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.
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.
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.
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.