I’ve always been a self-conscious person. In college, I lived off-campus and would go all day without lunch because I couldn’t bring myself to eat in front of anyone. Today, things like public speaking or being the center of attention make me queasy. I’m a classic introvert who feels drained spending by too much time in the company of others.
Don’t get me wrong, I always wanted to be part of the party —to be comfortable there. I wanted to be able to walk down the aisles of the grocery store without feeling like everyone was staring at me, or at least care less if they were. I wanted to have conversations with strangers that didn’t involve a racing heart, uncomfortable sweating, and blushing until my cheeks burned. But that didn’t seem to be my lot in life. I couldn’t shake my social anxiety.
No matter how hard I pushed myself, or how many times I said “yes” even when I wanted to say “no,” I still couldn’t break out of my shell. Though I was fine being an introvert, I felt weak in my inability to feel comfortable in the presence of others. And right along with wanting to fit in so badly, there was the element of being a people pleaser. If I said “yes,” then surely everyone would be happy and I could follow suit. But every “yes” was followed by a bout of what on earth was I thinking? This self-doubt always resulted in me backing out of every social situation.
Finally, I stopped getting invited to things. Though that was what I thought I wanted, I felt left out. Of course, my closest friends knew about my anxiety struggles. They catered to me with one on one time, but knowing they were hanging out with other friends and having fun, I wanted to be part of that.
Fast-forward several years later to the birth of my daughter. Things started to change as my due date approached. After all, you can only hang on to embarrassment for so long once opening your legs for the obstetrician becomes routine. After my daughter’s birth, I started talking about things I never thought I’d talk about: poop, breast leakage, other people’s perineums, vaginal tearing — they were all acceptable discussion topics with other moms. I was finally starting to feel comfortable speaking about my experiences, knowing it was as cathartic for other moms as it was for myself.
But as my daughter grew older and it was time to start going on play dates, my social anxiety reared its ugly head. The one thing I knew was that I didn’t want to sequester my child and have her end up with social anxiety like me. I wanted to be better for her. So, when other mothers reached out, I answered. At first, those encounters were fraught with self-consciousness.
Would they judge me for the way I was raising her? Would my daughter behave?
I remember my stomach tying in knots at the start of every outing. And yet, slowly but surely, those knots would unravel through the bond of shared motherhood. Things started to shift and I came to see how much my own skepticism had hindered me. People weren’t really staring at me in the grocery store; it was all in my head.
As years have passed, my daughter has helped me overcome social anxiety in many ways. There’s no better motivator than wanting your child to see your best self, to train and educate them to be better than you. I no longer avoid social situations, but instead let her have her play dates and actually join in on the fun.
I’m not perfect. I’m still plagued by anxious thoughts. I still have to mentally prepare myself to engage with other people. I still have to remind myself that those moms are laughing at their own conversation and not at me.
But it’s all worth it. My daughter imbued me with the strength and courage to actually try — and at the end of the day, that’s what matters most.