It can manifest itself in various ways. For me, it’s a fear of putting myself out there, blended with an inability to function with grace. Additionally, it’s a pounding heart, a dry mouth, sweaty palms, and a mind which randomly blanks. The harder I search for the right words, the further from my reach they slip, only to invariably unleash once the moment has passed. As a result, it’s simpler to avoid situations then to appear rude or inept.
Anxiety didn’t always plague me; as a child, I radiated confidence. I just knew people wanted to talk to me as desperately as I wanted to be heard, and I owned myself. However, by high school, anxiety was woven into my identity. My closest friendships evolved during those years, though they were few, and by senior year my yearbook was full of “you seem so nice, I wish I had gotten to know you better” sentiments.
My anxieties steadily endured with time, yet having kids made them somewhat manageable. In awkward moments, I’d babble to the baby in my arms or dash off to catch that kid who wouldn’t stay still. Focusing on my kids eased the tension; however, as they’ve grown, their need for me has decreased. Consequently, having four school-aged kids creates a further need to involve myself for them to have opportunities.
Unfortunately, anxiety also developed in one of my children. As soon as we realized it, we addressed it, bringing forth the stark realization that I wasn’t willing to allow my child to suffer through what I struggled with each day. Why was I not doing more for myself?
Despite this awareness, my “aha” moment occurred at Dierbergs where, as I rounded the canned goods aisle, I saw someone that went to high school with me. Certain she would never remember me, I fiercely studied my shopping list, eyes down until she passed. Relieved, I shopped on. Around the cereal aisle, she reappeared. I contemplated hiding behind the Cheerios display but instead decided to absorb myself in conversation with my toddler, ducking to avoid any accidental eye contact. Convinced of my subtlety, I saw her holding back a smile as she went by and I knew then that I was busted. She not only knew who I was; she knew I was avoiding her, though she didn’t know why. It wasn’t the first time I dodged a familiar face, and I decided to call myself out.
This high school acquaintance is on Facebook (so, of course, she recognized me) and I messaged her explaining my awkward disengagement. I owned my issues, explaining that what likely came off as rudeness was me trying to navigate my anxieties. She was so friendly and supportive, which validated my resolve to overcome.
Have I been successful? It’s an ongoing battle, which I felt I was managing until another Dierbergs incident (maybe it’s time to start shopping at the new Aldi’s?) where I saw my Dad browsing for bread. My knee-jerk reaction was to turn the cart around until I muttered, “Geez. That’s DAD!” and turned back to chat. Unexpectedly encountering people can throw me off. Either that or seeing my Dad at Dierbergs just threw me because never in my life had I seen him in a grocery store, so the whole thing just felt unnatural. Either way, it was another wake-up call.
Social anxiety may seem utterly absurd to anyone for whom civilities are effortless, however, if you have anxiety, you get it, and I get you. And when I spot you at Dierbergs, I promise I won’t judge when you disappear behind the potato chip display. I’d push my cart over to tell you that I get it, but, well… maybe not. But I will smile when you’re no longer looking, and I’ll be sure to say that you’re not alone, despite how it feels. Granted, I’ll be saying that in my head (where all of my best conversations happen) but it comes from my heart. Maybe the realization that I should nurture myself with as much conviction as I do my children will lead to another blog post about how I reigned in my anxieties.