This is what my social anxiety really feels like
Sometimes I feel dead. Numb. Cold. Detached. And it is impossible to remember what it was like to feel anything at all. Sometimes I wake up and the fog weighs down on me like an eager traveler atop a bursting suitcase. Sometimes I feel like a ghost, like I’m made up of vapor. Sometimes everything is beyond my control. And my fists might as well be made of jello, because I can’t hold on to anything. I am a mess of hormones and short circuits.
I am sick.
I don’t know when it started. A doctor would probably call it “social anxiety,” but for me, it is reality. It happens when my stomach solidifies and drops down my cavity every time I’m asked to speak up. It’s the inevitable yet always humiliating feeling of my ears and cheeks burning bright red when I do. It’s making plans. But when the time comes and the crippling fear sets in, my hands shake as I type out an apology for canceling them.
I would crawl out of my skin if it meant never having to have another conversation. If it meant never again replaying words over and over in my head, desperately searching for clues, signs where I went wrong. If it meant I could finally forget the stupid thing I said when I was 16. If it meant I could stop throwing up when I think about it. Because conversations never really begin or end. They have a life of their own. They terrorize me before, during, and for years after they’re spoken.
I am but one of many with such an affliction. We are the invisible sisters. But if we flaunt it, it can’t control us. We find solidarity in our co-misery. It takes one to know one. To our mothers, fathers, teachers, co-workers, and passersby we are average. Nothing more than another young girl. But those afflicted recognize it easily. As quickly as I can spot your chipped nail polish, I can identify you as one of my own. Another soldier fighting an unseen war.
There’s a strange solidarity that comes with mutual misery, like the passengers of a delayed flight, huddled together over the scarce power outlets. This is how we live: standing together for warmth. Finding a peace of mind in the fact that we’re not alone in our winter. When we stand together, swapping war stories, our words create sparks and between us there’s fire. “I just don’t want to be a thing right now.” That is all that is needed, no further explanation. The feeling is mutual. The desire to escape the prison of our physical body and be free.
We are one army, each fighting our own battles. Separated by time and space, but united by our suffering. We are spread apart. We have our own squads of those who remain close to us, who help us hold our shattered pieces together. My closest friends — we share not bloodlines, but sorrows. The three, four, five people I can count on one hand that truly know my pain, that have shouldered the burden, mean the world to me. They say that friends are the family you choose. And they are.
I am determined to speak my peace. To stop existing in the shadows. To force the issue to the light. Despite the enormous, murky hand trying to shove me back.
Disease knows no colors, no weights, no incomes, no upbringings. We are one and all afflicted. We are the undisclosed sufferers. We are your sister, your daughter, your cousin. And we demand to be acknowledged.
Why are we so easy to ignore? Why is it so hard to believe in an illness you can’t see? A chemical imbalance in my brain is as visible as a ruptured appendix. Yet when I describe to you the abdominal pain, you actually believe me.
Hear our cries. Stop looking past us. We exist, and we suffer. And we can no longer be ignored.
Madelyn Olsen is a Journalism student in Chicago whose life plan is to write, travel, watch tv, and drink tea. If it was somehow possible to merge Leslie Knope and Liz Lemon into one person, the result would be Madelyn. Most of her time is spent online on Twitter and YouTube where she rambles about life and her love of television.