Real talk on social anxiety from a recovering extrovert

September 27, 2019

I stumbled across an old blog post from 10 years ago which, on the surface, seems like nothing at all, but it brought up a lot of feelings — as a friend reminded me, it’s Autumn emo season after all. Right on schedule. So cut to now, where I write this as I sit listening to Brand New, drinking a glass of wine, and trying my hardest to get into the feelings of affable, unabashed, 23-year-old me.

Funnily enough, I read this blog post just days after I had a conversation with a friend about my seeming shift from being a highly social extrovert to being plain old socially anxious. Reading this throwback into my 2009 brain made this evolution even more stunningly obvious.

Going to parties with people I knew but not well enough to know their birthdays, or showing up alone to an event with nothing but a twinkle in my eye of the promise of who I might meet; this was table stakes for me back then. Not even a little outside of my comfort zone. In university I loved hosting, entertaining, being out all the time, going to shows, talking to strangers. It was always “the more the merrier.” Even as far back as high school I loved meeting new people, flitting from group to group at the schools around my suburb. I was never without plans or someone to hang out with. And always giving everyone the same amount of me, the same version of me, whether we’d been friends for a long time, or just met the week before at a rock show. I had a core group of friends, but I loved inviting new ones into it.

Now the idea of that kind of life gives me low key anxiety. I don’t like going out unless one of my, like, 6 closest friends is too. I need that security blanket. I’m hesitant to invite people over because I don’t want to be the centre of attention or have to “entertain” anyone who isn’t comfortable enough to help themselves to the food in my fridge. I’m terrified of being alone with anyone I don’t spend a lot of time with or talk to on the regular. My social comfort zone has become very small, and I rarely venture out of it. For someone who lives in a new (again) city with no security blanket here, this means nearly everything is outside of that comfort zone now.

What happened to the social butterfly of my youth? The confident curioso who loved meeting new people and thrived in a crowd? Back then I was the life of the party, now I don’t want to be at the party. Is social media to blame? Broken relationships and heartbreak? Is it a casualty of burn out? Is it just growing up? Likely all of the above – or none. Who really knows.

With social media pulsing through the very fabric of our lives, we’ve built online personas for ourselves. Whether we mean to or not, we have. So when it comes to in-person interactions there’s a pressure to be a certain kind of way and there’s a deep rooted fear of not living up to what people think we should be based on that. As hard as I try not to fall into this trap, I’m sure I subconsciously do. And for good reason.

My ex said to me when we first met – which was through Instagram, by the way – that he was drawn to me because of my social presence. As in: I look like I’m really fun and I really enjoy life because of what I post. This sentiment really stuck with me, this notion that people are making judgments on what kind of person I am and what kind of life I have based on my Instagram posts. I know this sounds obvious and you’re sitting there thinking, “no duh Amanda.” But I’d honestly never really thought about that. And therein also lies the implicit expectation that what you see on social media (the highlight reel) is who I am. Which is a lot to live up to. For a long time after we broke up, I asked myself: did I not live up to what he expected? That kind of self-doubt is a very good way to retreat into your own head for a while. 

For a long time, too, my job required pretty intense attention and effort be put into relationships – with both my colleagues and my clients. This was not an easy practice day in and day out. Cue eventual burn out. This meant that outside of my 9-5 I was mentally exhausted and eventually wanted only social interactions that required minimal effort. I surrounded myself with my close group of best friends, hesitant to open myself up much further than that. Because we knew each other so well I never really had to be “on.” The walls were up, and I didn’t have to make myself vulnerable to anyone. 

Or maybe this is all just part of growing up. As we get older we value meaningful relationships more, so the periphery relationships aren’t as important to us. That’s not to say the friends that are at one time new can’t, with time, become close, valued friends. But letting myself be vulnerable to that new person in the first place is the challenge. It’s a lot of work to get to know someone in a real way, and for them to know you. It’s hard to know if it’s worth the effort when our time is so minimal and our energy so precious. 

Laziness and complacency eventually sets in after so much of this, and all of a sudden I find that keeping to myself / being anxious at the idea of being out in the world without my security blanket is the new normal. Does all this make me an introvert? Or just a recovering extrovert? Hard to say. The real goal for me, now at 33, is balancing the quiet with the social confidence and fearlessness of my youth. I just need to find it again.

By now it’s obvious I don’t have any answers, but this has been a fun observation to dig into and obsess about for the last 24 hours. I know these feelings aren’t unique to me, so I’m into hearing what others think about this and their own experiences with this kind of change.

At this point “Konstantine” by Something Corporate is playing and the super emo “let’s-reflect-on-my-youth” feels are so real right now. If you know, you know.

  • Reply
    September 28, 2019 at 12:12 pm

    This. All of this. 👊🏽

  • Reply
    John Wenek
    September 30, 2019 at 2:35 pm

    “Just living is not enough said the (social) butterfly; one must have sunshine, freedom and a little flower.” HCA In other words, maintain that youthful ability to engage with whomever (it’s in your nature) and alight on the occasional flower, to get to know it a bit better. I refer you to the photos and commentary I posted on your birthday. That post aptly captures what you come by naturally. 💗 XO

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