Something happened today that made me think about my social anxiety and reflect on how I've changed due to, and in spite of, it over the course of my lifetime. The specifics of what happened to spark these thoughts aren't really important, but I did want to talk about social anxiety a little because I'm sure that I'm not the only one who deals with it.
Anyway, with so much happening around me, I found myself suddenly retreating into this shell. I was no longer the outgoing, loud, opinionated girl on the outside. Instead, I found that I would only act like myself around family or my closest friends. I remember a lot of heart-to-heart conversations with my parents throughout middle school, as I struggled with wanting so badly to make new friends and being unable to make conversation at school. Somehow there were certain situations in which I made it through alright; I did make a couple of friends in middle school and had an overall enjoyable experience, but I couldn't make basic conversation with classmates while waiting for the bell to ring.
My social anxiety seemed to get worse in high school. I lost confidence in myself in many ways, though with the help of my family I continued to pursue the hobbies I loved, like chorus and drama club. I could go entire days without speaking to anyone aside from my teachers or best friends if we happened to have a class together. I often felt like no one liked me, or no one would remember me. It didn't matter how nice someone was to me; I always felt like it was just to look good and they didn't actually care for me inside. Of course, my theory was proved wrong time and time again as, and my mom wouldn't hesitate to point this out, people would recognize me in stores or other places around town and ask, "Weren't you the girl in [enter name of school play or chorus group here]?" Still, I never felt like I was good enough for recognition (except in academics or something, but even then I would only show my confidence around family or my few close friends).
Cut to junior year of high school, when I suddenly found myself in a new environment. I joined a class through the local Career & Technical Education Center, where I was able to learn a hands-on approach to being a teacher. I found myself among people from schools across two counties, and we were all interested in working with kids in some way. I went to this school every afternoon throughout junior and senior year, and it was one of the best decisions of my life. No one would believe me when I explained how shy I was at my own school. I didn't know how, or why, but I was extremely grateful that my social anxiety had taken a backseat once I got to this school, and I found myself able to talk to everyone with no problem. I was back to elementary school Taylor, outgoing, fun-loving, and happy; but at my own school each morning, I was still that socially awkward, shy girl who didn't talk to anyone. It was crazy.
To make a long story short (I am tired from working, after all), this pattern continued through college. I could never talk to anyone, but once in a while I'd find myself cracking my shell just a tiny bit. I resigned myself to the fact that my life would always be this way, which was one of the biggest fears of mine as we prepared to move to Florida. How was I going to meet new people and find new friends if I couldn't even start a conversation with anyone? Then I started at Disney, and without me even realizing it at first, my social anxiety seemed to disappear. I didn't have a problem talking to anyone, even the people around my own age (with whom I've always had the most trouble speaking over the past). But tonight, this tiny little insignificant thing that happened caused me to suddenly rethink everything on my drive home. I could actually feel myself slipping back into that web of anxiety where I wondered if any of my co-workers actually liked me, or if they were just pretending because we had to work together. I knew it was crazy as each thought popped into my head, but I couldn't turn that part of my brain off. I argued back and forth with myself... "You enjoy their company." "Yeah, but do they enjoy your company?" -- "You have great conversations and laughs with them." "But are they just being polite? They're clearly nice enough people if they wanted to work at Disney."
So clearly my anxiety is not completely out of my system. Maybe I'll someday grow out of it, or maybe I won't. Hey, I've been waiting to grow out of asthma since I was five years old, so I'm not holding my breath on the anxiety thing (asthma pun intended). I guess I'll just continue to give myself pep talks whenever I'm facing a new situation and push myself to overcome whatever challenges, no matter how self-inflicted they may be, stand in my way.
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