I am black and I have anxiety
Hey yall! What’s Gucci?
I am preparing to write my article on anxiety, while, unintentionally yet ironically humming and singing “Don’t you worry ‘bout a thing” (Tori Kelly adaptation). Hehe, don’t you worry ‘bout a thing. Lol. How? How in the hell is that even possible?
Living with anxiety (encompassing my often-unbearable social anxiety), my mind is always all over the place at one given time. When I sit down for some relaxation time, I often find myself worrying about what it is I am forgetting to worry about. It’s exhausting, especially when I have to explain the feeling and justify my way of being.
So today, I wanted to take some time to talk about what it is to deal with anxiety, in my case mostly social anxiety, but also what it’s like to deal with social anxiety as a black woman. I will also address some things that are best not said to people with anxiety (things that may be hurtful, insensitive…).
I think my social anxiety started when I left high school and was preparing to go to University. Before that, I dealt with being a bit shy and lost for words in front of people that I didn’t know, but that’s not the same thing. Which brings me to my first 'don’t': Lordddd don’t you do it. Don’t do it. Oh no, you’re going to ask… “So by social anxiety, you mean you’re just shy right?”
SocialPhobia defines social anxiety as the fear of social situations that involve interaction with other people, ‘you could say social anxiety is the fear and anxiety of being negatively judged and evaluated by other people. It is a pervasive disorder and causes anxiety and fear in most all areas of a person's life’. From the definition and what I have experienced, I conclude, that anyone, even the most outgoing of us can suffer from social anxiety. No, I am not just shy.
But back to when it started. I had an 8 month break before starting University. 8 months of seeing high school friends leave and being cooped up at home, wandering what the hell to do with my time. My anxiety reached its first peak after my first job: sales assistant in Sandton City. Yall, yall, yall! Sales? In Sandton City? Having to deal with the rudest and most impatient of customers, scared the living hell out of me. After that, came what felt like an interminable amount of months, when some days, I was unable to get out of bed. It was the fear of being seen and judged. Some of the scariest things to do, involved, having to return clothes at the store and having to speak to a sales assistant, going to the pharmacy to get needed general medication (I would have to rehearse a thousand times what I was going to ask for in my head and still ramble when I got there), flinching when the phone rang, and having to look cold hearted, when avoiding certain conversations and declining many invites.
When I got the job in which I work now, I had a little bit of a meltdown. How the hell was I going to manage? Was I going to sound relevant? Was I going to make a fool out of myself? Was I going to look stupid? I can’t believe it today, I’m managing. My days are not without their ups and downs, but I’m doing the damn thing!
It can however get very overwhelming sometimes and a few weeks ago, I found myself forced to speak out about my social anxiety, to better my work environment. It is around this time that I also realized just how little social anxiety is understood and my duty to speak out on it.
So, how am I living with social anxiety? I started going to therapy. And to my black girls, this is where I make the link with my title and say: it’s okay to go to therapy. It helps, and it shouldn’t be a taboo in our societies. No man is an island, and often, those that have been trained to help and to understand what you’re going through can be an immense relief to go see. There is a certain stigma that goes with having anxiety when you’re black. "Black people don't deal with anxiety, we have other problems!" Well, I’m here to tell you that it has nothing to do with your skin colour! No matter how obvious that statement is!
I spent about a month and a half in my current job, before I decided to go to therapy. A few weeks after starting the job, I got invited to dinner with some colleagues. I had to sit through the dinner, concerned about how I looked, how I sounded, how much I fidgeted, and it got so overwhelming, I burst into tears the minute I got home. Now, thinking back on that night, nothing had gone that bad, but in my head, it had gone horrible, I had made a fool of myself and I’d be judged forever. Which brings me to my second ‘don’t’. Girllllll, just don’t say this. Don’t do it… “Why are you so insecure? What reasons do you have to be so uncomfortable in the presence of people?”
What goes on in my head isn’t always attached to a rational explanation, though it may have been triggered by a series of explanatory events. Social anxiety is a mental health condition, no matter how much one may try to downplay it. I’m not saying socially anxious people are doomed forever, but anxiety is not always attached to rational thoughts.
After that dinner, I had three days of uninterrupted fun (read terrifying anxiety) partaking in my first office retreat, where we got to share our feelings and ish (read feel my heartbeat in my ears as I had to think of feelings I could share without fainting). I wanted to enjoy the company of the people around me. So, I made the conscious decision to go to therapy. I owe therapy for my closest office friends today!
Social anxiety is a journey, and you learn to manage it one step at a time… Boyyy sit down before I hear you say one.more.time “girl, you’re going to get over it, it’s just a phase”.
Third point: Please don’t try to down play it or make jokes about it. None of them are funny.
I’m still learning about all this myself. About ten days ago, I learned to recognise the different types of anxiety attacks I was having (thank you Joey Kidney on youtube). Sometimes, from the outside it looks like absolutely nothing is going on with you. On the inside, you are asking yourself a thousand questions, struggling to breath, hide your shaking hands and appear “normal”… Lot’s more could be said here, but I just wanted to have a heart to heart and spread the word where I can about social anxiety so it is better understood out here in these streets too!
Thanks for reading this yall! Til’ next time,