Sunday, 4 March 2018

These days, I feel as though it's become 'cool' and 'trendy' to label yourself as 'socially awkward'. We have every Tom, Dick and Harry doing it, from Jennifer Lawrence, to Lena Dunham. But in my humble opinion, I see no social awkwardness at all. In fact, I see the exact opposite of that. I see women who are very confident and completely comfortable in embracing all their quirks. And if I'm honest, I'm getting a little bit sick of this label being bandied about like a fucking badge of honour. Everyone wants to be the 'alternative girl', the 'girl next door', the 'relatable one', and apparently being a self-confessed socially awkward individual has become an integral part of that identity, that supposedly makes you more unique, relatable, and endearing. 

But from my experience, the reality of being socially inept is completely different. It's rarely viewed as quirky or funny. Of course, I understand that everyone's experience is different, but to me, social anxiety is something that can be and has been incredibly debilitating. It's difficult to explain just how much anxiety has affected my friendships and relationships, my choices and my experiences. 

For the past few days my old friend overthinking has decided to pay me an impromptu visit. Over a cup of tea with my good friend I admitted that I'd been thinking a lot about how I'm perceived in group settings. I was reluctant to share, because as ever, this played on the 'self-indulgent' trap that I always fear accompanies anxiety and depression, and I really didn't want it to seem like I was after a hype club or a pity party. We were discussing some plans we had coming up and she could tell I was feeling uneasy. As she continued to probe me as to why, I started to confess that I just didn't see the point in me going. I didn't feel like I'd contribute anything. I felt like I'd just be the tag along, and if I weren't there, it wouldn't matter. These are patterns of thinking that are constantly recurring for me. They're things I've tried to tackle with my counsellor, but that constantly re-emerge. My friend told me this: "when we're together, your personality shines out, and I see how fucking brilliant you are. But when we're in a group setting, you hardly say a word. You're so quiet. And when you do speak up, it's usually when you're pissed, and I know that's not a true reflection of you. I know you're amazing, but you don't give others a chance to see it, and that's a shame." I've been thinking about what she said for a couple of days since. It's funny, because even though I love my friends and trust them wholeheartedly there is always that niggling feeling in the back of my head, that ugly green monster on your shoulder, telling you that they're chatting shit. That only you are right. That everything you think about yourself is true. The frustration comes from the fact that I know exactly what she means. The way I completely clam up in group settings and can't think of anything meaningful to contribute. The way I have this pervading sense of imposter syndrome niggling away in the back of my mind. And I'm not too sure what to do about it. Because how do we change something when it's so ingrained in you that it feels as though you're fundamentally trying to change who you are? 

It's difficult when social anxiety stops you from expressing your true personality. I often find that a person once getting to know me properly, tells me that when they first met me they thought I was stuck up, or a bit of a bitch. Usually I feel like I'm just incredibly boring, and I can imagine the group after discussing how 'basic' I am. It's frustrating when you get home and go over the night's events, and think of all the things you could have said, all the witty comebacks you could have made, and all the awkward silences you wish you'd filled. This tends to happen over and over, and it becomes a vicious cycle. You become more apprehensive the next time you're in a social setting, and the problem gets worse. 

It's a rock and a hard place. 

For years and years I was told by friends and family that I needed to 'live a little', that I was 'letting life pass me by', that I was always being 'flaky', or 'uptight' or 'boring'. I must have been the weird girl who never wanted to do anything that was 'fun'. Each weekend would roll by and the following Monday I'd have no crazy stories to report in registration. After a while you begin to internalise those sentiments. I spent most of my teen years extremely bitter at the fact that I was missing out on all the classic, 'rite of passage' teenage girl moments, because I simply couldn't face the way that they made me feel. That overthinking for days and days before an event. The actual sleepless nights. The hours going around in circles in your own head. My Sixth Form Prom was a rather traumatic ordeal. I was adamant that I didn't want to go, but my mum wouldn't take no for an answer. So the day of prom, I getting ready and all of a sudden I'm bursting into tears, I'm literally shaking and hyperventilating, and begging my Mum not to go. She sounds way more cruel here than she is (love you Mum), but I think she simply didn't understand why I was so worked up about it. She must've thought I was being melodramatic. She kept saying I'd regret it if I didn't go, it was something everyone did, and I'd be upset in 10 years time when I had no high school prom photos. In the end I dragged myself into the car and went along. I spent the whole night counting down the minutes until I went home. I felt so uncomfortable in my outfit, being completely overdressed when I felt so awfully ugly. I felt uncomfortable getting drunk as I didn't want any loss of control. The whole night was such a disaster, and I've never forgotten how I felt for those 2 hours I was getting ready. The anxiety literally building in my chest as the time we had to leave edged closer. 

I so desperately wanted to be the girl who went on the girl's holiday in year 13, or the girl who went to some random boy's house party with her mates at 16. The girl who went out and got completely shitfaced on every night of fresher's week. The girl who'd go on the blind double date with her new mates. But that was never me. I was constantly being egged on to do things 'for a laugh' that simply terrified me, not because I didn't think they'd be fun, but because I could never see myself participating in them. I could always imagine the judge-y looks and the sly comments as I got it wrong, again. After a while your friends stop asking you to places as they assume they already know your answer. And granted, there was seldom a time when I actually would have said yes to going on one of their wild excursions. But it begins to make you feel incredibly small. Incredibly insignificant, and left behind. Is it any wonder you begin to conceive of yourself as the spare part? As though if you weren't there, it wouldn't even matter? 

I think I began to aline my personality with that of the 'basic girl'.  For years and years, that's what I identified as. The only positive thing I could say about myself was that I was nice. And who needs just nice? I actually hate the term 'basic'. Because I think, fundamentally, it's incorrect. I don't believe anyone is 'basic'. We each have a distinctiveness about us, something that makes us interesting and special. Of course, we aren't always going to find everyone interesting. But that doesn't mean that person is fundamentally boring. Some people are able to express themselves to the full, and flaunt their individuality from a first meeting. For others of us, the real us needs to be prised out gradually. Often we introverts have a lot to say too, y'know. We can be interesting people. I have many regrets for the way I spent my teen years, but I think, perhaps my biggest is the way I constantly put myself down as the boring one. This is a pattern of thinking that continually re-emerges, but I'm glad I'm more aware of it now. Being socially awkward, or quiet, or shy, introverted, unable to make the quickest witty comment or have everyone in stitches; that doesn't make you boring. Not everyone can be the class clown, but don't let that affect your own opinion of yourself. 

I'm so used to my identity being that of the shy/introverted/socially awkward person, that I'm not really sure what I'd be left with without it. Who exactly I'd be. Confidence has never been something I've had, so I can't conceive of me ever having it. I guess there's an element of resistance, too. Often our insecurities can also serve as our comfort blankets. Putting ourselves out there can be incredibly scary, and feel so incredibly unnatural. 
I think that's where it becomes difficult, when we reinforce one part our our identity so much that we forget that things can change, you can change, and if you embraced it, you might actually be happier. 

So I've been trying to push myself a little more recently. And sometimes it can be incredibly hard. To socialise with people without my best friends as my comfort blanket, to try to be more vocal in group settings. These are all things that still fill me with dread. But I've been trying to do them anyway. I hope that with each step I take, it'll get a little easier. I don't expect a change overnight, but I hope that gradually, things will begin to change, and because it will have been such a slow process, it won't feel like such a huge identity change anymore. 

I guess what I'm trying to say is this: the realities of being so socially anxious are so much bleaker than the way social media paints them. Don't be alarmed if people don't find your social ineptitude charming, unfortunately I'm used to social media giving a distorted view of mental health issues. But that doesn't mean you should be filled with self-loathing with it all. This was definitely a place I was stuck in for years. I would reinforce my anxiety by forcing myself to stay in, telling myself that I simply couldn't function in social settings and so I therefore didn't deserve to go out and have fun. I'm no longer at a place where I'm constantly wishing I was different, that I was a social butterfly, the life and soul of the party, the confident one, because I know that fundamentally, that's not me. And I'm beginning to realise that the way I interact in social situations is not a complete reflection of me or my personality. Sometimes, it's important to sit back and take stock, and think of the personality traits you think others might identify in you. We can't all be the extrovert. We can't all be the loud one. We're all different for a reason. Besides, I think finding a way to accept the way you're built, and make the best of it, is a whole different type of confidence anyway, and who is to say that it's not just as valuable?

Until next time,
Bisous <3



Jumper: Forever 21 (Old - Similar Here)
Jeans: Asos
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Beret: Asos
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Twilly: Dior (Similar Here)

p.s. Sorry for this rather self-indulgent post. But I guess it's been something I've been aching to get off my chest. I hope this offers some comfort to any of you who also suffer from paranoia over how you're perceived in social settings, or struggle with anxiety. <3

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