Battles are fought daily. Whether they be with guns, fists or words. Battles are fought. My battle was internal. It was fought inside my heart and mind. I spent 20 years of my life fighting between what I knew was socially acceptable and the irrational anxiety and fear that overtook my brain.
In elementary school, I was painfully shy. Walking into a crowd of people was like walking the plank. Death. School settings, however, were the worst social situation for me. My ideal day at school consisted of me sitting in the back corner, and not being called on by the teacher for anything. Attention was uncomfortable for me; it was painful and frightening. I once discussed this lightly with my fourth-grade teacher. She asked me why I never spoke during class. I told her that even though I had ideas to contribute, contributing during class was uncomfortable for me. She then told me advice that I would never forget, “Sometimes, you need to be uncomfortable, in order to get comfortable.”
Despite the discomfort I felt in social situations, I yearned to have the ability to speak to my peers, extended family members and participate in class. I wanted to talk with them in the hallways and in class. I wanted to pull them aside at a party and discuss topics like, the latest episode of The Bachelor or the newest fashion trend. Due to my yearning to have the ability to speak to my peers and not feel sick to my stomach when I did so, I became very down on myself.
My best friends could start a conversation with almost anyone and continue to talk to said person for what seemed like hours. I, on the other hand, couldn’t even muster up a “how are you?” half of the time. It became very frustrating. My reserved nature and my fear of attention in social situations made me become unnoticeable. I became just another oxygen-sucking body in the room. Classmates would often not talk to me, or see me, because I tried to hide from their attention. This was the biggest hardship of social anxiety. I wasn’t necessarily invisible, I just became overlooked.
My frustrations soon turned into insecurities. I became insecure about my shy nature, and I acquired a low self-esteem early in life. I tried for a few years to hide my insecurities behind sarcasm, top-brand clothing (for a junior high student) and make-up. However, this did not work. I was, much to my dismay, conducting myself the same way I had before; flying under the radar, avoiding social situations, not participating in class and feeling down on myself.
One morning, as I had finished getting ready for school, I paused for a moment before I exited the bathroom. As I stared at myself in the mirror, I saw past the clothing on my back and winged eyeliner. At that moment I realized I had had enough. After years of beating myself up for not living up to my social potential and for not loving myself for who I am, I became determined to change that.
Changing was hard. It is not easy to grow confidence and comfortable in social situations when being social is the cause of insecurities and discomfort. Since that life-changing decision I made before school that one day, I have learned a lot about myself, my reserved nature and self-confidence. Confidence does not come from clothing, or make-up. It comes from within.
I’ve spent many years growing out of myself to become happy and confident. The growing process was uncomfortable. But over the years I’ve learned to become comfortable in situations that I used to be uncomfortable in. After constantly reciting topics of conversation in my head, many tears, much practice, frustrating moments, and countless awkward conversations, I became comfortable and happy in social situations. I realized that to grow is to be unhappy, but we must grow to be happy.
More often than not, people do not give enough time nor attention to the battles that are fought within ourselves. We often look at external battles because they can be seen. Emotional and internal battles are invisible to an outsider. I am naturally shy and I have social anxiety. That is who I am. I have come so far in becoming comfortable in social situations that used to make me uncomfortable. But, despite my progress, I still have a long way to go.
Originally published on SincerelyM.