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tryingtogrow
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Hi Everyone,

I have a social anxiety disorder. There, I admit it. This is the first time I'm telling anyone the truth, the absolute truth, about how I feel inside and how I've been feeling for a long time. For many, many years, most of my life in fact, I've felt stuck, socially outcast, like there is a wall in front of me, a wall which I can see through but cannot surmount. My story has some pretty bad lows, but in the last year, I've made some good progress in surmounting my wall. I'm not really sure about the best way to start my story, but I suppose I should start at the beginning.

The Beginning: My social anxiety began around 3rd grade. This was the year that my mom passed away. Before then, I was "normal," by whatever definition of the word you choose. Her death brought about a depression in me which I can't even describe since I didn't understand it, what 8 year old could? I basically escaped inside myself; I ignored the friends I had and in doing so, I lost them. I had a very difficult time adjusting to a new, big, crowded school in 6th grade, which pushed me even further within myself. By the time I reached high school, I had missed so much social experience that I found myself unable to make friends, unable to interact with others at a normal capacity; and this made me afraid, very afraid. I was afraid of embarrassing myself, saying the wrong thing, doing the wrong thing, becoming even more of an outcast than I already was. Dating was impossible when everyone seemed light-years ahead of me socially. And it didn't matter, since it frightened me so much that even if a girl came to me and asked me out, I would have turned her down.

Propagation: The prospect of moving away from home for college frightened me half to death, and so I didn't. I remained living at home, with my family, the only people in the whole world that I felt comfortable around, for four years while I attended a local university. While in college, I picked up a job at a local supermarket stocking shelves. Customers, especially their questions, sparked a horrible anxiety in me. After a time, I became more comfortable with the experience, but the anxiety never fully went away.

Turn for the Worst: Later, I transitioned to working as a pharmacy technician. This was, quite possibly, the worst experience of my life. I worked behind the counter, serving hundreds of strangers daily. It gave me such horrible anxiety that I was unable to learn the subtle nuances of the job, which made me unable to help certain customers, which in turn sparked a greater anxiety in me. I left the job after a time with all hope lost that there were any good people in the world beyond my own doorstep. Every single one of them sparked my anxiety and fear. I started thinking negative thoughts about every stranger I saw, even ones which I didn't interact with on any level at all. My only achievement that gave me pride to this point was that I was a good student in school. School had always been my excuse: I can't go this this event or that party because I was studying. It was the only thing I was good at. This led me to the decision to attend graduate school, which I now know to be the best decision I ever made.

Renaissance: I made the decision to move away from home for graduate school. This is something I had always dreamed about doing as a child, moving away from my home town and starting anew in a new city, a new state. The prospect excited me greatly, and, a year ago, I finally did it. The fact that I was moving hundreds of miles away from the only people in the world I was comfortable around didn't hit me until my first night in my new apartment. Alone. I felt absolutely alone. And I cried. I cried for the first time since my mom passed away.

I basically hid in my apartment until the first day I was required to start work. I was starting in the summer, a couple months just for research before the official start of my first graduate school semester. I knew no one. And, for the summer, things went along as before. I kept everyone at a distance and avoided group activities. Then, orientation week hit for the start of the new semester. I went along with the new members of my class, many of whom had just arrived on campus for the first time, on various activities. I was trying to meet people, that was one of my goals in this new life I was trying to start for myself. And, I did. For that week, no one knew my past, and I tried to reinvent myself, following their lead. For instance, in high school and college, I absolutely avoided bars; the prospect of drinking and embarrassing myself while drunk sparked my anxiety to a high degree. But, my new peers liked bars and took me along, and I discovered it wasn't as bad as I thought. For a week I earned their friendship, participated in their activities, tried to be like them. Yes, I was the abnormally quiet one, the one who stood around and never really started a conversation, but I was with them, and they accepted me. When the classes began the next week, I felt like I was born again! Instead of going through another year with no one but my books and knowledge, I had friends. Friends to study with, friends to discuss things with, friends to hang out with. The anxiety was still there, but the fact that I liked these people and they liked me lessened it greatly. They were (are) the first good people I've met outside my own home.

Stuck on the Way Up: As the semester went on, things started to sort out. Some of my new friends became good friends, people I talked to every day, and even confided in. Others became more of acquaintances, people I considered friends but who I'm not very close to. Then, I started to become "interested" in one of them. A girl. Now, I had had some crushes before in the past, but I was always shrouded in such intense anxiety that I never acted on them. Now, with that veil partially lifted, I (almost) felt empowered enough to ask her out. It took me almost a month and a half to work up the courage to do so. When I sent her the text one evening with the fateful question, I felt that old, familiar, intense anxiety rush over me. It felt like I was back behind the Pharmacy counter. And, a few minutes later, when she replied with a "thanks but no thanks" reply, I felt my progress forward screech to a halt. And that's where I am now, stuck in the mud.

A Long Way to Go: I have friends, a few of which I consider really close friends. The first I've ever had. I've made progress, but I still have a long way to go. I am still intensely anxious talking to authority figures, especially my boss, and I make mistakes that I shouldn't be making because of it. I'm still not fully comfortable in social situations with peers. I'm still frozen by fear when it comes to activities like dancing and singing in public (Needless to say, I avoid karaoke night). I still have a hard time thinking of things to say when it falls on me to continue a conversation. And, I don't feel comfortable reaching out beyond my new social circle. (This is the first time I'm telling my story to complete strangers, so maybe this isn't fully true anymore). I'm still friends with the girl I asked out, but we're not close friends. She seems to avoid any real, close interactions with me.

We'll that's my story. I feel much better about myself than I did even one year ago, but I still have anxiety issues. I have not yet fully rejoined the world I gave up 15 years ago, but I'm making progress. At least I know that there are some good people out there beyond my own doorstep.
 

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Welcome, TryingToGrow! :)
 
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