About a year ago, a good friend of mine suggested I start a blog as a creative way to share the going-ons of my life and the challenges I face as a sufferer of social anxiety. I’ve had her suggestion tucked in my mind for a while now, but I haven’t started the blog until now.
So what spurred me into action?
Many things can change in a year. I was well on my way to living this year in the same way I did last year; friendless, fearful of being around people (much less trying to make friends), and waking up each day with an endless spew of negativity over being unemployed at 26 years old.
I would say I began walking down the path to change during late May 2016. Looking back, of course, I didn’t see it the difference in the course of action I took. But now, I realize sometimes all it takes is making a different choice than the choice you normally make in order to open up new paths in your life.
Anyway. Back to the story. The worst thing about social anxiety is the fact I have taken comfort in being alone most of the time. There was a time when I made myself believe I was comfortable being by myself, and that I didn’t need to spend time with others. But, the truth is, I was lying to myself and trying to justify my avoidance of people. In fact, it was when I had so much time to myself that I truly began to realize the emptiness I felt inside was something I stubbornly didn’t want to accept: loneliness.
This is what led me to sign myself up for a meetup.com group called the #1 Shyness and Social Anxiety Meetup Group. I had known about the group since the prior year, but I didn’t have the courage to sign up then. Maybe I wasn’t ready, or maybe I wasn’t willing to take what I perceived to be a risk.
I scrolled through the list of upcoming events. I passed on the ones with a large number of attendees. Just looking at the numbers; 16, 20, 25 attendees made fear creep into me. One upcoming meetup in particular caught my eye because it was a nature park walk, something I could see myself enjoying and because the number of people who RSVPed for the event was less than 10. I felt relief over the low number of registered attendees for this event. I thought, “I can do this. I can meet new people in a small group setting.”
But, as usual, the relief was temporary. As the days crept by and the event was closer to becoming a reality, I grew more and more nervous. Oh, the anticipation. My mind felt like it was spinning out of control as I envisioned all the things that could go wrong for me on the day of the event. I could do nothing to stop myself from worrying.
Finally, the day of the event came. I was getting dressed after waking up to the sound of my phone’s set alarm. I hadn’t gotten much sleep, which was typical for me, with everything I had on my mind. My heart was racing fast, and the feeling repulsed me as it was a constant reminder of how terrified I was about going to the event. Every bone in me was screaming for me to give up and cancel my RSVP. I was fighting against this, yet also, I nearly gave in.
However, one memory lingers clearly from this morning. I recall pulling out my phone from its charger as I tried to focus on hurrying myself along so I wouldn’t be late for the meetup. I thought about the ridiculousness of how I’ve lived my life up until this point. Practically always alone, hardly speaking to anyone, hiding in my room all day, canceling job interviews left and right. I had enough of it, and myself, for that matter. A resolve overtook me, despite the overwhelming fear, and I made the decision to just go to the event. Just go and be there.
Since attending my first meetup event, I’ve been to about two others; the Sunday social anxiety discussion group, and a Rockaway Beach hangout. Both were equally challenging to make myself go to.
I still struggle with showing up to some events that I RSVP to, and for some others, I have indeed canceled my RSVP when I don’t feel I can go.
What’s the main problem for me? Of course, meeting new people. Even seeing old faces of people I already met at past events can be anxiety provoking because I don’t know what to say to them. The number of attendees to an event can cause a spike in my anxiety, even though I learned at my first meet up that often times only about half or less than half the amount of RSVPers actually show up. I guess I’m not the only one who has last minute jitters and decides not to show up.
Some weeks ago, I found myself frustrated and wondering if just attending events would be enough to lessen my social anxiety, particularly since I have the ongoing problem of not showing up even if it’s an event I am interested in coming to.
One thing I am now aware of, as a sufferer of social anxiety, is that it’s not truly people who I fear, but rather, the social situation itself. This led me to consider other ways to help myself and possibly others.
Any member of the group can become a host and create their own event as long as they have hosting rights enabled within the group by another host. At first, it was just a vague idea forming in my head. What if I hosted an event of my own choosing, which would essentially force me to show up, with no chance of chickening out? So, after working up the courage to speak on the phone with the group leader, I received hosting rights, leaving me free to create my own upcoming event.
Not gonna lie, I waited several days before I felt ready to add my event to the group. And even that was a big deal to me. I was practically freaking out internally after hitting the “submit” button. Specifically, it’s a coloring book for adults event. I closed the meetup page on my phone after submitting my event as doubts gnawed at me. Would anyone actually be interested in coming to this event? What if hardly anyone RSVPed? What if I was a bad host? I was quite shocked upon viewing the event page later to see over 20+ people had RSVPed.
Now, for the day of the event. Oh my god. It was nerve wrecking, for sure. I arrived to the meeting location first, pulled out the meet up sign from my bag to place it on the table, and typed a quick message on the event page to let everyone know how to find me once they showed up. I noticed a security guard standing nearby. He glanced at me, and I humorously wondered if, to him, I appeared calm and collected, when truly, to myself, I was a panicky mess on the inside.
What can I say about how my first time hosting went? I tend to dwell on the negative aspects of my experiences. However, I can say I might have struggled since this was my first time hosting. A first time for everything is not without mistakes or fumbling. I made it a point to greet each person as they came in, even if my voice was soft and somewhat shaky because of nervousness. I introduced myself, told people I was glad to see that they made it, and tried my darnest to fake confidence as I got each person settled in. After the initial pleasantries, I gradually got used to asking each person if they brought their own coloring book and supplies. If not, I had some they could choose from. Nine people in total showed up.
Tomorrow I am hosting the same event at a different location. I’m mildly surprised to see on the RSVP list that some of the people who attended the first time are coming again. My surprise stems from my lack of self-confidence, I believe. I think to myself, “Could it be true? Did I actually NOT screw up as a first-time host that people enjoyed the meetup and want to come back a second time??”
Never in my wildest dreams have I ever thought there would be a day I could push myself to attend meetup events, let alone host one. These wins are not without challenges, though.
One of the hardest things for me to do is to talk to people. Often times I want to get to know someone better and a question pops up in my head that I want to ask him/her. Somehow that question never comes out of my mouth, though. What I feel in the moment is discomfort and awkwardness. Immediately I think about whether my question will somehow inadvertently make the person uncomfortable, even if it’s the most innocent of questions, like, “Where do you live?” See, this is what I meant when I said I tend to dwell on the negative. This one fear of offending the other person is what keeps me from asking what I want to ask. I think I also refrain from engaging in conversation most of the time because I don’t like having another person’s attention on me. I used to not even be able to hold eye contact with other people; most likely because I associated eye contact as threatening. Now, I believe I don’t like having attention on me because it makes me feel vulnerable.
The one way I can see myself overcoming this issue is to just spit out what’s on my mind and see what happens. I dread other people’s reactions to what I say, which is what keeps me from engaging in conversation and opening up to people. With exposure, though, I can learn that nothing bad will come out of talking to people. These are my hopes for the future, and I know things will never change for me unless I make an effort to try. Just like I did with signing up for the meetup group and going to my first event.