This I Believe

Cheryl - Los Angeles, California
Entered on April 1, 2007
Age Group: 18 - 30

This I believe: Getting old is not that bad. That may sound ridiculous coming from a 24-year-old girl, but I think I’m on to something here. If gaining wisdom, those ah-ha moments in life that alter your purpose and priorities in life, then I hope that by the time I’m 30, I feel 45.

The wisdom I’m talking about doesn’t dictate the meaning of life, doesn’t conceal itself in a proverb, and it certainly does not pretend to be a universal human law. No, the wisdom I’m talking about is the insight you gain about yourself from the hard times in life.

Seven million Americans and I were recently diagnosed with Social Phobia Disorder. I never knew what was wrong with me – why I always felt like an outcast, why I would blush anytime someone spoke to me, or why I always felt judged by everyone. But knowledge is power, and I get it now.

“Be as you wish to seem” said Socrates. So I did. For three years. I took every part of me that was vulnerable or weak and acted the part I wished to seem: the exact opposite. I told myself:

I am unique. My identical twin sister and I – we look alike, act alike, think alike, speak alike, move alike, we even dream alike. But I am unique.

I am beautiful. I am ashamed of my feet, annoyed by my playground knees, frustrated with my small chest, and tired of plucking my eyebrows. Still, I am beautiful.

I am confident. In my career or any physical activity, my hubris may one day expose me, but my social awkwardness will forever stigmatize me. And yet I am confident.

So I find myself with this disorder (whose name, by the way, is no less stigmatizing than the symptoms themselves), and then I remember that other famous ancient philosopher, Socrates, who said very simply, “Know Thyself.”

And then: Ah-ha! My current youth has been disproportionately devoted to how I ‘seem’ at the expense of getting to know my ‘self’. I now know two truths and can finally publicly acknowledge them: I have Social Phobia Disorder and I am afraid.

Afraid of life, afraid of getting to know myself, of getting to know people, of losing everything I have, of having an opinion, of believing the truth, of loving or being loved, of knowing and finding me.

I have spent the last week with tears in my eyes while I wandered the dark world of isolation created by fear and a social inadequacy. And yet, because of that, I have found wisdom and peace. Despite my fears and inabilities, I must now, in the Pragmatic way championed by William James and Josiah Royce, embrace life, engage others, and in the process, find myself. It’s going to be an exciting year, this I believe.