|The King's Head pub in Galway, Ireland|
Imagine yourself stuck in a box. There’s no room to move, you’re just pressed into the corner and forced to watch the world through the glass walls. But the people watch you, too. Closely. Every time someone looks at you, cowering in the corner of your glass coffin, it’s like the oxygen is sucked out from your little space, and you suffocate.
That’s what social anxiety feels like to me.
I never really understood that I had social anxiety until the day I arrived at the Columbus Airport, suitcase in tow and Ireland brochure clutched in my hand and damp from a nervous sweat. The jitters of traveling to another country were present, of course, but it wasn’t the cause of the shaking hands. I told no one; I refused to let my fear ruin the trip for me. It tried its best, the fear, to take over my body and render me immobile in the plane, at the hotel, and in the back of our coach, but I pushed through. I dug my heels into the Irish soil and told myself to suck it up, because I was in the one country I had always dreamt of visiting. I hardly ever sat still long enough to let my mind wonder about what in this new place could cause me harm, but when the shakes did set in, or my palms started to feel slick with nervous sweat, or my heart started to pound in my ears, I would just clench my fists and tell myself to suck it up, because I was in Ireland, damn it, and there was no way I would let my insecurities mess it up.
One of my biggest battles occurred while we were in the city of Galway, a bustling city full of art and music. It was one of the cities I was dying to visit. However, being the art capital of the country, it was incredibly crowded. After a rushed tour through the city, led by our lovely mother-hen of a tour guide, we returned to the lavish hotel I was to call home for the night. The thing about this trip was that, since there were so many of us, we were divided into subgroups, with four in each group. One of the girls in my group decided that she wanted to go out for the night, and the other girls didn’t want to go with her, so I didn’t have a choice; I had to go. I managed to rope the girl who was to be my roommate for the entire trip into going with us. The three of us crammed into the taxi, and we were dropped off in the middle of the city square. It was dark, and pub lights cast a homey glow over the cobblestone walks and splashed their yellow warmth onto the walls of the nearby buildings. Led by the girl from my group, we wandered our way down the dark street. I felt my stomach doing flip-flops whenever we passed an alley, or left the safety of the lights from the bars. We came to one of the oldest taverns in the city, The King’s Head, and that’s where our night began.
I’m no social butterfly, but the girls I was with? You could literally see their wings, they were so social. It didn’t take them long to draw the attention of an Irishman or two and launch into a laughter-infused conversation. I, on the other hand, sipped my drink in the back of the pub, pressed against a wall, furthest from the band, directly behind a table full of bachelors. Immediately, I regretted my decision to leave the warmth of the hotel. I could have just visited the bar down there, rather than throw myself into the loud, beer-spilled mess that was The King’s Head. I had to take a swig of my beer and remind myself that it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance. I would be okay. I just had to make it through the night.
And make it through the night, I did. A couple beers into my adventure into Irish nightlife, I found myself talking to one of the more approachable men from the table in front of me. Midnight came and went, one passed us by, and by two a.m. I hadn’t realized that I was feeling fine. There was no shaking, no sweating, just laughter and something that resembled comfort. I had never in my life felt so relaxed around strangers. There was only me and my happiness knowing I was living a dream come true.