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Elijah is calling me, and instead of answering I blankly stare at the phone screen. My inner self is frustrated by my inability to pick up. I am nervous thinking about the unsaid words. I am overthinking everything. I am frightened.
His call goes to voicemail.
I glance at the clock. Three minutes later I respond with a text message; “sorry, I was busy. So, what’s up?”
This happened all the time in middle school. I would never attend parties, sleepovers, or participate in carpool with friends. I thought that my peers were constantly evaluating and criticizing me. I didn’t want to be surrounded by classmates for fear of striking up a conversation. Going to the public restroom, eating in front of others, or making small talk was a journey to hell and back. I frequently thought:
What if he thinks that I am stupid?
What if I am ugly?
What if I chew too loudly?
Oh no, I pronounced this word so weirdly. She totally thinks that I have speech problems.
What if everyone will stare at me when I’ll ask the teacher for the bathroom pass?
What if I won’t fit in?
What if my answer is wrong and they will laugh at me when I call out?
I have social anxiety, and because of that my world is so different from other high school juniors. For me, it takes extra guts just to be with people. Social anxiety is a chronic disorder that never goes away completely. The little monster inhabits your mind permanently, hiding somewhere in the back. From time to time, you notice its presence.
In the past, I typically struggled in crowded settings. A particularly challenging time for me was between services on the High Holidays. For most people, the time after synagogue is reserved for small talk. But for me, this time created uncomfortable situations. Even if someone wasn’t asking me personal questions, the thought of being in the spotlight created unease. Whether I was chatting with a friendly old lady wearing a pink beaded kipa and complimenting my hair or talking with a rabbi about fasting, the fear of being judged was always there.
In reality, gaining confidence in a social situation is not a hard task. It is exceptionally egoistic to think that the spotlight is reserved for you. So, the key is to remind yourself that people are not paying attention to your every move; most people are strangers who live their own lives.
It’s important to break the ice in unfamiliar social settings, when you haven’t befriended anyone yet. I always try remember that I am probably not the only who may feel uncomfortable.
After being perceived as awkward so many times, I decided it was time to toss away my insecurities and self-conscious perspective. I was fed up with myself. My training process was not smooth by any means. It was rough and challenging.
Months of continuous practice finally resulted in sprouts of potential; I began to put myself into uncomfortable social situations. My initial goal was to speak to one new person per day. The number began to gradually increase as I continued to win the battles — me vs. my social anxiety.