When I was a child, I realised I was invisible. I was a terrified, quiet girl who blended into the background.

February 10th, 2016, 7pm

It was 29°C with nil significant cloud. The breeze was light.

When I was a child, I realised I was invisible. I was a terrified, quiet girl who blended into the background. At home, I soon came to know that guests seemed to prefer my sister to me. At first I could not figure out why they seemed happier to see her, always asking of her and laughing with her while they largely ignored me. Eventually, I realised it was because I was a quiet and serious child. My eyes were open to everything around me but my mouth was silent. I learned that silence makes people uncomfortable. The truth is I craved company and attention but I had no idea how to be sociable. It just did not come naturally to me. People scared me unless they somehow reassured me that it was safe to relax around them.

Despite this, I managed to make quite a lot of friends at school. There was one particular girl who made it her mission to mother me. She hovered around me, asking if I was okay and walked with me so I never had to be alone. Things went well till puberty hit, and suddenly it was every man for himself and the only way to have friends was if you were cool. I clearly wasn’t cool: I couldn’t dance, could barely play ampe, didn’t own bell-bottom jeans and did not know the lyrics to Shaggy and Shabba Ranks songs. At first I didn’t mind because I had no interest in those things anyway. I passed the time reading Enid Blyton, Sweet Valley and BabySitters books while the other girls practiced their formation dances.

But gradually I realised this wasn’t some fleeting pubescent phase, this was the reality now. There was a social hierarchy and I was somewhere at the bottom and so far behind there was no chance of catching up. I found myself constantly alone, the friends I had managed to make consumed in their new found activities and maintaining their social status. I became invisible. I was lonely and isolated. I spent all my time in the library reading any kind of book I could find. When my parents came to pick me up, none of my old friends had the faintest clue where I was. It was as if they were suddenly re-awakened to my existence. My parents searched frantically for me until they discovered my new hideout. I was miserable.

Fast forward to secondary school, I had learned a few more social skills, I had interests and talents. I had enough to offer in conversation and in friendship. Yet I was still plagued by this enduring and stifling social anxiety. I could barely open my mouth to speak when there was a gathering of more than 2 people. I’d stand there awkwardly, hoping to squeeze out a few words, but instead I’d form replies in my head and then endure questions of “Why are you so quiet?” People would say to me, “Oh you were there. I didn’t notice”. Someone even told me once that if I were not to be there in our little group, no one would notice. I was inconsequential and invisible.

Years later at university, after many years of misery, self-hate and yearning for connection, I had the opportunity to have exposure therapy, and I now manage to speak up when I have something to say. After surviving increasingly uncomfortable situations, I learned to unclench my body, mind and tongue. I have learned to sit with my fear instead of trying to banish it. To feel it, but to not let it be in charge.

Now I rarely run away when I’m faced with a social situation, though social situations continue to trigger my fight/flight response. Still, I often feel on the fringe of social interactions. I’m still the quiet girl except now I’m not so invisible.

Samuel said thanks.

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