I was seated on the morning bus that took me to and from my high school. I wasn’t too close to the back, where the juniors and seniors huddled together, but I wasn’t too close to the front where the “fresh meat” sat – kids who chatted loudly and often brought down the wrath of the older kids upon them in the afternoon when everyone was more awake and well…vengeful.
I was hoping I had picked the correct seat today – there really wasn’t anyway of knowing beforehand. I was also hoping my hair was perfectly in place, that the hood to my jacket wasn’t resting in an awkward position, that my music (though quiet) wasn’t somehow able to be heard by anyone around me. I tried not to move much – my head, my hands, my shoulders, my legs. If I was perfectly still, if my hair was perfectly in place, if my clothes were wrinkle free and hidden beneath the glow of the morning light, I should be okay.
But I forgot.
I forgot I had dyed my hair the previous night. In most lighting it still looked as black as it naturally was. But in the morning light it seriously matched the colour of the sun. I didn’t wear hats back then. Moving to put my hood up could bring attention. But my now fiery hair was going to anyway. Maybe if I was quiet they wouldn’t notice…
But they did. They did notice. And suddenly my social anxiety was high on alert, waiting for anything to be thrown my way, to hear the laughter and not-so-whispered comments on how stupid I looked, how impressive my hair colour was..and that was only if they were in a nice mood.
I had messed up. And my social anxiety wouldn’t let me forget.
Social Anxiety is a Monster
A person’s social anxiety can develop seemingly out of nowhere, but often there is some sort of trigger. The story above didn’t cause my social anxiety – this was well after my social anxiety developed, but before I had figured out what it actually was.
It’s probably been about six or seven years, and I still remember this. I remember the fear I felt that someone would notice and comment on anything I did, wore, or said. I remember continuously checking as I was walking to the bus stop and even before I left my house, to make sure nothing on me could bring attention to me. Everything had to be perfect – well, as perfect as it could be at the time.
Social anxiety eats at you. It punishes you for doing anything “wrong” in the eyes of the public.
It causes you to practice what you’re going to say before you order something twenty times and if you mess up – stumble over your words, pronounce something incorrectly, have to repeat yourself because you said it too quietly – the anxiety leaps out of its cage and attacks you without remorse.
They must think I’m an idiot.
I wonder if anyone else noticed that I messed up.
Just don’t look at anyone, you can leave soon.
You’re so stupid.
Somebody laughs – maybe your shirt has a stain. Someone makes eye contact with you – maybe your hair is doing that embarrassing thing again. So you smooth everything over, you look in a mirror, you try to think of what could trigger laughter before it happens again.
Even though somewhere inside, you know it’s not about you. Or it’s at least very unlikely that it is. But your social anxiety talks much louder than your voice of reason – screams really, until it can’t be ignored – and sets you down a path of self hate that you never could’ve imagined existed.
Social anxiety isn’t a joke. It’s not some made up thing to “get over”. It eats at us from the inside and makes us feel incomplete, stupid, and pathetic. And despite what you read here, it’s extremely difficult to put into words or relate to unless you have it yourself.
It’s also not discussed enough. It took me years to realize what exactly I had. I didn’t think cringing at every person who laughed while I walked by and doing a checklist of everything that could be wrong on me was normal, but I didn’t think it was an actual issue.
I thought it was just me being stupid. And there lies the problem.