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A Little Story about Social Anxiety

In an effort to continue the conversation about mental illness, end stigma, and promote seeking help when needed, let me tell you a little story from when I attended elementary school in Mexico. In said elementary school, the boys wore royal blue pants and white polo shirts with the school’s emblem affixed on the shirt pocket. The girls wore white knee high socks, black Mary Janes, and plaid skirts in the same royal blue tones.

We had lots of arts and crafts and plenty of opportunities to socialize with our classmates. And yet, one classmate quickly began to avoid any and all social interactions at the beginning of 5th grade. I remember a shy girl who spoke incredibly softly turn into an insecure child who didn’t utter another word the entire school year.  We’ll call her Jane.

I don’t know exactly when it happened, but one day I realized that I didn’t remember the last time I’d heard her speak. Communicating with Jane involved a lot of guesswork. If she ever needed something (which was not a situation she would put herself in often), she would point and gesture, or sometimes write a note if you couldn’t figure it out. Her social anxiety was so much that if anyone ever asked her a question or tried to start a conversation with her, her eyes would begin to water, her face would redden, and she’d walk away.

One day, our teacher asked us to put our desks in a circle and get ready for a reading activity. We’d have to go around and take turns reading lyrics of a song to practice our English. (If you must know, the song for the day was “I want it that way” by the Backstreet Boys; not making this up). We were all able to recite “I never want to hear you say, I want it that way” when our turn came, but my heart went out to Jane as I knew she’d have a hard time with it. I have a vivid memory of seeing her face get redder and redder, her eyes watering increasingly, and her forehead glistening with sweat more profusely as her turn around the circle became more imminent. When it was finally her turn, tears were rolling down her cheek  and she simply put her head down on the desk after quickly shooting a pained look to the teacher that said “don’t make me do this”.

This memory has always been engraved in my head and became even more meaningful after working with children and teens in a counseling capacity. My family moved at the end of that year and I unfortunately don’t know what became of her, but I do know that with more collaboration from parents, teachers, and counselors, she could have had a richer experience at school that year. I share this tiny bit about Jane this week to bring awareness to the following:

1. Symptoms of anxiety and other mental illnesses can look different for every person, and

2. Mental health illnesses can affect anyone, anywhere, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, religion, or sexual orientation.

Following is a fantastic infographic  by the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Please pay particular attention to the warning signs and things you can do as a concerned adult. You can head to NAMIs site for more info, they’re also a great resource!

Children-MH-Facts-NAMI-page-001

*The information on this site is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes.  This information is not intended to be patient education, does not create any patient-provider relationship, and should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment.  Please consult your healthcare provider before making any diet or treatment decisions.

 

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