Branching Out: Comfort Zones

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This picture was taken when I was 18. I pretty much look the same at 22.

As I mentioned in my previous “Branching Out” post, these are all about trying new things, and even getting back into things that I’ve gotten out of the habit of doing for a while. This particular post deals with a little of both, or rather the antithesis of, really.

If you think about the opposite of branching out, it really comes down to staying in your comfort zone whatever that may be. Everyone has different comfort zones, but no matter who you are it is way too easy to get complacent and hover around the same routine every week. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing if your comfort zones have a wide range, but lately I’ve let my comfort zones shrink… a lot. I feel stranded and far away from the things I really want to be doing. The hard part is that it’s not something that happens all at once. It’s something that sneaks up on you before you realize it and next thing you know you’re an eternal homebody with no friends and nothing to look forward to each week. Of course, like I said it isn’t the same for everybody and that may sound a little over-dramatic, but I feel like that’s the path I’ve fallen onto.

I am very much an extrovert. When I sit around by myself all day I get a headache and just feel miserable overall. I need human interaction. However, I also have a lot of anxiety issues (they run amok on my mom’s side of the family) and don’t like to be in crowded  or unfamiliar places. I tend to stay away from going out on weekends or from certain areas that tend to be busy because of this. I also get really nervous driving to new places, even with the help of GPS, and I have actually cancelled or altered plans last minute just because I freaked myself out too much about the trip more than the plans themselves. I knew I would be fine once I got there, but I just couldn’t bring myself to get in the car and drive. Those of you who deal with anxiety or panic attacks will know that they are not fun and sometimes you go to great lengths to avoid them, which is why I feel people with anxiety tend to have much tighter comfort zones.

When I was younger I was cripplingly shy. I wouldn’t speak in school, in fact, I even got placed in a slower learning class for a little while because they thought I couldn’t read. Eventually they realized that I could (I was taught by my kindergarten teacher who home schooled me), but I was just too shy to read out loud and they moved me back into my regular class. My point being, it took me years to grow out of this, and by years I mean like over-half-my-lifetime-years. It wasn’t until high school that I started to stretch out of my comfort zones a tiny bit, and even that wasn’t a lot. I wish I had done so much more. There are moments, quite frequently, that I feel like I’ve wasted a majority of my life thus far. I know that I’m young and I’ve supposedly got all this time ahead of me, but in reality I just feel like I’ve missed out on innumerable things the past 22 years. Things that you can never get back. Unfortunately, unlike video games, life doesn’t have a re-do option. You can’t just go back to a previous save file and try again when the results aren’t quite what you wanted (something I am notoriously guilty of in pretty much every game I’ve ever played).

I wasn’t even happy with life in general until about my sophomore year of college when I really started to come into my own. Obviously, I still suffered from anxiety and I didn’t go to any parties or that type of thing, but I had a lot of fun and made a whole bunch of new friends. I had actually become one of those people that couldn’t walk across campus without running into multiple people I knew and saying hi or stopping to chit chat, and I loved it. Now I get all kinds of comments of disbelief when I tell people that I used to be shy. “What? You? THAT’S funny. We can’t ever get you to shut up.” (side note: people are big fat meanie heads) I always tell them that it’s due to all those years of bottling up my words that now they come spilling out all over the place.

I don’t really know what made me outgoing, or if there was a distinct turning point. It really was a gradual change that started a little bit in middle school and a little more in high school, but didn’t really flourish until I was in college. I think it was a mixture of making good friends who pushed me to do things, having fun doing those things, and getting out from under my parents roof where I was finally able to be completely myself and not be worried what anyone else would think (or at least for the most part…I was still too scared that my parents would cut me off to start getting the tattoos I’ve always wanted).

For a while I stayed confident and happy (I still struggled with depression here and there, but it was much more manageable). I had a job I liked, mostly due to coworkers and my manager, because otherwise retail sucks. I stayed at Journeys for almost 2 years and wound up with a million pairs of socks; fellow employees will understand. I also hung out on campus a lot between classes, and would either meet up with my friends or make new ones. Then my senior year kind of changed things. I went down to being a part-time student, because I only needed 3 more classes to finish school and two of those were internships. Since I only had one class a day and only 3 days a week (I was a course assistant for one of my internships) I had no reason to hang out on campus anymore. Plus, I was in a serious relationship and preferred spending time with him rather than hanging out on campus. I had also quit my job at Journeys the January prior because of my knees. They got so bad that I couldn’t stand for most of my shift anymore. I found out months later that I just had arthritis and couldn’t really do anything about it.

In the middle of my last semester I went through a pretty bad break up. Not that the break up itself was bad, it was pretty civil and we still talk now, but the initial recovery was not so great. I spent a lot of time crying and sitting alone with my best pal Netflix. Then through a mixture of not wanting to do things or be around people due to sadness, and the fact that I had hardly hung out with any of my friends for 8 months and they already got used to me not being around, meant that I became quite the homebody. My world pretty much consisted of work (at a Halloween store), school, internship, and home for about two months (except for work which closed a month before) until I graduated and moved back in with my parents .

After I moved, it only got worse because I didn’t really have any friends left in St. Pete. Eventually I reconnected with one or two from high school, but I still spend most of my days switching between work and home. Now, my “branching out” goal is just to try and get out of this rut I’m in. I want to go back to being confident and happy like I was before. I want to meet new people and do things other than work. It has actually taken me so long to write this post (I started it weeks ago), that I have already started working on this goal. I have been hanging out more with my old friends, and I’m really focusing on saying yes to things rather than making excuses. I also want to start exploring new places, although so far that has only consisted of walking in all the stores on Central Ave. because I love it downtown. One new thing I do really want to try is rock climbing at Vertical Ventures. I feel like it could be a fun work out to do a couple times a month. I’ll be sure to write a post on it if I do! I just need to find someone who wants to go with me.

Branch out. Say yes. Live life. You will regret it later if you don’t. It’s really all we have.




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