For a Long Time During College, I Kept My Social Anxiety a Secret – and I Wish I Hadn't
In college, some people excel at taking exams. Others masterfully balance a class schedule with extracurriculars like team sports or chorus. Me? I was really good at coming up with excuses so I could avoid social situations at all costs. Unfortunately, unlike water polo or a 4.0 GPA, this wasn’t a skill I could boast about on my résumé. It was simply a consequence of having social anxiety.
I spent countless nights locked in my room, crying under the blankets, my heart pounding out of control. There were times that the anxiety and fear overruled even my most basic needs. I still remember one evening when I desperately needed to use the bathroom but couldn’t bear the thought of walking into the common room of my dorm, where my roommates and a bunch of friends were watching a movie. My social anxiety was a rope that strapped me to my bed in a triple knot, refusing to let me outside. Refusing to let me create memories that would last a lifetime. Refusing to just let me be.
Yet many of the people I knew in college would have never guessed that I suffered from crippling social anxiety. To compensate for all those nights I spent shut in, I’d occasionally act like the life of the party, dancing on top of pool tables or being the first to approach strangers during a night out with friends. Little did they know it was all an act. A mask I liked to put on to prove to others and mostly to myself that I was capable of being a social person. I was even capable of being fun.
Apart from those moments, my social anxiety prevented me from experiencing so much in college. I never even had the opportunity to fail or embarrass myself because, in so many ways, it kept me from living at all. My deepest regret is that I didn’t open up about it sooner.
It wasn’t until I finally mustered up the courage to talk openly about my disorder that things began to change.
It wasn’t until I finally mustered up the courage to talk openly about my disorder that things began to change. People were so understanding. My friends helped me realize that it was OK to feel this way, and that everyone, to some extent, had been in my shoes at some point in their lives. They even convinced me to go out more frequently, lending their hand in untying the rope.
Talking about what I was feeling was the best thing I’ve ever done. There’s nothing more powerful than learning to use your voice and sharing your story with people you know will have your back. If I had done it sooner, maybe I would have found hope in some of my darkest moments – and I’ll bet you can, too.