Anxiety and social anxiety are parts of me I can’t change, but for a long time they’ve played (and still play) an overwhelming significance in how I deal with people and I do not know who I am without it invading into every pore and crevice of my life. Every aspect of my days, every breath I inhale and exhale during my waking moments, and every thought or perception that skips in my mind always finds a way to link themselves back to anxiety. My anxiety is like my shadow, but instead of it standing behind me, I’m the one trailing in its shadow. I don’t know why the first thought I have when interacting with people, even those who are speaking to me for the first time, is to assume they can see how mentally unwell I am.
The question, Who am I without social anxiety? came to me today at in an unlikely moment. I was on the subway taking an impromptu ride to buy some orchids from a store. I already have three mini orchids that I’ve been slowly but surely learning how to care for since last year. As I envisioned what kind of orchid flower colors I might find this time at the store, suddenly I became aware of the fact that for a moment I wasn’t consciously thinking about my anxiety. It’s possible I have done this before but this is the first time I was aware of it.
What it felt like, in my mind’s eye, was accidentally letting go of the hand railing as I was crossing a large bridge that actually is not unsafe, only for panic to prompt me a second later to grab onto the railing again out of fear and insecurity. It wasn’t wrong for me to let go of the railing or to feel happy for once instead of anxious. To me, not always feeling anxious makes me think there is something wrong with me. That’s how used I am to always having anxiety. I don’t want to be anxious yet can’t help but need it because I don’t know how to live without it telling me what to do. It’s almost like anxiety is the life consultant I never asked for but it’s been there since the very beginning of my life and I have it with me always whether I want to hear its opinion on a daily basis or not.
I can’t say one word to anyone without being mentally suffocated by anxiety telling me I just said the stupidest thing ever and need to hibernate in my house forever to live down the embarrassment. Anxiety tries to shove me into a corner and make me stay there. Why can’t I respond to someone’s question in a face-to-face conversation without anxiety mocking me no matter what I do say or what I don’t say? Why can’t I make plans without anxiety cajoling me to stay home where it’s “safe” from people? Why can’t I make a phone call without anxiety sneering at me about how dumb I will sound? Why can’t I meet a person’s gaze without anxiety putting ideas in my head about the terrible things the person is thinking about me?
This whole topic gives me the urge to laugh maniacally like a crazy person because of how absurd this is. Sometimes I write about my anxiety as if it’s a separate entity living inside me that I have almost no control over. It can feel like that at times. I wish it were that simple, to be able to blame my anxiety on a darkness within me that can be magically purged. I’ve been watching too much fantasy shows.
The second question to add to the first one is, Do I want to be anyone at all? I can’t even tell what my own personality is because it’s constantly overshadowed by anxiety.