I have never been an exceptionally social person. When I was I growing up, besides my brother, there weren’t many constants when it came to friends or acquaintances. We were home schooled for a few years in elementary school so I lost my friends from Kindergarten. Then in middle school my best friend up and moved to Texas. When I got a boyfriend, I pretty much ditched all my girlfriends to be with him. My parents held a very strict one night out a week rule and I stupidly wasted every week on him. When we broke up, I had almost no one.
By the time my senior year rolled around, I had a small group of very close girlfriends and a much older boyfriend in college. I thought that when I graduated and went to college it would be my opportunity to reinvent myself. No one would know me, I could be exactly who I wanted to be and act how I wanted to act. I would be the fun outgoing girl that everyone would want to hang out with. I would attend parties, maybe even fraternity parties, and drink alcohol and stay out past 11pm.
I had big plans.
Then the first day of class I experienced my first panic attack. At the time, I had no idea what it was, all I knew was that walking across campus made me feel like I was dying. My heart was pounding, I couldn’t see straight. My breath was ragged and short, and I was having trouble staying upright. I became convinced I had contracted meningitis and would obviously drop dead before the day was over. When I didn’t die, I shrugged it off that I must have been hot, or something.
College progressed and I came out with exactly 2 friends. Every day was sheer horror, I would enter class silently, sit in the front row and stare straight ahead at the board the entire time. Then as the clock ticked closer to the end, I would begin to get panicky and terrified. I don’t even know what I was terrified about, I would have my books packed and ready at 5 til and the minute the professor said “see you tomorrow” I bolted for the door. The only reason I ended up with the two friends I got was because one lived next door to me and I had to sheepishly ask for help when I couldn’t hook up my tv, and the other one was in two of my classes and inserted herself into my life by talking to me every day.
I couldn’t imagine doing things on my own, I never had done anything on my own. I spent most days with my peers at school and then came home with my brother and spent the evening with him and my parents. Even when I got my license, I went to work and home. I never stepped outside of my comfort zone. When college came around and I was free to roam I was confused and scared. I once went two weeks washing my hair with bar soap because I was too scared to walk to Rite Aid by myself for shampoo (my friend next door finally went with me). I couldn’t walk into the cafeteria on campus because I became consumed by the thought that everyone inside would be staring at me and judging every food I put on my plate. What if I chewed weird? What if I got something stuck in my teeth? What if I had to sit alone? What if other people wanted to sit with me?
My life became a series of questions and concerns that I couldn’t bring myself to answer. I decided that if I never tried anything new, then I would never fail. Problem solved. I got a job, I went to class, that was that.
As a Psychology major, it wasn’t long before I self diagnosed myself as anxious and went off to a doctor to get checked out. Anxiety issues do tend to run in my family and I matched every bullet point for the disease. The doctor put me on Xanax and told me to take one any time I began to feel anxious. The next two years were just weird. I would take the Xanax anytime I was forced into something that made me feel anxious, but I still didn’t feel comfortable putting myself into new situations. I skirted along the edge of life. Graduated college, got an office job, my own cubicle, and a small close circle of friends.
It wasn’t under Wonderful Husband came around that he really opened my eyes to how much I was missing. He was a huge party boy at college and boasted about his fun weekends, staying up until dawn, meeting new people, and doing all sorts of things that sounded fun. He encouraged me to get out and experience life, I balked, He poked and prodded and made fun of me until I finally came out of my shell a little. He got me off the Xanax, and helped me understand that anxiety is a natural part of life, but you don’t have to let it consume you. Most of the time, when you think someone is judging you, they are, but it doesn’t really matter. You have to be comfortable with who are you and realize that, within reason, what other people think of you doesn’t matter.
I still have a hard time in social situations. I tend to over take the entire conversation, not letting anyone else get a word in. I still can’t walk into a new place by myself, and I can’t initiate a get together. I have a hard time with confrontation, I hate to make people upset or sad, I get sick to my stomach before almost every public outing. I talk very fast, and very loud, and need reminded to calm down.
I can however: go to the grocery store alone, walk into a new place where someone is waiting for me, go get a hair cut, initiate a phone call, and take criticism without feeling like my world has ended. I can “deep breathe” my way through almost any anxiety attack, and have gotten much better at telling people what is happening instead of just leaving. I can also go through a buffet line and take whatever food I want to eat.
I think extra anxiety will always be a part of my life, but I refuse to let it own me. My child is watching, and I want her to learn to experience life. For the most part, I try to convert my nervous energy into constructive things, like house projects or reaching out to old friends, instead of sitting on the couch wallowing in self misery. I spent some of the best years of my life hiding in the shadows, I don’t want to do that anymore. I may be socially awkward and have a hard time in group situations, but I promise I am a normal human being once you get to know me.
Hopefully this post has touched a few of you. However, I am not a doctor, or a licenses psychologist and cannot diagnosis any diseases. If you feel that you may have anxiety or panic attacks, I encourage you to reach out to your doctor for help.