I knew my social anxiety was too strong to overcome by myself when I stared at a wall for four hours. My blank wall in my bedroom did not entrance me, I was not so bored that I was left to my own devices; I was in a catatonic state, unable to move due to a crippling panic attack.
This past summer, I studied Spanish in Granada, Spain. Studying abroad broke me down at first. I did not come out of my room in the homestay for the first few days. I was in a beautiful foreign city, yet I did not wander around due to my anxiety. I barely spoke to my host parents in fear that they would make fun of my Spanish speaking. This fear would have never been a reality because they were kind, supportive and encouraged me to speak up.
Studying abroad was not necessarily a cure to my social anxiety, though it was part of the healing process. Studying abroad takes a person out of their comfort zone and allows vulnerability. At the same time, you are awarded for your vulnerability with experiences you would have missed out on if you stuck to your comfort zone. Studying abroad also teaches you that things will go wrong and they are out of control, but you are able to adapt and make it work.
In my study abroad group, there was a girl who personified all my worrisome thoughts. When we would go out to eat and take a different route we were not used to, she would say things like “we are going to get lost.” “Are you guys sure we are going the right way?” “What if we get lost?” “What if we are late?” These were all nagging thoughts that she shared aloud that I was quietly thinking in my mind. This girl started to get on my nerves with her worrisome ponderings. Clearly, she was not having a fun time because her worries were getting in her way. Then it hit me. This girl was annoying me by saying aloud all the things I was thinking about constantly in my mind. If she was annoying me, then why annoy myself?
My epiphany that occurred early on in my study abroad process allowed me to finally let go. I started doing more, speaking Spanish often and wandering the streets with my shoulders held back. I started wandering off on my own instead of staying inside watching YouTube videos in English. If I did not have enough confidence to wander on my own, I would have never found a magical place where I felt at peace. A monastery in Granada was my place to connect with my thoughts. Although I have no religious affiliation, my mind was clear and at ease in this setting. I gained back the power I had within me in order to live without apologies. Worries about being far from home disappeared completely. I did not care about a thing except my happiness. Although it seems selfish, I needed to put myself first for once.
My anxiety will never fully disappear and I know this. Although my anxiety improved from my many epiphanies and self-love practices, I still have the condition. Now, I occasionally have panic attacks when life seems insufferable. When that happens, I try self-calming techniques and bounce back with a positive outlook.
“Bad” experiences will always occur in your life. Everyone will always have embarrassing moments and awkward stories, but so what. That’s life. People just need to pick themselves up, laugh at the embarrassing situation, tell themselves that they are awesome and move on with life. Accept personal insecurities and embrace what people deem as “flaws.” Never stop getting to know yourself. You have to live with yourself every day and it becomes much easier when you stop annoying yourself and bringing yourself down. Guess what? No one cares if you did an embarrassing thing in front of them, because everyone is too worried about how they looked to someone else.