My latest novel, Finding Your Way, has a main character who lives with social anxiety. The reason I chose to write about this subject is because it’s something I myself deal with. What this means is living with a constant internal battle over what’s happening in your life, what has happened in the past, and the possibility of what the future holds.
Growing up I was always a quiet kid. Going to family gatherings or talking to new people was extremely difficult for me. Everyone called me “shy” and some of my cousins would tease me because of it. They would pick at me hoping to have me talk, not knowing that they only pushed me further into seclusion.
I never understood why it was so difficult for me to make friends. Most of my life I had a constant of one to two close friends who stood by me. Everyone else in my family it seemed had no issues themselves. I lashed out at my parents, which was blamed on teenage hormones. I avoided parties, school dances, and anything else involving large groups of people. As I grew older, my weight began to fluctuate, and I started to get picked on at school. Being bullied didn’t help cure the shyness, which is what I still thought it was.
For years I wondered what was wrong with me? Why did I sweat so profusely when I was in a crowd of people, even in cold weather? Why did my hands shake and my voice crack when I tried to talk to someone? Making phone calls was impossible. I dialed the number and immense fear welled inside me. My heart raced, my chest ached, and my entire body trembled. At times I thought I was crazy. I relived conversations that happened years ago, I overthought future events, and making plans threw me into a panic.
Simple things like saying good morning or speaking to someone, even friends, became a challenge. Some considered me quiet and others thought I was rude, but they didn’t understand I was drowning in irrational fear of saying the wrong thing.
One day I heard the word anxiety. I’d heard it before, used in passing, but never really considered what it meant. I started researching panic attacks and other symptoms and I was able to diagnose myself with social anxiety. I did a lot of research on the topic, how to control it and even spoke to a doctor about it. They suggested meds, but I don’t like to use anything mood altering. Instead I found ways to cope.
Now I don’t pretend to be an expert on social anxiety, but I have become an expert on my own anxiety. While the symptoms may be the same for many, people can react and cope in different ways. Writing for me became a therapeutic way to put all these crazy thoughts into a story for someone else. I write about personal experiences and my characters’ lives revolve around some of the scenarios I’ve imagined in my own life, and some of the events are truly what occurred in my past.
Writing helped my anxiety but also brought on more challenges. I had to start promoting my books and getting them seen if I wanted to ever make a living from it. Creating social media accounts was an easy one because I could hide behind the screen and my fear wouldn’t show through. But then I had to approach signings. The thought of sitting on display for anyone to come speak to, was beyond terrifying. And even though I’ve rehearsed “what’s my book about” in my head dozens of times, it never fails that I clam up when asked about them. And occasionally I get odd looks or people become disinterested when I fumble over the description or stumble over my words, sometimes using the wrongs ones. After a while you become accustomed to these looks.
As I’ve become more familiar with my own struggles, I’ve begun to recognize them in others. People I might have considered rude before, I now know would understand me better than anyone. I try to reach out a little more, convince myself I won’t sound stupid and that it’s all in my head. Inevitably the cycle continues no matter how hard I try. I practice the perfect thing to say, but it comes out mixed-up and difficult to comprehend.
If you suffer from anxiety, I hope you find ways to control it. And if you don’t suffer from it but know someone who does – be patient with them. The outbursts that you think are “hissy fits” or “bitchiness” could be their debilitating fear causing them to lash out. And even if it isn’t anxiety, most people don’t act out for no reason. We never can be one hundred percent sure what’s going on in someone’s life or even in their minds. All we can do is be patient with one another and hope we receive the same respect in return. In the end this shows our worth as a person, no matter if we gave kindness to someone who might not have deserved it.