Today I’m taking a probably-not-that-well-earned break and letting the wonderful Kelly, otherwise known as Anxious Lass (from the lifestyle blog centred around mental health, of the same name), to do the work for me!
She’s written a great piece about her own struggles with anxiety and how she overcame them to become not-so-anxious lass. Once again, we see the same common themes among everyone who overcomes an anxiety disorder:
- Get help and make the choice to eradicate it
- Get off medication
- Put in the work to get rid of it
Right, that’s enough from me. Take it away Kelly!
The Journey of Overcoming Social Anxiety
Being diagnosed with Social Anxiety Disorder is a tricky business. On the one hand, my diagnosis at 14 years of age helped me feel less “weird”, I finally had an answer to what was causing me so much pain and distress and it was a legitimate medical thing but on the other hand I felt like I’d just ran a marathon only to find a mountain to climb at the end of my route, instead of a finishing line and a medal.
Just more shit to go through.
My entire school experience (including primary as well as high school but especially high school) was incredibly difficult. Kids can be cruel and I took a lot of abuse, physically and emotionally.
I didn’t stand up for myself, I didn’t know how and my confidence shrank and shrank until it eventually withered into non-existence. 14 years of age, bullied and assaulted, until the only thought running through my head was
“I don’t belong here.”
A suicide attempt brought around my Social Anxiety Disorder diagnosis. It wasn’t for attention, although I can understand why people would assume otherwise, I just wanted to die. I wanted everything to switch off, so I didn’t have to feel pain, I didn’t have to feel scared of everything and everyone.
I’ll drop this in right here – I’m SO glad that I didn’t die but that wasn’t the case for a few years, it took a while to be grateful for my life and if that’s your situation, THAT’S OKAY.
Social Anxiety doesn’t have a quick fix and for a lot of us, it takes a few tries to find the correct treatment. It’s not a one-size-fits-all kind of disorder.
After my suicide attempt and being referred to a counselling service for adolescents, I tried a number of things to treat my Social Anxiety.
I tried Talking Therapies, medication, breathing exercises, meditation and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), as well as diving straight into the deep end.
Diving straight into the deep end was the worst of all for me, I started a job that I wasn’t ready for and it gradually made me more and more anxious until I eventually quit. That experience just gave me more reason to believe that my anxious thoughts were correct, instead of proving to myself that I could do well in social situations.
Medication didn’t work out so well, it gave me a little boost that enabled me to work hard with my other treatments but it also made me feel nauseous and kind of numb and I really didn’t like that feeling at all.
I might have had better luck trying different kinds of medication but I stopped after trying a second type of anti-depressant.
Talking Therapies helped me at a time where I really wasn’t ready to tackle my social anxiety head-on.
Being able to talk about my thoughts and being given alternative ways to think about things did really help and having social anxiety explained to me properly made so much sense out of things that I’d felt in the past that I could never understand.
Breathing exercises and meditation are things that I have used since my diagnosis and I still use now, mainly when I can feel I’m getting into an anxiety attack and I want to stop it in its tracks.
It works when I’m hyperventilating and much less than calm. It’s not something that will ‘cure’ anxiety in my experience but it’s something that I like to pop into my imaginary toolbox for when I need it.
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) was the most drastic and brilliant of treatments that I experienced.
It’s still a kind of Talking Therapy but is more hands-on and practical and aims at changing the way you think and behave in situations that make you anxious.
My belief is that you need to be ready and open to make CBT work, as it can be full-on and quite draining. It will bring you out of your comfort-zone but instead of diving straight into situations that make you panic, it breaks things up into more manageable steps by having you set goals for yourself.
When I started CBT, I was still too anxious to live a typical life. I’d missed out on a normal teenage experience, having not made many friends and gone out to clubs and had that social experience everyone says their teenage years were the best for.
I’d left school early and missed out on having the qualifications I wanted. I didn’t go to college or Uni and pretty much thought my dreams of having a good job (I wanted to be a professional photographer) and a happy normal life would never come true.
5 months into CBT, I went to business classes and spoke up in a boardroom full of people, I photographed my first wedding with over 100 people in attendance and I started doing things that I had never been able to do before.
I’m 27 now…
…and while I have overcome the majority of my social anxiety, I still practice all the techniques I learnt in therapy to manage it. I expose myself to things that make me nervous all the time, I challenge myself.
Goals are always being set and I’m always reaching for them, no matter how comfortable I think I am because something will always come up in your life that makes you anxious.
In the past 2 years alone, I have managed to live by myself (something that I always thought my anxiety would hold me back from), run a wedding photography business, speak in public for several hours to a group of 50+ people, talk live on radio, make a great group of friends, go out, have parties, have FUN!
I’ve made my life something I wanted it to be and I know that you can do it too! So if you feel like you’re falling behind or that your dreams are slipping away, don’t worry, it takes time and hard work but you will get there.
Thanks so much for this honest and candid article, Kelly.