I’ve done my fair share of public speaking. Actually, almost every activity I choose to take part in requires me to speak in front of groups, on the spot, quite often. Whether it’s touring prospective students around campus, leading a student organization meeting, presenting in class, or speaking on behalf of the organizations I volunteer with, it seems I’m always needed to say at least a few a words to the larger group.
You’d think I’d be pretty good at it by now then, right? That I wouldn’t be nervous, or stumble over my words too much? WRONG. My heart starts trying to jump out of my throat any time I’m even considering speaking up in a class discussion. I always regret the words I say right after I say them. The reason I tell you this is because people are very shocked that anything makes me nervous, as I am generally extremely weird and not sorry about it at all. I wanted to firstly get this out there:
Social anxiety is not always people being really quiet! Sometimes it’s people speaking normally but mentally punching themselves in the face after every word they say!!
I wrote the following a while back for an English assignment, inspired by a very very bad day I had following one of my first presentations in college.
I have to stay busy, stay professional, stay running, masquerading as a perfect metal machine, or else the constant, low burn of embarrassment and doubt and self-consciousness at my core will overtake me. At a time like this, it will remind me that in reality I am a paper being and take me flame by flame, until the crackling heat devours my thin walls and releases itself through hot cheeks and trembling hands and a wavering voice and now I am on fire. I am on fire. Someone help me. Give me a soothing word, a blessed spray of cool water to extinguish me. Help me. I am on fire.
Eventually, after what always feels like an eternity later, the fire ends, and I am left with nervous sweat rushing to cool down what is left of me. I stagger to a seat before my legs give out. No time to process, only a moment for putting on a flimsy metal front again, effectively enclosing the scorched remains and clouds of smoke. Can’t they smell the ash on the wind?
That isn’t the worst of it. The adrenaline of being on fire didn’t allow me to think then. So the worst of it is when I’m alone in bed, having taken off the metal front to soothe my burns by using my blankets as bandages. It rarely helps, and I am left curling in on my myself in the darkness, where the smoke left from the fire leaves me heaving as I relive the roaring heat, my mind amplifying it to become a million times worse. Long after I can breathe properly, my lungs still feel unclean with the mere memory of it.
The burns heal. Slowly, slowly, they heal.. My paper shell grows again, thin translucent layers that build on each other every time I walk the length of a room without stumbling, every time I can speak to someone without distancing myself for fear they’re staring at me too closely.
I will remain weary. I have to be careful. I may look metal, but inside I am a paper being, and every moment is a spark that could ignite me.
I shared this personal piece with you in the hopes that I can continue to dive into the opportunities that make me afraid, and that all of you can too. I’m going to keep putting myself out there to talk. Sometimes facing your fears won’t ever make you less scared, the fears might become even stronger by exposing yourself to them. But the greater your fear, the braver you are in facing them. That bravery will manifest itself in other areas of your life in a way that will surprise you.
– STAY BRAVE