My Social Anxiety Does Not Define Me.

Women standing in front of a painted wall Photo : Rachel Mandel

Sometimes it is hard to be myself.  I am most comfortable by myself because there is no one I feel like I have to prove myself to, so nothing that has to be said.  When I am thrown into social situations I can completely change like a chameleon, conforming to whatever environment I find myself in.  It’s not that I don’t already fit into many social situations, but my close friends always joke with me saying “You wear many hats.”  

I do this without even thinking.  I don’t want to do it, but am also coming to terms with the idea that I can be whoever I want to be.  I no longer have to answer to my parents, my rigid educational authorities, or even a boss.  I am finding freedom for the first time in my 23 years on this planet.  

With this freedom comes the defining of my true identity.  Who do I want to be and why? What qualities are important to the core of my being?  How can I just be?  I know the qualities about myself that I do not like- especially in social situations.  

My constant companion has been my anxiety.  Always clawing at my neck.  I can remember as early as middle school being so paranoid no one would like me unless I wore certain clothes, got certain grades, and was hanging out with certain people.  In high school it escalated to anxiety surrounding what track (remedial, academic, or honors) courses the administration felt I would excel in.  Instead of being comfortable in my remedial math class and honors English class I constantly felt like a failure.  I convinced myself I would never get into college and spent most of my high school years feeling completely exhausted by my own mental turmoil.  

However, what was going on in my head wasn’t exactly an accurate portrayal of what was happening in reality.  That is how anxiety will really mess with you.  I entered college with a Political Science Major and Arabic Studies minor- not because these topics interest me, but because I was certain that this track would land me a prestigious job and ultimately stability.  

Then I found myself struggling with the Arabic language during my third year of school (I am not a quitter) to the point of tears every day because reading, writing, and translating something so different is absolutely overwhelming.  I can see how this would be rewarding to some people, but I was living in a self-made hell trying to be proficient in a skill I really didn’t care about. The only reason I was even in that class was because of the statistics that told me Arabic is an extremely marketable skill, especially in government sector jobs.    

Hold the phone…… Do I really want to be cooped up translating scripts in the desert for the rest of my life?

NO- and that’s completely fine.  I am most comfortable doing computer coding and public health work.  The crazy conclusion throughout all these life changes is that I can sustain all my needs and still be happy with my job and who I am becoming.  

I still am learning how to act socially.  That sounds odd, but it is the truth.  Instead of becoming trapped in my own thoughts I am getting used to just being myself.  I still interrupt, drink excessively, and get LOUD- but I am working on those things.  My anxiety manifests itself in qualities I hate most about others, and those are my demons to conquer.  

I am addressing my social anxiety for the first time and understanding that although sometimes I turn to my fight or flight responses, I do not have to feel overwhelmed by the idea of scrutiny from others.  Thank goodness for the people in my life who have learned to love me despite my tendencies to act like a complete jackass at times.  


Sarah Maguire : Public Health guru specializing in sexual and women’s health issues. Usually spend my free time at dive bars, eating cheese, or in, on, or around large bodies of water.