An Education for One

My Struggle with Social Anxiety

Wed, 06/26/2013 - 14:15 -- anonymous

I wish I could say that my college experience was a typical one, but that would be far from the truth.  Instead, I found myself plagued by a problem, one that I wasn’t even fully aware of at that point in my life.  The problem in question was social anxiety, and it seized control of my life when I entered college.  Some of the symptoms had been with me for years, although I never put a name to it.  I suppose it helped that I could more or less function during my time in high school.  I had my core group of friends that I felt comfortable around, but when we all went our separate ways for college, socializing became more difficult for me.  While some people embrace starting over with a clean slate, free from the reputations they’ve built up, I just felt lost – like I didn’t belong anywhere.  So I spent the first two years of my university experience avoiding all the usual college activities. 

There were no parties, no friends, and no networking to advance my future career.  In fact, I had a lot of trouble just attempting to choose a major, mainly because all of them would require some public speaking and presentations.  Although I did eventually settle on something, the decision still weighed heavily on me even after I made it.  I was afraid of having to change my major half way through due to my anxiety, and therefore extending my torturous college years even further.  I did the bare essentials of going to classes and completing my assignments, but even that became too much to handle at times because just walking around on the crowded campus could get my anxiety going.  Comparing myself negatively to others was a big problem back then and watching all the other students, who seemed so confident and cool, really set me back.  And once I was in a classroom, I stayed as hidden as possible for fear of being called upon by a professor.  Even though that tended not to happen in most classes, I still worried about it anyway. 

Despite my anxiety, I still got by with my grades, but I could have done much better.  There were group projects where I simply couldn’t assert myself and some that I completely avoided.  One time, I even attempted to talk with a professor about why I had trouble participating in a presentation, but I couldn’t even articulate myself well enough for them to fully understand my problem. 

My roommate situation was also very problematic.  Living in the dorm, I was paired up with someone I hadn’t known previously, and even though he was a nice guy, I still felt very anxious around him.  Even typical subjects that people bond over were tough for me to talk about.  For example, there were times I would worry about what he thought of my personal taste in music, movies, and other things, so I tended not to voice my opinion or gave a real wishy-washy answer.  We still got along, though, and in the beginning he made some attempts to include me different events he was going to, but I couldn’t bring myself to join in.  The idea of going to a party brought on too many anxious thoughts racing through my head.  After a while, he must have thought I wasn’t interested and he stopped any invitations.  Eventually our relationship devolved to the point where we hardly said anything to each other, which made me feel even worse.    

For my sophomore year, I got an apartment by myself, since I thought the freedom of having my own place would help with my anxiety.  I’m not sure why I thought that, because living alone only made my anxiety worse.  I was more isolated and depressed than ever before.  A good part of my school year was spent simply going to class and then immediately driving back to my apartment when they were over, maintaining as little social contact as possible. 

It was during this time that I finally started searching for solutions to my problem.  At first I didn’t find any satisfactory answers, only false hopes that led me back to where I started.  But then I found the Social Anxiety Institute website and could fully understand and relate to the way they described anxiety.  The solutions they promoted also made sense to me, so I decided to buy their audio series Overcoming Social Anxiety: Step By Step.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but this series was about to change my life. 

Once I started going through the series, I could see some small changes happening in my life.  I could finally start to feel more relaxed in social settings.  My progress was slow, but I kept on going, determined that I could improve.  And over time, I did.  Unfortunately, by the time I began making progress it was already summer and there weren’t as many opportunities for socializing.  Still, I kept on with the therapy and, although I had some setbacks, I continued to retrain my mind to respond differently to anxiety situations.  By the time I entered my junior year, I began to see noticeable improvement and could begin taking active steps towards the type of social life I wanted. 

Since then I’ve continued to make progress against anxiety.  I did eventually make some friends who I felt comfortable being around before I graduated and I have a better handle of what I’d like to do with my life now that anxiety isn’t in the way all the time.  While I still have some issues with anxiety every now and then, I can recognize when my mind begins to take a wrong turn and rationally work through it.  Now my future is looking brighter and clearer than ever before.

- Robert