I’m Not Trying to Be Impolite. I’m Shy
I’ve always been shy. When I started at a new school where I didn’t know anyone, I could go entire days without speaking. People assured me that I’d “grow out of” my shyness.
But as I grew older, the shyness remained. It turns out that my inability to talk to new people, or go to new places by myself without shaking with fear, was caused by anxiety.
May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, which seems a fitting time to talk about my struggles with anxiety.
I’ve written about it before, especially the lightbulb moment when I realized how much anxiety was controlling my life.
Anxiety Can Make You Feel Inadequate. You’re Not.
Getting past our fears, to our full potential
For years, I had trouble talking to teachers. Then I had disastrous job interviews. In one job I managed to get, I had my six-month review and my boss said, “You’re very quiet.” She paused and said, “But that’s your personality. Your performance has been excellent.”
Not every other employer was so understanding.
I knew I was different from a lot of other people. Even in college, I struggled to socialize and had difficulty making friends. I spent a lot of my life on a computer, reading and writing.
Part of the problem with anxiety is that, to get it treated, you have to talk to a doctor or therapist about it. You have to pick up a phone (or go to an urgent care where everyone you talk to is a stranger), maybe ask your boss for time off work, go to an appointment, and say, “I have crippling anxiety that makes it hard to speak to anybody.”
Yeah. It’s not easy.
The last time I went to my doctor to ask about going back on antidepressants, my blood pressure was the highest it’s ever been. Needless to say, I was incredibly nervous. But my doctor put me at ease, asked me a few questions and gave me a prescription.
My antidepressant doubles as an anxiety med, and the difference it made has been night and day. I now walk into stores without any fear. If I have a question, I stop and ask a sales associate — something I’d never do pre-medication.
This must be how most people feel! I thought. No wonder they had an easier time of things.
But I still struggle with shyness. When I’m seated at a table at an event, it takes me a little longer than most to jump into conversation. I’m not trying to be impolite or snub anyone. On the contrary, my heart is pounding as I think of the most gracious way to enter the conversation, without causing embarrassment.
At parties when I have to mingle with new people, I also struggle. In the past, I would sometimes have panic attacks and have to leave. Hosts thought I was rude for leaving without saying goodbye to everyone, but in that moment I was in the “flight” of flight or fight mode.
Now, with the help of medication, I can walk around a party and speak to people, without wanting to run for the hills. But I’m still a little more quiet than most people.
When I’m feeling anxious, I try to think about why I’m feeling anxious. Heart pounding as I step into a crowded, tiny elevator? OK: I don’t have that fear when stepping into a non-crowded elevator. Worried and suddenly cleaning everything in sight before a final exam? Normal, but I really should study.
It’ll be interesting to see if my anxiety improves over time. I know I’ll never be a social butterfly, but at least now I can speak.