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Social anxiety is like a fear of interacting with other people and, because that’s a major part of life, it bleeds into each part of your life. People who have social anxiety may not even know they have it because they may seem to just be shy or awkward. I know I certainly thought I was shy, maybe slightly socially inept but I just thought I would grow out of it. However, when I turned 21, I felt it was getting worse. Maybe I was stressed. Maybe I felt out of control. Maybe there was something wrong with me.
I found out that it was the latter, but maybe not as cynical as I made it out to seem. I started to realize that the small things I did or felt in certain situations were all just symptoms. Like how when one person tried to have a one-on-one conversation with me, after a short while I felt the need to bring someone else into the conversation and slowly sneak away. Nothing I ever say is right which makes me want to plan every possible conversation I have; play out every possible scenario before it happens. Being near other people causes me stress. Not only mentally but physically as well. The major muscles in my body contract, my chest feels tight, and I forget how to breathe.
Breathing has been another thing I’ve been weirdly self-conscious about. When I forget how to, naturally, I start to breathe more heavily to compensate. My aim is to blend into the very average and breathing heavily is not average. It can be infuriating. I want to ask questions in class or tell my group of friends a joke, but that means I have to stop blending in and stick out like a sore thumb. It’s like I invent a spotlight in my head and every time I have to speak, it shines on me. It’s a large spotlight; one that makes me sweat and is slightly too bright for me to want to look up.
This is a weird and small insight. It’s a brief look into how I feel I guess. Are the things I just described symptoms of a person with social anxiety? Maybe with a hint of other things? Or are they just personal to the things I’ve gone through? Or a combination of all the above?
It’s almost frustrating that not all symptoms present themselves in the same way for people with mental illnesses because you can never quite be sure if you are ill. They can’t be treated the same because they are so individual and different. But I suppose it’s also a good thing because you can gain support from different friends or family members about different issues. For me, it was nice to spread it all out so it didn’t feel like such a heavy load on one person. However, it sometimes makes me question if I am actually ill. Other people have it worse but why can’t I seem to function. I want to get better, but do I deserve the help?
Sometimes it feels like something I will never get over but then other times there are small glimmers of hope that seem like I’m recovering or changing, or maybe even growing. Social anxiety sometimes doesn’t feel real. If you think about it, it’s like having a fear of people, and in my head, it’s like, 'But I’m a person, does it mean that I’m afraid of myself?' Maybe I’m afraid of what I’d do and how I’ll affect anyone or anything. Maybe I have a fear of being a negative influence on the world. Or potentially just of not being a positive one.
It is almost like a tug of war within your head. You want to do something but you feel like you can’t; You imagine the worst possible scenarios and come up with the most irrational reasons as to why you can’t talk to someone, why you can’t sit or even stand near someone, and how having one conversation can lead to rumors about you. Everything you’ve done is blown out of proportion in your head and you keep replaying it over and over again. It almost leaves no room in your head for any healthy thoughts. It gets in the way of any relationships you form. I feel like I’m waving goodbye to my sanity.
I guess I’m writing this to clear my head and to try and make sense of it all, maybe to try and make you understand and for anyone to find out if maybe this is the missing piece; for them to begin their journey to understand themselves more and to seek help if need be. It’s crazy how listening or reading to someone’s story can open new doors into your own self-discovery.
Whoever you are, thank you for taking the time to read.