The Shyness Project

Archive for the category “Month 12 You’re Not Alone”

The One-Year is Up: How I Got Here and What I Learned

Now that you’ve read the stories of some of the wonderful people I’ve met along this blogging journey, I thought I should disclose my own story here as well.  I have some new readers now who may not know my story and why I felt a need to start this blog in the first place.

In school, I’ve often been labeled as the shy or quiet one.  I would hear this from other students, teachers- sometimes even strangers.  I heard it so much that I felt like it was something that was forever going to be engrained in my identity.  But I didn’t believe the shy or quiet label was right for me.  I knew there was so much more to me than most people could see.

My worst year was in 6th grade, when I was bullied.  My carpool group turned on me midyear and I became their daily target. They made me feel inferior to them, like a loser.  They disliked me for being quiet and too good-natured.  I had food thrown at me, was often ditched, was told I was a follower, was shut out from their conversations, was prank called, and was even the subject of a cyber bullying forum that I discovered near the end of the year.  I was devastated and deeply hurt.

By 8th grade, however, I found my place and made a good group of friends who accepted and loved me for who I was.  I was finally happy and had found my niche.

Fast forward to my senior year of high school.  The first semester had just ended, and I realized that very soon I would be graduating high school and entering college.

I had a little bit of a breakdown.  I couldn’t believe I really was going to be leaving high school. I was going to be an adult soon.  I would have to get serious about deciding on a major and a career, and I would have to have some sort of plan for college.

But what would my life be like after high school?  Would I find the courage to do the things I’d always wanted to do in life?  Or would I be doomed to live a safe, but limited life ruled by fears?

I wanted to travel to different countries, and maybe even teach abroad.  I had always felt like there was so much to learn from other cultures and I wanted to learn more about the world. Also, I wanted to write a book.  I’d read several one-year project books and felt very inspired by them.  I wanted to do a one-year project of my own.

But I doubted that I would ever be able to do either of these things.  I figured the interviewer for the teaching job would think I was too shy or quiet and wouldn’t want me to be a teacher.  And even if I passed the interview, I didn’t see how I was going to be able to muster up the courage to stand in front of the room and teach each day.  And for the one-year project and book, I doubted that would ever happen.  I didn’t think I would have the tenacity to stick with one goal and see through it all the way to the end of the year.

My future looked bleak.  Others knew me to be a high-achieving, confident, model student, but underneath it all I feared I wasn’t going to have the courage to live the life I wanted to live.  I was going to end up playing it safe and compromising my dreams for safety and security.  I was going to live a “shy” life.

So when New Years Day came, I sat down and really thought.  I told myself, if I could only choose one goal to focus on this year to improve my life, what would it be?

I realized that shyness had held me down the most.  I felt like it was something I would never be rid of, and it would forever define me and control my life.  What if I spent the whole year focusing on my shyness?  Could I be rid of it?  Would it free up my future?

And what if I shared my journey on a blog and then wrote a book about it?  Then I could finally write a one-year project book, and it would be on a subject I know very well.

But I realized that this was probably just some idealistic idea that I would never follow through with.  I’d never even talked about shyness before.  I avoided all conversations about it and would never mention when I felt shy or nervous.  I knew people would be surprised to know about the simple things that I struggled with.

I decided to develop a plan anyway.  I checked out several books on shyness and read many internet posts on the subject.  I brainstormed ideas of what I could do for the year and what fears I had that I could confront.  The mere thought of confronting any of them made me feel nauseous, but I kept researching and writing.

Then it was New Years Eve, and I had my initial plan ready.  I was scared to start the project because I feared failure, but I knew that I shouldn’t let the fear of failure keep me from trying.  I decided to take a chance and dedicate 2011 to overcoming my shyness.

And I’m very glad I did.  I’ve learned an incredible amount of lessons in a relatively short amount of time from doing this project.  I started with talking to strangers, then focused on improving my friendships, then I started actively participating in class, then I began dressing outside of my comfort zone, then I shared vulnerabilities with friends and increased my energy all the while with exercise, then I joined Toastmasters and practiced public speaking (as well as took a college speech class), then I made an effort to make new friends in community college, then I tried some new things, then I faced my fear of the phone, and then I shared the stories of several of the people I’ve met along the way.

I’ve gained a tremendous amount of confidence from taking myself out of my comfort zone this year.  On the last day of my career/life planning class this semester, we were asked to go around and write a compliment or something about the person that you’ve learned this year.  This activity made me nervous because I feared the “Q” or “S” word would dominate my list like it once had in the past in a similar activity. But in fact, there was no sign of either of those words from my peers.  The words they used to describe me were confident (which appeared twice), driven, changing the world, poised, great smile, nice, dependable, responsible, kind, patient, passionate, so sweet, honest, and respectful.  It felt great to know that I finally was allowing others to see the real, complex me.

From sharing my experiences with shyness and social anxiety, I’ve realized how incredibly common these experiences are.  I know it doesn’t seem like it- it didn’t seem like it to me before either.  But let me tell you why we think that.  We think that because people don’t talk about this.  It’s seen as embarrassing or shameful to have these experiences and by admitting to having them you make yourself vulnerable to criticism to get over it, or for someone to feel sorry for you or try to give you advice that you may not want to hear from them.  Others may not be very understanding or able to relate.  This is why I’ve never talked about shyness or anxiety.  But now I’ve written a whole blog on this, I’ve talked to friends and family about this, I’ve talked to strangers about this, and I’ve even given a speech on it.  And do you know what I’ve found?  Almost everyone I’ve talked to about this could relate in some way.  People I would have never in my wildest dreams thought of as shy or quiet have told me tales from their youth, or even tales from their present.  But I never would have been told or trusted with this information if I had never shared my experiences with them first.

And because I’ve made myself vulnerable and shared my experiences, I’ve felt more connected and closer to people than I have in my whole life.  I’ve gotten closer with my friends and made new friends even, I’ve become a better writer and speaker, and I’ve gained a lot of confidence.  I truly believe that I am not a person defined by labels anymore.  I believe I can do anything, and that nothing is holding me back.

So you may be wondering, did this project “cure” my shyness and social anxiety?  Well, that is not a simple question to answer.  I don’t believe it’s something that can be cured, nor does it need to be completely cured.  I’ve come to learn about all the benefits of having these experiences and all the positives and not just the negatives.  These experiences have allowed me to genuinely connect with people, to be more understanding and empathetic to others, to be a better listener, to be humble, and to find inner courage when experiencing fear.  I am confident, passionate, and driven, though there will always be a part of me that can relate to those considered shy or quiet.  There will always be things that I can improve upon and will have to keep working on to maintain my progress.  But I am in control of my life now, and I no longer doubt my future.  I’m excited and ready to truly live the life I’ve always dreamed of- free spirited and out to make a difference in the world.

I know that for many people, a year might not be enough time to experience the results I did.  But just because it was a success for me does not mean that I won’t get nervous for a speech, that I won’t get nervous for making certain phone calls, or that I won’t feel somewhat uncomfortable in certain situations.  For me, the biggest success was not in completely overcoming my fears, but in proving to myself that I could overcome them when needed.  This belief was strengthened throughout a year of building confidence and gaining positive experiences in situations that I once had very little confidence or experience in.

In 2012 I will be writing The Shyness Project book. I’ve never written a book before and I’m excited for the chance to get to share this story with more people. There were several things that I didn’t have time to post and elaborate on and I’m eager to share those additional experiences there.  I’ll keep up this blog along the way to share more of what I learned to try and help others.  I want to build a support network and community for all those struggling with things I and many others have struggled with.  Because I think what would have helped me most growing up was realizing that I wasn’t alone. Thank you for reading and supporting my journey of personal growth.  I can’t express how great it was to meet and truly connect with several of you who I would have never gotten a chance to meet before.  I feel like I’ve made real and meaningful friendships.  And I want to emphasize that this project would NOT have been possible without you and your support.  This project was bigger than me and by supporting and interacting with me through this blog, we made this site a valuable resource for many people to come.  I look forward to sharing what we’ve created here in a book so more people can be a part of this experience.

I hope you all have a Happy New Year and that you take a chance in 2012 and aspire to do something you’ve always dreamed of doing.  We are all capable of accomplishing great things if we dedicate ourselves to something we are passionate about.

“The world needs dreamers and the world needs doers. But above all, the world needs dreamers who do.”  ~Sarah Ban Breathnach

Learn to Feel Free to Be Yourself- Not a Label

I met Faith in the beginning of my project.  I came across her blog when I was starting mine and appreciated that she was sharing a lot of the positive sides of shyness on her site.  She recently studied abroad in England and had a great experience.  Here is her post on shyness:

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I’m Faith and I’m an introvert.  My journey with shyness has been a lifelong one.  I’ve always been on the quieter side, especially in comparison to my younger siblings.  Being an introvert and an older sibling has been interesting.  I tend to be very cautious, so being the first of the family to grow up, go to school and such things was sometimes hard.  It takes me a while to get used to situations and people, because as an introvert I more observant and in my head, and not so much ready to go out and tackle things head on.  So there were times it took a while to adjust.  Added difficulty is that my shyness was coupled with low self-esteem and trust issues.  I was never hurt terribly, but I saw people teased, I had some people criticize me and I was already pretty critical on myself.  I’ve always been very sensitive.  To protect myself I cut myself off from others.  I let my shyness get to an extreme.  In elementary school I refused to speak, even when a teacher called on me.  People responded in different ways.  Sometimes I was a target for teasing because I was different, but because I tried to maintain a goody-two-shoes image and because I distanced myself, people were more at odds with me and gave me space.  It took me a while to realize that isolating myself was not a good answer.  I wanted friends but I couldn’t maintain a friendship being closed off.  It took me a long time to realize my barriers were keeping people away.

What changed?  I was not happy because I was stuck in a box.  As quiet as I naturally may be, I also have quirks and opinions.  I saw that in comfortable situations like with family I was more upbeat, but other in places I felt very anxious and critiqued myself.  I felt miserable and I wanted to change.  So with each new step in life I tried to let go of baggage and really evaluate myself.  I went to a high school with different peers than elementary school, so I started being more open with people.  Eleventh grade I attended a different high school that I graduated from.  I began learning who I was.  College was were I really stepped out of my comfort zone and my bubble.  It took a while, but each year I opened up more.  Away from my family I could better see the real me and decide the “me” I wanted to create.  I didn’t have any crutches to bolster me and I couldn’t hide.  It was also up to me to take control of my life.  I learned to love myself, which entailed being less critical of myself and learning to laugh at myself and love myself, so that when I stepped out of my comfort zone and things didn’t go as planned, it was ok.  In college I made some really good friends.  I met so many people with quirks and idiosyncrasies, and I realized that made them distinctive.  I liked who they were with all their quirks, so why couldn’t other people like me with my quirks?  I let myself get close to people and I found I enjoyed it.

Things aren’t perfect.  There are times I feel discouraged.  Struggles with self-esteem don’t disappear overnight, and being an introvert constantly in her head doesn’t help either.  But I have something that affirms my self-worth no matter what: my relationship with God.  I’m a Christian and this keeps me grounded.  When people let me down and when I let myself down, which is inevitable, I can look to God who still loves me.  I try to change the narrative in my head.  This became especially important my junior year of college (last year) when I studied abroad in England.  I was gone for a whole year.  I started a blog before I left in which I really began evaluating my values, my identity and my shyness.  Being abroad really challenged me to step way out of my comfort zone.  I had some of my lowest lows.  God helped me in those moments.  I was never alone so I could never be totally defeated.  I gained so much comfort living through that year.  Now I’m not even sure if I classify myself as shy anymore.  Yes, I can still be very shy in many social situations.  I’m naïve and introverted.  I still have self-esteem struggles.  But I’m confident that I will be ok.  Self-evaluation and growth isn’t pleasant, but it’s necessary and I got a lot out of it.

So my words of advice:

  • Know you’re not alone.  Find someone you trust to talk to and be honest with.  There are great resources that show how positive it is to embrace who you are, as a shy person, an introvert.  There are books and blogs that show there are people like you.
  • Don’t be afraid to grow.  Be willing to step out of your comfort zone, baby steps at a time if it takes.  Stretch yourself a bit and learn from your experience.  What did you like and not like?  What do you want to change and what to you want to keep and/or enhance?
  • Know your strengths and weaknesses and act with them in mind.  For instance, if I hang out with friends for an extended period of time, I may have a long quiet time to myself or with just one or two close friends to be able to wind down and recuperate.  That gives me strength as an introvert.  If I don’t take the time to wind down, I get burnt out and discouraged.
  • Love yourself.

Shyness is an attribute.  It does not have to define you.  Be you in all your complexity.

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To read more of Faith’s posts, click here.  She is very down to earth and you will enjoy reading about her studying abroad experience as well as a variety of other topics.  She has several good posts on shyness as well if you search her page using the tags at the bottom of her page if you’d like to hear more of her perspectives on this.

Learning to Shine: From Bullied Teen to Thriving Actress

I met Sharon in late March.  We connected mainly through our interests in bullying and our personal experiences with it.  Since then we’ve continued to stay in good contact and we’ve been supportive of each others blogs by reading and leaving comments. Here is her post on shyness and bullying.

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I wasn’t born a shy little girl. In fact, I was probably the exact opposite of shy; I used to preempt football games during the holidays by putting a stool in front of the television, standing on top of it and singing my little lungs out. I had a love of music and performing in my blood, for sure. Over the years, I would gradually lose that fearlessness I had, though. Some of it came naturally, from learning that the world can be a judgmental place and not everyone is going to be nice to you. For the most part, I held on to a lot of it up until about junior high.

That was when I first moved from the big city to a smaller city. I went from having friends and living somewhere I loved to a new place where people talked differently, acted differently and I just didn’t seem to fit in. I thought being from a big city would be a shoo-in for people liking you, but it seemed it had the opposite effect. Smaller cities tend to have lots of people who have lived there for years, know practically everyone OR are related to everyone somehow and outsiders stand out a little too much. Junior high was when the teasing started.

I transferred to a Christian school that was run out of a church, so the classes were small. That’s what I had been used to all my life, though. Whoever might have thought Christian schools were immune to bullying or teasing was very wrong. It can be just as bad, but since my class was made up of only about 5 or 6 kids, it wasn’t too unbearable. 7th and 8th grade was the start of me going into my little shell. I learned if I just concentrated on my work and didn’t talk much, people would ignore me most of the time, so I became quiet and withdrawn, at least until I got home and could be myself without fear of teasing.

Then high school came and everything just fell apart. I had to go from little classrooms at a Christian school to a public high school; the thought scared me to death. My parents ended up enrolling me in a high school that was in a town close by. The one in the city I live in is pretty big because all high schoolers go to one school. The one in a neighboring town was a lot smaller, but still big with classes of 20 to 25 in just one period compared to what I was used to: a maximum of maybe 20 to 25 in the whole grade and that would be a school in Austin I went to, not the junior high I went to with about 8 in the whole grade!

My first day was nerve-wracking and scary. It didn’t help that ever since kindergarten, I had been a chubby little girl. I started wearing glasses at the age of 6 and my long naturally curly hair had been cut short just before moving, making my hair look like an afro. Apparently that’s what happens when you have really curly hair and the shorter it is, the more curlier! UGH! These three things had already been a source of some teasing in junior high so what would happen in a PUBLIC school?

What happened was that I was bullied constantly, by guys, not so much the girls. I got called horrible names in reference to my size, such as whale and hippo. Around that time, there was a Pop Culture character named “Pat” that was fat and had an afro and no one could tell if he was a he or a she. I believe it was a Saturday Night Live Character? Well…it still hurts to think about that character, because I was teased endlessly and called Pat because I had an afro and was a big girl. I didn’t look like a boy, though….I most definitely had curves, but that didn’t seem to matter. Over the course of 9th grade, I just kept crawling further and further into my shell like a turtle. I would skip lunch at school and end up starving when I got home because I didn’t want people to see me eating. When they did, I got made fun of. I was a good student who just came to school, did what I had to do and tried to make it through the day, so I could go home and cry. At home, I would listen to the same music everyone else did. I would watch the same shows and movies and dream about the same cute guy actors and I always wondered why no one would ever take the time to get to know me and see I was just like them? Inside, I thought I was a pretty cool girl, but to the bullies, they could care less what I thought. I tried to dress nicely and cute, but it didn’t seem to matter. In 10th grade, I got contacts and got teased for it because I was “trying to fit in”.

I was the queen of ignoring. I ignored even as a guy put his face in my face yelling names at me and threatening to kill me. I tried to cry in private. I even retaliated and hit the guy who was the ringleader once, to no avail. I tried to report him and got a look of sheer disbelief from the counselor. Why should I have even been surprised? The bullying ALL went on within a few feet of all the teachers and nothing was ever said to anyone about it. My bully was the son of parents on the school board. I was an outsider allowed to go to school there where the kids that went there were mainly kids that had been there since elementary. It wasn’t going to stop and this resorted in missed days of school and my mom eventually pulling me out.

I’m glad to say, I eventually went to an alternative school and finished high school a few months ahead of schedule. I went to classes there with my only concern to do my work and go home. I never tried to talk to any other students and if they said something to me, I said the bare minimum back. I didn’t want to draw any unwanted attention to myself.

When I started college in 2001, I kept the same attitude and it was extremely difficult for me to introduce myself or to do presentations. I got through them the best I could…usually with teachers asking me to speak up. I didn’t know any other way to be. I had literally forgotten how to be the fearless child I once was, because I was so afraid that to be THAT again meant I would only get hurt.   It wasn’t until years of college, when I lost a little weight, tried out for a singing/dancing group and signed up for Acting class, that I found her again.

Performing was something I had always wanted to do in some way, shape, or form, but I never had the guts. After losing a little weight, I decided to just go for it. I tried out for this group where I would sing solos and dance with the group and I remember being so shy and nervous, but being determined to try. When I made the group, I was so excited and it took some time for me to loosen  up and become comfortable, but I got there. I think I got there through my Acting class. This class really pushed me to do things that would make almost anyone nervous. Making silly faces and noises and doing impromptu things can be very scary, but since I was new to it, everyone was so nice and I sensed that the people in this crowd were a lot like me. They seemed to be all people who had once felt like outsiders. People that had felt different and maybe weren’t always accepted for who they were. And they accepted me. They liked how I acted, they liked how I sang. They thought I had talent and they liked ME for me. I could be myself finally without fear of being bullied.

It’s been a few years since then and while I still have moments where that shyness tries to reappear, I’m happy I was able to find myself again and I refuse to let cruel people force me back into the shell again. I’m a worthy person just like everyone else and I have a voice that deserves to be heard!

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To read more of Sharon’s posts, click here to visit her blog.  She is very approachable and easy to talk to, and you will enjoy reading her writing.  There are some great poems and short stories on her site that she’s written too.  She’s currently trying to break into a career as a free-lance writer.

Successfully Shy: Sharing Her Story and Helping Others

I met Barb in late July after she found my site through some of the comments I’d made on Susan Cain’s Power of Introverts blog.  After she requested I send her an email, I sent her one without knowing what to expect.  Turns out that email started our lengthy constant email discussions from there on out.  We became very close through all we were disclosing and sharing in our emails and reading each others blogs.  We’ve talked on the phone as well and have sent some hand-written notes to each other. She has also posted about me from time to time on her WordPress blog and even interviewed me for her Psychology Today blog.  I am very grateful for her enthusiasm and support for my project as well as her endearing friendship.  Here’s her story:

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I still remember one horrible day in high school when a math teacher called attention to my quietness. He told the whole class that I was the quietest student he’d ever had in his 22 years of teaching. Of course, everyone turned around to look at me, as if I was some kind of freak. I felt humiliated and ashamed. I truly believed there was something wrong with me. It didn’t even cross my mind that there was something wrong with a teacher who would make such a statement.

Unfortunately, I received more feedback like that from teachers, and it almost cost me my career.

I made it though my undergraduate years, not having to talk in classes. I was smart, and easily made good grades. But when I got to graduate school, everything changed. I was in a doctoral level clinical psychology program. Most of the classes were small discussion groups. During the second semester of my first year, the clinical director called me into her office and told me that if I didn’t participate more (i.e. stop being so quiet), my standing in the program was in jeopardy.

Of course, I freaked out. What was I going to do? I daily experienced intense anxiety in these classes—my stomach hurt, my face felt hot, my heart raced. I would try to think of something to say, but usually by the time I got up my nerve to make my point, someone else would have jumped in ahead of me. I wasn’t good at interrupting, that’s for sure. And no one really paused long enough for me to get a word in.

So what did I do? I did what any good psychology graduate student would do: I went into therapy. Fortunately, I found a wonderful female therapist who was supportive and encouraging. We worked together individually, but she also mentioned that she had an ongoing women’s therapy group that I could join. I was apprehensive, but also intrigued. I joined the group and attended weekly. Each Wednesday evening I listened intently to the other women in the group share what they were working on, and each week I didn’t say a word. I truly don’t remember for how long this went on. My memory says it was months, but maybe it was only weeks.  One night, though, it was like some sort of intervention you’d see on a reality TV show (but in a really nice way). None of the women would let me leave until I said something—anything. I don’t remember the details, except that I spoke. After that, the ice was broken, and I didn’t shut up.

The trick, though, was how to generalize my talking in the women’s group to talking in my classes in school. It actually didn’t happen until the next year when I started over with new classes, new teachers, and a different combination of students. It was easier then to be the “new me.” I remember having one professor who thought my insights about clients/cases we discussed were brilliant. It was thrilling to begin sharing my thoughts and ideas and have them validated as being important contributions.

Fast forward. I have successfully finished graduate school, completed a postdoctoral fellowship at St. Louis University Medical Center’s Anxiety Disorders Center, and have co-authored Dying of Embarrassment, the first self-help book ever written on social phobia (now called social anxiety disorder).  When I proposed the book idea to my colleagues and the publisher, I never even contemplated telling anyone about my own lifelong struggles with shyness and social anxiety. After all, I was now an “expert.” How could I have difficulty with public speaking, participating in meetings, or going to social events? I thought it was okay to help other people face their fears, but it wasn’t okay to admit I’d struggled with these same situations myself.

After the book’s publication, I promoted Dying of Embarrassment and received much satisfaction from knowing I was helping people learn more about this neglected and misunderstood problem. I continued to feel, however, as if I was doing others with social anxiety a disservice by not sharing my own experiences.

It wasn’t until years later, when I wrote Painfully Shy: How to Overcome Social Anxiety and Reclaim Your Life, did I muster the courage to share my own story. I wanted to be honest, and I wanted to let people know they are not alone. Most of all, I wanted people to know there is hope. In addition to writing Painfully Shy, I participated in a documentary called Afraid of People, in which I talked openly (not to mention I cried on camera—ugh) about my experiences with not only anxiety, but also depression.

Aside from one negative book review in which the writer said my personal stories were “distracting,” the majority of feedback I’ve received is positive. I’m not sorry I crossed the line from being simply the “expert” to being a human being with real-life problems. I now realize, I can be an expert AND someone who still struggles from time to time.

I feel like I’ve rambled a bit—thank you for indulging me!  In closing, I want to leave you with a few take-away points:

  • While there may be some careers that will suit your personality better than others, you do not have to let shyness hold you back from doing whatever you want to do.
  • Remember, the world needs your ideas! As much as I dreaded and hated participating in classes, once I did, I realized I had valuable contributions to make. If only the naturally outgoing people speak up, we’re going to miss out on some important perspectives.
  • Find support wherever you can. For me, it was that women’s therapy group. (With managed health care, such long-term therapy groups are a rarity these days.) But you might be able to find a support group. And now there are plenty of online options for reaching out, such as blogs like Brittany’s!
  • The path is not a straight one. I still have days where I want to crawl in a hole and not talk to anyone! That doesn’t diminish how far I’ve come.
  • And finally, it is only by sharing our vulnerabilities that we can truly connect with others in a profound and meaningful way.

“Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.”
- Brené Brown

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To read more of Barb’s posts, you can visit her wordpress blog or her Psychology Today blog. She is the author of four books on shyness and social anxiety and is a nationally recognized expert.  Not to mention, she’s extremely kind and thoughtful and she’s someone who you will be very lucky to get a chance to know.  She has a lot of great posts on shyness and social anxiety that you will enjoy reading if you can relate in any way or have an interest in that subject.

Keep Moving in the Right Direction; You Will Make Progress

I met Vee early on in my project in March.  After chatting with her in the comments section of my blog and reading her posts, we formed a fast friendship.  Her blog was very interesting to me because she was going through her own journey of confronting fears and I felt comforted knowing there was another person out there like me challenging themselves to do things that scared them.  We’ve been close since then and I’ve continued to follow her journey with interest.  So far I have yet to touch on social anxiety with these guest posts, but now I present you Vee’s incredible story on overcoming severe social anxiety.

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My name is Vee and during the last couple of months, I have been on a year-long journey to overcome social anxiety. Here is my story.

How it started

I have been struggling with this issue for many, many years and although it was unpleasant as I was a teenager desperately trying – like all teenagers – to fit in, social anxiety definitely became a serious issue as I reached adulthood. With all the responsibility associated with this period of life, social anxiety became overwhelming and I started to avoid more and more things. This is when the problems started: I would not go to the doctor although I ought to. I would not make phone calls to let my financial institutions know that there were incongruities with my account. I did not ask for directions when I was lost. I could not find a job because I could not go to job interviews. I isolated myself more and more. I quit school for a while… On a daily basis, I could not make phone calls in public, I would not answer the phone in public although I knew sometimes that the person calling had something urgent to tell me, I did not eat in public, I even did not talk to someone in public. My life started drifting into chaos. I was sick, my money was disappearing, I could not find a job, I was starving myself for hours every day to avoid eating in front of other people, I was out of school with no diploma… I thought that there was nothing that could help me and that there was no way out. At the time, I did not know what social anxiety was. I thought I was shy and abnormal and that there was something terribly wrong with me.

Yet, I could not talk about it because there were no words to define it. It wasn’t just shyness. I did not think in terms of introversion/extroversion either at the time. And there were those physical symptoms… Ultimately, because I could not name it, it was as if it did not exist and that I was just going crazy. Not to mention, I struggled with racism (especially in high school), homophobia (especially within my own family), depression and low self esteem.

Transition

At the end of 2010, I started to search online for people who would have the same problems as I did. I discovered I was not alone and that there were other people like me struggling with anxiety. Even more importantly, I discovered what was “wrong” with me. It was called Social Anxiety. Finally, I could name it! I finally knew what it was. And yes, it could be cured! From that point on, I decided I would not live the life of a socially anxious girl anymore. I was almost 20 years-old at the time and I wanted to change. As a teenager, you want to fit in; but at 20, you want to change the world, right? There was so many things that I wanted to do, so many places I wanted to go, so many people I wanted to meet. Yet, I could not because social anxiety was holding me back. It was time for it to stop ruining my life.
I did not know why or how. Why am I socially anxious? How have I become like that? Did I become like that or was I born this way? Is it my fault or other people’s fault? Is there a specific event that happened and made me socially anxious? … Who knows? But I have come to realized that you don’t really need to know why or how to go forward.

The beginning of my journey

The war had started. Me VS Social Anxiety. I was determined to win this fight. I found the courage to seek help. I started Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). It was very beneficial and it gave me the tools to overcome anxiety on my own. So a few weeks after CBT and a little pup added to the picture, I started 2011 with the goal of actively take the anxiety out of my life. It has been a bumpy ride. I pushed myself to go out of my comfort zone. I reached a lot of the goals that I had for myself to 2011. I wanted a new friend; I had many more. I wanted to get involved; I did and volunteered at Pride Parade and at a Film Festival in my home town. I wanted a more healthy life; I ate well and ran and did physical exercises to keep depression away from me.

A few tips

I have learned a lot on this journey. I would like to share a few things that I have learned with those struggling with social anxiety (and/or shyness):
– Learn what anxiety is. I self-diagnosed but I would not recommend doing so. I was right this time (it was anxiety and I indeed was diagnosed with it), but I might have been wrong. Reading, reading, reading. Realizing that social anxiety is an IRRATIONAL fear helped me see that I was stronger that it was.
– Change your train of thought. There is no point in forcing yourself to go out and to put yourself in difficult situations if you still think like an anxious person. Those anxious thoughts that you have been internalizing for months/years need to change. Perhaps you know what those thoughts are: “People are looking at me weird” / “People are judging me” / “People know I am anxious and they don’t like it” / “People don’t like me” / “I look like a fool” / etc. If I could give a quick tip, it would be to be careful with those sentences that start with “people”. Nobody really knows what other people think, so let’s stop trying to guess what is going on in their heads.
– Shyness, social anxiety, generalized anxiety, anxiety, stress, introversion and extroversion are NOT the same. Learn to make the difference, it will help you understand better where you stand and give you the direction you need to take on your journey. Remember that you can be introverted and happy and live a well-balanced and healthy life.

Am I anxiety free? I would not say so, yet. In fact, sometimes I feel like I am going back and avoiding situations like I used to. But it happens a lot less often then it used to. I have a lot more control over my life now. To be fully honest, I am not as far on this journey as I hoped or as I thought I would be by now. But that’s ok. You can’t overcome social anxiety overnight. It might take a few more years to totally get anxiety out of my life. But I’ll keep making those baby steps and I know I’m heading towards the right direction. I thought 2012 would mark the end of my journey. But it is only getting started.

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To visit her blog and read what you’ve been missing out on, click here. She’s an incredible woman and I’m amazed by her bravery.  I’ve loved getting to know her and reading her posts (so much so that I want to go to Canada to meet her!) and I’m sure you will enjoy getting to know her too.

Using Social Experiments to Break Out of Your Shell

I met Tyler in late May when he was starting up his own blog on overcoming shyness.  When in one of my posts I mentioned that I was interested in teaching abroad, he sent me an email and told me he has been interested in that idea as well.  We had talked before through comments on my site but this was when we really connected and found common ground.  Here is his post on overcoming shyness.

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Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for… a guest post! In fact, it’s my first so I would very much like to thank Brittany for allowing me to put my thoughts onto her blog for all of you guys and gals to read. Hopefully it will help.

Get on with it Tyler!

Alrighty then, well I was shy for a very long time. I’d say I was shy from about 1st grade to my senior year of high school. Whenever I would talk to anyone who wasn’t in my immediate circle of friends, my face would get really red and I would have difficulty speaking. Finally one day, and I’m not making this up it actually happened, I was taking a shower and I thought to myself, “I don’t want this anymore, it has gotten seriously old.” So in my head I made it my mission senior year to break out of my shell. I called this mission “Operation Broken Silence.”

Now that I think about it it kind of sounds a little odd… Anyway, making this mission a success was not an overnight thing. It started with the new freshmen class. They didn’t know me and I didn’t know them, so this was the perfect opportunity to experiment socially with them. It was baby steps at the beginning of course. Just a simple hi here, maybe a joke there. Finally I was able to work my way into conversations. This boosted my self esteem as well as proved that I wouldn’t die from talking to somebody new. From this I was able to eventually have entire conversations with random strangers.

Probably my biggest achievement lately in the way of beating shyness was asking TV’s Jeff Corwin a question about human overpopulation in front a fairly large group of people. It was something else. Even though I was curious about the answer the main reason I asked is because of that old familiar feeling. The feeling that if you don’t go through with something you’ll be hitting yourself for a week. So I asked, the world kept turning, and I felt accomplished.

I want everyone to know that shyness isn’t something that you can just kick. It is something you have to constantly work at. The only way to get rid of it is to start trying. I’m not saying to go crazy and dance on a table in your favorite restaurant, unless you really want to that is. Just go up and say hi to someone and work your way up from there. That’s the whole thing that my blog is based around. I post ideas for social experiments that you can try at your own pace.

Well that’s probably all I should write on here for now. Good luck with your shell breaking everyone!

Thanks again for letting me guest post on your blog Brittany! You’re awesome!

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To read more of Tyler’s posts and to read and maybe even participate in his shell break experiments, click here to visit his blog.  He is a very cool guy who I know you will enjoy getting to know.  He’s a self-described “language nut” who loves learning new languages and is eager to travel.

Don’t Be Afraid to Try

I met Patti in late March when she came across my site and left her first comment.  Since then she has continued to read my blog and leave comments on my posts.  Here she shares one of her own experiences with shyness, and some of the realizations she had when she made the effort to try doing something she thought she couldn’t do.  It just goes to show that it’s never too late to try doing something that you’ve always wanted to do.

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When I was a teenager, I really liked to sing and I liked the sound of my own voice and knew I could follow music well – but I was always too timid to try out for any school musicals or even for choir – simply because I would have to sing in front of people by myself. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I couldn’t bear the thought that others would judge me as “not good enough.”

When I in my mid-30s and my son was 10 years old, I saw a sign for tryouts for a community Gilbert and Sullivan group and thought it would be so much fun and I really wanted to do it. I was still afraid, but I realized that if I was going to be a good example for my son, I had to try – because it was too awful to think of him asking me why I hadn’t tried something I really wanted to do just because I was afraid.

I tried out and made it and had the time of my life. I realized how silly I had been when I was younger – realizing in looking back that I was as good or better than a lot of people who performed in front of others – but I lost out because I was afraid. I’m not big on regrets – what’s done is done – but I hope others won’t waste years losing out on useful, rewarding, or just plain fun experiences simply because they can’t bring themselves to try.

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 To read more of Patti’s writing, visit her site.  She is a lovely woman who is very down-to-earth, and you will enjoy getting to know her like I have through reading her posts. She is a talented writer and often sprinkles in a good amount of humor in her blog.

When Shyness Stands in the Way of Love

Doug was my very first blogging friend.  He welcomed me into the blogging world and was always more than happy to answer any questions I had about blogging.  He allowed me to write my very first guest post too which helped me get started.  I’m very grateful for his friendship and hope to make a visit to his farm in Iowa the next time I’m in the area.  I asked if he could share some of his journey of overcoming shyness for my blog, and within a matter of hours he had a response ready for me!  Hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

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My journey out of crippling shyness

Looking back, there are several   things that contributed to the shyness that gripped me throughout my days in school and into adulthood

I hated my name.

I  thought my ears were too big.

I was small for my age, wore glasses and  felt like a nerd.

My  mind would freeze at the thought of talking with a pretty girl.   I can count on one hand the number of one on one conversations I had with girls throughout my high school years .  Laugh all you  like, but if you struggle with shyness you know what I’m talking about.

Quick story.

When I turned 16, I remember thinking if somehow I didn’t get a handle on this problem, I was destined to turn out just like a guy who worked for my dad.  His name was Lowell Smock.  Nice guy, hard working,  but still single @ age 40.  I DID NOT want  to turn out like Lowel!

I wanted to date…..There was this girl in my homeroom I really wanted to get to know.   Problem was she sat with all the popular kids in the back of the class room and I sat in the front row, chewing on my pencil, ready to dash out the door, the moment the bell rang.   I felt like I was trapped between two  large black jaws of a vice….A life of singleness on the one hand and the crippling shyness that gripped my life on the other.  So I did the impossible.  I looked that girl’s phone number up in the phone book…over the course of several days I worked up the courage to dial it.  Her mom answered.  I remember writing out my conversation on a piece of paper.  Wonder  of wonders, when she got on the phone, I was able to stammer out my request to go to a movie..and she accepted!    Only went out on that one date because I didn’t know what to do the next Monday @ school.   She obviously had a good time because she came up to me in the lunch line.  I panicked, got out of line and left the cafeteria.  She had no idea what was going on in my head.  We didn’t talk again for 5 years.  Talk about a loser.

The next 4 years were pretty quiet.  I  did begin to go out socially after I graduated high school.  Tried every trick could imagine….asked my female cousins to set me up, went on double dates w/ friends..etc. Probably went out with a dozen girls…  I got tired of the mind games.   I got to a point of real desperation and actually cried out to God….I was not a religious person.  I honestly didn’t know if there was a god….. but I was sick and tired of the mind games, and the fear that still controlled my life….

Few weeks later, I happened to bump into that girl I had called on the phone for a date when I was 16.  She’d went away to college but came home after a semester.  She was working as a waitress in a pizza joint.  I was with my buddy Chuck that night..He said to me after she waited on our table,  “If you don’t ask her out, I will”  (He knew about my earlier panic attack with her back when I was 16). So I did…I asked her if she would ever be interested in hanging out…she said she would….and eventually became my wife.

Shyness continued to dog me until I entered my early 20’s.   At this point, I opened up to an older friend my struggles and asked her if she could help me.  Just opening up my struggles  to her did a lot to give me hope.  , I would encourage you to find someone you can trust…a mentor who you respect and seems to have their act together….you’ll be surprised at the difference that will make.  If you don’t have anyone in your life..feel free to  leave me a comment, I would LOVE to mentor a fellow shy person.   You do NOT have to live your whole life filtering everything through the “filter” of shyness and fear.

I believe shyness is rooted in how we think about ourselves.  It’s like we have a record  in our mind with grooves in it, playing the same old negative messages.

With the help of my friend and mentor, I began to literally cut new grooves in the recorded messages  of my  self -talk.

Thirty years later, I  still have  “moments” when some of that old stink’n think’n rears it’s ugly head, but it no longer controls me.

And finally, thank you Brittany for this opportunity to share my story.   DM

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*To read more about Doug’s journey, I recommend you visit this link.

This is the first post I read of Doug’s when I started blogging and my comment on his post started our yearlong blogging friendship.  I was nervous to write to him and leave a link to my blog because I didn’t know if that would be welcome or not, but I’m very glad I did.  He has become a great friend and it’s been a pleasure getting to know him.

The Final Month: You’re Not Alone

The final month is here.  I can’t believe that.  I remember how excited I was when I had reached the halfway month, but the final month?   Time sure has passed quickly.

So you probably want to know what’s in store for the last month.  Well, if you read my article on Psychology Today, I spoiled it.  The next month won’t be about me, but it will be about some of my blogging friends who have intriguing stories of their own relating to debilitating shyness or anxiety.  Their experiences range from moderate to severe, as shyness and/or social anxiety comes in a variety of degrees.  I am hoping that their stories will be a closing “hug” for all of us who can relate and will provide some comfort.  Because the truth is, you’re not alone in your struggles.  Many people have had to overcome obstacles to get to where they are today, and change didn’t always happen overnight.  I hope you will enjoy reading the stories of these brave individuals as much as I have.

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