I’m back again with another blog post, and this time it’s going to be about something I’ve been struggling with all my life; Social Anxiety.
I’m sure a lot of you can relate, but I absolutely HATE social interactions, especially with people I’m not comfortable with. I’m not exactly sure what it is about being social that I despise so much, but it’s definitely been a struggle to deal with, especially as a photographer.
I’m not quite sure when it began, but I’m pretty sure it stems from my relationship with my father. When I was young, my parents had two totally different parenting styles. My mother was the nurturing, caring type, and always wanted me to have anything I wanted. If I asked for a toy, she would go out of her way to make sure that I got it. My father on the other hand, was more logical with the way he parented me. If I asked for something, he would tell me “no”, and make me work for it myself. In retrospect, this has definitely helped me in the long run, but as a result, I was scared to ask for things because I didn’t want to be told “no”.
On a deeper level, this affected me emotionally. It became a lot deeper than me being afraid to ask for material things, but it actually made me feel guilty for wanting them in the first place. This was detrimental to my confidence, and made me question whether it was even worth it to ask for what it was I truly wanted.
On the surface, it might not seem like such a big deal. If I wanted ice cream, I just simply wouldn’t ask for it, but fast forward a few years, and now I’m scared to ask a model if she’d like to shoot with me because I’m scared she will say “no”, and on an even deeper level, I’m scared to ask for love because I’m scared that I don’t deserve it.
Sadly, this is only one part of my social anxiety. The other part comes from my experience in boarding school. Growing up in The Bahamas, I was accustomed to speaking in our dialect, which is a very broken English. If you weren’t listening to me very closely, it would be hard to tell what I was saying because of the dialect, and even though this wasn’t a problem growing up in The Bahamas, it became something I had to spend a lot of time on when I went to boarding school in Florida. I would say things to my friends in boarding school, and have the whole group stop and look at me to try and figure out what it was I was saying. Even though this technically made me “cool” because everyone was so interested in how I spoke English, it was still something that I had to be very mindful of every time I decided to open my mouth.
The boarding school I went to was very “preppy”. Think Oxford style. You had to dress a certain way, carry yourself well, and most importantly, you were expected to speak well. This meant that every time I had a social interaction with either my friends or my teachers, I had to be extremely careful with which words I chose to use. Obviously I didn’t “have” to, but that’s certainly how it felt.
As a result, I’ve found that I much prefer texting over being on the phone, because I can choose my words carefully and don’t have to worry about being misunderstood. Speaking over the phone creates a certain anxiety because I’m being put on the spot. If someone asks a question, I not only have to think of the answer, but I have to think of how to put that answer in a way they can understand clearly.
Even worse, if I bumped into someone randomly, I had to carefully choose my words during small talk. Just to give you an example, if someone were to ask me how I was doing, my initial reaction would be to with “Eryting cool”, but this clearly isn’t the most professional way to respond, so I’d have to train myself to respond with “I’m doing well”. It might not seem like such a big deal, but when you’re having a long, drawn out conversation that you weren’t expecting, it can cause severe anxiety because I’m scared something will slip out.
To cope with this, I’ve created a rather obsessive system that seems over-the-top, but it works for me. I literally create conversations in my head with everyone that I think I might run into, and memorize questions and answers that I’ll either want to ask or answer. For example, if I’m on Instagram and notice that a friend of mine won an award at work, I’ll save this information so that if I ever run into them, I can say something along the lines of “Congratulations on that award!” This is a much simpler example than what actually goes on in my head, but it should give you an idea on how my brain works.
So the real question is, how does this social anxiety relate to my photography business, and how do I deal with it. We'll, let’s start off by saying it certainly isn’t easy. Every time my phone rings from an unknown number, my heart drops because I’m not sure who is on the other line. Is it a client looking to book me? Is it a model that wants to know when her photos are going to be ready? Is it an agency that’s following up on an email I sent them? All of these thoughts race through my head, making me stress about the situation before I even get to answering the phone. Then, once I do answer, if it’s a situation that totally caught me off-guard, and a client is asking a rather challenging question, I now have to come up with an answer, and put it into words that will come off as professional.
Then comes actually working with clients on location, which is always a struggle for me. Without fail, 2 hours before every shoot, I have a panic attack. What are we going to talk about for 2 hours? How am I going to get them to feel comfortable in front of the camera? Will we be able to connect on any subject? Will I be able to provide the quality photos they’re expecting from me? All of this races in my head, and I’d be lying if I said I weren’t wishing they would postpone last minute. As bad as it sounds, it’s the truth, and it’s something I deal with before every shoot.
I wish I knew how to get over the anxiety, because truth be told, I have met some truly amazing artists through photography. I’ve made so many lifelong friends through my passion, and it’s great that I have the opportunity to meet these people, even if it terrifies me. It’s just sad that even though I know how amazing these social interactions can be, they still scare me to death, and you know what? That’s totally fine. It’s something I’ve been dealing with for years, and I know I just have to suck it up and do what I have to.
Do you experience social anxiety? I’m curious to see if anyone else goes through this. It might make me feel better to know that I’m not alone in this regard. If this is something you do experience, please leave a comment on how you’ve dealt with it over the years. I’d love to get some advice or stories on your experience with it!
Until next time,