Now I do know that I'm a teacher. When I'm up in front of people teaching, or up on a stage in front people dancing, none of this affects me (not even when I taught college-level students). It only happens when I'm standing up in front of my peers. Even if I know all of the people sitting in the audience and even if I memorized every last word of my "speech," I have no control over it.
When I was younger and I'd get up to talk in front of a big group, people used to tell me that I had "stage fright." I knew they were wrong. There was no way that stage fright made you feel like your heart was revving up to race in the Indy 500. There was no way that stage fright made your mind go so blank that you forgot every word in the English language. I even forgot that I spoke English!
The build up to talking was bad enough, but the act of actually speaking in front of people was and still is problematic. It has gotten worse as I've gotten older, but I think that is partly because I am more aware of my anxious "ticks" as an adult than I was as a child. Once I start talking, my body begins to betray me.
Whenever I get up to speak in public:
- My palms turn clammy and tingly.
- My face starts to burn like the room is ablaze.
- My vision wanes. There are moments where I swear I black out for seconds at a time.
- Sometimes I even lose my memory
- I don't remember what I say.
- I don't remember anything said or asked of me.
- My voice becomes shaky.
- I begin to stutter.
- My hands start to shake like my blood sugar took a nose-dive from not eating.
- I can't hold a mic or note cards--it would give away my tick.
- My mouth becomes so dry, I could hear that dry-mouth lip-smacking sound with every word I spoke.
- I start talking very quickly.
- I sound like I'm out of breath.
- I cannot pull the simplest of words from my brain.
- All my senses heighten.
- Everything gets louder.
- The lights get brighter.
- The rooms gets hotter.
- My voice echoes in my ears.
When I was younger, I used to think people were judging me and thinking that I wasn't a "competent" person because of the way I came across speaking in public. It happened no matter what I did: presented at a professional conference, played the flute at a recital when I was 13 (did not go well!), gave a presentation as a Master's student, etc. I just felt like I looked utterly ridiculous and was so embarrassed by my anxiety and how I looked talking in front of people. My anxiety told me that people were looking at me thinking, Oh my gosh, her hands are shaking like crazy? Why is she talking so fast? Why is she so out of breath? I thought everyone noticed every single last one of my nervous ticks while talking, and I knew everyone was thinking, Wow! I didn't realize Holly was such a horrible public speaker!
I had a professor in college actually tell me how disappointed he was in me after a German presentation that I gave and how horrible my German was! He said, "We thought you were better than that." I was mortified! As a German major, I wanted to crawl in a hole, leave college, cry, and/or switch my major. I knew that my anxiety had done me in just like it had done every other time, but as a college sophomore, I didn't have the guts, or the confidence in myself to explain to my professor my issues with anxiety.
Now I know that my anxiety brain wants me to believe that I'm incompetent. I am just a person living with anxiety who has to work through some public speaking issues, and I'm doing just fine. I've learned a lot over the years. I just have to push through my ticks and know that not everyone will understand what I'm going through and that's okay. I don't have to feel the need to explain it either. I'm fine the way I am, and if someone wants to call me out on it, it's just a great anxiety test for me! I just don't obsess over it, and don't let it get to me!
Und so ist das Leben!
I know how far I've come and that's all that matters.
All I can do is put on a big goofy grin and tread on!
To see a list of thoughts, feelings, physical changes, and experiences that could suggest social anxiety in young people, click here.
Love and happiness <3 Holly