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 this morning when I remembered it. I was in eighth grade, and it was too hot for a coat, but I wore it anyway because I needed protection.

I felt awkward inside. I felt embarrassed, like at any minute people (specifically, my friends) would find out something about me and start laughing at me. Like the fact that my breasts were under-developed, or maybe my clothes weren’t keeping up with the latest trends. That awkwardness I felt is the same reason that I took my hair down out of the beautiful bun that my Mama had spent time creating for me one morning, and why I didn’t give out the class presents that she and I both stayed up late at night to work on. I always felt like my contributions were somehow not “enough,” and I would be laughed at. I thought my hair made me look different–too different to be accepted. I didn’t want to be noticed–to be set apart for any reason. So I wore the coat.

I also knew that I was getting “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 that leather jacket in the summer, it never crossed my mind. I didn’t remember that girl who was so awkward–so socially impaired and afraid that I needed something to cover me so I would feel better. I was the one person who should have understood, and I didn’t. He wore it everywhere, and it was hot, and it made me angry.

He wore a knit cap too. He needed protection even more than I did.

It was right there for me to see, and I missed it. Now that leather jacket hangs in the closet as a reminder of the protection that I did not give my son.

Social Anxiety is a very real 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 looked it up when I started to notice patterns in my own life and in my family of things that we were failing to do that most people took for granted. Some of us have pretty much beat it. Many others cannot.

I forgot about the coat, but I never forgot the fact that I didn’t take my ACT test for college (like my Mama thought I did) 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 who are 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 didn’t ask where to sharpen her pencils because of extreme anxiety.

I don’t have the answers but I know that this is a real thing, and I have 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 my Mama for the first time in my life. I looked at what my future would be like if I kept on denying myself opportunities because I was afraid. I decided way back then that I was more afraid to get to the end of my life having not done all the things than to go ahead and try. 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 that way.

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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 has 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 on 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? I just imagine that there are a lot of creative people who are just like me, and can’t quite wrap their heads around just what it is that they are supposed to be doing!

REVELATION STRIKES

And so tonight, I’m wearing Minnie Mouse pajama bottoms and a semi-colon tank top (if you don’t know what that means, look it up) along with my poop boots (these are the ones that I wade through the dog pen in) with no socks and a black jacket that I threw on just to go outside to get Jaxson (my sweet Great Pyrenees) to bring him in for the night–when it hits me like a bolt of lightning, but 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)! Anyway, I did all that because for some reason I feel compelled to pass my revelation on to you, so I wait it out. And here we are.

I am a writer. That’s my big news. It’s what I am, what I have always been, and what I always will be. It is 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 have spent a lifetime writing different things like stories and plays and songs and poetry. 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, and I believed her, so I didn’t show up for my first day of work or any other day after. That’s a confession that I am embarrassed to make, but I’m glad that I finally had the courage to tell. I don’t know where I would be today if I had swallowed my fear and done it anyway. It’s not the only time that I have 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.