Apologies, I’m back a day later than promised to carry on describing my two years of college and social anxiety.
At college I became an expert at avoiding people- not out of dislike for them at all, but because I was afraid of being at a loss for words in conversation or of getting tongue-tied. And I do get tongue-twisted regularly; I stutter and string hopelessly incoherent sentences together when nerves overcome me. Fear of this became more and more intense, especially in 2nd year. There were several ways in which I would avoid people. I would mentally map my routes walking through college to avoid any potentially awkward encounters. I’d strategically determine whether to walk slow or fast, would stall for time in the bogs at Breaks sometimes, all sorts… Avoidance skill level = genius, Social confidence level = rock bottom
In first year I’d meet my friendship group most break times in the hall, and I was pretty good at coming to sit with them at Lunch. Some lunches I’d come out of my shell and talk more than usual. On a Thursday everyone else was attending societies or subject support sessions and I had no one to sit with. I tried just sitting in the main hall by myself to eat lunch, but I became hyper-aware of those around me who might think I was anti-social for being on my own, so on Thursdays I went out to the park, just over the road from college. Rain didn’t stop me, nor did snow and minus temperatures.The park was the most beautiful place; It had a conservatory with tropical plants inside, a garden with a rose trellis, a paddling pond, a duck pond, a bandstand, a rockery, a playground, a long path dramatically leading up to a grand WW1 Monument, and more. There were plenty of wide green spaces and winding paths. I soon got involved volunteering at the park on Wednesdays, I loved it that much. On lunch times like these I’d escape that packed dining hall and I’d go walk around the park with my polystyrene bowl of food. In second year I did this more frequently, avoiding my friends in the hall. I often only sat with them once a week. I stopped going to the hall at Break Time and studied in the library instead. I felt so alienated when I did this but I lacked the courage to pull myself out of it. I felt safer on my own.
On hot summer days the park lost its element of safety, as half the college migrated out there to sit in the sun or play football. I couldn’t walk around or sit on a bench with my chips without seeing someone I knew. I still went outside anyway, (wolfing it down so I could go to the library ASAP!), but I was convinced I was inescapably under somebody’s judgmental glare, as strong as the glare of the sun.
I think I’ve successfully shown you what an antisocial, irrational creature I was.
But I’m not always a shrinking violet. And believe it or not I don’t generally moon around bemoaning my social problems. I have wonderful friends outside of school, who I’ve known since before signs of social anxiety appeared on the horizon. I see them every week, although this will change when I start university. I can talk to them and laugh with them just fine, I can joke around like I don’t have any walls. If those from college saw me with them they’d think I was a different person. This thought makes me feel two-faced though. These friends mean a lot to me, even more so because they’re among the 5% of people I can fully “be myself” with.
Fridays were always strange. After a week of feeling socially frazzled and saying very little I’d get the rush hour train back to my town, where I would then help out with my church’s kids’ ministry and following that, go to Youth Group until 9:30pm. On the reportedly busiest train line in the country, at rush hour, on the busiest day of the week I’d be crushed in with all the other commuters feeling the invasion of personal space keenly (Who didn’t? That train was crazy) And I’d just think, “In ten minutes I’ll see my friends and become a different person.” Camaraderie is strong there.
At home I can express myself just fine as well. I’m quite upbeat and I talk plenty. It’s not a mask, it’s really me. There’s not much more to it than that. I’m not defeated and I’m not wallowing in self-pity. I hope to keep it that way. I find strength in God.
But there’s still a long way to go to bring this under control.