31 August 2015

A retrospective on childhood and adolescent anxiety

Anxiety is a serious thing. It's something I have struggled with for a long time. I'm lucky because thanks to my support system I was able to get my anxiety under control and I'm doing extremely well now.

It wasn't always so.

When I was in childhood and adolescence, I was an anxious kid. But, being an introvert (or, as my family said, "shy" and "thin-skinned"), I didn't have the words to express how I felt or what I needed to feel better. So I thought that was just how my life would be.

I dealt with it because I didn't know what else to do. I laid awake at night worrying over insignificant things, replaying conversations in my head thinking how I could have handled it differently or better. I cried because I didn't want to go to school and talk to people I felt didn't like me or who openly teased me because I was quiet and anxious and didn't join them in gregarious games on the playground. And because, as a kid, I couldn't do anything about it, dreading school and being forced to go because my parents didn't fully understand simply made things worse.

Occasionally, I got some well-intentioned advice, such as, "You just need to make friends" or "Go out and play." As if an anxious, introverted kid who moved every three years could just go and make friends. As if it has ever been that easy for me.

Or ever will be.

At some point in my adolescence, I resigned myself to being alone and on the outside, using my isolation as a shield against anxiety. If I didn't spend time with friends, I didn't worry over what they thought of me or if I said and did the right things or that all I wanted was to go back home and crawl into my own skin and be left alone for fuck's sake.

I viewed my world as an outsider, watching even people I considered friends from a distance so I didn't have to let myself worry about how to handle close relationships. By the end of high school, I involved myself in extra-curricular activities to give me the appearance of normalcy and friendships. But I rarely spent time with my friends outside of school. I was busy, but still lonely.

Eventually, I found literature and writing and the world of grammar that helped me find people who shared my interests and made it easier for me to talk and make friends. College was transformative because I was able to immerse myself in literature and writing for about four years.

I'm still working my way through everything, especially when I meet new people or am among a lot of people for an extended period of time. I am an introvert, and that will never change. And I will feel anxiety about certain things in certain circumstances. That will never change, either. So instead of feeling bad (and anxious) about who I am and how it doesn't seem to help me fit in, I'm working on embracing it, seeing these aspects of myself as a strength rather than a weakness.

At least, that's what I'm trying to do. It's hard to change years of programming, isn't it?

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