Musings on social anxiety

The thing that I’ve found about social anxiety is that it always comes back. Like dust. You can clean and sweep, but over time new dust will always settle on your once-clean coffee table or the nooks and crannies on your bookshelves. It’s the natural order of things.

I’ve done traditional talk therapy, art therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure therapy. Six therapists in three different states, plus an assortment of medications. It’s done a lot of good. I can function more or less as a “normal” person now.

In college, I paid extra for a single-person dorm room. It was at the very end of a hallway of about six two-person dorm rooms; at the other end was the bathroom. I would pee in plastic cups, hide them in the closet like the secret they were, because the thought of walking past the often-open doorways of the other girls on my floor and having them look at me, their gazes automatically drawn to my movement, gave me panic attacks.

I tell that story sometimes to show how far I’ve come–because I know I’ve progressed a great deal. Now I have a blog. I’ve been published. I’ve put pictures of myself online. I’ve done readings. I’ve taught college courses. All of these were unthinkable to my eighteen-year-old self.

And yet.

When I worked in an office, I would stand from my desk to go to the restroom and pause, wondering if I was calling attention to myself, if people were watching me, judging how often I got up. I would still go to the restroom, of course, but the fear was there. It always comes back.

It’s the albatross around my neck, except I didn’t earn it. I was born with it, or perhaps it just developed on its own, like a little growth on my throat that just got bigger and bigger and bigger.

I go through phases. Weeks of “I can’t do this” and months of “I don’t want to.” Someone expressed interest in one of my stories recently, and my first thought was “No, I can’t publish it.” Reading through the suggested edits was torturous, with failure and judgment lingering like a shadow over me.

All of this is to just say that I’m in a phase now. I’m trying to claw out of it, but it’s hard, especially because I know another phase will follow. Maybe just when I think I’ve recovered, or maybe I’ll get a few months of respite. But one way or another, it will always come back.

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