Social Anxiety As Real As it Could Ever Be


By Ariel Sullivan

I am the most awkward of awkward. If there were a crowning ceremony for people who find themselves in the most humiliation after every social encounter, I would own a pretty exorbitantly priced piece of jewelry for the top of my head.

I recount mortifying stories over and over again in my mind, wondering where I went wrong. I fall asleep running through a list that even predates teenage adolescence. In the 3rd grade, I walked into the boy’s restroom as my long-time crush notified me of my mix-up as he was peeing. In the 4th grade I called my teacher “grandma.”

I had a noticeable speech impediment growing up that made it almost impossible for me to properly annunciate the sound of the letter R. Somehow, the speech impediment metastasized like a cancer and extended to other parts of my speech. I’ve long since learned how to pronounce an R, but I now add the letters L or R to random words when I am not paying close enough attention. I’ve essentially overcorrected the problem. Every mispronounced word replays in my mind during my bedtime humiliation checklist. “It was just a litter bit,” repeating in my head like a haunting Gregorian chant.

One time, as the result of my irrepressible social ineptitude, I made a server very uncomfortable. I had joined a dinner party late at a restaurant and the other guests already knew what they wanted to order. It was all eyes on me and the pressure was overwhelming. The server walked over to our table and casually asked me directly, “Do you know what you’d like to order?” That question solicits a simple yes or no response. Then maybe, maybe, in the case that I am ready, it requires a few extra words that express my dinner selection. That’s it. But I wasn’t ready when she asked. I panicked. I thought, well, she could come back in a second after I’ve thoroughly examined all my choices and then she wouldn’t have to wait for me to mentally go through that process, because god knows how long it will take. My brain fished for the words, “No, sorry, I just need a minute to think it over please.” Instead, the cacophony of sounds that managed to come out of my mouth was, “No, can you just go away?”

I’m not sure why words don’t form outside of my brain the way they’re so carefully constructed originally, but I often find myself cursing my inexcusable social behavior and my inability to quickly recover from it.

Other things I’ve said/done in the past or say/do currently that prevent me from sleeping at night:

1. At work to a customer: “Do you want your receipt with the bag or in you?”

2. Along with addressing a teacher by an intimate familial nickname, I’ve also replaced “goodbye, have a nice summer” with “I love you.”

3. Every single time I am telling a story, face-to-face and realize the person is making eye contact with me, meaning he or she is actually listening, I freeze up and lose my train of thought, effectively losing the other person’s interest and my entire credibility.

4. Having to prepare a whole written statement and rehearse it just to make a phone call. Leaving a message requires even more preparation that includes a pep talk and a couple of different breathing exercises.

5. Not being able to ask questions or to make an informed/intelligent comment during class because I hate the sound of my own voice after not speaking for a long time, and because of the idea of having a group of people intently listening to something I have to say makes my limbs heavy, my heart race, and I get the sudden urge to be the sole survivor of a plane crash on a deserted island that can’t be found on maps or by modern technology.

6. Wondering what kind of judgment is being made about my current selfie as if hoards of people only get together with the intent to mock me like some kind of selfie-mock-circle held in a cave dimly lit by candlelight.

7. Wondering what was meant by literally everything said to me by another human. Does everything someone says to me have a hidden meaning? CAN I CRACK IT?

8. When less than 20 people like anything that I post. Why don’t you like me?

I can’t seem to get any of it right, not like my more in-tune friends or coworkers who don’t cringe every time their mouthparts move. I am envious of their callousness to interactions, their ability to remain calm and collected, which I perceive to be a gift. I on the other hand, still don’t understand how to properly react verbally to “What’s up?” when used as a greeting. (Is it “good” or “nothing” or do you mirror reply with “what’s up” like a question had never been asked?! Nothing logically makes any sense!) I feel like I can’t be trusted to properly react according to regular social standards.

So, for instances like these, I’ve had to learn to program certain common expected responses as to not appear completely socially inept. Like I’m a Sim earning charisma points, I practice how to effectively speak and communicate my thoughts and feelings to other humans so I can better human.

I’ve always been more of a writer. When I get in a fight with someone, I don’t ever verbalize my emotions. Truthfully, I can’t get any words out because of all the impending angry crying. Instead, I send letters. With writing, I have a chance to think about my feelings and what I want to say. Nobody, especially myself, has to hear my voice and all my words falling from my mouth.

I am my best, scripted and edited. Calculated and rehearsed. And I’m damn proud of it. So what if every once in awhile I randomly acquire a stutter or the pause in our conversation carries on a little too long. My social anxiety gives me some character. I may be dying on the inside during every social failing, but I might as well rock that humiliation crown.

Ariel is part of the Contributing Writer Network at Thirty On Tap. The views and opinions expressed in Contributing Writer articles reflect those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the site.  

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{featured image via pexels}