Please Stop Telling Me To Be Friendlier.
You don't know my struggles. You don't know my life. *rolling eyes
There are very few people I envy more than those that navigate social settings with the greatest ease and sureness. The ones not shook by the idea of being the centre of attention and need not ration the number of social exchanges they engage in at a time. I can usually manage no more than five on a good day, and just the thought of having all eyes on me causes me to break out in a cold sweat.
As far as my classification of confidence goes, I am comfortable enough in my skin and fairly outspoken. I get as excited about meeting fascinating people, or reconnecting with acquaintances whom I have interests in common with, as the next person. Yet I often cannot shake the debilitating fear of being caught in a social space that I feel I do not have the range to move around in. These could be any assortment of events: a close friend’s birthday dinner, launches, fashion weeks, parties – when I am really pushing my limits – or even answering my phone. Realistic consideration might lead you to presume that those are situations that I should be able to steer effortlessly; being in the company of like-minded peeps should make socialising that much easier, right?
Ha! Not so much, I find myself withdrawn in instances when I least expect it.
I had reflexively reduced my social anxiety disorder to shyness for as long as I can recall; which turns out to be quite the common error.
A lack of information on the condition can easily let you blur the line between it and timidity. The thing is people who are reserved are not as terrified of showing their flaws in social settings. Shyness is more of an overall inhibition in front of others, whereas, it is said that feelings of social anxiety typically come from an unreasonable sense of unworthiness not fitting in. Which then result in panic attacks or symptoms like trembling, voice cracking, sweating and blushing.
Over the years, I have learnt to trick my mind out of my fear of being visibly stripped down to my flaws in various ways. Not to sound preachy, but self-acceptance and not viewing myself per perceived public standards was the most key mental shift in managing my stress.
It is easy to feel inadequate when you cannot be the person that handles being the life of the party with flair. I rarely come across people who are accepting of the fact that I will not go out of my way to make conversation - some of my family members even visibly favour my chattier siblings - but that does not mean I have no interest in them. Willing myself to socialise, as keen as I may be, is just not possible at times! And then, I am happily reclusive, without a single f*ck given about the prejudgements of being "aloof" or "unfriendly".
Words / Jabulile Dlamini-Qwesha
Illustrations / Felixa Rossa
Images / Daniel Geldenhuys/ Malibongwe Tylio