I’m at a table in a nice Italian restaurant in San Diego, with new friends and yummy food. But I’m miserable. Why? Because I have social anxiety. It’s like a fly buzzing around my head every time I meet new people. I try to shoo it away with all my might but then it lands on my shoulder and I feel like I can’t breathe. I look over at the people on my right and they are engaged in conversation. I look over to my left and those people are smiling and laughing like they have no care in the world. My best friend sits next to me just as quiet as me. Then words start moving across my mind like bright letters of a marquee , “Nothing you say is important anyways. Nobody cares about you or even sees you. Why are you even here trying to meet new people? You are invisible and have no value. You might as well never meet new people because it stresses you out too much….” Then I hear, ” Are you ok? you seem quiet.” and I realize it’s my best friend asking me because I’m not usually so quiet around her. I whisper, ” It’s my social anxiety.” Now that I just vocalized the truth, I feel my eyes well with tears. I take a deep breath and quickly wipe my tears hoping nobody notices. I HATE being a natural introvert. It feels like this heavy weight around my neck that weighs me down every time I meet new people, or I’m around people for a long period of time.
That particular day had been a great day, but a long one. My best friend, Jenn and I drove to San Diego the day before, for the Storyline conference. Everything went smoothly and we met new wonderful people, stayed that night a girl’s house, and everything was great. But that day, after driving a lot in the rain, in an unfamiliar town, and going to the conference, which was wonderful, I had my fill of people and stress for the day. At home I would normally go to my room and listen to music and read at this point. But nope it was time for dinner with all the lovely new people. There’s two things I tend to avoid.
1. Long car rides with people I don’t know.
2. Going out to dinner with a large group of people I don’t know.
These are the two things that cause the fly of social anxiety to land on my shoulder. But what frustrated me the most last week in San Diego, was that I thought I had moved on from this. I dealt with fear of people my whole life. I came to a point where I was tired of it and fought against it. I fought against it so hard I became a leader in my church and now even speak publicly. I wasn’t going to let my fears determine how I would serve God. I thought I took out my little sling shot and killed this giant years ago. It’s been a long time since I felt such a heavy weight of anxiety with a group of people. But I realized in the last two years I have become comfortable with the people I know and the ministries I am involved with. I don’t meet that many new people on a regular basis. When this anxiety smacked me in the face at dinner that night, I felt like God was trying to tell me something. I heard him say in my soul,
“This struggle of yours is holding you back, and you need to deal with it and let me heal you.”
Basically I feel God wants me to meet so many more new people in my life, that this anxiety of mine causes me to get comfortable and keeps me from being free to obey him and go where he calls.
After that private little breakdown at the dinner table, I took a deep breathe and tried my best to engage in small talk, despite how much I hate small talk. It feels so fake and awkward. Later that night I prayed, asking God to give me the strength to get past this weakness of mine. I gave it to him and ask him to lift it from me. I begged for him to heal me.
After that night, I had zero social anxiety the rest of the trip. I met so many people that have and will continue to change my life. Sometimes people can’t tell I have social anxiety because I try to pretend it’s all good. But I feel that struggle is a platform to speak from. I know many people deal with the same anxiety and fears that I have. You are not alone. I wanted to write from this place of weakness because it’s so so difficult to get past it by yourself.
When you feel that heavy weight of social anxiety, and your thoughts are filled with lies about your value, take a deep breathe and ignore those thoughts. Remember who God says you are: a wonderful valuable child of God. No matter what your weakness are, God has still called you to make a difference. Don’t let this anxiety keep you living in fear. Give it to God and he will heal you. Move through the fear and God will help you tell an amazing story.