Opening My Space Helmet: Social Anxiety

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“How dare you open a spaceman’s helmet on an uncharted planet! My eyes could have been sucked from their sockets!” – Toy Story (1995)

Crowds make me nervous. New places terrify me. Even being in an elevator for longer than a few minutes makes me twitchy. I have social anxiety and encountering new people in new places is my uncharted planet.

I’m not sure when it started. It always has been. I go into a social situation with people I don’t know and even if there are people I do know there, I physically feel strange, like everything I touch will suddenly smash into a million pieces. I have to focus on balancing on my own two feet. My face gets really hot and I have to keep blinking to make sure my eyes don’t dry up and fall out. If it’s really bad, the room will start spinning. I just want to lie down and curl into a ball. It’s gotten worse as I get older, to the point where even if I know most of the people, or it’s a place I’ve been before, I’ll still feel like I’m a stranger in my own body.

There are very few places I feel safe. Before I met Chris, it was at my parents’ house, but once I moved into the dorms, I couldn’t just run home. No matter what I did with my room, decorating it with paintings, photos, or how much I loved my roommates, something always felt off. I would go to class a bundle of nerves and then hurry back to the room, where a little of the day’s anxiety would lift, but there was always a tension in the air. When I met Chris, his apartment became my only safe place, and I would spend as much time there as was possible, to the concern of many. I didn’t know how to explain that being anywhere else made me feel like I was picking my way across hot coals.

I’m a space traveler on an uncharted planet. I examine the inhabitants here, people who are at ease, who don’t worry about tripping over everything, who talk easily with strangers. I’ll even communicate briefly with these aliens, longing to learn about them, to be accepted, but then I am pushed too far, my helmet has come loose, and I need to retreat to the mother ship. Only there can I remove the layers of protection and be at peace.

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