Freshman year of college, I thought I had finally overcome my long-time struggle with social anxiety. I came into UCLA utterly excited for my new life chapter. To my greatest surprise, I was completely social uninhibited, when I first arrived at orientation. Some people I met later told me they were initially “intimidated” by my outgoing nature (I had no intention of making others feel uncomfortable… I guess I was oblivious to the way I came across to others). My social confidence continued to grow during my freshman year of college. People complimented me on my outgoing, bubbly, confident personality (speaks to society’s bias towards extroverts, but that’s a topic for another post). Encouraged by others’ validation, I’d continue to prove to myself and others that I was indeed this self-confident person people thought me to be. I began to partake in extracurricular activities that I’d never dreamt of doing, back in high school. I co-taught the UCLA dancesport club. I took on a job as a barista at Bruin Cafe (and was complimented by my boss for my “excellent” customer service). I gave a mini Latin dance workshop to the UCLA gymnastics team. I wrote for the Daily Bruin and got really good at approaching strangers for interviews. In the debate assignment for my GE class, I was rewarded by a round of applause after presenting my rebuttal statement– my speaking skills were so over the top and lawyer-esque, people were impressed.
My social anxiety, it seemed, was rapidly shedding. By the end of my freshman year at UCLA, I truly believed I could handle any social challenge thrown my way.
Then, came the bipolar diagnosis, the summer going into my sophomore year of college. On the one hand, the label helped me understand the underlying cause behind my constantly fluctuating moods and impulsive behaviors. The diagnosis, however, also threw me into a big state of confusion. I began to wonder how much of my past behavior and achievements were due to my bipolar, and how much of it was really me. I realized that, in the early stages of my illness, I spent most of my time in the hypomanic state. Symptoms of hypomania include: setting unrealistic goals and ambitions, delusions of grandeur, and– you guessed it– drastically decreased social inhibition.
So, a big part of me wondered then, how much of my so-called “social confidence” was real, and how much of it was simply a manifestation of bipolar disorder? My newfound pseudo-confidence was beginning to show cracks. After the diagnosis, I didn’t feel nearly as certain in my social ability.
Sophomore year of college came around the corner. As my illness continued to progress, my mood patterns shifted. Now, I was no longer spending most my days in the manic phase; instead, I felt depressed most of the time. Without the mania “helping” me tackle social challenges with ease, I lost a lot of my confidence. Once again, meeting new people became a source of anxiety. My fear of public speaking came back. Without mania as a crutch, I questioned my own social ability.
Now, I am learning to develop genuine social confidence. I have a long ways to go. But I know that the only way to overcome social anxiety is to tackle it head on. No easy way around it. I’ll be restarting my weekly social anxiety updates to keep y’all posted on my progress. Social anxiety is indeed one of the most common forms of anxiety. A moderate amount of anxiety in social situations is, believe it or not, very normal for everyone! It’s only when the anxiety is so gripping that it poses as a detriment to your daily life, that it can be classified as an anxiety disorder.
Whoever suffers from social anxiety themselves– my best advice is to not judge yourself too harshly during social situations, especially during a social faux pas. You WILL feel nervous and scared when faced with social challenges, especially in the early days of tackling the anxiety. In these situations, you may instinctively beat yourself up for being nervous. You may kick yourself for stuttering while attempting to talk to that cute guy, or turning tomato red and breaking into a visible sweat when speaking in public. In these moments, try your best to be kind to yourself. Tell yourself that you are making strides towards ridding yourself of the anxiety, and exposing yourself to situations that frighten you is a necessary step of the process. Social anxiety is cruel, because it plays into one key emotion– embarrassment. It is this fear of embarrassment that causes many to tremble at the mere thought of being evaluated or judged, in any shape or form. So, instead of fearing embarrassment, make it your friend. Commend yourself each time you face a social challenge head on, regardless of how painful it may have felt. As I always like to say, discomfort begets growth. Think of each painfully awkward moment as one more step forward on the path of overcoming your social anxiety. Because you know what? The more experience with embarrassment you have, the less power this intimidating emotion will hold over you. You will be able to tell yourself that being embarrassed really isn’t the worst thing in the world. And you will soon become better able to handle yourself in situations of discomfort. So yeah. Social anxiety sucks. But I have seen people overcome it, time and time again. And I am looking forward to that grand day when I do so myself.