The Thrill is proud to feature personal narratives. Today’s is authored by an anonymous student.
EDIT: Earlier this was posted as a piece from the Project for Open Voices. It is actually not POV sponsored, but just another kick-ass piece from the Kenyon community!
Hi. I’m a Kenyon student, and talking to people makes me so scared that I start to shake sometimes. I’d appreciate it if you could take a little time-out from finals to listen to my story. It won’t take too long.
I’ve been living with Social Anxiety Disorder for a long time, and so have a lot of people on Kenyon’s campus. More than you think, I can assure you, as it’s by far the most common of anxiety disorders, affecting as much as 7% of the population, with a 13% lifetime prevalence rate. I was at first hesitant to talk about it with its real name, because a lot of people hear “disorder,” and instantly stop listening. A mental disorder is just something you make up for sympathy, right? Bootstraps, and all that?
No, that’s not true at all, and Social Anxiety Disorder goes undiagnosed in so, so many people who have been told they just need to suck it up and stop being so frightened. There are ways to make it better, and pretending it doesn’t exist isn’t one of them.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but as far as I know from my own personal experience, Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD; an appropriate acronym, though SCARED would be better) is like going about your regular life with an elementary school bully inside of your head. This bully speaks with your voice, and uses his or her access to your thoughts to tell you everything you’re scared of, over and over. It’s a never-ending litany of petty insults that cut right to your core, since they’re coming from you: You’re ugly, nobody wants to look at you. You’re stupid, why do you even go to this school? You don’t belong here. If you talk to people, they’ll see who you really are, because you’re so socially incompetent. You’ll slip up, and they’ll know you’re not really the normal, funny, smart person you pretend to be. They’ll see through you, and then they’ll hate you. They’ll scream at you and laugh and tell all their friends about how awful you are, and it will be true, because you’re awful. Your friends only like you because you’re lying to them, they haven’t figured you out yet. Nobody should like you. You don’t deserve to be liked. You’re a monster, and nobody wants to talk to a monster. Just go away.
Rationally, I know I’m none of those things. I go here because I got in, and I do all right for myself, grades-wise. I’ve been told multiple times that I’m not ugly. Sitting in the comfort of my room, I can even say that I can be witty sometimes, if shy. But all of this disappears when I head out to Middle Path for my 9:10 and begin yet another day’s game of Hello Chicken. Should I wave to him? I know him from class, he’s kinda cute. No, that would be presumptuous; I’ve never even directly spoken to him. Oh, shit, he nodded at me. I need to nod back, but not smile, that’s too personal. Good thing I didn’t wave; that would have been too far. Oh, hey, I know her from history last semester. Should I wave? She probably doesn’t even remember me. What if I wave and she just looks at me like some kind of psycho? God, I’m so fucking awkward.
All of these thoughts are fully conscious, and occupy enough of your attention that even if you do respond, it’s usually awkwardly late, making you seem spacey at best. SAD is a self-fulfilling prophecy in that way, because you get so wrapped up trying to address all of the doubts you’re firing at yourself that you actually do perform worse socially, which makes you feel worse about your social performance, and so on. Even if you are performing well, you worry that people will see your shaking hands, or notice your sweaty palms, because all social interaction is terrifying social interaction, but especially with strangers. I am continually surprised by friends telling me their first impressions of me: before they knew me, they thought I was standoffish, cold, disinterested, even haughty, or holier-than-thou. Nobody ever seemed to notice my crippling shyness and fear but me. Everyone else just assumed I didn’t like them for some reason.
If you’re like me, and have the little elementary school bully in your head, narrating how you’re going to mess up and everyone will judge you forever, I’d like to tell you this: You aren’t alone. Sometimes it feels like you’ll be alone and friendless forever, that the future holds nothing but bleak loneliness, that you’ll never get better and you’ll spend your whole life huddling in your room, hating yourself for crying. A lot of people even belittle anxiety disorders like SAD, which leads to people judging themselves for feeling the way they do. “I shouldn’t feel this way; it’s stupid; it’s not a real problem” is all too common.
I urge you not to fall prey to the Starving African Children fallacy. If it’s making your life feel unbearable, it’s a real problem, and we have a fantastic, warm, and helpful bunch of people working at the Counseling Center who will sit and listen to you talk about all the problems you don’t want to burden your friends with. And they’ll do it for free, too. Seeking counseling has turned me from a terrified shut-in into someone who can function as a social human being, if haltingly, and I’m still on an upward trend. Please don’t fall into the trap of thinking your problems “don’t deserve” counseling. You aren’t beyond help.
Someone too frightened to put his real name on his personal essay.