Living with social anxiety

Since a very young age, I’ve been forced to talk to strangers. Having a Dominican mom who didn’t speak English, I was the translator between her and the rest of the English-speaking world. It didn’t matter that I was ten and knew nothing about medical terms or paying bills, I was always forced to do my best to help the world make sense for my mom. Sometimes I’m a little resentful; my childhood was sort of taken away, muddled with responsibilities that none of my friends—or even my siblings—had to struggle with. Other times, I’m happy that I not only got to help make my mom’s life a little bit easier, but also that I learned valuable life skills such as financial literacy.

Despite spending my whole life talking to strangers, as I got older, I started to fear talking to strangers more and more. I knew it was a necessary role I had to fulfill for my mother, but I was becoming increasingly more uncomfortable with the idea of putting myself out there in front of strangers. Before I knew it, I was suffering with horrible social anxiety that had me isolating myself from others. As I grew up, I learned to manage my anxiety, but sometimes it still manages to dominate my life. This is the story of how I overcame my social anxiety to pursue something that makes me happy. 

Translating has grown to be something I really love and enjoy. Its introduction into my life was forced, but I’m grateful it was because it has taught me so much. Hispanics are always incredibly grateful when they find someone who can translate for them, and knowing I’ve made their day a little bit better is such a fulfilling feeling. I’ve helped and I’ve made a difference and that makes me happy. 

When I got to college, I knew I wanted to pursue a minor in translating because it was a lifelong skill that I had acquired and wanted to perfect. During Fallfest, I learned about an organization at UNC called Carolina Conexiones which allowed students to volunteer at the children’s hospital as translators. I jumped on the opportunity, knowing it was not only a resume booster, but also an incredibly fulfilling way of getting involved. I immediately went home and applied, more than excited that I was going to potentially make so many people’s lives better. A few weeks later, I got an email back about taking an online compliance test before I could officially become a member. All I had to do was turn it in before a certain day. 

Easy enough, I thought. But the days passed by and the deadline got closer and the panic set in. Was I really capable of translating in a hospital? It was one thing to translate for my own mom, with whom I knew if I messed up, it wouldn’t matter. What if I froze? What if I forgot a word? I knew I wouldn’t be translating medical terms—that’s for the professionals—but there were still so many chances of messing up. Could I really handle approaching and talking to strangers? “Maybe I should put it off a semester, and focus on getting acclimated to college first,” I told myself. 

And I did. I didn’t continue with the application process and forgot about it, disappointed but content with my decision to wait.

Second semester rolls around and I get a notification that I can apply once again. Determined to get involved in something I know I love and am good at, I submit my application and get the email to take the compliance test to become a volunteer. 

Once again, the panic sets in, but the determination is a bit stronger. 

Once again, the deadline creeped closer and I still hadn’t done it. 

Once again, I convinced myself that putting it off would be the most beneficial thing I could do because I had to focus on school.

But it wasn’t. 

It wasn’t benefiting me to put off my involvement in an organization I knew I would love to be a part of. Putting off my involvement wouldn’t help me focus on school. It wouldn’t help me grow academically. 

The only thing it would do was feed my social anxiety; feed the fear that kept me from doing what I loved and enjoyed because I was afraid of interacting with strangers, with failing to translate well and potentially embarress myself. 

This summer, when I once again had the chance to apply for this program. I went for it and I forced myself to complete the compliance test. I forced myself to go to orientation and to follow through with the entire process. I forced myself to finally do what I had been wanting to do since I got to UNC. 

I recently had my first shift and while yes, it was daunting and yes, I was extremely nervous and scared and my social anxiety was through the roof, I was so proud of myself. I had applied to this program three times at this point, and I finally had the courage to go through with it. I said “screw you” to my social anxiety and to all of my fears and doubts. 

Social anxiety has dominated my life for so long and ultimately kept me from doing things out of fear. Translating at the hospital is only one of many things that I’ve wanted to pursue but this is one of the only ones I’ve actually went through with. Despite the fact that it took three tries, I did it and I’m proud. This is only the first step in conquering my social anxiety and I wanted to share this experience to let others know that they are not alone in their struggle. It’s okay to take a long time to accomplish something because the only thing that matters is that you accomplished it in the end.

Diana Godoy