The reality of social anxiety

A while back I shared “Life with social anxiety”. In the post I go into great detail about what it’s like, from my perspective, to deal with social anxiety.

The reason why I mention that post today is because I want to, again, talk about social anxiety.

For people that don’t suffer from social anxiety, it’s hard to understand it. For people that do, it’s hard to explain it. This can lead to confusion, misunderstanding, misrepresentation of how conversations are carried out. It’s a tangled web.

See, I’m not very good with people. I’m not the type of person who will start a conversation. In fact, if you don’t start the conversation, we might not even have one. I don’t find silence to be awkward. I actually find silence to be calming. People often, though, mistake my silence for attitude.

If there’s one thing that this pandemic has done for me the past year-and-a-half, I haven’t had to explain myself as much. I haven’t had to come up with excuses for why I couldn’t go somewhere or do something. The pandemic did that for me. Now that I’m fully vaccinated and the majority of people in this province are also vaccinated, or getting vaccinated, it’s much safer to go out and do things. Events are starting again. People are meeting for coffees, or dinner and drinks, or just to sit around the table and talk.

All of those things are good. Believe me, ALL OF THOSE THINGS ARE GOOD. They’re just hard for me.

I’m awkward.

I don’t love hugs.

Most days I don’t even appreciate handshakes.

In social settings, I won’t deny someone a hug or a handshake if they gesture for it, but I’m definitely not going to initiate it. Sometimes I get the sense that people think I’m cold-hearted because of that.

It’s been nice to not have to force myself into situations that make me uncomfortable for a year and a half. I know, I know, I know all about how we’re supposed to do things in life that make us uncomfortable to ensure that we grow, but, when it comes to social anxiety, it isn’t a situation in which if I do it more, I become more comfortable with it.

I’ve come to the realization that I will always be awkward.

I’ve always been that person that smiles and nods at a stranger if they ask me a question or give me a compliment. Actually, when it comes to compliments, I don’t take them well at all.

Being vaccinated has given me a lot of freedom back. For that, I’m grateful. Wandering the aisles of the grocery story without worry is a really good feeling. It will take me some time to adjust, though, to being around people again. Conversations in passing, meeting for coffee, going to birthday parties (haven’t really started here yet but I know they will), getting my haircut… these things will take me time. I am that girl who will sit in the stylist’s chair for several hours (I have long hair) and maybe say two or three words the entire time. Over the course of those several hours getting my hair cut, I will worry about what the stylist is thinking of me. But, I won’t open my mouth to talk. That is social anxiety guiding me.

For those that know me, they know that I struggle with social interactions. For those that don’t, I’m all too sure they think I’m rude. I think about that a lot, actually. I think about what everyone thinks about me. All the time. They don’t dictate who I am, or who I get to be, but I still do worry I’m leaving the wrong impression.

I guess, as the world opens up again, it’s important to be patient with people.

I am who I am. My social anxiety guides a lot of what I do. If I say no to an invitation, that’s not a reflection of the invitee, that’s me. If I integrate back into the world slowly, there’s a reason for that.

Social anxiety is complicated.

Letter to a thin-skinned soul

Dear Self,

As hard as you try, not everyone is going to like you. That’s a fact of life. And that’s totally okay. Don’t break your back over someone who’s opinion of you is never going to change. Quite frankly, their opinions don’t and shouldn’t matter to you. What should matter to you is who you choose to be, day in and day out.

Be yourself. Be authentic. Be true.

Those who know and love you will appreciate you for exactly who you are. Those who don’t, well, don’t waste your time or worry on them. You’re perfect just the way you are.

And if you do change, don’t change for anyone but yourself.

Sincerely, Me

Mental Health Resources from a Psychiatrist

One of the things that I’ve learned working with a Psychiatrist over the past two months is that if something is wrong, I am in charge of fixing it. I don’t just get to go into her office and say ‘fix me!’ I am responsible for fixing myself. If there were only one thing she couldn’t stress to me more during our sessions it’s that ‘You get out of therapy what you put into therapy. It’s called self-healing for a reason’.

My Psychiatrist provides a lot of ‘homework’. I get a lot of handouts to take home – paperwork to fill out, not for the purpose of being graded, but more for the purpose of self-reflection. What I’ve been thinking lately is that I should share these handouts and booklets provided to me. So, that’s what I’m going to start doing. I’m making an official ‘page’ for this on my blog, and I’ll be sharing the handouts that I get from my Psychiatrist.

FYI – I’ve told her about my blog and she’s all for me sharing these resources. Her response was ‘Hey, if it can help, spread the wealth for better health’.

In the first installment of this series, I am including a list of definitions. Definitions, while they may seem like a straightforward subject, are important to read and differentiate. Often times when we think of our mental health, each of these different definitions can mesh together into one big jumbled mess. This, in a sense, can contribute to confusion and panic within our minds. So, clear definitions are integral to understanding one’s self and mental health.

Self – A person’s self is the sum of all he/she can call their own. The self includes, among other things, a system of ideas, attitudes, values and commitments. The self is a person’s total subjective environment. It is the distinctive centre of experience and significance. The self constitutes a person’s inner world as distinguished from the outer world consisting of all other people and things.

Self Concept – The mental imagine one has of oneself. A person’s opinion of himself/herself. Self concept is a mental picture that represents a person’s opinion of himself/herself. That mental picture has three aspects to it: appearance, performance and status.

Appearance: How do I look? It’s important because it is something we consider every day. Compliments or criticism affects this part of our self concept and relates to how we view our bodies, dress and personal grooming.

Performance: How am I doing? It relates to how we view our abilities, our skills, our knowledge and our sense of responsibility.

Status: How important am I? We all desire to feel respected and admired by others. It relates to how we view our importance among people (family name, wealth, education, position or social rating)

These three aspects came from how we feel rated by others. We develop our self concept by stepping back and looking at the picture of ourselves. Our memories that have accumulated mostly in childhood when we are impressionable, form the network for the tapestry of our self concept.

Self Respect – Regard for one’s own standing or position. The degree of honour one shows oneself. Values that you judge yourself by. The degree to which you meet the standards you have for yourself, give you your sense of self respect.

Self Confidence – Belief in oneself and in one’s powers and abilities. That which allows us to make choices, to think, to judge, to know and come to decisions. Confidence is built by the successes we experience in life. Small successes built upon smaller successes, lead to a graduated building of confidence. It is important to remember these small successes and forget the failures. We tend to remember the failures and destroy our self confidence by putting ourselves down with them.

Self Acceptance – Being satisfied with one’s attitude and qualities while being aware of one’s limitations and potentials.

Acknowledgement that this is who I am, what I was born with and what I look like. Accepting what I can’t change, change what I can and do what I have to do to be the best that is within me.

Self Esteem – A confidence and satisfaction in oneself. Personal comepetence and personal worth. Self esteem = Self confidence + Self respect. A person with high self esteem is fundamentally satisfied with the type of person they are yet they may acknowledge their faults while hoping to overcome them.

Self Efficacy – People’s beliefs about their capabilities to produce designated levels of performance that exercise influence over events that affect their lives.

Do your definitions match, or differ from what’s listed? Are you surprised at any of these definitions? Also, what aspects of yourself fit into each of these definitions? Reflection as to how these definitions are represented within you can help to clarifying where your issues lie and where your growth is needed.

Mental Health Awareness Month

Hey Self,

I know you’ve been a little down lately. I know you’re struggling. I know that things really don’t seem like they’re ever going to turn around for the better. Please here me when I say this: KEEP GOING.

Please, keep going.

There will come a time when this will all be a distant memory. There will come a time when you smile because you want to, not because you have to. Most importantly, there will come a time when you are happy, again. I know it doesn’t seem like it now, but trust me when I say this, you will be happy again.

When you feel sad, remember that the sun always shines after the rain… even in Vancouver. When you don’t want to go out in public, force yourself to. Being around people is good for you. And when people annoy you, practice patience. Why? Because no one is perfect, and there are presently people in this world practicing their patience on you.

Don’t be wary of the people who want to help. Whether they love you, they have a saviors complex, or just want a project, an offer of help is an offer of help. Appreciate the offer for what it is. Also, please don’t alienate yourself from people who do not understand. If they’ve never been through it, it may be hard for them to understand, but that doesn’t mean they don’t care. Education is far more important than alienation. If you can help even one person to understand it, that’s one more person to have in your corner.

Look after yourself. Don’t ever be afraid to treat yourself. Make decisions that are going to benefit you, make you smile or contribute to your happiness. You deserve it. You deserve the whole world… and then some. So please don’t let your brain tell you otherwise.

Cry. Cry when you want to. Whenever you want to. Tears are not a bad thing. Far from it. So don’t ever be afraid to shed tears if you need to.

Speaking of your brain, please don’t ever let it win. I know it’s hard. Sometimes it can feel as though the negativity is all you can see, but trust me, there is good in there. Your brain does not control you, and it does not define you. Your choices define you. Make the choice to not let your brain win.

Exercise is important. Integral… to your well being. When all you want to do is lay in bed and hide from the world, tell yourself that 30 minutes is enough to make a difference. Because 30 minutes is enough to make a difference. You’ve got this. So do this.

Lastly, be yourself. Who you are is enough. Who you are is fucking amazing. Remind yourself that you are a warrior and that you can get through anything. One day, when this is all a distant memory, you’ll look back on this time and realize how much strength you have, how much growth you’ve been through and all the crap you’re truly capable of getting through.

Love yourself.

Respect yourself.

Just keep going.

Sincerely, Me.