Thinking Out Loud!

Writing this has been difficult and posting it, even more so.

The very act of writing in a public forum, even anonymously, frightens me a lot. As someone with social anxiety, I have a fear (that I know is excessive) of being judged and criticised by others, especially strangers. The fact that, on some level, I know my fears and predictions of criticism, ridicule and rebuke are irrational and exaggerated, does little to stem, what has become an instinctive almost physical urge to avoid writing this article.

I’ve decided to resist that urge and so, this is the first of what will hopefully be a series of posts about my experience with social anxiety and about my thoughts on recovering from it.

I think I need to say a little about myself so you can get an idea of where I’m coming from and  to give a sense of where I am along the (winding) path to reducing my social anxiety to a point where itwill (with a bit of luck) dictate very few of the choices I make in life.

Here it goes:

I’m a 20 something-year-old guy who has had (and still has) social anxiety for as long as he can remember. It’s had more of an impact on my life at certain stages than at others. At first, I experienced it as a pattern of physical symptoms that plagued me, before and during and after, certain social situations and as a general feeling of extreme reluctance, and even terror, at the thought of doing everyday things that others, to my frustration, seemed to do with ease and even look forward to. Some of these symptoms were so bad that I had medical tests done which, of course, showed that there was nothing physically wrong with me.

I didn’t have a name for what I felt until around 2006 when I went to college and realised, in that less sheltered environment, that I was struggling with a serious problem, a problem that was having such a negative effect on my day-to-day activities that it needed to be tackled. When I stumbled across the Social Anxiety Wikipedia entry I was amazed at how precisely it described my symptoms. In those same search results, I found this very website and saw that help was available.

At that time, perhaps because how I thought mental health issues where perceived by society or  because being anxious makes asking for and getting help difficult, I was unwilling, or probably unable (to be fair to myself), to seek help from my GP or from college support services. Although I did give it a lot of thought, and was encouraged to do so by parents, I refused put my name down for the Mater group I had tracked down on the Internet. At that point, the thought of telling anyone aside from my parents about my problem, terrified me.

It’s now 2013.

I am still socially anxious but thankfully, not to the same extent as before.

I finally pushed myself to attend the Group here in the Mater and, having recently completed it, I’m happy to say that it’s has been enormously helpful. The group, one or two other things and the fact that I’m a little older, have put me in a position to throw all I’ve got at tackling my social anxiety, with the aim of bringing my levels of anxiety down to, or close to, what are considered ‘normal’ levels. In later posts, I hope to write about some of the things I took from the group and about other resources I’ve found useful.

If you told me in 2006 that I’d come this far and that I’d be blogging about social anxiety, I would have laughed at you. I’ve made significant progress but it’s all too easy to lose sight of that. I still struggle with social anxiety on a daily basis, however, it prevents me less and less from doing the things I want to do.

Becoming less socially anxious doesn’t happen without a fight. It’s a tough fight, and for me it is still on-going, but it is a fight in which I can, for the first time, feel the tide slowly turn. I’m excited about that and I’d like to write about this progress, the things I’m still grappling with and to share some of the thoughts I’ve had about the whole process along the way. More importantly, I’d love to hear from others about their experiences and the progress they’ve been making and hear about they’ve found helpful. The resource I underestimated the most before attending the group was how helpful meeting and talking to fellow sufferers would be.

In writing about my own experiences I’m conscious of the fact that some of you may identify with some of them, but that many of you may not. Social anxiety affects us all in different ways but, what I think we do have in common is that it makes day-to-day living difficult and can often prevent us from doing the things we want to do in life. One of the most important things I’ve learned from this experience is the importance of not giving up on the idea that making very significant progress is possible and that with help we can do the things we want to do in life.

To those of you who find yourself in the position I was in a few years ago, all I can say is, for what it’s worth, progress, better than anything I’d ever thought possible, can be made.

It’s not always easy, there will be setbacks and it does take effort. Like most things in life, there is no instant magic solution to social anxiety. (If anyone has found one please let me know about it!)

If you’re suffering from social anxiety and haven’t already, I would encourage you, if you can, to take some action, any action, no matter how small it seems.  Ask for help. There’s a lot out there and although deciding you need help, and taking steps to getting it, is not always easy, I am convinced it’s absolutely worthwhile, more than half the battle even. I say this now as someone who was very sceptical, only a few years ago, about the possibility of being helped, and was, fortunately, proved wrong.

That’s all from me for the moment.

Please leave your comments below (even as a challenge for yourselves) I’d love to hear from you.

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