The Monster In My Head

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Double Exposure by Hannah Rubenstein for The Monster In My Head by Ayelet Cooperberg

Since I was young, I’ve struggled with keeping friendships. My three best friends moved schools after fifth grade. Throughout middle school I continually attempted to make new friends but failed to keep one even for a whole year. During that time, as one friend after another decided they were too cool for me, I developed social anxiety. I was sure that people didn’t want to be around me and it would benefit everyone if I were alone. I saw every unreturned smile, awkward conversation, and unopened text as a reflection of myself. I could not fathom that other people might have been going through a difficult time, and I thought that I constantly must have been doing something wrong. I stopped trying to talk to other girls because I thought I would only be intruding on their conversations and to avoid seeming desperate, I no longer asked anyone to hang out.

When the world shut down due to COVID, I saw this as an escape. I cut off relationships with everyone outside my family, and I stopped communicating with anyone who I was even remotely close with. For the first few months of quarantine, I felt more relaxed and comfortable than I had in years. I could be alone all the time, and I didn’t have to deal with the pressure of social interactions. So I acquired new hobbies; instead of spending my time socializing, I spent my time learning and creating. While other young teens around the world might have been FaceTiming their friends, using social media, or going outside to stay sane, I was solving Rubik’s cubes, needlepointing, making bracelets, baking, and learning sign language. I was content with isolation. For the remainder of eighth grade, I was happy spending time in my room with my quirky hobbies, alone, away from the intimidating world and other people.

But the feeling didn’t last. As much as I thought that I was antisocial and better off alone, I eventually realized that I needed those interactions, I needed friends. At the beginning of ninth grade, COVID was still present, but we were allowed to return to school and see other people, as long as we were masked and socially distant. I was excited to go back to school and become social again, but at that point, I had severed all my friendships. I spent so much time by myself that my fast-moving, small school moved on from me. I had isolated myself for so long that new groups evolved which excluded me. My lack of friends and my loneliness kept me awake at night and distant and distracted during the day. I realized that to feel more comfortable socially, I needed a fresh start and a new group of people. I switched schools after freshman year.

In a new environment, I decided to be as outgoing as possible, and I dove headfirst into the social scene, putting my anxiety aside. I joined clubs, sports teams, and committees to meet new people and expand my social circle. However, throughout all of this, my anxiety was present. It followed me and made me regret and question every decision; it made me wonder if other girls really wanted to be my friend or if they just pitied me. And while I was trying to be more outgoing, I still was an introvert. I decided that I needed balance in my life; I had to spend some of my time alone to recharge, but I could not live in solitude. Like most people, I crave human connections.

At this point in my life, I still struggle with social anxiety. I question every word before I say it, every text before I send it, and every action before I do it. However, I definitely have improved since middle school. I am working on not taking everything so personally and not worrying so much about what others might think of me. I find that I can incorporate some of my hobbies into my socialization time by baking with friends, teaching them how to solve Rubik’s cubes, and starting a sign language club at school. I’m not sure if I ever will fully overcome my social anxiety and sometimes it can get the best of me and consume my thoughts. But I am learning and growing. With every change, I learn something new about myself that can help me in the future.

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Ayelet Cooperberg is a member of the class of 2024 at The Shipley School in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. At her school, she is the co-president and founder of the ASL club and the captain of the swim team. Outside of school, she enjoys rock climbing, playing tennis, and baking. Ayelet has three younger brothers and two dogs. Her house can be pretty chaotic so she spends a lot of time reading, making bracelets, or solving Rubik's cubes in her room.
Accompanying photo: “Double Exposure” by Hannah Rubenstein