I’m an Introvert and My Secret Disability Is Anxiety

I’ve never felt like I belonged. That notion became clear to me when I was 13. It was my freshman year at a local secondary school, and to say that I was scared out of my wits is an understatement. You see, I’m an introvert with a secret disability: anxiety.

I was a bundle of nerves. I couldn’t even say hello to my classmates and would instead sneak a few peeks at them, desperately wishing that somebody—anybody—would make the first move. Nobody did. Now that I think about it, it could be because of my embarrassingly long fringe. It made me look like that creepy ghost from the Japanese horror film Ju-On.

I bet they were thinking, “Who is this odd duck?”

In the end, I—for lack of a better word—sucked it up. I had no other choice but to talk to someone, because I had a problem with my student billing form. But before I could raise my wobbly hand, the school bell rang. Naturally, the teacher whizzed out of the classroom. I dashed after her, but couldn’t keep up with her long strides.

Life, 1

Priscilla, 0

Time for Plan B. I approached one of the girls and braced myself. With legs that would make any supermodel green with envy–and to paraphrase from Rory Gilmore–this girl looked like she was dressed by birds since she was two.

I went, “Uhm, hi. I was wondering if you could help me with my billing form?”

She took a quick glance at the application I was holding and grinned. “Sure!”

I felt like I’d won the jackpot.

My classmate was friendly and kind. With her help, I breezed through the form. From our brief conversation, I found out she was new to town and had just moved into the same apartment block as me.

Coincidence? I think so.

From that day onward, we started hanging out together. I sat with her during recess, we took the bus together–you get my drift. Translation: I wouldn’t let her out of my sight. If it were up to me, I’d gladly award her the Nobel Prize for her patience.

At that time, I’d thought being alone in school was pathetic. Having a thick skin and forcing a friendship was pathetic too, but it was something I could live with. Remember in Gilmore Girls when Rory and Paris join The Puffs? Our friendship was sort of like that. Even though we hung out a lot, we didn’t have the right chemistry. Our ideologies were different and we didn’t have any common interests. Most of our bus rides involved us sitting together staring out the window or making weird eye contact with the passengers.

Despite the occasional tension and awkwardness in our friendship, my social life got a wee bit better. But deep down, like many introverts, I still felt like a fish out of water. PE class was hard. I wasn’t comfortable playing sports with a bunch of people I barely mingled with. One time, I had to bolt to the toilet, because I felt dizzy from a sudden panic attack. Debates were a nightmare. School camps were a mess, because I had to deal with the communal shower. I often wondered, “Should I start shaving down there?”

What if I hadn’t approached my friend? Every now and then, a small part of me wondered if I was being too forward. Part of me had the urge to peek through the window and see the school life that might’ve been. Did I push a friendship that wasn’t there?

Of course, this was through no fault of hers–or mine. I don’t believe in playing the blame game.

Meanwhile, my anxiety kept getting worse. I had bad headaches, and I would get cold sweats and fainting spells. I should have known these were red flags, but at the time, I figured it stemmed from stress—and the fact that I was being too hard on myself.

Visiting family doctors didn’t work, as they couldn’t pinpoint the culprit behind the blackouts. It took me a while to switch gears and see a gynecologist. (My periods were often late, sometimes as late as five months.)

Shockingly, my doctor told me: “You have an unusually high amount of testosterone. It’s the reason why you’re so sick.”

A part of me was baffled. Another part of me wanted to holler at the doctor, “But, I ain’t a dude. Don’t you mean estrogen?!”

Apparently, we women, too, have testosterone in our body. It came to light that it’s the crook behind my headaches—it was later confirmed that they weren’t headaches, but migraines—and other problems like acne and anxiety.

I have little issues with my acne. Sure, my zits have the habit of shrinking my confidence from time to time, but they don’t leave any other nasty repercussions. But anxiety and migraines, on the other hand, are trickier. There is not a minute that goes by that I don’t think about them. The doctor prescribed painkillers, birth control pills, sleeping pills, and antidepressants. But I didn’t want to rely on them. So I stopped taking them after two days. And it came with a price.

I had a panic attack while my dad was driving. I couldn’t breathe and my heart raced. I’m not a crier, but at that time, the moment felt so intense that I burst into tears.

“This is it,” I thought. “This is what the rest of my life is going to be like.”

The next day, I found myself unable to step out of the house. I don’t know why–all I know is that I couldn’t. It went on for a week. Is this what all agoraphobics go through? It’s unthinkable. When I finally had the courage to leave the comfort of my home, I made another amateur mistake: I went to a shopping mall.

It was crowded and hot. I had another panic attack and stayed in the bathroom the entire time my family had their meal in a food court. I had my breakfast, a chiffon cake, in a stall. I rubbed medicated oil on my temple, praying I wouldn’t pass out. I stayed there for 20 minutes.

My parents dismissed my panic attack. “Why are you being like this? Just relax! It’s all in your head!” That was the worst moment.

I’d thought they had my back. What happened to that?

Now that I’m older, I’ve come to understand that they, too, have their own ways of tussling with my dicey condition. Just because they couldn’t comprehend the pain I’m going through doesn’t mean they love me any less.

It’s not only my parents. Friends and relatives don’t and probably never will understand the agony behind my secret disability. When I was hanging out at a friend’s house, her mother–who must have caught wind of my condition–patted my hand and said, “You don’t look sick.”

I knew it was unintentional on her part, but that mere 5-second experience crushed me. Good lord, does she think I’m faking it? Granted, I occasionally tell white lies, like when I came up with a weak excuse to avoid going to prom: “Oh, prom? I have a rash. My dress makes my skin itch, so I’m skipping it.” But anxiety and panic attacks?

Heck, no.

I don’t know what’s worse: a sudden panic attack, or the thought that I’ll have another one in the near future. Whenever it happens, I recite a quote that I hold dear to my heart: “Pain is your body’s way of saying, ‘I’m not okay now, but I will be soon.’”

It doesn’t solve my anxiety issues, but it gives me the courage to face them.

I got rid of my meds and chose therapy and a healthy lifestyle to manage my anxiety. I started working out (really) on my exercise bike. Lena Dunham is right: “It ain’t about the ass. It’s about the brain.”

I quit caffeine. It’s been years since I drank a cup of coffee, and I miss it. I don’t even eat chocolate anymore.

There are many people out there with anxiety that is way more serious than mine. I’m not so self-obsessed to think that this is all about me.

If you struggle with anxiety too, know that there are people out there who understand.

As far as my introversion goes, I have a feeling I’ll be fine. But I’ll be damned if I let my secret disability take over my life. I haven’t completely healed from it yet. I don’t think I ever will. It will always be there, ready to strike when I’m most vulnerable. It’s something I have come to accept. And I’m not ready to give up yet.

It’s like what Dorothy Zbornak’s hospital roommate, Bonnie, on the TV series The Golden Girls, said: “You get through it. You go on. When it comes right down to it, what other choice do we have? It could have been a lot worse.”

Life, 1

Priscilla, 1

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Read this: 21 Undeniable Signs That You’re an Introvert


  • Jenna says:

    Yep – all too familiar…

  • Nicole says:

    I can relate. My anxiety and panic attacks aren’t as severe as yours, but I feel on edge most of the time, particularly at work. I get overstimulated from all the noise and it makes me feel terrible. As for social situations, I’m always second-guessing my words and actions well after the fact. It sucks; there’s no doubt about that.

    • Trish says:

      “Always second guessing words and actions after the fact” – this is my LIFE. Makes me crazy, keeps me up at night, etc. Every once in a while, I get too comfortable around someone and say something without thinking and unintentionally hurt their feelings. I immediately think, “well, I’m going to be beating myself up over THAT for years. Stop talking without thinking first, dammit!” And then I retreat back into my quiet observer mode that gets me questions like “what’s wrong?” and “are you feeling ok?” Sigh. Can’t win for losing!

    • Bron says:

      Hi Nicole, I so relate to your comments about work, I am exhausted when I get home just from dealing with all the noise, stimulation, distractions, debating in my head whether I should say what I’m thinking or not because I don’t want to interrupt/distract/offend others. It’s such a relief when I get home!

    • Priscilla says:

      It does sucks. I’m a worrier and overthinker. We should always remember to be kind to ourselves 🙂

  • Vanessa says:

    I can SO much relate to what you wrote, Priscilla. Anxiety and depression are familiar, but have become slightly less scary companions as I have grown up (I am 40, and still kinda 17). They deliver their messages and I try to listen to the lessons they bring without allowing them to dictate.

    I sometimes think that if only my life was better engineered to nurture my introvert needs, my anxiety would go away. You know, if I had a regular time to be alone and recharge each day, and if I was allowed to retreat to a quiet cabin with a stack of books, paper and pens for a week out of each month … but life demands that I pretend those wishes don’t exist. I dare not express them except in my journal and on forums like this, which nobody I know is likely to read.

    Thanks for sharing your story. I love reading what people write straight from the heart, and you have done so beautifully.

    • Priscilla says:

      That’s the thing about anxiety. No matter what happens, we got to learn how to pick ourselves up. Thank you so much for your kind words, Vanessa. This means a lot!

  • Amy says:

    Anxiety is also my disability. I feel your pain. Mixed with my depression it can be super debilitating. Love what you wrote – especially since I’m a diehard Gilmore Girls fan.

    • Priscilla says:

      It is, it can be terrifying.. I’m pleased to meet a fellow Gilmore Girls fan on Introvert, Dear 🙂 I can’t wait for the revival!

  • Suzanne says:

    I, too, am an introvert with anxiety. You so eloquently described what, all my life, I never could. For me, it started at age 17 as a junior in high school. I am now 50 and at 40 had no choice but to start taking low dose meds which have helped me tremendously. I avoid social activity and public places as much as possible for fear of panic attacks and am highly sensitive to noise and distractions. I had no choice but to start working from home. I am resigned to being alone for my entire life and I’ve learned to get comfortable with that. Thank you for penning your story. For all the people who read it and have felt like they’re the only ones in the world trying to cope, you’ve let them know they are not alone.

    • Priscilla says:

      Thank you for your lovely comment and taking the time out of your busy schedule to read my story, Suzanne 🙂 I feel your pain. I work from home and avoid crowded places, too. It gets overwhelming just thinking about it.

  • Ashlyn says:

    This is very similar to what I’m going through currently. I don’t have mirgranes or get as sick as you did but my anxiety levels can be through the roof, especially at school. I’ve learned to slowly deal with my anxiety by bringing peppermints, peppermint tea, or mint gum with me when I go in public. Peppermint is know as a calming herb and works amazingly on people like me with anxiety.

    • Priscilla says:

      I have to try that! I usually rely on a medicated oil called Shang Biao You. It’s loaded with peppermint oil, menthol, clove oil, cinnamon oil, and camphor. It doesn’t drive the anxiety away, but it helps a bit. Thanks for the suggestion, Ashlyn!

  • Emily says:

    I can relate all too much to this. I have had social anxiety since I was probably 6-7 years old. Now almost 33, I wish I could say that I’ve conquered it but that’s not the case. However, I have learned that having a highly sensitive personality requires me to make an extra effort to take care of myself and spend my free time alone doing things that bring me joy and comfort such as meditating, gardening, drawing, and cooking healthy food. Also, i am coming to terms with the thought that being an HSP and anxious is not a curse, but a blessing. I have a lot of empathy for those around me, but in order for me to be the best version of myself, I kindly remind myself that being alone is not just for me but for others too.

  • Lollipop says:

    My 12 yr old daughter is an introvert with migraines, anxiety & selective mutism, but in our family and school life, none of it is secret. She has a fabulous group of friends & teachers who support her, love her & hold her up when she’s falling. Some friends backed away but so impressed at the ones who have stepped up to support & accept her the way she is. The hardest part for her was hiding it all the time. Owning it has given her power and it’s beautiful.

  • Minnie says:

    I can related! I’ve never had an anxiety attack before. But In P.E., Family reunion or basically social events in everyday life. I feel cold and sweaty like the cold sweat you described. i’ll never know about personality types if not because my brother’s girlfriend told me. And she’s an extrovert, she kinda make it worst though because she told my brother(he’s extrovert) and now we’re not as closed as before, she made us felt awkward i guess. So since i know about me being introverted, i spends most of my time envy extroverts and ambivert. They’re just so energetic and people love them. Unlike me who people called ‘too hard to approach’.

    i have to stop dancing because my coach said i’m not energetic enough, not trying at all and too quiet unlike other outstanding dancers.

    • bRon says:

      Hi Minnie, if you love dancing and don’t want to stop, I suggest you find another coach who appreciates you for who you are, someone who is supportive, encouraging and has empathy!

    • Priscilla says:

      I agree with Bron. Your coach is wrong. I’m so sorry you have to go through that experience. It must be unthinkable. You deserve so much more, Minnie! Don’t ever stop dancing!

  • Bron says:

    I’m an ISFJ and after enduring 50 years on this planet (I say that tongue in cheek), I have recently realised that I am also a HSP. After many years of feeling like a freak, I now completely understand why I get so anxious in social situations: work, parties, family gatherings – where chit chat is required – and I do my best to avoid them. Looking back over years of anxiety and often accompanying depression, I can see why I found high school and my work places so difficult/scary: too many people, too much noise, too hard too concentrate, not knowing who to trust/open up to. It wasn’t all bad, but high school was horrible and the bad workplace memories tend to overshadow the good. Amazingly, I’ve never had a panic attack despite feeling very close to having one or feeling like I was crazy/paranoid/the worst person in the world when my anxiety & depression has been at its worst. I wish I could say it gets easier, but for me it hasn’t, I still struggle with work (would love to work from home) and I refuse to go to parties unless I know other people well (and I still don’t enjoy them!). On the bright side, I have the love and support of the most patient and understanding man in the world, my husband of 25 years, and we have 2 loving and funny teenage sons, my family means everything to me. I also have a small number of wonderful friends who I love and admire, and I socialise with them regularly. So summing up, life in this modern world can be pretty stressful when you are an introverted HSP (and it probably didn’t help that I grew up without siblings or my father) but don’t feel guilty for taking as much time out as you need from the hustle and bustle around you to seek calm and tranquility, it’s essential for your mental health!

  • I’m and Introvert, INFJ, Emapth and HSP. I’ve ALWAYS felt different.

    I also suffer from Depression and Anxiety. Mine came about after a severe PPD after my 3rd child was born almost 25 years ago. I had horrendous panic attacks non-stop. I had them in my sleep. With the helps of Meds I got them for the most part under control.

    I can remember being a young 27 years old speaking with a Dr. who specialized in Women’s Health. (You have to remember there was NO Internet around at the time) and it was near impossible to get any answers let alone help as all the Dr’s I went to said the same thing “You’re a new mom and you just need some more sleep”.

    I do remember that Woman’s Specialist telling me to expect the same when I hit peri-menopause/menopause. She WAS NOT kidding! But who can at imagine at 27 years old ever hitting your 50’s and menopause happening. It seemed lie a lifetime away and nothing to worry about at the time. But when it did hit it hit with a BANG!!!

    Long story short. I received help through a Naturopath who got my Hormones under control with Bio-Identical Hormones which are, as their name states, completely natural and identical to our own hormones. The big Pharma companies won’t touch them because since they are natural they cannot patent them so therefore no profit, no money to be made.

    I brought this up because several commenters said they were in their 50’s. Sometimes it is a Hormonal Issue.

    All my positive thoughts and blessings because I do know what a struggle it is and how hard it can be. Especially when your loved ones don’t understand.

    • Priscilla says:

      You’re right, Ciaira. Sometimes it’s a hormonal issue. My mum is experiencing menopause symptoms (anxiety, nervousness) and she’s beginning to understand what I’m going through. I wish you well! 🙂

  • Monica says:

    I have a really weird anxiety syndrome. I always crticize my past failures and think myself as a stupid one, developing my excessive anxiety syndrome of being thought as a loser. I always compare myself to others and is afraid of other people’s success. I don’t like it but my mind is frequently uncontrolled. 🙁

    • Priscilla says:

      I can assure you that you’re not alone, Monica! I once read a great comment and it goes like this: “Don’t compare your insides with other people’s outsides.” You’re perfect just the way you are 🙂

  • livme16 says:

    This is all so interesting to me. I just kind of stumbled onto the fact that I’m an HSP INFP. Even when I was little, I would freak out over little things. Family friends would make comments to my parents like, “what have you done to her to make her so scared of everything?” I never had panic attacks, instead, I turned bright red all the time…especially when talking to people in authority or men. My whole face would just go nuclear. I began to avoid talking to any men and finding ways to avoid new scary situations. It was pretty miserable. I finally met a great guy who wouldn’t fall for my avoidance tricks (which terrified me even more at the time) and eventually we started dating. I rarely turn red anymore when talking to new people. It’s like I faced a huge hurdle head on and now that part of me has been healed. I still get super stressed over job interviews, big parties, etc…but I’m glad to see I’m not alone and this is quite common in introverts.

    • Priscilla says:

      I’m glad to find out that I’m not alone in this, too. I tend to overthink when I have an interview or party to go to. I have the habit of playing scenarios in my head. It can be exhausting!

  • Dietrich says:

    Priscilla I can deff relate. I started noticing I had anxiety last year when I had to do a group project at school, but this year when I was working at the airport it became so clear to me. I legit just blacked out and didn’t know what to do anymore I started shaking all over the place and my hands especially start too shake a lot. I accidently forgot to board three passengers on the plane because of my panic attacks. But, like you said you just have to learn how to deal with it. You can’t don anything about it, but overcoming it and accepting it is better than running away from it 🙂

    • Priscilla says:

      Well said, Dietrich. I agree, accepting it is far better than running away from it. Thank you so much for your kind words! I’ll be keeping you in my thoughts 🙂

  • S.R says:

    I have anxiety from the time I was in high school. Never released it until I graduated. I always wondered why I felt different all the time. I would always over think and have a sudden change in expression and behavior if I met someone new.

    The anxiety seems to be getting in control (a little) but depression is taking me over slowly

    Hope it’s just a phase which will pass by ..

    Thank-you for sharing you story!

    • Priscilla says:

      Hi S.R, if you have time to spare, consider reading Kristen Bell’s essay on her struggle with anxiety and depression. It’s worth a read and I found it to be really helpful 🙂 You’ve taken the first step to helping yourself. Good for you! Thanks a mil for leaving such a sweet comment. Hang in there *fist punch

  • lorraine. says:

    I feel so bad for missing so many family gatherings because of my anxiety and worry. I feel like the worse friend and relative ever. Traveling is so stressful for me as well….if anyone ever heard or saw what my mind goes through they would think I’m crazy…

    • Priscilla says:

      You’re not crazy, Lorraine. It stinks that the stigma still exists. Just because they’ve never been though doesn’t make it any less true. Don’t ever feel guilty or bad about your anxiety. You’re not alone in this, Lorraine! The community in Introvert, Dear is supportive and loving. You have us! 🙂

  • Sherrie says:

    I went through college like this! Most people thought I was either: A. Stuck up, or B. Really Weird. I grew up in a home where there was bullying and I think that I became hyper vigilant and fearful. Very hard for me to really relax, especially around people I don’t know well. Unfortunately it’s also affected my health. I have CFS and Fibromyalgia, and problems with stress because I have a lot of responsibility.
    I’m an empath and highly sensitive INFJ. I always feel misunderstood because people will not be honest with you, and they would rather talk about you behind your back. I like to get things out in the open and think it is cowardly for someone to jump to conclusions and get others to join in with them against you. Having situations like this only made my social anxiety worse. Groups of women make me very nervous!
    I am gradually learning to stop thinking so much. The thoughts that swirl around in my head just make it more hurtful and cause more suffering. Trying to also refrain from always having to be right and letting people push my buttons. Tall order, but I think if I can manage to live more in the moment and refuse to engage with criticism and rude behavior that I MAY be able to live better with any remaining anxiety.
    I read that Katherine Hepburn hid herself away all during her first year of college because she had so much anxiety, so maybe there is hope. She certainly managed to overcome it and leave a mark on the world.

    • Priscilla says:

      If there’s anything I can do, let me know, Sherrie! It sounds like you have a lot on your plate. You’re a brave, strong, wonderful human being. Chronic pain and social anxiety are one of the worst things in the world. There’s a Buddhist saying about how when you meet someone, if there’s no anxiety but a sense of calm, that’s when you know you’ve met your soul mate. I’m not religious and I don’t believe in soul mates, but I reckon that’s one mantra we introverts hold close to our heart. Not just in relationships, but in friendships, too 🙂 And right on, if Katherine Hepburn can do it, we can too. You’re a warrior! 🙂

  • I know exactly how it feels like. Mommy always tell me to be more outgoing and active, but it just happens in some certain circumstances. I’m 2o now but I only feel belonged, feel comfortable in a community for only once, and probably that’s the only time in my whole life. Because I felt so comfortable in that period of time, I was thinking, sometimes believed that I was an extrovert, and I made decision of purchasing journalism, which seems to be for extroverts. I’ve been trying so hard to get out of my shell, to do interview (which is compulsory for my degree) but every time I approach someone, I just freeze. I’m not sure whether I’m not in a right environment or its just simply not for me

    • Priscilla says:

      That’s the question I always ask myself. I don’t have any tricks to interviewing people; the introvert in me sticks to emails. If you managed to find any pointers, I’d love to hear them 🙂 I get so angry whenever people say journalists have to be aggressive. Why can’t we do it in our own quiet way?

      • I have no idea how it’d be like when we actually work in journalism, but at least, at the moment, I don’t feel like introverts are welcomed in the university environment, or at least that’s just my uni.

  • Toni says:

    I am an introvert and have anxiety. I’veer had it since childhood. Mainly performance anxiety. I work in a fast-paced, high energy field, and pretty much all of my co-workers are men. I am a woman. It’s largely a skill-based job, physically demanding, and success each day is based on performance. Any minute the scope of my job can change. As i mentioned, i work with all men, so whenever someone struggles with skills or ability to do the job, the jokes that fly around about how much they sucked usually involve comparing them to females in some way. That greatly adds to the pressure I feel to perform at peak every day and keep my underlying anxiety in the closet.
    Some days, right before the action starts, I have to push through a wall of mental anguish. I know that once we get going I will be fine, but the anticipation is so much worse than the event itself. And I have to completely hide that I feel this way. The slightest showing of “nerves” is interpreted as lack of confidence or competence. Or, worse, proof that they shouldn’t have put a woman in the position I hold.
    So my performance anxiety is my “dirty little secret”. Every day I try to push it aside. Every day I plow through work with my male colleagues, pretending I don’t notice or mind that I am the standard by which all failures are measured there, no matter how good I am. It’s exhausting.