Being an introvert does not necessarily mean you have social anxiety. However, you can be introverted and suffer from social anxiety. With introversion the social anxiety is amplified. Wooh isn’t that fun.
From the moment I knew the date of my graduation ceremony, I did not want to go. I also knew I had no say in the matter, that I had to go because of family obligation, being the first of my siblings to complete higher education and to celebrate my achievements (according to my mother). So from the get go I had to mentally prepare for this event and fight every instinct to find a way to stay home. It was okay, because I had months to mentally prepare or so I thought.
So you’d think I would’ve recharged my introvert batteries enough to survive a whole day of stimulation and attention being solely on me. Nope as usual, the batteries run out when they want to run out. In fact, I lasted longer than I expected but that’s not very long to normal human standards as you’ll see.
I arrived at the venue at 9 AM and immediately my senses felt overwhelmed even though at this point not many had arrived. However, having my mother there was comfort I guess and so I wasn’t looking for an escape just yet. In fact, I was looking forward to getting my gown, taking some pics and for the first hour I can honestly say I enjoyed it. Just mother and daughter enjoying moments together.
As people increasingly began to arrive that is when I could feel my senses being overstimulated. The anxiety was starting to surface. I was feeling nauseous and impending doom because not only was I trying to control the sensory overload, I was also becoming increasingly anxious at the fact in a few minutes I have to collect my fake scroll on the ceremonial stage in front of about 1000 people which includes former classmates, their families and friends. I still had a handle on my emotions at this stage which is credited to my internal monologue saying, “look all you have to do is sit through this ceremony, collect your fake scroll and before you know it, it will be all over, you can do this”.
Throughout the ceremony I was feeling increasingly nauseous. There was a point that the students had to stand up for a few minutes whilst the orchestra played and welcomed in the important alumni. Here my anxiety was taking over because I felt my legs shaking like jelly. After sitting through tedious speeches about how proud we should be of our achievements in various forms, it was time for the ceremony.
You see I don’t remember collecting the fake scroll, I don’t even remember shaking the vice chancellor’s hand and I don’t remember my name being read. What I do remember is FEAR. The type where you don’t hear anything else but the sound and feel of your heart beat propelling you back and forth. From just those 30 seconds or however long it took me to walk across that stage, I was done. My batteries were drained. I just wanted to go home. I felt at that point I had done it. I did what I came for. But no it’s never easy when you have to wait for family to arrive and congratulate you.
As the ceremony concluded, I was trying to gather myself the best that I could because I knew that in a few minutes I’m going to have to be ready for pictures, have to smile, thank everyone for coming and most importantly not break down. However the attempt to recuperate was hindered by increasing excitement from graduates and their families. Then my family arrived. Oh boy, the pressure from it being my graduation day, the constant attention of family members around the world calling my mother to speak to me, the doting from family members here, the constant and endless congratulations, ‘thank yous for being here’ and class mates stopping me to take pictures all whilst I held back my tears. So I headed to the place where no one would attempt to follow me. Yes the toilet. And cried.
Now the negative self-talk was kicking in as well as the need to escape. ‘why are you being so pathetic? why can’t you be like everyone else? what is wrong with you that you’d rather be at home, when all your family have come to see you, ungrateful idiot’. With the “encouraging kindness” of this negative self-talk, I told myself I’ve had the cry and I need to get back out there. I need to show that I appreciate the support from those who traveled a long way to congratulate me. But I should’ve just stayed in the toilet.
As I returned back to an overstimulating environment I was embraced by new family members whom had just arrived. Great. Now time for more pictures. The fact I don’t like attention and taking pictures, I really should’ve predicted my reaction when I was asked to take more pictures after having taken them all day. Hindsight is 20-20.
What happened was the family members arrived and immediately wanted to take pictures with me. Not thinking because now my introverted brain had had enough. I said, “NO, I DON’T WANT TO TAKE ANY PICTURES!”. Of course, everyone was shocked and appalled at my rudeness. At that point I didn’t care but they then pleaded with me so I gave in. However because my emotions are my emotions, I can not smile genuinely when I’m not happy. All my pictures ended up looking like someone was pointing a gun at my head (in a way it was a mental gun). So I know they were disappointed with me at that point and so was I.
Eventually, the gown started to feel like a straight jacket and I couldn’t participate in the charade any more. So I informed my mother that I’m taking it off and I’ll wait outside for her.
I’m still feeling quite low about it, but I thought I’d share this because I know that I’m not the only one who suffers from this. I don’t why I felt compelled to stay, I don’t know why I succumbed to the pressure to go in the first place. I could’ve saved the money and had the most amazing day out with the people I wanted there. I know why, it’s what I always do which choosing other peoples needs over mine. I’m done with that.