Dear Dr. Richards,
I would like to start by thanking you for making available such a useful tool for overcoming social anxiety with your therapy audio series. I am currently on session nine and I'm making progress every day.
I have found that reading about other people's experiences with SAD has been therapeutic in and of itself. Knowing that I'm not the only one in the world with this "disorder" (cringe) is extremely comforting.
That said, I would like to share my experience living with SAD and hopefully some people can relate to me. I know whenever I read about the intense anxiety that a person endures when thrown into a "gut wrenching" situation, a smile appears on my face. Not because I think that the person is "weird", but because I can relate so well to what they are going through.
Growing up, I had always been shy and fairly reserved but I had never felt the anguish of social anxiety until high school. In making a presentation to the class, my heart would feel as if it wanted to leave my chest, my palms would get sweaty, my voice would crack and sound weak because it felt as though my lungs were being constricted.
My Automatic Negative Thoughts literally controlled me. I would feel paralyzed.
Time after time I would endure the torture of being put on the spot and having all eyes on me. I tried to accept the fact that I would have to put up with this the rest of my life. I saw no way out. I desperately wanted to seek help but I didn't know where to turn. What would my doctor tell me if I told him I was shy?
He'd probably just shrug and say "That's just who you are" (a character trait). In the past, I used the five negative behaviors (from "The Fighting Paradox" cognitive handout) to try to overcome my anxiety, which as you explained, only exacerbated the problem. I was feeling more and more alienated after each humiliating event. I would often wonder what was wrong with me.
I did a fairly good job at hiding my anxiety and I never spoke of it to anyone. I chose to endure it alone.
My first year of college was actually "fairly" anxiety free. By chance, I didn't have to make any presentations, although I did have to read aloud in a few of my classes and deal with the always-humiliating first day of class.
The first day of discussion sections were always extremely anxiety ridden.
As soon as the instructor would tell us to get into a circle (the infamous circle of death), my heart would start racing because I knew what was coming. INTRODUCTIONS! We were in the circle of death at the start of winter quarter of last year and my turn to speak was quickly approaching. My anxiety was so severe that I had to leave the room (I took "flight"....escaped). I tried to collect myself in the bathroom and I eventually returned to the class and hesitantly introduced myself. It was an excruciatingly painful event.
I've actually devised a strategy for the first day of discussion: I sit right next to the instructor so that I can get my introduction out of the way as soon as possible. (My heart rate seems to race faster and faster as time goes by and anxiety builds, so I like to get it over with as quickly as possible). My strategy sometimes backfires when the instructor decides to go around the room counter-clockwise, in which case, when it's finally my turn, I'm about as red as a fire truck and near having cardiac arrest. I can't help but laugh at myself.
Now I focus on thinking rationally and my anxiety is much more under control.
When I'm forced to read aloud, my ANTs would focus on the sound of my voice. "I'm sure everyone is noticing how scared I am and how weak my voice sounds". This was extremely devastating to me because in high school everyone knew that I was an ok guy and that I just got a little nervous in making presentations but the fact that I didn't know anyone in my college courses made my anxiety shoot through the roof. They were judging me based on how I performed in class and never gave the "real", anxiety free side of me a chance.
I've actually had one person ask me if I slept with my arms crossed because I always seemed so serious and stiff. I was with a close friend at the time and he laughed and mentioned how I usually don't know when to stop joking around. He knew my real personality and she only saw the mask created by my social anxiety.
My anxiety and self-consciousness was at its worst when I found out that a girl had said that I was "weird". (I know now she was just reacting to the tension I created by being "socially anxious", or so I'd like to believe). I acted as if it was no big deal, but I realize now that it affected me and the way I saw myself.
I found myself trying not to be weird and that just made things worse.
That same week, I was in a friend's dorm room, reading an article in a magazine about social anxiety and a little light bulb appeared over my head. "That's it! This is what I have!"
I borrowed the magazine and raced home to do some research online. I found the SAI website, read over every link I could click on and finally came to the therapy series page and ordered it that day. I've been following the program religiously and have found the techniques to be extremely helpful.
I practice slow talk every day and have realized that I now use it unconsciously. I don't want to make it sound as though I'm completely anxiety free, because I have a long way to go, but I am slowly getting better.
My confidence is starting to come back and I'm starting to accept myself as well as the fact that not everyone is going to like me.
Last week I made small talk with a girl who sat next to me in my sociology class (she's an attractive girl, so the reading on the anxiety-meter was pretty high). I thought, without a doubt, that she was noticing how nervous I was. The following day she sat in the opposite corner of the lecture hall and I was completely crushed. "I knew she noticed how nervous I was", I said to myself.
She must think I'm a weirdo (I know I'm not supposed to beat myself up, but I'm still working on that). Just a couple days ago, the girl -- we'll call her Megan -- sat right next to me and I started to think; "great! Now she just wants to see me squirm some more". She ended up telling me that her little sister, who was visiting her for the day, didn't want to sit up front and that's why she didn't sit next to me. She actually asked me to have lunch with her that day. I'm obviously still having trouble controlling my negative thoughts, but that really boosted my self-esteem.
That brings us to today: I found out last week that I was to make a presentation for my environmental science class and I had been pretty good about not making a big deal about it. I went into the classroom fairly relaxed but towards the end of the presentation of the girl going before me, my heart started to race and I began to get anxious. I quickly asked myself "Is this a life or death situation?" and reminded myself to think rationally and use slow talk and my anxiety decreased to tolerable levels.
I made it through the presentation and I even engaged in conversation with the instructor while still having the stage. The whole ordeal was still a bit nerve-wracking but I was able to get through it without feeling completely paralyzed by my anxiety. A couple of weeks ago I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have even gone to the class and taken the F on the assignment.
When I first received the audio series, I was skeptical of the methods and techniques used in cognitive behavioral therapy, but now I realize the effectiveness of the treatment.
To everyone going through the audio therapy series, I strongly encourage you to not give up, continue with the daily exercises and not lose hope of leading a better life. I hope my little story made someone smile; just as reading other people's stories have made me smile.
Good luck to everyone!
Will: Thank you for sharing part of your life story...it is very helpful to others. Recovering from social anxiety seems like an impossible task at first. But, learning how to think, believe, act, and feel more rationally changes our life. Living through this nightmare myself for so many years makes it a little easier to "armchair quarterback" this.
Everyone with social anxiety can learn to get over it.