Quarantine Quirks: Social Anxiety

We’re all so weird.

Universally. We’re bananas.

And that’s okay.

I used to look around and think “God, how do all these people have their shit so together, and I’m a mess?” But then I realized that they don’t. Have their shit together, that is. Everyone’s got stuff they’re muddling through. Some of us just do it with a little more finesse than others.

It took a long time for my social anxiety to kick up during quarantine. Because… hey, who is there to be social with? But, paradoxically, that’s actually what made it worse: isolation.

I mean, sure, I have contact with my family (and my best friend’s family). But they’re like a woobie–tried and true. There’s nothing they don’t know about me. They’ve chosen me. I’ve chosen them. We’re golden.

But adding one more person to the mix? B-a-n-a-n-a-s.

When the world is normal(ish), my social anxiety is kept largely at bay by the sheer number of fascinating people I come in contact with on the daily. I love people. And I value connection above all else. As an extrovert (mostly) and a bookstore owner, I have a constant stream of people coming through my world. I want every person I meet to feel valued, like I’ve paid attention to who they really are.

Sometimes I am a rock star at this. Sometimes I fail spectacularly. But I am always trying to bring my highest self to meet their highest self.

Being around more people allows me to stay in the moment, to focus on what’s in front of me. And that’s key for me in combatting my social anxiety: staying present.

But, truth be told, even in the glory of days filled with people and bookselling and chatting and connecting, when it’s time to sit down one-on-one with someone I admire, or am excited about knowing, or who I just think is hella cool, my social anxiety kicks in.

It’s like a reflex.

I spent so many years of my life (33) believing I was unworthy in every way that, when confronted with a connection I really want to deepen, my reflex is to pull away. Not just pull but bolt. To be extra-special clear: I physically have to keep myself from turning and running the other way.

When this happens, it’s almost always right before I walk into a social situation. Which means I only have to manage that feeling for a minute or two, push through it (I can’t let it win. That’s a very dangerous, dark place for me), and usually I’m fine. If I don’t feel fine, I just own it out loud: “I’m totally struggling with anxiety right now, so if I act a little weird that’s what’s up.” Saying it out loud robs the anxiety of its power. In AA they say “We’re only as sick as our secrets.” My anxiety can’t be a secret. It can’t have that power.

But quarantine has changed the playing field. I am alone a lot. And that has never been good for me. I get all up in my head. And I get stuck in these toxic thought cyclones. It’s pretty damn awful.

I can Care Bear Stare these toxic cyclones out of existence by engaging with the person or task right in front of me. Usually. But, when I’m alone for 5 to 6 hours a day, and the task isn’t changing, and there are no people to interact with…

Well, you get it.

Lately, I’ve experienced social anxiety in a way I haven’t since I was teaching (I once taught a class from the midst of a full-blown anxiety attack for an entire semester. It was like standing outside myself, in the back of a tunnel, teaching toward an opening that I couldn’t even see. The entire time I taught that class, I couldn’t feel my own body. This happened every Tuesday & Thursday at noon for an entire semester. It was god-awful. But pushing through that experience, exhausting as it was, made me believe I didn’t have to live a smaller, more circumscribed life because of my anxiety. I still believe that.) I’ve tried to fight it. Reason with it. Ignore it. Accept it.

Today, as I was choosing my morning Yoga with Adriene video, I found one entitled Yoga for Social Anxiety. And I almost didn’t pick it. Because that would mean an admission that, yep, this is what I’m dealing with right now. Which feels like defeat to me. But feeling seen won out over my pride. And I turned it on.

And slowly, as I moved through the heart-opening poses and reconnected with my body, I experienced a profound understanding that I am not alone. Other folks deal with this, too. And folks that don’t have social anxiety? They’ve got some other shit to deal with that challenges them, makes them tired, or scares the hell out of them.

We all have something.

But I also think we all have each other. And grace.

You are not alone. Neither am I.

We’re all weird as all get-out.

And that’s okay.

Author: Kendra Lee

I am smitten with Atlanta. I believe Black Lives Matter. I care deeply about housing justice, education, and transportation. I am a huge MARTA fan. I've got the most adorable second grader, an incorrigible Boxer named Delilah, and a pretty amazing husband named Simon. I've been sober for 9+ years. I heart coffee. On any given day I may write about all--or none--of those things.

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