“Oh Shikha, you’re so extroverted. You’re so out there. How do you do it?”
I’m laughing at myself. I wasn’t always like this. Nope, I wasn’t.
I grew up with major social anxiety (some may think of it as a severe introversion dysfunction), unable to partake in any activity. School was daunting as well, because it meant that I had to participate in class if I wanted to do well. It was really difficult to get to know me, because I literally lived inside my shell. Coming out of my shell required a lot of energy and careful planning.
Libraries scared me.
Public transportation bothered me.
Crowds made me anxious.
Walking by myself in the city frightened me.
Participating in classes was daunting.
Being in a large group of friends was draining.
If I had to see a friend over the weekend, then I needed the whole week to mentally prepare myself.
Sadly, my anxiety had become larger than myself.
By the time I was twenty-one, I had a wake up call as I realized that this was pulling me back from my potential success. I had managed to force myself to do all the tasks I was supposed to do, but that didn’t make me happy. I had to find a solution that would force me to get out of my shell.
To tackle my fear of public spaces, I began going to a local coffee shop and reading. At first, the experience was absolutely frightening, but I managed to put my best foot forward.
Ok, I can do this.
“Hi there, what can I get for you?” said the barista.
OMG, I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m freaking out! I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I can’t decide. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m going to die. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. Quick decide Shikha!
“Uh….May I...get a……. latte?”
“Sure, which size can I get for you?”
I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. Freaking out. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. Dying. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. Ok, I’m sitting here for a long time.
“Sure, coming right up!”
Wow, that was horrifying. OMG, where will I sit now? I have to find a seat where I can watch people yet be secluded… I have to wait for my drink now…. I feel awkward standing here…. Am I being watched? I'm freaking out! Please just shut up Shikha.
Whenever I had time, I would head to the same coffee shop and sit there. The exposure helped me become comfortable with being in public spaces. It also gave me the courage to go to other famous coffee shops in Boston, which developed into a future hobby.
I was interning in downtown Boston as well, which forced me to take public transportation. My journey would take an hour and a half, and all my friends didn’t understand why I couldn’t just get a car for my commute. I actually enjoyed every minute of it. I would spend time watching how people would interact in the bus, and I would feel excited to sit in it. Of course, there were days that the journey seemed tedious, but I managed to turn it around into excitement. I used it as an opportunity to alleviate my discomfort of crowds and strangers.
I worked on turning my social anxiety and introversion into extroversion by faking it (at first) to eventually becoming comfortable with the change. Once I tackled that, everything became so much easier. The world wasn’t scary anymore, and the idea of freedom wasn’t startling. This process took me about a year and a half, and yes, there were times when I thought I would slip back into my shell. Then I would ask myself, “Is this going to help you become who you want to be?” The answer was usually no.