Let's talk about anxiety

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Have you ever done something so embarrassing that you instantly regretted it? Maybe you fell at a public event or accidentally cursed in front of your grandmother or didn't realize your skirt was tucked into your underwear until someone had to point it out to you. How did you handle that situation? If you politely apologized, moved on and forgot about it, I envy you.

See, I'm not the type to get out of embarrassing situations without making them a little more embarrassing first. When I say something that comes across the wrong way, I just keep talking and hope that maybe everyone will forget about that one thing I said because of all the other things that can't stop falling out of my mouth. Of course, this doesn't make things much better. It just makes everyone so uncomfortable that the conversation eventually ends and nobody wants to talk to me anymore.

I had many of these experiences in college. While working for my school's public relations office, I interviewed students and professors for various publications. Some of these interviews went poorly, but one of them sticks out in my mind as the absolute worst. I was interviewing one of my English professors about a program he was working on with the new art professor and felt a little nervous. He was one of the first professors I'd had in college, and I wanted to impress him.

"Are you two friends?" I asked, for reasons I still can't determine.

"Yes," he paused. "What does that have to do with the story?"

"Oh, I just thought it would give it a nice personal edge," I responded, eyes bulging out of my head. "You know, two professors who are friends outside of work! I bet you two go to parties together and watch the same TV shows!"

He did not know what to say, so I kept talking about all the cool things he and the art professor could do together. They could go to see a movie, I said, or maybe take a family trip together! As I spoke, I knew I needed to get the interview on track. Eventually I did, but it took much longer than I'll admit here. That was my sophomore year of college, and I like to think I turned things around a little bit. He probably doesn't even remember that interview now.

That doesn't help me much, because I never forget the stupid things I do. If I can't sleep, I'll just lie in bed thinking about all the embarrassing things I've done in my life. The things that don't seem like a big deal to others can feel like the end of the world to me, especially on nights when I need to sleep the most. It doesn't really matter how much stress I'm under, though. Analyzing situations to death just comes natural to me.

I didn't realize until the tail-end of college that this is actually pretty normal. The school counselor told me I have an anxiety disorder and said I could ask my doctor for anxiety medication if I felt it was necessary. She said a lot of people suffer from anxiety, and many of them do so in silence the way I had for years.

You know how the world looks so much clearer when you get a new pair of glasses? That's how it felt when she told me there was a reason for all the late nights I spent worrying about everything I couldn't control. I always thought there was something really wrong with me, and I didn't dare tell anyone about it. Since then, I've gotten better at navigating social situations.

I still say stupid things every now and then, but I'm trying not to consider that a character flaw. It just means that I'm imperfect, the same as everyone else. There's nothing wrong with that. I'm pretty sure that's how it's supposed to be.

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Samantha Jones is associate editor for Carroll County Newspapers. Her email address is Citizen.Editor.Eureka@gmail.com.