For a long time, I didn't understand exactly what anxiety was. By this I mean that I didn't know the exact definition of anxiety. I was never taught it and I never really researched it. I kind of knew what anxiety was, but I still felt like I didn't understand it enough to be able to use the word properly. I kind of knew that everyone experiences anxiety to a certain extent but I thought that it had to be really severe to actually be able to say that you have anxiety. When I thought of social anxiety, I thought that it meant that the person had trouble speaking to strangers or had trouble going out in public. Just like with anxiety in general, I thought that it had to be that severe to be considered social anxiety. I get stage fright (in some situations it has been worse than others) and I also have trouble participating and speaking up in groups (usually groups that are maybe five people or more). However, I can speak to a stranger one-on-one and be perfectly fine. I actually wrote a blog post about this in the past. I thought that all of this was just due to me being an introvert and also that it was just something that people go through. I never thought of it as partly being social anxiety. I always explained it as me just being an introvert, having a phobia, or being nervous or scared. Like I mentioned before, I thought that social anxiety was more extreme than what I experience. I also didn't entirely understand what anxiety was, not to mention the extent of it and how there are all sorts of types of anxiety. After learning a bit about both introversion and social anxiety, I think it's a mix of both. I don't think that my introversion is the only culprit when it's difficult for me to participate in a group, especially when I feel a bit panicked inside when having to answer a question on the spot. It's just that my social anxiety happens in specific situations rather than in all social situations so I guess it's considered mild or moderate? I'm not really sure where I sit there.
So what exactly do I experience? Well, I can explain more about what I experience while in groups rather than while performing because I haven't had to perform anything for a few years now but lately I find myself in groups and other social situations that affect me. I experience things going on in my mind and my body. I start worrying about the situation before I even get to it. On the way there and while waiting for it to begin, I start feeling as though I'll start shaking any moment. Once it begins, if it's something that I know requires some participation or may require some participation, I feel kind of panicky inside. I get a strange feeling in my heart and intestines (because the stomach isn't actually in our belly button area) and I don't breathe as normally as I should. My heart often beats faster when I know that it is now my turn to participate (for example, if people are participating in a certain order). When I have to participate, it can often be hard to look at people and I feel like my voice sounds shaky but I can't always tell if it really is or not. I also sometimes feel like I'm about to have trouble really concentrating on what's going on because I'm noticing so much about what's going on inside me and my mind is filled with worries. After it's all over and I'm on my way home or I'm back at home, I continue to think about the social interaction. I think about what I said or didn't say or even how I acted or didn't act. If my mind is left without anything to really focus on, I'll sort of worry, in a way, about what already happened. It's like it's on replay in my mind and it won't leave me alone. What I experience during the situation can sometimes differ but I usually always worry before and after. I often find myself suddenly humming when this happens, as if the humming will drown out the thoughts. When I have had to perform in the past (piano recitals or a poetry recitation) I would get shaky. In the case of a poetry recitation in class, I couldn't get past the first few lines even though I had been excited to recite the poem and I felt completely ready. It was as though I just forgot the rest of the poem but I was able to recite it later in front of just my professor in her office.
I'm now getting some guidance for this social anxiety of mine, which I'm really happy about but also nervous about because it involves exposure to the things that cause me anxiety. The first "assignment" that I had to do was do something, not too big, that might cause me some anxiety. Since my anxiety, as I mentioned before, is with groups and performing, I had trouble figuring out what to do for this first bit of exposure. I didn't want to do something too crazy but I still wanted to do something that was enough to cause me anxiety (because you need to expose yourself to the things that scare you in order to ever overcome them). Going out in public or saying hello to a stranger wasn't good enough because I'm fine doing those things. I needed to do something that was linked with groups or performing. I finally decided to go to a poetry revision workshop at my city's main library that was being taught by my city's current poet laureate. She was going to talk to a group of no more than ten people about poetry revision and then spend time with each person one-on-one to go through a poem that they brought and suggest ways that they could revise it. I had been going back and forth in my mind on whether I would go since it made me nervous to be in a group and then to have a poet laureate, who has several published books of poetry, read my poem and suggest ways for revising it. I wanted to go but it was my anxiety that was making me want to avoid it. When I remembered that I was unsure about going because it scared me, I knew that it would be good to go to it for some exposure since it also wasn't going to be a huge group and we didn't have to share our poems with anyone but the poet laureate. Also, I like writing and poetry so it was something that interested me.
Going to this workshop, I experienced all of the symptoms that I described before. I kept worrying about it before I went. I worried that the poet laureate wouldn't like my poem or that she'd think it was weird. I was scared that there would be a lot wrong with it when it came to revising it. When I went to the workshop, I was the youngest one there so that made me nervous right away. Some of the other people included the past poet laureate and some people from the writer's guild. There were only two other people like me who just wrote poetry for fun. This made me nervous as well because most of the people there were more experienced than me. We sat on chairs in a circle, which also makes me nervous because everyone can see you and sitting in circles usually means that there is going to be participation involved. The only time that I had to participate was when we each introduced ourselves so that wasn't so bad. After that, I simply listened to everyone else participate. While listening to the tips for poetry revision, I really started wondering if my poem was alright. I felt as though my poem was starting to look bad while learning about what you should and should not do when it came to not only poetry revision, but writing poetry in the first place. I had to keep reminding myself that my poem was still in the draft stage and that it was alright if it wasn't perfect. I became extremely nervous when it was time for the one-on-one revision sessions and I had to go first. Thankfully we moved two chairs to the other side of the room, away from the group, for this little chat. The poet laureate ended up being really nice and she liked my poem. It was kind of a big deal for me to have this poet laureate like my poem, especially after worrying that it wasn't good. Of course, she wrote quite a bit on my poem for revision purposes (we had to email our poems before the workshop so she would have time to look at them and write down suggestions ahead of time) but it all made sense to me and I learned a lot. I wasn't as nervous as before while we chatted and she explained changes or additions that I could make. It didn't bother me.
Part of my anxiety is that I have a fear of not being good enough. I actually ended up realizing this even before I found out that social anxiety is about the fear of judgement. I have a fear of being judged even though I can be judged no problem when I am actually in the moment of being judged (example: someone reading my writing right in front of me and giving criticism). I just get really anxious before hand. I'm afraid they won't like whatever I created and that it isn't any good. Comparing myself to others is one reason why I think that whatever I create isn't good enough. There are so many talented people out there doing amazing work that I feel like mine is nothing compared to theirs. I have also realized that when it comes to social interactions and the amount of anxiety that they cause me, I am different in various situations. If I am having a conversation with someone one-on-one or with two or three people away from a group, I'm not nervous and can talk the person's ear off. Although, I have been shaky and nervous during piano performance exams that I had to do in the past even though there was only one person there marking me but that was just because it was an exam and exams have always made me nervous no matter how prepared I have been for them. If I am having a conversation with someone one-on-one or with two or three people with a group around but where the other people are having their own conversations but could possibly hear my conversation, then I'm not as talkative and I feel some minor symptoms. In groups of five people or more where everyone is listening, I have a lot of trouble participating and will try to avoid it. Sometimes, while in a group of people, I can force myself to answer a question that I have prepared for and I'm okay, not perfectly fine but I'm still okay. However, if I have to answer a question on the spot, I have trouble answering and I tend to get upset. I have found myself almost crying after having to answer just a simple question on the spot. I think it's because I feel like I am under pressure in that situation.
If you've made it to the bottom of this post then I'd like to say thanks for letting me empty out my thoughts here. I was really unsure about putting this post up on my blog but getting everything out through writing really helps. I plan on continuing to expose myself to participating in groups and hopefully one day it will come more naturally instead of forcefully. I'm also hoping that I can learn to deal with my phobia of bees, hornets, and wasps and that I can deal better with getting needles since I have to get an IV infusion every two months. I have found out that these two things are also anxiety and sometimes I wonder if the two are connected (since bees, hornets, and wasps have stingers and needles are sharp). So what do I want to do? I want to be able to speak in groups without getting nervous or worried before, during, and after. I want to be able to stay where I am or walk through areas without screaming and running away from bees, hornets, or wasps (unless I'm near their nest or something). I want to be able to relax while the nurse pokes me with the needle to set up the IV for my Remicade infusion. These are the improvements that I want to make in my life and I'm determined to finally get through them or at least be able to handle them better.