My social anxiety first reared its ugly head sometime in elementary school. I never spoke unless called upon, and every time I did, there would be overly exaggerated oohs and aahs heard throughout the classroom. It didnt help that I was dubbed the quiet kid or shy kid because it excused my behavior as being a simple character trait. Therefore, my problem became an unacknowledged shadow looming over me. It followed me around, and prevented me from enjoying birthday parties and family vacations. I dreaded asking to join a game of tag and I dreaded requesting an autograph from the various Disney characters at Disney World.
Something about singling myself out to share a thought just terrifies me. This eventually leads to people assuming that I am incapable of critical thought or that I dont try my best. That is not who I am. Although my ideal afternoon would be spent teaching myself guitar in the comfort of my room, I knew I couldnt live like that forever. Step by step, I taught myself to be stronger. For four grueling years I trained in mixed martial arts and challenged myself by sparring with guys a head taller than me. I became an instructor for classes with twenty students in them. From being an instructor I learned how to lead, and that brought me to the hectic backstage of theater. As part of the stage crew, I stay calm under the pressure of thousands of people that come to watch and work efficiently to create a perfect show. Now, I have found my place among the ASPCA, one of the nations most well-known animal charities. I work with people of all backgrounds for a single cause and I would speak to hundreds of thousands of people if it meant helping even just one animal find a forever home. My social anxiety does not define me.
I am in the process of replacing this mental block with encouragement, mainly through doing things I enjoy and surrounding myself with communities of people that share similar interests as me. This is how I am learning to overcome my fear. By attacking individual causes that contributed to this anxiety and by working on small details, I am getting closer and closer to success and I begin to notice the changes. As I became more confident in my capabilities, my body posture changed considerably. My slouch was gone and I no longer avoided direct eye contact. Details like that lead me to believe that I am in a relatively better place now. I am definitely better at social interactions than I was a few years ago. Habits are undoubtedly difficult to break and this is by far one of the most challenging things I have had to do. This will take an incredible amount of time to undo a lifetimes worth of damage, but I will not give up.
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