My Experience With Social Anxiety Disorder
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.