“Do not anticipate trouble, or worry about what may never happen. Keep in the sunlight.”
— Benjamin Franklin
For the last 5 years having anxiety has kept me from living my life to its full potential. My form of anxiety can be classified as Social Anxiety/Social Phobia. In my perspective it’s a constant anxious feeling and fear when it comes to social interaction. This sense of worry has often caused me to avoid social situations as much as possible.
Dating back to my childhood I’ve always been a shy person and never really interacted much with others. It wasn’t until my senior year of elementary school /freshman year of high school that I realized something wasn’t right. In elementary school I would have to walk a few blocks to school everyday and If I saw a group of men or kids I would instantly be overwhelmed with this anxious feeling and immediately walk on the other side of the street. If I wasn’t fortunate enough to cross the street I would walk slowly behind the group of kids until I reached my destination or when they branched off from one another. This continued for a good while until I graduated. Transitioning into High School, I now had to take 2-3 trains depending on the given day. Being on multiple crowded trains for almost an hour each morning did not sit well with me.
For the first 2 weeks of my freshman year, my Dad took me to and from school (GOD BLESS HIM) every morning. I had someone who was able to distract me from thinking about the crowds of people so I wasn’t experiencing any anxiety at the time. Once it was time for me to start traveling by myself, it FINALLY hit me that I could not handle being on my own. As soon as I stepped on the train I was being hit left and right with feelings of being anxious. Since I didn’t have a phone at the time I had no choice but to look at the people around me and that made me much more anxious.
As a month or two went by and I was able to contain myself until one day I was harassed by a group of few older kids (guys to be specific). After this situation occurred, I had the same routine everyday. In the mornings I would try to take the 6:30am/6:45am train because that’s when it was less crowded. I would stand in the same spot because I knew all eyes would not be on me. This pattern continued for the entire train ride to school, in every train that I had to take. When I was leaving to go home, I waited until 4-5 trains passed before I got on. During this time the trains would be packed with school kids who were trying to get home as well. I wanted to avoid seeing those older kids as much as possible in fear of something happening once again. There were times that I would be unlucky and would be stuck in a packed train. My heart would be racing a mile a minute, and every laugh or snicker I thought it would be directed towards me which increased my anxiousness to another level.
This cycle continued for most of my freshman year and the first semester of sophomore year . For the second half of sophomore year, this is where I began to make more friends and even joined the lacrosse team. Yes this was a good thing but it also made me more dependent on always having people around me. Wherever I went I always had to have someone with me. For example I would make my friends order for me when we went out to eat, I would even wait for hours until my friends were done with their after school activities so I wouldn’t have to go home. If no one was available I would make sure to be on the phone with someone. If ALL else failed I plugged in my earphones and consumed my train ride with my phone. Because I conditioned myself to go through social situations this way, it became harder and harder for me to function. If I left my headphones home, I would turn back around no matter how late I was.This new cycle stuck with me throughout high school and even as I transitioned into college.
As I started going to York, this is where my anxiety took a turn for both good and bad. For my freshman year, I began to isolate myself from the college world. Thank God for my 2 best friends because if it wasn’t for them I would be alone and miserable. Because York has such a large amount of students, I took it upon myself to learn all the “isolated routes” to my classes. This way I would be able to avoid having to walk past crowds of people. I barely participated in many of my classes because I was afraid of being judged or laughed at, especially since I didn’t know anyone. If I was late to class, even if it was 10 minutes, I would not go in because of my fear of being judged. This lead me to miss out on many lectures but by the Grace of God I was still able to pass my classes.
The summer of my sophomore year of college, this is where I began to see my school counselor. He made me realize that me being harassed on the train contributed to me having ptsd to some extent. I conditioned myself to a point where I couldn’t handle being alone or deal with regular social situations such as being on a crowded train/bus, walking pass a group of people, maintaining eye contact, and even waling in 10 minutes late to class. My counselor challenged me to do some exercises where I can see how long and i can go without being on my phone and while at work trying to maintain eye contact with customers. Although this was very hard to do, gradually I began to put it into practice and I have seen a major difference when it comes to being in social situations. Granted there are days where I am overwhelmed but its all apart of my journey of overcoming my anxiety.
SAMHSA’s National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357), (also known as the Treatment Referral Routing Service) or TTY: 1-800-487-4889 is a confidential, free, 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year, information service, in English and Spanish, for individuals and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders.