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Mel R
Mel R

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Is it Social Anxiety or Introversion?

~~~~~~~ Vulnerability Alert ~~~~~~~

During this pandemic I have discovered something life-altering about myself:

Since learning what an introvert was, I believed, without a doubt in my mind, that I was one. Recently, I have discovered otherwise. When I think back to my early childhood, I remember myself as cute little genderqueer kiddo that wanted to be a comedian because they LOVED to make everyone laugh. They were always surrounded by friends and teammates, and would never turn down an epic birthday party or sleepover.

That all changed after my parents split up and we moved over 1700 miles away from my dad, my friends, and my life. If you have seen Inside Out, you'll know what I mean when I say, ALL of my emotional islands shut down, and I built a new one called Social Anxiety Island (Woooooo sounds fun right!?). Event after event built this 'island' inside me, into a massive fortress: one that I realized I felt safe in as long as no one came in. I found myself avoiding social situations that made me feel that gut wrenching stress. Friends became harder to make and keep.

Into adulthood, I found myself scared to even make eye contact walking down the street. I never saw it as social anxiety until recently. I saw it as, "Oh, yeah I am definitely an introvert!". But deep down, my energy really came from being around others, uplifting people, and making them laugh. I was just surrounding myself with the wrong people which made my social anxiety worsen. The day that I was about to meet my wonderful partner, we were going to hang out at a coffee shop and she was going to help talk me through some personal things that I was going through. It was a miracle that I reached out for help and an even bigger miracle that I said that I would love to meet her. The day came that we were going to hang out and I got that old familiar feeling. That fear in the pit of my gut. The one that hopes the plans get cancelled so I can stay home and shut it all out. I even reached out to her nonchalantly and asked "Are we still on for today?".

Say no, say no, say no...

"Of course! I'll see you in an hour!!"

Shoot...

Going against that fear, and meeting her was the best thing I have ever done.

I started to notice that the more I pushed past that anxiety and just went to the social engagements anyway... the better I felt. I started to say no to the fear and say yes to more socializing. My partner has so many amazing friends and family members, that I have been given many opportunities to heal my social anxiety. The best way for me to heal it is to push forward THROUGH it. I may be socially awkward at times, due to shutting myself in for so long, but I know that it will get easier.

I have been trying to find the perfect metaphor to describe how my social anxiety feels. Let's say we all have a little white candle that we are holding that represents our emotional energy. Some days it burns brightly, other days we struggle to keep it lit. I had a lot of people in my life who kept trying to blow out my candle when I was growing up and into early adulthood. So, I kept holding onto it tighter and closer. Anytime a person would come around, no matter who that person was, I was scared to expose my candle for fear of getting it snuffed out. Little did I realize that the tighter and closer I held my candle to myself the more I suffocated the flame. Lately, I have been trying to hold out my candle a little farther, and a little more, and a little more...

I give a smile to someone walking by me, both of our candles get brighter.

I compliment a girl at the grocery store on her epic Slytherin bag, our candles get brighter.

I share a vulnerable story, both of our candles get brighter.

I learned that sharing myself with others and letting people in does not deplete my emotional energy, it increases it.

That being said, whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, if you have social anxiety it can be crippling. But I am sharing this story with the hope that people can see the difference between being an introvert and having social anxiety. I acquire energy by being around others, therefor I am an extrovert. Being an extrovert with social anxiety is extremely challenging and some days it's harder to say yes than other days. One day at a time, one event at a time, one connection at a time.

Thank you for reading!

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