from the time I decided to buy the stamps to actually get in my car, drive to the post office and approach the postal worker at the counter. With social anxiety, it can take a long time before I finally feel I’ve mustered up the courage and energy I need to face whatever it is I need to do.
When I’m out in public, social anxiety makes me feel like I’m walking around under a huge magnifying glass with a giant target on my chest. Social anxiety makes me feel like I’m always wearing a t-shirt that says, “Judge everything about me,” and like the world is staring at me, waiting for me to make a mistake. More often than not, going out in public, especially alone, is like walking out onto a stage for a performance that will decide my worth. Social anxiety says I must always perform and perform perfectly. Otherwise, I, as a person, am a failure.
As a young adult beginning to figure out my place in the “real” world, I regularly have to face new responsibilities that make my social anxiety rear its ugly head: job interviews, trips to the store, depositing a check, unexpected situations at work, making phone calls and, most recently, buying postage stamps. So often my perceived ability to accomplish these tasks determines how good of a job I’m doing at becoming a young woman or, conversely, how incompetent and worthless of a young girl I still am. Since social anxiety is so strongly connected to my identity, sometimes walking out onto the stage alone to perform is downright scary and overwhelming.
That’s why I absolutely love when my mom is able to walk out on the stage with me. To some looking at us on the outside, it might appear like a 20-something-year-old girl is too immature and afraid to go anywhere without her mom holding her hand. Truthfully, though, this isn’t really what’s going on. The truth is my mom is my closest friend who knows me better than anyone. My mom is funny, kind and easygoing. She understands my social anxiety, and her presence is an immense comfort to me when I’m faced with something new and intimidating.
In circumstances when my own lack of knowledge and familiarity would cause my anxiety to spike, she lets me lean on her wisdom and experience. My mom doesn’t hold my hand and do everything for me. Rather, she stands beside me and takes the edge off my anxiety so I can learn how to handle new responsibilities and not be completely distracted by my fear.
When I’m alone, social anxiety is the voice shouting in my head that I’m a failure as my face burns red with embarrassment. Yet, my mom is the voice that helps me not to beat myself up too much when I find myself feeling like I’ve failed again. She’s the person beside me who will say, “You know what? I felt really awkward in that situation, too!” We’ll laugh it off together. It’s invaluable having someone to help me stop social anxiety’s attacks on not just my head, but on the deepest parts of my heart.
Those with social anxiety know what it’s like to constantly feel like you’re performing and being judged by people around you. That’s why social anxiety can actually strengthen relationships with those closest to you — parents, siblings, other family members and friends. If you, like me, find yourself feeling so frustrated at how blown out of proportion social anxiety makes seemingly easy tasks feel, don’t be ashamed to reach out to a familiar friend. Ask him or her to accompany you to the store. Ask if they have time to sit with you before a doctor’s appointment. If those friends can’t walk out onto the stage with you while you have to perform, then ask them if you can get together afterward. Sometimes, having a special occasion to look forward to can be just the motivation you need to be able to face the toughness of social anxiety and get yourself through to the other side.
I wish something as simple as buying postage stamps didn’t leave me feeling powerless and ashamed. However, I learned that having social anxiety has actually strengthened a really important relationship in my life. If you battle with social anxiety, then I encourage you to reach out to those in your life who love and accept you just as you are. You might find that walking out on the stage with a supportive friend makes the lights seem a little less bright, the fear a little less intense and the need to perform perfectly a little less terrifying.
(Originally posted at The Mighty)