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Field of Flowers: Living with Social Anxiety
I wrote this in 2016
In 2016, I wrote this article. My friends at OnBeing shared it. I remember being terrified to write these words but obligated. Obligated because my anxiety was crippling, and no one seemed to be able to put two and two together. How could I be so “public” but also so not interested in people?
A lot has changed about me since this article was published. For one, I went to therapy and started tackling my fears and defense mechanisms. And two, I decided to lean into vulnerability by opening up to those closest to me about not being OK. I wasn’t okay. I was struggling. I still move through the world with anxiety and depression. And since 2016, I’ve been diagnosed with OCD. I remember talking to my doctor about wanting to try medication for my mental health and being so relieved when they said, I think that’s a good call. Lexapro was first and a FAIL. Zoloft was second and a win. My low dose of Zoloft has changed my life. It’s quieted my anxiety and OCD so that I can think through my feelings. It’s created feelings of emotional safety when I’m wrapped in depression.
For whoever needs to read this essay, I see you. We are not alone—even when we feel like we are—standing in a field of flowers. Enjoy these words from 2016.
Living with social anxiety feels like being in a field of flowers that you can’t enjoy. You can’t truly see them for what they are. You can’t smell them, pick them, or love them as you wish. You just stand there in the field, with beauty around you, and no way to experience it fully.
You just can’t, sometimes.
That’s the best way that I can describe it. That’s my social phobia put into words. The flowers are people. Lots of people. New people. New places. New things. An abundance of fear and sweat emits from my body each time. New hellos. New hugs. New energy. New handshakes. New pictures.
People, in general, are not easy for me, and I’ve felt guilty about this for so long. It’s so incredibly hard to enjoy it all. After exchanging energy with new people, I feel drained almost instantly. Even being around my own family takes effort. I feel like my body goes into hiding without my permission.
There aren’t any triggers for me, so I can’t prepare. It just comes, sinks in, and leaves when it’s ready. The next morning and for days after, I feel depleted and lifeless. Recovering from social stimulation is a process in itself.
I feel like my entire life has been a test. Throughout the entire journey, I’ve had to overcome obstacle after obstacle just to be able to face the grandest test of all: interacting with people. And in my line of work, I have to. Often.
I don’t recall ever being good at it. Nurturing new energies without feeling safe enough has always been tremendously trying and difficult. For years, I brushed it off, thinking that I just wasn’t a “people person.” Even after speaking with different doctors, I would say, “I’m just an introvert,” and “I’m not outgoing.” They were the first words to come out of my mouth when I talked about zodiac signs with friends. They told me, “You’re the most anti-Leo I know.” In my heart, I knew I wasn’t anti-anything. I can just be scared to death of people.
I know that the feelings I’m met with are irrational, but they remain dishearteningly real.
I’ve been managing my anxiety for a while. “Managing” means not going out much, especially to situations that present a lot of unfamiliarities. If I do go out, even to my own events and shows, I make sure that I’m always with someone who makes me feel comfortable. But feeling alright is fleeting when social anxiety is trailing close behind.
I’ve tried to show up for myself. I’ve learned how to honor this thing that I carry with me. No, I’m not anti-. No, I don’t not like you. No, I am not standoffish.
I am a woman who deals with a phobia that forces me to put up barriers and walls without my consent. I am a woman who has to talk to people and has to show up for a living, even when she feels like she just can’t. I’m a woman who has been living with social anxiety since before she can remember. It’s not easy. But I’m getting there.
It took me years to trust and believe that no one means me any harm. People aren’t out to get me or hurt me. Recognizing that is what helps. There have been many self-pep-talks on breathing through it and self-reassurances that “This is almost over.”
And when it’s over, I’m always OK.
This, among other obstacles, has been a building block for my resilience. People are so quick to judge and label others without the slightest understanding of what that person is going through. Sometimes it’s just not about you, and it’s not personal. We are all programmed differently. It’s hard for some of us to run through our field of flowers with no uncertainties.
There are moments when standing still in the midst of it all is all that can be done.
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