It’s a frustrating paradox that the most fulfilling moments in my life happened when my stomach was twisted with nerves, my anxiety was at a fevered pitch, and every synapse in my body was firing off warning signs, begging to understand how I could have possibly been so stupid as to agree to the activity at hand. So many fond memories that I am so proud of now, moments that have been able to enrich my body and soul- what would have happened if I had been too afraid? The white water rafting trip, jumping off that bridge into the river, telling that one special man that I loved him, getting on that plane to Vegas, pushing off on that zip line, going in for that job interview, going out to that one happy hour with the friends that feel more like family now- everything that makes me who I really am happened in these moments. So why do I fight them inside on such a fundamental level?
I am an introvert to a textbook degree, I practically embody that definition. I prefer my solitude- books are my constant companions, I would choose staying at home and watching my newest Netflix obsession in my pajamas with my fiancé over going out with a group of people, without the slightest hint of hesitation. I crave my down time, my moments spent lost in my own thoughts, not having to constantly analyze the social cues of others. I get invited to social occasions- and in the moment that I agree I am so excited, but five minutes after the person leaves, I am plotting the most inconspicuous way of getting out of it. And it’s nothing against them, though I’m sure they wouldn’t understand that if I tried to honestly explain it. That cliché line of ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ doesn’t seem to go over very well. A million possible excuses start dancing through my mind- can’t say I’m sick, it’s too transparent, and besides, I used that last Wednesday. How about broken leg? I’ve never broken my leg before- yes, that one could work. But would it be painful or expensive? (For those of you without social anxiety, you are probably wondering why on earth I could ever be considering actual threat of bodily harm to get out of something that you wouldn’t even think twice about doing. Then again, those of you with it will probably be nodded your head in understanding and pointing me to the nearest staircase to throw myself down).
I get anxious in social situations, deeply uncomfortable with small talk. Perhaps its deep-seeded insecurities rising to the surface, perhaps I’m just wired differently. Don’t get me wrong- I can still go out and have fun, I have a group of friends who I adore, I look forward to my happy hours just like everyone else. I’m not like Sheldon, I can read social cues as well as the next person, and 95% of the time you wont even be able to tell that I’m uncomfortable. It’s an internal battle I’ve learned to mask over the years. I have a Batman exterior over my Bruce Wayne inner thoughts. No one will see what I’m really feeling unless I decide to show them. So when I go out, I am fine, I smile, I joke, I laugh, it may seem that I just take a bit longer to test the waters. But inside I am weighing every word I just said, watching your reaction and calculating what every twitch of your nose might mean. And when the night of fraternization is over, I will be exhausted right down to my core. Again- it’s not you, it’s me.
So here is the ultimate dilemma of the introvert, the socially awkward, the one who’s tummy ties itself in knots at the thought of small talk with someone I’m not already intimately familiar with: do you step out of that box and join the rest of the world, in spite of your flat lining comfort levels; or do you stay at home and plan for the ‘next time’ when you will be brave enough? Or perhaps simply plan to tackle that adventure solo. I know which one I would like to be, but I am also painfully aware of which one I really am. For those of you who live for the social scene, I am sure that this will sound strange to you- the way that someone like me can fear and simultaneously crave these moments that you live for.
It gets exhausting, letting those ill-conceived phobias rule you. I am a firm believer that the more you push yourself outside of your own comfortable little box, the easier it will be. So this year I’ve decided to challenge myself to say yes more- and actually follow through, no matter how much the insecure little girl inside wants to throw herself on the ground kicking and screaming until she is allowed to just stay at home. The best parts of life are when you are dangling out on that limb. But today I need a reminder of that, of why I am trying to make myself painfully uncomfortable all of the time.
And so I look back at the past few months, at all of the good things that happened because I chose to be brave instead of comfortable. I applied for a new job within my organization- and I got it. I love it, there is not an ounce of regret when I look back at that decision. I went to a dealership and bought a car that wouldn’t threaten to break down on me every other Thursday (to someone with social anxiety- stepping into the car dealership is like Harry Potter entering a Death Eater nest- you know going in that it will be ugly, and will not be over quickly). I went on a trip to Vegas, something completely new for me. I went zip lining down Freemont street. I put myself out there and started this blog- and people are actually looking at it on occasion (still blows my mind). All of these things have happened in the past few months alone. I have been trying so hard.
I have come to a conclusion in the past year, one that was painful to accept; these feelings that I get- they wont ever go away. No matter how hard I try to overcome them, pushing myself out of my comfort zone over and over again in the hopes that I will learn to stop being afraid of social situations- that will never happen. This is a war that has to be fought one battle at a time. I have to deal with my phobias head on one moment at a time, blow by blow. I have to struggle, I have to fight the inner child constantly reminding me that one trip down the stairs could solve all of my problems. I have to fight to say ‘yes’ and then build myself up until I actually follow through. I will always be awkward, I will always feel stupid at the end of the conversation, I will always feel my heart start pounding in a panic when I agree to do something new. But I have to keep doing it. Not to make it easier in the long run, because the individual decisions will never be easier. I have to do it so that next time I want to say no, I will have one more reason backing up my decision to say yes. I will have one more memory of a time I decided to be brave and had an adventure. After all, what is life worth if you are too afraid to experience it? I cannot let my fear dictate my actions anymore. I will be brave- awkward, yes- but brave.