Photo by Yassine Khalfalli on Unsplash

Living with Social Anxiety on a College Campus

A professor asks you a question you happen to know the answer to, you have all the words at the tip of your tongue, ready to snatch up points for the participation grade but there’s just one problem: the thought of raising your hand in a packed auditorium conjures up images of a boa constrictor around your throat. In just a split of a second, you have managed to shred your unsaid answer to a thousand pieces, judged yourself and decided it was too imperfect and not worth stumbling over your words, looking anxious, or appearing boring, stupid, or incompetent.

The thought of walking from one class to another across a crowded quad seems exactly like what a valley of the shadow of death would look like: a paralyzing self-conscious journey of unkind scrutiny. To avoid this buzzy, in-between class walkway traffic, you’ve come up with a solution: setting the volume to a maximum on your Airpods, and looking down on your phone as you walk — a survival kit to avoid eye contact at all costs. Normally, after class ends, you would wait until the quad clears up first so you can walk to your next stop without the debilitating and persistent fear of being humiliated rearing its head. Somehow, you have mastered knowing where all the quiet places on campus are, including taking regular long walks through the serene cemetery. This is oddly a safe place for you.

Choosing a place to study is also one of the most nerve-wracking experiences. While places like the library boast with well-lit spaces and a relaxed ambiance, they are also usually crowded and the most judgemental, so you would rather settle with the quiet wooden chaired stacks. This is where you thrive the most. Quiet places far away from conversations with strangers, an escape from the fear of sweating, and shaking as a response to your surroundings.

You’re finally in a cozy, intimate round-table class with 11 people at most. It’s supposed to be your least nerve-wracking class. This is also the class where most students usually get away with saying the most random nonsense in the name of participation and still seem smart. But instead, this class is your worst nightmare. The size of the class seems to get smaller every minute, making you uncomfortable. You’re really doing your best to act comfortable, but to the person sitting next to you, you’re coming across as a bit offish.

The professor randomly points at you for an answer, and you realize that you were spaced out for a few seconds, not really listening to the question. You choke up, that you find it hard to breathe or even process what’s going on around you. With all the attention on you, you feel the gaze of people across the room like fine needles piercing through your skin. This makes you so self-conscious that you’re already planning to miss your next class. The last time you explained to your professor about your social anxiety, he told you to “face your fears,” and “think positive.” This is not the first time someone told you to get over your “shyness” by applying some kind of magical thinking or a strategy from a Normal Vincent Peale book.

Your friends invited you to a party this weekend, but you’ve been avoiding parties for so long. You tell them that you can’t go because you have other plans, this is the third party you’ve passed up on this semester and they have decided that you are just socially awkward. They will tell you to “learn how to not give a fuck and just have fun,” but you understand because not giving a fuck is a privilege many people, like yourself, don't get to have. Giving up, you’ve decided to tell your friends you’re an introvert and shy, because — you know — they seem to understand introversion better than a social anxiety disorder.

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Sakhile Ntshangase

Sakhile Ntshangase

144 Followers

Mildly seasoned thoughts that might get you smiling, thinking, inspired, or even completely unmoved.