Growing up, my family had always referred to me as a "tough girl.” I would only bite my lip when I fell down, and even with emotional pain, I was still able to stay strong, focusing on the bright side that would inevitably come soon. There are benefits of being a “tough girl." But in my case, it wasn't always healthy. I started to feel like I had to be tough. I didn't give myself permission to fall apart or to ask for help.
My biggest fear as a kid was making mistakes. I let small mistakes define me, and I found comfort in keeping quiet. I thought I was guarding myself against vulnerability, but I was only making things worse for myself.
My junior year of high school, I started to experience anxiety and panic attacks following my parent’s divorce. I missed far too many days of school and my grades were declining. I couldn't sit in a class for more than 10 minutes without running out of the room in a panic. Instead of asking for help, in embarrassment, I found myself skipping classes or just hiding in a bathroom stall to cry.
When the attacks continued for the next few months and into my senior year, I was eventually forced to see someone and was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. I realized at that point that this was out of my control, and I would need help to get through it.
I began attending therapy every other week, and I reached out to my school social worker. Only after I started to engage in that dual-pronged approach did I realize the immensity of the struggle before me. I didn't know how to put my feelings into words. I didn't know why I was having anxiety attacks, and I didn't think I had valid reasons to be anxious.
I would always leave my therapy or counseling sessions feeling angry with myself for being unable to spit my words out. I felt hopeless because I knew I was never going to get better if I was unable to let people understand me.
It wasn't until my school social worker recommended writing that things started to look up. Of course. I had always been a writer—a storyteller. It had always been a passion and strength of mine. This time, I would no longer be writing fantasy plots or poems. I would be challenging myself by writing about me—my thoughts, my fears, my stories.
I created a private blog and worked on posts for weeks. I remember sitting with my social worker, stuttering and shaking, and not knowing what to say. I finally told her about my blog, and she asked if she could read it.
All I had to do was hand her my phone. I was sitting in the silent, uncomfortable awareness that she was reading my thoughts. She read through a bulleted list of all of my worries and my descriptions of each.
She complimented my writing, which confused me. It was just word vomit. She talked through each of the bullet points with me, and I recall leaving the session with a weight off my shoulders.
One compliment, and her sense of genuine interest in helping me, gave me the confidence to keep writing.
During a difficult time when I clearly needed help but struggled to ask for it, I found my voice through writing.
I encourage everyone to journal, but it tends to be especially cathartic for those who are socially anxious. We tend to bottle things up, and whether you share it with others or keep it for yourself, writing is a great way to plumb the depths of your mind and improve your mental health.
I thought that if I was unable to articulate my needs, I was a lost cause. Asking for help is not easy. Talking about feelings is not always easy either. A pen and a piece of paper (or a laptop) is a great place to start.
I tend to laugh at the quote “I write better than I talk” because I can very much relate. I have come to accept that I may not always be able to verbalize my feelings perfectly.
I have been blogging for almost a year now, and by putting my words into the world, I have been able to help myself and others as well.
It's easy to get lost in the idea of expectations, perceptions, and perfection. What's important is that you don't compare yourself to anyone else and that you find therapies that work for you. Accept your struggles, move at your own pace, and don't be so hard on yourself when you're doing the best you can.