I was a painfully shy child. Other kids who had never met before seemed to be able to integrate with each other in a way I would never understand, only observe.
It wasn’t without trying or effort, I just couldn’t seem to summon up the courage to simply say ‘hello’.
In my mind at the time the prospect of rejection or even worse, all out mockery was too terrifying a prospect to entertain.
This isn’t to say I was friendless or a total loner as a kid but I would never make the first move in an interaction of any kind.
Fast forward to my early teens and this social anxiety was supplemented by a broader type. All the ‘what if’s and over-analyzing every single aspect of the most trivial things led me to my first panic attack (which at the time I was convinced was a full blown heart attack) and left me fucked up for about a week in the aftermath.
I think a big part of it was unfounded paranoia. Are they looking at me? Why are they looking at me? Are they talking about me? Why are they talking about me?
I began to learn to play the guitar. Some of my friends learned to play instruments as well. We started a shitty nu metal band (cut me some slack, it was the year 2000) and then, before we knew it, we had our first show booked.
I vividly remember how scared I was before we played that gig. This was the embodiment of every situation I had tried to avoid up until that point.
A little lightbulb went off though. There was no doubt or second guessing that people were looking at me. They definitely were. Instead of it being pure speculation, it was reality and it wasn’t the horror show I had drummed up in my head. In fact, I really enjoyed myself and developed a taste for it (waking up the next morning, late for double maths and covered in peach schnapps puke wasn’t so good, though).
I’d love to say that this one revelatory moment destroyed my anxiety and I saw the light. It didn’t though. My constantly-chomped fingernails are testament to this. To this day there will be some social occasions where I try to blend into the wallpaper as best as I can, however it did teach me something very important. The monster’s teeth aren’t as big as you imagine.
There has been a meme doing the rounds lately which basically says that anxiety is a bunch of conspiracy theories that you create about yourself. That really chimed with me.
Music continues to help me launch a counterattack against these automatic, negative thought patterns.
Getting to travel to new countries, make new friends and ultimately instead of worrying about “what if” and seeing “what is” has given me much needed extra fuel in my 33 year long fight against this fucker.
I really wish I could offer some advice or a cure of sorts to conclude this brief ramble but I’m not the pony to bet on in that regard, I’m afraid.
If any of what I have typed touches base with you then I’ll just reiterate the four most beautiful words in the English language:
You. Are. Not. Alone.