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A student with social anxiety on why a 1st impression isn’t always enough

Transcript

Judy Woodruff: Back-to-school time can bring a familiar sense of stress and excitement for many students as they navigate social circles and a new study workload.

In tonight's Brief But Spectacular, we hear from 21-year-old college student Ben Rolnick, who suffers from severe social anxiety, an increasingly common problem among young adults.

Ben Rolnick: I have always felt that there was something a little different about me. And whenever I do or say something, it just never really stuck with people.

I was first diagnosed when I was 3, although I was completely oblivious to the fact that I was autistic, until my parents told me when I was about 11 or 12. I'm no longer classified as it, but I felt, because I had that diagnosis, I have always been so far behind everybody else socially.

So, when freshman year came around, I always felt like I had the social intelligence of a middle schooler. And I still sometimes to this day say random words and phrases just to get people to remember that I'm there, I'm physically present, like, I'm not going anywhere.

When mom first explained it to me, she didn't want me to tell anybody about it, because she thought, at the age I was learning, that it would make me too different, and more -- even more of a reason for people to bully me.

My parents would have to help me out, you know, arrange playdates. I felt like I had to carry all the weight with most of my friendships in high school and even in middle school, because they wouldn't ask me to go do stuff with them.

When I had prom, I had no date for prom two years. I wouldn't even really get invited to even go with a group of people. I would always be going by myself.

It was so rare for me to actually do stuff with people that, when I had them, I cherished them more than maybe an average experience should be.

Because I feel like I'm always having to be the one, the strong guy in the group, or having to take a bunch of punches, whenever I come home with my family, sometimes, I feel like I just have to release, and I let out all of my baggage, all of my anger, all of my emotions. And it's really hard on my family.

Anxiety has been a big part of my life. If people could just give me a chance, maybe even two, because first impressions are hard for a lot of people. I would really like to broaden my friend horizons a little bit, but it's really hard to when people don't give you the chance for it.

If I make a connection with somebody, what do I want them to see me as? I would like them to see me as a kind, compassionate, caring person, with a few interests that can always be expanding. I don't want them just to be in my world. I want to be in their world, too.

My name is Ben Rolnick, and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on seeking acceptance.

Judy Woodruff: And you can watch additional Brief But Spectacular episodes on our Web site, PBS.org/NewsHour/Brief.

And thank you, Ben. That was remarkable.

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