Most of my life people have seen me as outgoing, extroverted, super social. I may have been accused of talking too much more than once–it’s something I still actively work on. I am the guy that friends say, “yeah everywhere we go he seems to know somebody…” about. But, something I’ve realized in the past few years is that I’m actually not an extrovert. I sort of molded myself / was molded into an extrovert.
I have intense social anxiety, but I never allowed myself to even look at or acknowledge it. I thought in order to have social anxiety you had to be that person who clammed up in social situations and melted into a corner trying to avoid talking. That definitely wasn’t me, but in the past few years I noticed that in almost all social situations — which I had come to believe was my natural environment — I was filled with anxiety the entire time.
So, this was weird—from what I knew an extrovert was supposed to thrive and be energized by social situations. I was definitely “energized” but not in a super positive way like a great night of sleep, more like in the adrenaline and stress induced body high you get from running away from something sort of scary, riding a roller coaster, or fighting a difficult boss level on a game. It lights your brain up with some happy chemicals, but also leaves you sort of drained at the end of it all.
Once I called attention to this thing in me though, I couldn’t stop paying attention to it. I realized that in response to all of this stress in social situations, I had the converse reaction to social anxiety. I was so nervous that I couldn’t shut up. I wanted to talk to every single person I knew wherever I was—even if I didn’t know them that well. “OH WHATS UP DUDE!!! HOW HAVE YOU BEEN? HOWS THAT THING YOU WERE DOING WITH THAT PERSON! THIS IS SO FUN!! RIGHT?!?!” (translation: I really would rather not be here, I’m freaking out inside, and I’m using our mutual connection to try and calm myself down…sorry.)
So yeah… to calm my anxiety I would just start talking and talking and talking— and though inside I was feeling like my guts were going to explode into my chest—outside I sometimes looked like I was a loud mouth who was just really friendly and open with everyone.
And, I do have to mention — this whole tendency in myself became ESPECIALLY clear once I got sober and didn’t have alcohol to help ease me in these situations. That’s when I began to notice that doing this didn’t actually make me feel more comfortable. It actually just perpetuated the anxiety and gave me more to worry about. I’d walk away from conversations thinking “why in the FUCK did I just say all that to them???”
So, finding my own way of opening up in a healthy way that serves me and maintains a level of calm and control, which I really need to truly connect with other people, has been a hell of a journey. It’s taken not only looking at how I interact with others on a daily basis, but also how my friends and family interact with each other and interacted with me growing up. It’s a struggle most of us deal with more or less, but for some– plagued with social anxiety —the struggle is really real.
But, if you see me in real life, don’t think you’re going to cause me a panic attack by talking to me. I’m learning better ways to handle my anxiety every day, and I’m happy to have a conversation with most anyone I meet if I’m able to.