ENCOURAGEMENT, RECOVERY

The Coat I Used To Wear

My Experience With Social Anxiety Disorder

Person wearing a coat holding a leaf in front of his or her face.
Social Anxiety Disorder is bigger than the accusations people throw at you.

I forgot about the coat I used to wear. I was brushing my teeth one morning when the memories came rushing back. I was in eighth grade, and it was too hot for a coat.

I wore it anyway, because I needed protection.

I felt awkward inside, embarrassed, like at any minute people (specifically, my friends) would find out something about me and start laughing. Like the fact that my breasts were under-developed, or maybe my clothes weren’t keeping up with the latest trends.

That awkwardness is the same reason I took my hair down out of the beautiful bun my Mama spent an hour creating for me one morning, and why I didn’t give out the class presents she and I both stayed up late at night to work on. I always felt like my contributions were somehow not “enough,” and someone might point that out.

I wanted to hide so no one could see my flaws.

Somehow I must have gotten it into my head that I needed to be perfect. I wanted to be like everyone else, or at least not stand out as something other than what they were! I was smart, and kids made fun of me for it. I heard things like “teacher’s pet” and other descriptive names that didn’t sound the way I saw myself.

Kids will be kids.

I wasn’t bullied, at least I don’t remember it that way. These kids were my friends. But it was hard for me to put my feelings into sentences. I didn’t know how to blend into the crowd, and I was afraid to just be myself.

My homemade dresses were a half-inch longer than the other girls’ dresses, and I thought that mattered. I believed my hair made me look too different to be accepted. There wasn’t much about me that I was comfortable with, and THAT was the real problem. I didn’t want to be noticed–to be set apart for any reason.

So I wore the coat.

Photo by Esther Driehaus on Unsplash

I also knew that I was getting to “that age.” I was actually LATE getting to it. Other girls would ask me all the time, “Did you start yet?” and I hadn’t, but knew I would soon, and what if there was blood on me and someone saw it?

Protection. But I forgot.

So when Mikey wore his leather jacket in the summer, it never crossed my mind. I didn’t remember the girl who was so awkward–so socially impaired and afraid that I needed something to cover me so I’d feel better.

I was the one person who should’ve understood, and I didn’t. He wore it everywhere, and it was hot, and it made me angry. He didn’t just wear a coat though. He wore a knit cap too.

He needed protection even more than I did.

I passed down generations of fear to my child, just like it was passed to me. I could have stopped the cycle, but I didn’t recognize the patterns. The reality was right there in front of me, and I missed it. I failed him. Now that leather jacket hangs in the closet as a reminder of the protection that I didn’t give. He doesn’t need it anymore, but I always will.

Social Anxiety is a very real and crippling thing.

It can cause you to make choices that you ordinarily wouldn’t. The toughest person in the world might be too afraid to go into a grocery store and talk to a cashier for fear of embarrassing himself. That is a classic, identifiable symptom of the disorder.

I didn’t know. I finally did some research when I started to notice patterns in my life and in my family of things we were failing to do that most people took for granted. Some of us have pretty much beat it. Many others never will.

Shame and Withdrawal

I forgot about the coat, but I never forgot that I didn’t take my ACT test for college because I was afraid that I wouldn’t know where to sharpen my pencils. There’s a lot of shame that goes along with the crippling fear.

People who don’t understand (which is most of the general population including people inflicted with the social anxiety themselves) hurl judgment at you, like, “Why doesn’t the boy get a job like everybody else?” and other perfectly reasonable questions that don’t have reasonable answers from someone who couldn’t even ask where to sharpen her pencils.

The Catalyst for Change

I don’t have the solution, but I know this is a real thing. I’ve watched many members of my family struggle with it through the years. The turning point for me was knowing I didn’t take that test, and I had to lie to Mama for the first time in my life. I couldn’t find a way to just skirt the truth.

I looked at what my future would be like if I kept denying myself opportunities because I was afraid. I decided I was more afraid to get to the end of my life having not done all the things than to go ahead and try.

Photo by Andrew Kondrakov on Unsplash

I can’t say that the anxiety doesn’t still win a battle or two, but I know it will never win the war. I don’t consider this courage–just the other side of fear. They call it “doing it scared.” To me it’s like closing your eyes and backing up. Whatever happens, happens.

I can’t go back and change anything–not my past as a child nor my past with my child. I can only go forward and try to do better. I know that I will be watching more closely to see if someone is needing protection. Hopefully I will be able to share my story with them and maybe give them some hope that it doesn’t always have to be this way.

As for my son, I take comfort in the fact that he lived his life on his own terms, even though he was afraid. He was a writer (something else I passed down), and I found an accurate description of his struggle in one of his notebooks.

First, a whole page of the words “I’m sorry….I’m sorry…I’m sorry…”, as if apologizing for all the ways he thought he didn’t measure up. Then he wrote the best description of himself that anyone ever could. Whether the world finds it appropriate or not, in the end, we put it on his headstone.

“I’m not sorry, I’m Mikey.”

If you’d like to check this post out on Medium just to see how cool it looks, click here!

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ENCOURAGEMENT

A Thousand Things

That’s what I keep trying to do. A thousand and one, maybe. I’ve been doing it all my life and if I know me, I’m not gonna stop any time soon.

I’m gifted, and I know it. I’ve always known it. God’s given me a little bit of a whole lot of different talents. Not so much that I excel at very many of them, but just enough to be pretty good at a bunch of stuff. So…I keep going in this direction or that direction, trying to figure out where I’m supposed to end up.

I wonder if I’m the only person who does this? There are a probably a lot of creative people who are just like me, and can’t quite wrap their heads around just what it is that they should be doing!

That’s probably why it all came down to one moment of clarity.

Maybe everything in my life was leading up to this point. All the experiences, good and bad, that have made me who I am also lead me to a place of super weird reality. You’d think when you get the big moments of your life you’d at least have the decency to be dressed for the occasion. Not me.

I was wearing Minnie Mouse pajama bottoms and a semicolon tank top. That’s pretty significant in itself! I usually at least take the time to match my clothes, even if no one will see them but me.

Choose to keep going!

Back to the semicolon tank top–if you don’t know what that means, look it up. Semicolons matter, and I feel pretty sure I will be talking about those again soon. Anyway, I had all that on along with my poop boots (these are the ones that I wade through the dog pen in) with no socks and a black jacket. The jacket was something I threw on just to go outside to get Jaxson (my sweet Great Pyrenees) to bring him in for the night.

And suddenly, it hits me like a bolt of lightning! Well, not really because I already know it, and I always have. So I rush over to my computer and turn it on to see some new pink flamingos on my cover screen (it changes every day) and type in my pass code just to find out that the internet is iffy (as usual)!

Revelations should not be this complicated!

Anyway, I did all that because for some reason I feel compelled to pass this astonishing new (but not really) knowledge on to you, so I wait it out. And here we are.

I’m a writer.

That’s my big news! It’s what I am, what I have always been, and what I always will be. It’s my most treasured God-given talent.

I started writing about as soon as I started talking. I can remember making up poems in the bathtub (I can’t help it if the bathroom is where I do my best work) when I was as young as five years old, and I started writing them down at around seven or so. I’ve spent a lifetime writing different things, like stories and plays and songs and poetry.

“I coulda’ been a contender!”

I don’t think I’m washed up and out of the game now like Brando was in On the Waterfront. I didn’t intentionally throw the fight, but let me tell you what did happen.

I was hired to work for a newspaper fresh out of high school, but I let someone who didn’t even matter tell me that I would never amount to anything. That wouldn’t make any difference to some people, but I was unsure of myself and I believed her. Add that to extreme social anxiety, and you get me–someone who didn’t show up for my first day of work or any other day after.

I quit before I started.

That’s a confession that I’m embarrassed to make, but I’m glad I finally had the courage to tell. I don’t know where I’d be today if I had swallowed my fear and done it anyway! It’s not the only time I’ve let fear beat me out of something I really wanted.

So if you know me at all, you know that I can draw, paint, and create some pretty cool stuff. I’m pretty good at building and coming up with awesome solutions for my house. I’m a merchandiser and an idea person.

I can DIY with the best of them, and I’m very handy with power tools. I can speak in public and teach and do workshops and lead and sing karaoke (I don’t do that one too well, but it’s still fun). God has gifted me in wonderful ways, but when it comes down to it, those are things that I do.

What I AM is a writer. All that other stuff is just extra.