By Haylee Thorson
Growing up, I was always the “shy” kid. I hated school presentations because the idea of speaking in front of my peers made my stomach churn. I dreaded going to swim meets or volleyball games because the thought of people watching me inhibited my performance. I disliked making new friends because I couldn’t wrap my head around others genuinely wanting to hear what I had to say. For years, I thought these behaviors were simply characteristic of being shy. But it was so much more than that.
I was diagnosed with social anxiety disorder the summer after my sophomore year of college. This didn’t come as much of a shock, because I always knew something was seriously wrong with the way I felt around other people. While it’s normal to feel nervous about public speaking or meeting someone new, I was finding everyday tasks debilitating. So much so, that I would go weeks on end without speaking to anyone in person because the thought of doing so became unbearable. My anxiety wasn’t always this bad, but a series of events led me to cope in ways that were incredibly damaging to my mental health.
During my freshman year of college, I ended a two year relationship and a five year friendship. As someone who thrives when they have one or two ride-or-die people in their life, this was absolutely devastating. After losing the two most important people in my life, I had never felt more lost. Not only that, but because they were my only two friends at school, I found myself completely and utterly alone. The thought of going out and making new friends was terrifying to me… so I didn’t do it.
The summer after freshman year, I desperately wanted to transfer schools for a fresh start. However, the new college wasn’t going to accept a lot of my credits, so I decided to push through and head back to my old school. At first, I was determined to make friends. But when my roommate never showed up, I fell back into my old ways. The only times I would even think of leaving my dorm were if I had class or if I was absolutely starving. I wouldn’t talk to anyone, I refused to raise my hand, I couldn’t even make eye contact with the people around me. I had never felt more out of place in my entire life.
Things only got worse.
On the weekends, I would stay in bed all day. Sometimes I would cry, other times I would stare blankly at the ceiling. I knew I needed social interaction. But the longer I went without it, the harder it was for me to dig myself out of that hole. I lived like this for my entire sophomore year—only socializing with others during breaks from school.
When I came home that summer, I was a lifeguard at our community pool. Despite that being my second year on the job, I found it extremely difficult this time around. Whenever I would open in the morning, my chest would feel tight and I would have trouble breathing. This happened during every shift and I eventually went to the doctor about it. Luckily, there was nothing physically wrong with me. However, after learning a bit more about my mental health, my doctor diagnosed me with social anxiety disorder. She believed that my anxiety had gotten so bad that it was causing me to panic at just the mere thought of people showing up to the pool, even if no one was there. Turns out, she was right.
I ended up going on medication to try and manage my anxiety, but it gave me horrible stomach pains. After ditching the medication, I tried to rely solely on breathing techniques. While those made me feel better in the moment, I felt like it wasn’t a long-term solution. No matter what I did, I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was nothing I could do.
During my junior year of college, I struggled in a different way. With five new roommates that knew each other but not me, I felt like an alien from another planet. Even when they would invite me to do things, I would feel like I wasn’t there. I felt completely disconnected from reality and the people around me. My brain would constantly tell me that everyone hated me, so I never participated in conversations. The fear of being judged took over my life.
I feel like no one truly knows me. When you have social anxiety, there’s always that one thing that holds you back from being your complete and authentic self. However, enough is enough. I am tired of feeling the way that I do and I am determined to put an end to it. I refuse to let social anxiety control my life and I know so many other people feel the same way. It’s been a rough few years, but I want to do better. I want to wake up one day and be proud of the person I am. While they say old habits die hard, I know I can beat this. If you or a loved one is going through something similar, please reach out. Together, we can kick anxiety’s ass!
Haylee Thorson is an editorial writer who specializes in beauty, culture, and travel. Follow her on Instagram.