Or was I 4? Maybe even 6? All I remember is it was beating too fast.
That familiar pain in my stomach swelled. There was nothing cute, graceful or delicate about these butterflies in my stomach. I always imagined mine had mutated into hell-raising dragons. I wasn’t always a nervous wreck, but certain situations always triggered the fire-breathing serpents searing the lining of my stomach.
The room was on the third floor of the building. My heart-rate quickened as my speed-walking slowed down. I was near the cement wall punctured with ornate patterned holes that signaled the Sunday School classroom. I could hear the teacher reading a piece of scripture. The actual words are lost in my memory bank but the feeling of standing immobile with my eyes glued to the wall has never left. It was raw fear. Unchecked and irrational nervousness. The purest form of anxiety.
Why? I didn’t know anyone in the room. I was late and would surely draw attention to myself. It could have been all or none of the above. All I know is I have a few memories like this locked in my long-term memory bank that are easily retrievable. And they each feature the same spectrum of emotions and physiological responses.
I stood outside that classroom for what felt like a solid 30 minutes. Could have been shorter or longer but I didn’t move an inch until the teacher asked me to stop waiting outside and come in.
No one ever diagnosed me with social anxiety. I don’t know if the diagnosis is even an option in the West African society I grew up in. What I do know is that last Saturday, I spent 15 minutes struggling to walk down the hall and stairs to join my girlfriend’s family in the kitchen. I was late and would surely draw attention to myself.
Twenty years later, what helped me combat that anxious feeling and walk down after 15 minutes was imagining the situation and reminding myself it wouldn’t be nearly as bad as my body was feeling.
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