Voices rumble from every corner of the room. High-pitched laughs get louder and louder, seemingly trying to drown out one another. As I scan the room, I am suddenly and extremely aware of my own presence. I try to slow my breath, but it is too late because I already feel the anxiety stirring within me.
I intentionally come to this place to escape from the day-to-day, escape from reality. It is supposed to be a place of zen, peace and healing, but I feel the most outcast, isolated and alone when I am here. “You are here for you and for you only,” I remind myself. I sit in my chair and simultaneously try to be invisible so I don’t have to make small talk, while also hoping I can find someone to chat with, so I can pass the time.
All of my life, I have described myself as an extroverted introvert. When I am with my friends and people I feel comfortable around, good luck getting me to shut up. I love laughing and being goofy. I live to discuss anything and everything from musicals to politics to traveling. However, when I am in a new situation or surrounded with people I’ve never met, I keep to myself.
But when I come to this place, it is different. When I look from wall to wall in this tiny room, crammed with people, I know almost every face. Freshman year, I took solace in knowing I’d be able to escape to this place. It was good when I had friends who wanted to come with me. It was good when I was one of the people drowning out other voices with my laughter. But now, for the last three years, I have had to convince myself to go.
The thing is, I don’t mind doing things alone. Honestly, I treasure my time eating by myself in the caf or sitting alone in the newsroom doing homework. As I said, I am introverted, so having time to myself allows me to reflect and recharge. But this experience is different. It is not going solo that causes me to be filled with anxiety. I know these people; I’ve had classes, gone on retreats and seen them as I walk around campus. My anxiety stems from the feeling of being so isolated and so incredibly different from all of those around me. I feel like I have no common ground with anyone in the room. Why bother trying to talk when I won’t feel comfortable being my authentic self?
Will I go back to this place? Yes, because I am going for myself. I shouldn’t let my insecurities stop me from going to a place where I can learn and grow. As my high school principal once said, butterflies can’t have beautiful, strong wings without first enduring the struggle of breaking through their cocoons.