The Shyness Project

Archive for the tag “Inspiration”

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.

Asking Questions and Handing Out Cookies

Today in first period we had a discussion on exchange rates of currency in other countries.   Our teacher talked about it for a while and showed us a website where we could calculate different exchange rates.  She showed us various graphs of the changes in time of the value of a certain currency, and it was interesting to me.  I had some questions in my head, but I wasn’t sure if they were dumb or good questions.

Near the end of her discussion, I thought about my questions.  When I started to seriously consider asking them, my heart pounded like crazy!

And I decided to ask anyways.  🙂

Apparently they were good questions because she thought about them for a while and then talked about them for a long time.  I think she was glad that I was really paying attention and thinking about what she was saying, since a majority of our class didn’t seem to be listening.

In second period, I took a Photoshop certification test and was the second in all my teacher’s classes to pass it!  I talked to my teacher quite a bit, and she said she was proud of me.  The test had a lot of problems and had ridiculously slow loading time, so much so that errors often popped up and it skipped questions.  I was surprised that I still was able to pass even with all those difficulties with the test.

I have third period with the same teacher, so I ended up staying in my same seat as I have second period as I was finishing up that test (even though I normally sit in a different seat third period).  It took over an hour to get through because of how slow it was.  Since I was in a different seat, someone different sat next to me.  I don’t know her well but I know that she’s very nice.  I talked to her a little about the dance tonight and she showed me a picture of her dress on her phone.  After I finished taking the test, we helped each other out with a Photoshop project we were all working on together as a class.  One of my friends, Sue, had brought me cookies and a really nice card that morning for my birthday (since it’s on Sunday).  I offered the girl I was sitting next to one of the cookies, and she smiled and said thank you.  She then told me happy birthday and we talked about turning 18.

When I saw Sue later I offered her one of her own cookies, and she was eager to have one too.  Later in 5th period I gave another cookie to my lab partner Ben and he apparently liked it a lot because he was acting silly and dancing after I gave it to him.

Several people wished me happy birthday throughout the day, and it was nice.  I had a pretty good day, and I’m looking forward to the weekend!

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