My heart began to beat faster and faster the closer 5:45pm approached. My hands started to shake & beads of sweat began to form on my lip. I had to focus on breathing & will myself not to throw up. My mind searched for an excuse to not go. But, the indescribable fear that I was feeling was enough for me to know that I had to go & face my fears. Natalie drove. I pretended to be engaged in conversation with her, but inside I was telling myself, "It's okay. You'll be fine. It's just a few people from church. Just focus on acting normal, get through the two hours, and as soon as you get into the car to go home you can fall apart again."
At 6:45 pm we pulled into their driveway. My hands fumbled as I tried to put my socks and shoes on. I tried to take a deep breath, but my body wouldn't let me. It came out like a gasp. We walked in. The lights shone so bright into my eyes. There was so much color, it was obnoxious. The room was so small and the walls kept closing in. The noise was near unbearable: I couldn't hear, I couldn't think, I couldn't breathe. My jaw clenched immediately. I coached myself to breathe in and breathe out...slowly. I could feel my face getting hot and my hands trembling. Worst of all were the people. There were people everywhere. Standing, sitting, talking, joking, laughing. Some of them came up to me. Some said, "hi.". Some gave hugs. I smiled back. I said, "hi." back. I hugged them back. When we all gathered together to sit, the leader of the group asked all of the newer people to introduce themselves. They went around one by one. I shrunk deeper and deeper into the sofa. I wanted to disappear. Tears welled in my eyes. "Please, God, please don't let him ask me. Please let him skip over me. I can't do it. I can't talk in front of all these people. I'm afraid that if I have to open my mouth, all that would come out would be sobs." The group leader skipped over me. Relief. I stopped twisting my fingers and swallowed the lump in my throat. "Lyndsay, I forgot about you!" Oh, God, no. The heart racing, flushed face, threatening tears, and clenched jaw returned. "How are you doing?" "Good", I said. "It's good to have you." "Thanks", I said. That was it, he began the Bible study. Thank you, God. I survived. I don't remember what the Bible study was about. I don't remember anything else that happened. I had to use every ounce of strength to maintain my look of normalcy. I had to focus with every second on not crying, not going into a full blown panic attack, not letting anyone see me quake with fear.
When the Bible study was over, everyone shuffled around to sit with their friends and continue the conversations started earlier that evening. I continued to sit, staring at the television and pretending I was interested in football. I think I looked believable. At one point, a group of girls (including Natalie) began engaging me in their conversation. I laughed along with them. But, I didn't say much. They were six. I can't speak to anymore that two people at a time. I had asked that we leave before 9:00 pm. It was 9:27 pm by the time we said our goodbyes. If it had been 9:28, I think I would have crumbled. We got in the car, dropped off one of Nat's friends and then the tears came. Natalie doesn't know. I turned my face away. I did tell her that it was stressful. She said that I had acted fine and no one could have guessed that I wasn't enjoying myself. "At least I'm a good liar" I thought.
I had no idea what it was that I was experiencing and so I began to do some research: Social phobia. It has a name, and naming it somehow made it seem manageable...something I could beat.
I have forced myself to surround myself with people over the past 6 months. It still scares me, but slowly it is getting easier. And, I am enjoying the benefits of community.
In my research, I have learned some powerful truths that have helped me on this journey:
-I am not the only one.
There are so many people out there that struggle with this as well. Being able to read these people's stories and say, "Me too." has built my courage. Realizing that I am not the only one who is broken gives me the strength to keep trying.
-I won't get better overnight. I am human.
I think that was what kept me from engaging in friendships and community for so long. I felt that I needed to be everyone's best friend, the life of the party, and always have something to contribute in order to be a part. I wasn't able to be that and so I didn't even try. I have now accepted that I may never be the life of the party, and that is perfectly alright. Everyone is unique and has different and equally important things to contribute. I have come to realize that getting better is a process and one that takes practice. I can't improve myself all in my own private world, and then join the fun once I have my anxiety under control. I have to show up just as I am now: imperfect, terrified, and vulnerable. And, that's where the healing begins. Show up, and slowly but surely you will find yourself becoming braver.
Keep showing up. Even when you are tired. For an introvert, it is so easy to fall into that lonely rut again. So keep trying.
-I can't hate myself better.
I think that is the most important thing to remember in every inner battle we fight. You can't hate yourself into being better. Shame over you social awkwardness or your inability to talk in front of people will never initiate growth. Growth is backed by Love. Love yourself enough to know that you are capable, and can grow. And, when you screw up or embarrass yourself or start to go back into hiding: Forgive yourself and try again. 1 John 4:18 "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear..."
Psalm 34: 4 & 5
I sought the LORD, and He answered me,
And delivered me from all my fears.
They looked to Him and were radiant,
And their faces will never be ashamed.
I'm still in the beginning stages, and am still learning about my anxiety. This is what I have learned and what has helped me so far.