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Social anxiety, according to the Social Anxiety Institute:
Social anxiety is the fear of being judged and evaluated negatively by other people, leading to feelings of inadequacy, inferiority, self-consciousness, embarrassment, humiliation, and depression.
Mom tells me to call the dermatologist.
An icy chill runs down my back, triggering electric shivers.
We aren’t even in the same room.
My body instinctively curls in on itself,
A reptilian reaction to a perceived threat.
Protect your internal organs.
Fact check: The dermatologist isn’t a teleporting, serial killing, demon with three heads.
They’re a voice on the cellular highway, sound waves travelling through space.
Even so, it would’ve been easier to convince me to swim with sharks or dip my hands into hot oil.
I’m an expert at small throat noises. Dodged eye contact
And convenient exits through back doors and unmarked hallways.
I blend easily with the walls,
Hoping that if I do not move, no one will see me.
I have jumped at slight touches like a pinball in a rocket launcher,
Would like to author a book titled “Being Invisible When You’re Not Actually Invisible.”
At my first poetry slam, my hands shook so hard I couldn’t read my own paper,
And because society as of late is so tactful, someone in the front row whispers “You can tell she’s nervous” as if hearing those words is somehow beneficial.
A curse of red hair is the furious blush behind translucent skin,
So to top it all off, I’m a fierce magenta.
This is me,
All social anxiety and serial killer paranoia,
Quick to stand up to bullies and shrink at compliments,
Confident in answering a math question
But twitchy during presentation.
Anxiety is a constant companion,
One whose voice is a perpetual, all encompassing drone.
I used to be the girl who looked at the ground when walking,
Refused to speak to teachers and ask questions.
But underneath the anxiety is courage more fiery than my hair.
There’s a voice in my head, counting one, two, three, go,
And I dive into my surroundings despite the Richter scale erupting.
It’s March 20th,
My hands shake and foot tap, tap, taps in an effort to quell the fear inside of me.
I play my guitar with eyes closed and soft voice,
Until the music flows with golden warmth through my fingers,
The pleasant hum in my throat as my soul is reflected in my chords.
April 10th, it’s call back auditions.
I’m performing my original in front of the entire school body.
Senators wear stiff faces and give placating speeches,
And I, I am anxious inhabiting this space,
Reminding self to speak at normal human speed and sing loudly.
Here I am, afraid and unbroken,
The way that fire dares to burn in the dark,
The way that turtles crawl desperately to the sea,
Like a hurricane who fears not landfall.
I am a river, wild and free.
I am both stone and feather.
Sometimes I follow the wind,
But sometimes, I am the wind.
I am all idioms and middle English, professor of literature, obnoxious pop song, and mysterious rhythm you know only in a dream.
I am slam poet, an earth shaker,
Society defying rebel within a rule follower.
I’m gay and unashamed,
Accepting where there is hatred,
Defiant where there is oppression.
My opinion is valid and I’m unafraid of it’s power.
I’m a ginger,
And though I don’t steal souls, I have grown and nurtured, unleashed my own.
For those of you who’ve never learned this first hand,
Don’t mess with a redhead.
We’re stubborn and relentless.
Come prepared with your facts if you want to challenge,
Say a word to my friends and prepare to be crucified.
If you’re seeking answers or an open ear,
Know I will offer my friendship with tenderness that is as powerful as it is soft.
When you approach me like a puppeteer or joy stick,
I have walked with the devil and been unswayed by his fire,
Known the path of least resistance and chosen the other.
I can sit with you and make not friends,
Hold you without allowing entrance.
To the fear, and the anxiety, social norms, and stigma,
To obstacles and hindrances, bullies, and ignorance,
I am flame,
And fire cannot be made afraid of the dark.