February 24, 2021

Living with Social Phobia.

It’s common for me to sweat through my clothes, present with mutism, and to avoid groups larger than three like the plague.

I have a lot to say, but I will most often say nothing at all.

From my writing, readers may think I am a strong, confident woman who marches with a large microphone, fighting for what she believes in.

While I would love to do this, the truth is that I struggle greatly with social phobia in which I find myself wrapping my legs tightly around the chairs I sit in and praying for group experiences to end.

Surprisingly, though, I’m also someone who loves to travel, will give presentations in front of 300 people, and will force herself to read a poem to an audience.

Though I struggle with social phobia, I still love people and frequently explore the world alone.

I dream of performing slam poetry.

I aspire to be a professor.

I want to be that woman with the microphone marching for change.

One day, I will be.

I was interrupted this week in class while I was attempting to speak. I had a lot to say and felt comfortable that day, but as I began to speak, a classmate spoke over me, arguing that what I was saying was a waste of time to consider.

I tried to finish my point, but the student continued to raise his voice to the point of almost yelling.

I wanted to cry, listening to him berate me and treat me the way Donald Trump and so many other men do to women.

My hands were shaking, and I wrapped my legs around my chair.

I had just had voice therapy the week before and was encouraged to paint my nails red to signal to myself throughout the week that it’s okay to speak, and more importantly, it’s okay to take up space.

As the classmate continued on about how wrong I was and took control of the classroom, I looked down at my red nails, untwisted my legs from the chair, and looked up before saying:

“I’m speaking.”

This wasn’t as powerful as Kamala Harris, but it was a step in the right direction.

However, the student continued.

“Louder, Rebecca. Stand up to this bully,” I said to myself.

“Your behavior is inappropriate. Please do not interrupt me,” I said, somewhat shaky.

He then stopped mid-sentence.

I raised my hand again, and the professor asked if I had more to say.

I took a breath, enjoying the silence, and said:

“That’s all I have to say. Thank you.”

The student then quickly took control of the classroom again, raising his voice and not allowing anyone to speak for several minutes.

During this time, the class remained silent, and I turned off my Zoom.

I went to the bathroom, turned on the water, and ran my shaking hands under it to try and calm myself.

Then, I cried.

I wasn’t sad. I was angry. Furious, actually.

I strongly dislike mansplaining among friends, coworkers, and so on.

I absolutely despise it in a higher education classroom.

As I looked down at my red nails, I calmed down and smiled.

I looked at myself in the mirror and told myself, “You’re okay. You were right.”

That afternoon, I received many messages from people in the class thanking me for standing up and saying something.

Even the professor reached out.

For the first time in my life, I watched my entire class this week remain silent while I did the opposite.

I share this story to highlight social phobia as a challenging disorder to live with, but also to show that having social phobia doesn’t mean we can be cut off, ignored, or mansplained to. It doesn’t mean we don’t have something to say. It doesn’t mean we are uneducated.

It means that sometimes we freeze, sometimes our voices are quiet, sometimes we sweat, and sometimes we panic when one extra person enters a room.

It’s not something to judge.

We aren’t sad.

We aren’t mad.

Fire alarms, though, are going off in our heads, saying that it’s not safe to take up space.

For anyone who may have a friend like me, I recommend checking in with them to see if they have anything to say, slowing your rate of speech down, and attempting to calm the environment. Never force them to speak, but also, provide space in group settings in which they may feel okay taking a few extra seconds to get a word in.

And for everyone reading this, let’s end mansplaining and oppressive behavior by the Donald Trumps of the world.

I’m speaking.

I will be speaking next week too.


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