I see a familiar face walking towards me. It begins. I nervously prepare the multitude of things I could say to greet them back…”Hi”, “What’s Good?”, “Hey”, etc… Once we exchange greetings, I worry whether the person realizes how nervous I looked, or if my greeting was “normal” enough. Many different scenarios then go across my head about how I should have acted or what I could have changed. Situations similar, and sometimes more severe than this, occur at a daily rate.
Going through high school, I always accepted being shy. Being shy never held me back, I continued to get good grades, was highly active in several student organizations, and did plenty of community service. So what if I actively avoided as many social interactions as I could? Who cared if I had nervous sweats when faced with anything that required me to be in front of a group of people? Why should it matter if I perpetually feel like I could get embarrassed or judged at any time, everywhere I go? To me, walking on eggshells was the norm. It has been my norm for so long.
In the past my mother tried taking me to therapy sessions, however without a second thought I lied throughout all the sessions. First, I did not trust the therapist enough to reveal (what I thought at the time) was a weakness, and second, I did not want to accept that I actually had social anxiety. After several sessions, the therapist claimed that I was fine. My facade worked. Looking back, I realize I presented this false, seemingly perfect image to almost everyone in my life. I hated the idea of people thinking I was afraid of something as trivial as greeting someone in the hallway or having to order delivery over the phone. I felt weak and convinced myself I was weak.
In college, I quickly learned that I was more than just shy. I experienced so many social phobias that overwhelmed my mind daily back home. At first, I didn’t face these fears, because by facing them, they became a reality for me. For the first time in my life, I was exposed to a predominantly white, elite, private institution. Not only did I have to maneuver the wide social world of Cornell, but I also had to prove myself as a person of color at an Ivy League institution. I failed miserably with these two objectives. I was afraid to seek help with my academics, afraid to join any student organizations, and afraid to open myself to others. As a result, my grades suffered to the point where I was near academic probation, and I had no support system or community to go to. This problem persisted well into the second semester of my freshman year. I experienced several nervous breakdowns, during which I isolated myself from others and was nearly catatonic. No talking, no movement, quiet. Nonetheless, by the time the sun rose I attempted to erase whatever I was feeling the previous day, and continued to carry the painful burden.
It was not until the beginning of my sophomore year that I was at my limit. I craved personal growth. During that time, I figured out ways, which involved forcing myself to enter social situations, and found the community that was right for me. Through love and support from friends and mentors coupled with constant motivation, I was able to handle my social anxiety (to an extent). I can confidently say that I am proud of whom I have become. I’m a STEM major, a mental health advocate, a mentor, and, most recently, a proud brother of the Alpha Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated. From this struggle, mental health advocacy, particularly for people of color, has been and will continue to be on the forefront of my life. I value being able to be the bridge between different communities at Cornell through outreach that ranges from formal events to just helping others on an individual basis.
Admittedly, I still experience social anxiety. I still get nervous when meeting new people, I still experience random bouts of anxiety, and I still have some issues with navigating certain social situations. Although, these issues affect me, I refuse to let them consume me. Personally, I think by embracing my anxiety, and viewing it as part of my identity, I am not afraid to tackle the problems that I go through. I believe my anxiety has really challenged me to stand outside my comfort zone, and accomplish things that I would not have even imagined. By embracing fear, I have learned to control it, and not allow it to prevent me from doing the things I want in life. I encourage others that are going through a similar situation to know that you are greater than your fear, and only you have the power to control it.
Cornell University '18