I recently started playing ultimate frisbee on a league here in Chicago. It's so much fun! But for me, it's also absolutely terrifying. Having social anxiety means that even though the people are nice, are friendly, and are willing to patiently teach me the rules, I'm still mind-numbingly anxious for the hours leading up to each game and even for a while into the first game. But, by the second game, I'm usually happy and settled in. My stomach has calmed, my mind has stopped racing, and my hands have stopped trembling. But trust me when I say it's a challenge to get there. It's a struggle and a fight... to have fun. People scare me. Crowds frighten me. Conversations intimidate me. I consider myself to be a pretty confident person, and yet going to hang out with a group of strangers mentally and emotionally destroys me. For the longest time, I've claimed to be shy. But that's really not it. Yes, I'm an introvert, but I truly don't think shy is the right word to describe the way I am. Getting to know someone one on one isn't that big of a deal to me. Which, it would be for someone who is shy, right? I talk a lot. I don't hesitate to give my opinion. I have friends. I get along well with my coworkers. And I have a social life. Shy? No, I don't think so. However, crowded bars, concerts, games, gatherings... anything that requires big groups of people (especially when they're strangers), I have a terrible time dealing with. I'm not shy. I have social anxiety. I have a fear of being judged, of being an outsider, of making mistakes in front of others. I so wish that social anxiety was more accepted and better understood. 'Shy' has been the label I've used as an excuse and explanation for years when really what I should have admitted and verbalized was that I have anxiety. Shy, for whatever reason, is easier for people to swallow. Easier to understand. Why didn't Ruby go to the party? Oh, she's shy.
Oh, ok. No! It's because I was sitting on the edge of my bed shaking, wondering if I could force myself out the door before having to run to the restroom again. I was pondering every awkward situation that could possibly happen if I did go to the party. I was worrying myself into a sweat about what people would think of me. And then I gave up trying to convince myself to go, came up with an excuse to text the party's host, and climbed into bed with a great sigh of relief. But you know what? The next day, after hearing stories from everyone about the party I missed... I'll be kicking myself for not going, for missing out on the fun I would have had if only I'd worked through my anxiety and managed to make it out of the house. So what's the solution? Well, for me, all it takes is one understanding, supportive friend. Someone to tell me "you can do this", someone to hold my hand through the crowd, or talk to me for the first few minutes of a party without caring that I'm curled in on myself with tension, or encouraging me to get out my shell. All it takes for me to have some fun in a social situation I'd otherwise be terrified of is one person believing in me while I can't believe in myself. Ultimately? Stop judging. Start being supportive. Life is so much better that way-- for everyone.