This is more story of how I defeated crippling social anxiety that plagued me for better half of my life and at points almost made me want to give up everything entirely. I assume part of it could be rooted in the evolutionary development of the human brain and that our societal and tribal cooperation allowed us to rise above the other species. It’s not good for survival if all parties in the group give zero fucks about what the other members think. Together we’re stronger. Maybe neither of us can reach the apples on branch on our own. If one stands on the shoulder of the other, both can eat. Assuming one of them isn’t a great tree climber, cracks the other on the head with a rock, and takes all the apples for his own selfish ass. This is why we can’t have nice things. You get my point. Especially when I was younger, and sometimes still to this day, upon connecting eyes with another I feel a physiological wave of tingles cascade down thru my chest as if my chest were a stadium and the nerve endings were the fans doing “the wave.” It’s not a good feeling, there wasn’t a touchdown, everybody calm the fuck down in there. Tightness of breath. Elevated heartrate. I assume a slight dilation of the pupils. Sweaty palms. My brain was a drunk marionette recklessly puppeteering portions of my body against my will. You’re cut off brain, I’ll call you a cab.
“Just be yourself” they said. Oh well why didn’t somebody tell me that sooner. I’m cured! How do you be yourself when you’re a young kid and don’t even know who you are? Or why you are? From a young age I felt violently thrust into life. No universal explanation. No orientation meeting. Just BOOM. Here. For maybe eternity there was nothing, and now here I am. Uhhh. What the actual fuck. I’d stare in the mirror for long periods of time. Poking at myself as if what I saw in the mirror was an alien or newly discovered creature. I’d move my fingers and spectate, almost as if I were a 3rd party studying the neurological discussion between my mind and body. I wasn’t sending words of English to my fingers like “bend now”, “bend this fast”, “ok now you middle finger, you pop up, everybody else stay put”. I want them to move and they obeyed my command instantly. That boggled my mind. And if think about that and spectate, even now it seems bizarre to me.
In school I’d nervously walk thru the campus. Still in shock about existence. I’d see people talking, laughing, throwing a frisbee around, seemingly not a care in the world. Why were they not struggling to come to grips with this life as I was? Why am I in the mental Mariana Trench yet they’ve accepted it entirely and are having a ball? My waves of physiological social anxiety and internal battle to accept life prevented me from connecting with most of my peers. While I didn’t ask it out loud, I was like the kid that always asks why? Why am I here? Because you were born. Why? Because your parents boned. Why? Because it feels good and they were probably drunk (no offense mom and dad). Why? And so on and so on. Social engagements literally terrified me. I’d do anything to get out of it. If my social prison break was unsuccessful, I’d be at the social gathering frozen. Body stiff. I’d briefly look up, my eyes would dart around the room seeing if anybody detected that I wasn’t engaging & paralyzed. Time stood still. I onlooked jealously at the loud social people, wishing I could be like them. Talking loud, using their whole body to gesture as they told stories, throwing their head back and laughing confidently, the others laughing along with them. Wow. “There’s not a chance I’ll ever be like that” I lamented to myself. The external behavior of popular outgoing people became my fascination. I hoped that if I could mimic their behavior, eventually maybe I could be like that. I know now that was the entirely wrong approach.
Fast forward to now and since then.. I’ve acted on stage in front of hundreds of people (and had the crowd laughing to the point of tears), played guitar in an indie band and did live shows in front of strangers, played guitar most weeks and sang in front of a congregation and youth group, built a public youtube channel where I film myself performing music, teach people how to program, passed a speaking class with flying colors and actually had fun once I got up there. I had 4 friends in high school now I have many. I love social gatherings and actually feel depleted if I don’t get enough social time every week. I can go out by myself and strike up great conversations with strangers. Many of these things might be unimpressive to the average person, but for me it’s proof that I’ve overcome something I once was sure was impossible. I tell people I used to have crippling shyness / social anxiety and most people don’t believe me and say they can’t even imagine it. In my youth I felt enslaved, depressed and hopeless. I told myself if I ever beat this I’d write a book to help others overcome it that may be experiencing the same. I’m pretty god damn lazy in my free time – not sure how likely that is but I can share my story and hope maybe somebody who needed to hear it will find something to take away from it.
So how did I conquer social anxiety and shyness? Don’t get me wrong, I still have “off” days. On rare occasion I’ll feel tiny blips of social discomfort that remind me of my past. It didn’t happen overnight. There is no quick fix that I know of. It took me a long period of intense introspective reflection, mistakes, and experiences that left an impact on me and matured my perspective. I’ll give just a few examples. One was working in customer service. I became a cashier at a large box store. It was nerve wrecking at first but over time I got used to interacting with people all day and making conversation. This was great social practice. I eventually became a supervisor. I was forced into confrontational situations. This gave me the opportunity to defend policies of the store even if the customer didn’t like it. I didn’t feel judged personally – not my policy. This gave me practice in not letting what people thought bulldoze me over. You’re pissed? I’m an asshole? You’re going to talk to my manager? Sweeeet. I’m just doing my job. Kindly go fuck yourself. Jk most of time I actually sided with them and had to say “Hey I agree it’s a BS policy but I’m just the messenger”.
One more example of life experiences impacting me. While I’m no longer religious, and not a proponent of the church, I did wholeheartedly explore religion for a big chunk of my life. While so much of it seemed like poppycock (do people still use that word?), they said well its based on faith. Ok fine. I’ll give it a chance. I’ll do my best to believe and see if I can “find God” the way you so passionately claim you have. What happened for the next decade or so is for another time. Religion has concepts like our souls are being “battled for”, our minds are corrupted by sin and we have to fight the evil thoughts. Vomit. “It’s bullshit and it’s bad for ya” – George Carlin. Anyway – don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater right? I did transpose the practice of being conscious of my thoughts and shooting down or rejecting the “wrong” thoughts. When it came to my social anxiety, I realized there was an absolute onslaught and continual attack going on against me in my mind, by myself. I began to consider them fabrications and lies:
-“I’ll never amount to anything” – Bullshit, you don’t know the future, there’s no way you can possibly know that.
-“I’m ugly” – Says who. Everybody has people that aren’t attracted to them (so more than others ha). Ugly is an abstract term and open to interpretation. You’re holding yourself to an imaginary un-satisfiable standard. Stop.
-“She doesn’t like me” – Are you a mind reader? No. Don’t assume that until she tells you. Fake news
Same with insults – people can say horrible things about you. Unless you know what they said is actually true it’s laughable and should bounce right off you. Don’t let it take root and fester.
Another fact I think about often while in social settings is that people have their own worries, their own insecurities, they’re in their own world too for the most part. When you’re crossing an intersection on foot wondering if you’re being judged by all the people in their cars… nah, you’re not that special. They might look at you sure, but they’re in their head “I hope I can that project done today”, “I need a car wash”, “I wonder what I should eat for lunch”, “OOooh I love this song”. Stares are not necessarily judgements. It’s almost guaranteed they’re not even thinking about you or anything about you. Unless you obviously stand out from a crowd like a homeless person screaming at nobody. Even then people briefly think “He’s crazy” — and they go on with their thoughts & concerns about their own life.
Most people want you to appear free and comfortable in your skin. Ever see a person singing in their car, nodding their head aggressively, dancing as if no-one was watching in their seat. Bet you smiled. It’s contagious. Most of us go so far to protect our pride and dignity – keep all the edges smooth – appear well composed. Oh no! What if somebody sees me being silly and thinks less of me! I’m guilty of thinking this way, and closing myself to protect my image. But I have worked very hard over the years and have made great strides in being more loosey goosey. Sometimes I’m almost too open and don’t enforce a filter, don’t let the pendulum swing too far in that direction either. So I keep it in mind, people want to see my colors and personality. The more I’ve seen people responding positively to my personality, the more its made me enjoy sharing it.
When it comes to the existential shit. It took me half my life or more to accept it, but there is no ultimate explanation. No proof of a prime mover. People have faith and say they “know” their faith is right or their religion is the one true one. Unless God himself splits the sky says “Sup Bitches” and not a single person on the planet denies seeing it… then I would safely assume I’m not mental and there was a god. Until then, I have no choice but to accept there are many mysteries, many unanswered questions and it’ll remain that way in my lifetime. Life is weird, fun, painful, scary, confusing and the whole gamut of human emotions so I’m just holding on and trying to enjoy the experience as much as I can. Knowing/believing we have no ultimate answers and all signs in my experience point to this life being the only one and that forces me try to make the best of it. I’ll return back to the nothingness and nothing will have ultimately mattered. That gives me courage to embrace experiences and puts my fears in perspective