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 what's out there. Because, you just can't sometimes.
That's the best way that I can describe it. That's my social phobia put into words, but imagine the flowers being people. Lots of people. New people. New places. New things. An abundance of fear and sweat emit from my body each time. New hellos. New hugs. New energy. New handshakes. New pictures. It's so incredibly hard to enjoy it all. I feel like my body goes into hiding without my permission. There aren't any triggers for me. I can't prepare; it just comes, sinks in, leaves when it's ready. Years ago my therapist gave me an imaginary tool box for me to open when I got smacked with anxiety or depression. The box worked for a while, but recently, at 26, I haven't been able to open my tool box. I lost the key.
I feel like my entire life has been a test. This journey has seemingly been wrapped in overcoming obstacles just for me 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. I do, however, think back at how hard it was for me to make and keep connections. Nurturing new energies without feeling safe enough to, was and still is, 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" was the first thing to come out of my mouth when talking about zodiac signs with friends. Most replied, "you're the most anti-Leo I know." In my heart, I knew I wasn't anti, I can just be scared to death of people.
I had my anxiety managed for awhile. When I say manage I mean, I don't go out much, especially when there will be a lot of unfamiliarities. And when I do go out, even to my events and shows, I make sure someone that makes me comfortable is with me. After exchanging energy with new people, I feel drained almost instantly. The next morning and days after I feel depleted and lifeless. Recovering is a process in itself while living with this disorder. The feelings I'm met with are extremely un-rational but dishearteningly real. 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 helped for so long. I made myself "get over it." There were many self-talks on breathing through it, and reassurance that "this is almost over," and when it was over I was always OK. But being alright is fleeting when social anxiety is trailing close behind. I'm getting there, though.
It's gotten to the point that even being around family takes effort; people are not easy for me these days. I felt guilty about this for so long. There are instances when I feel so overwhelmed by not being fine or "normal," that I can barely function. However, I've had to show up for myself. I've had to learn 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 puts up barriers and walls without my consent. I am a woman, who for a living, has to talk to people and has to show up, and who sometimes can't. I'm a woman who has been living with social anxiety since before I can remember, and it's not easy.
God has a way of pushing us. He has a way of using us in ways that we can't quite wrap our minds around. I believe that this, among other obstacles, has been a building block for my resilience. People are so quick to judge and label others without the slightest idea of what's going on. Sometimes it's not 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.
Photos by Erika Layne // Edits by Alex Elle