Me, social anxiety, and a little night out (self-help books)

Over the years I have tried so many self-help books that I’ve lost count, I don’t even want to know how many there have been.

I’ve tried Claire Weeks and her “Pass through Panic” CD, the “Linden Method”, Paul McKenna books and CDs, online CBT courses, you name them – I’ve probably tried them. I’m not knocking them, I know these have worked for many people, just not me. Perhaps it wasn’t the right time.

Most of the programmes I’ve tried have been along the lines of starting with something which only brings moderate discomfort (e.g. for me, tea and cakes), and, as that situation becomes more comfortable, trying the next step up the ladder until that too becomes comfortable. This was ok on the first rung of the ladder, but I never got past the first rung because I didn’t have the confidence or skills to move on. I struggled because:

• It was too big a step – how do you move on from a café to a restaurant? Or from a cup of tea at someone’s house to a full meal? It was too daunting.

• The steps were too far apart in terms of timings. I needed to be able to build on these steps every day, or I’d be back to square one again. But how do you invite someone out for a cup of tea one day, then tea and cake the next day, then a meal the next day, without them thinking you are totally crazy? (for me the answer has been several things – by admitting I struggle, by blogging about it and receiving so much wonderful support, by building my confidence with my counsellor, and practicing mindfulness – learning to switch off the panic button).

• Authors would say I needed to drop my safety behaviours, such as having mints to stop me feeling sick, a valium in my bag in case of emergency, taking Mr Silver Linings with me, having an escape plan. The thought of this meant I couldn’t face it, I need these things. (However, my counsellor says that these are all fine, they’re not unhealthy, the important thing is that I get out there and try things).

• Claire Weeks (who has helped a lot of people), asks that you don’t escape anxious situations, that you stay and wait until the anxiety subsides. Escaping and avoiding are two things I am very, very good at.

My problem is that I’ve been BATTLING anxiety for over a decade. I’ve gritted my teeth and made myself attend things I haven’t wanted to attend. And none of this battling has worked – I figured I lacked the willpower and courage needed, and so I beat myself up even more!

The next post will look at the counselling I’ve had, and how it turned out I was doing it all wrong. No more battling, no more teeth gritting!

 

Me, social anxiety, and a little night out (the counselling)

 

As some of you will know, in the summer of 2013 I spent 3 long weeks in my bedroom, racked with anxiety, knowing that something had to change. And that I have managed a big step recently, a little night out. This is the latest instalment in how I managed it….

I contacted a counsellor (recommended by my doctor), who specialises in person centred therapy. I expected that I was about to face the biggest battle of all, that I would be given weekly homework to conquer my fears, when all I wanted to do was hide!

It turned out that this wasn’t going to be the case at all. My counsellor is very gentle (which I need), there’s never any scary homework – instead we discuss things I want to do, how I feel about them, and how I might go about them. The main thing is she prompts me to rethink some of my assumptions, like… everyone thinks I’m boring because I’m quiet, that I have nothing to say, that people only invite me out or politeness, that I’m not “normal”, that I’m weak, I could go on….

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Anyway, 12 sessions with my counsellor and I can now see that:

• Quiet people can be just as interesting, a room needs a mixture of quiet and loud people otherwise it would be hellish.

• I’m not boring, I have interesting things to say, I just tend to think about them before I say them, and only say things that I really believe in. (I feel a post about being an introvert coming on…)

• People may have a different perception of me to the one I believe to be true, and they might be right and I might be wrong (see Johari’s window)

• People invite me because they like me, people really aren’t that polite!

• People don’t judge nearly as much as I think they do, they’re busy in their own worlds, with their own thoughts.

• I need to be kinder to myself, and stop being so self-critical.

• I need to learn that just because I think something, doesn’t mean it’s true.

• I need to learn to look at the evidence for my beliefs a bit harder. I tend to think in terms of things “always” happening, which isn’t really true.

• I need to stop seeing everything as black and white, pass or fail.

• My perception of everyone else being “normal” is apparently skewed. In my head, everyone is “normal” except me, everyone else is capable of doing “normal” things without a second thought. I’m now figuring out that there is no such thing as “normal”, everyone is different, and everyone (or nearly everyone?) has something they struggle with. I’m still getting my head round this one – all my life I’ve wanted to be “normal”.

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“Normal” people go out with friends, they stay over with friends, they see a band, they catch a flight. You know, “normal”, your average Joe? I am learning that the above quote is true, that we often only see the façade that people are happy to show the world – the “perfect” marriage that ends, the “perfect” colleague who hides their own struggles. But I still want to be NORMAL!

Some quotes I found on Pinterest about being normal:

(What are your thoughts around the word “normal”? How have you learnt to accept yourself – good and bad – and stop comparing? I am still struggling with this one…)

Back to the counselling. Through these sessions I have started to build up my belief in myself, to trust myself a little bit more. Previously, only staying out for an hour or so would mean I’d failed – I’d failed to stay out all night like “normal people” (to be honest, knowing I might only cope with an hour would mean I wouldn’t go out at all). Now I see the positives – just going out at all is a huge improvement, an improvement that can be built on gradually, in my own time. I try and give myself the encouragement that I would give a friend, instead of letting my harsh inner critic take over (that bloomin’ anxiety monster).

I still want to be “normal”, and I still have a HUGE fear of panicking, but I’m chipping away at that one.  – more in the next post (on mindfulness)

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 All images from www.pinterest.com