Social Anxiety/Phobia Support
I attended the three week social phobia course with one full week working at it, a week of homework, and then another full week on the course. I found the thought of a whole day in the company of people I didn’t know quite daunting and the knowledge that at the end of each day we had to speak for a short time in front of the group and be filmed doing it was especially scary. I sometimes wondered what on earth I had got myself into, but knew that at the end of the day it was for my own good and I would be the one to benefit.
Many aspects of social phobia affected me: eating in a social situation was literally stomach churning.: signing my name at the bank or in a formal situation scared me rigid: talking in front of a group of people was really hard and to be avoided at all costs: just generally socializing could be difficult if I didn’t know many people.
A few weeks after I finished the SP course, I reluctantly became a committee member of the Social Phobia Support Group (SPSG) which has been one of the best things I have done. At first I couldn’t understand a lot of what was being talked about, but I gradually started putting 2 + 2 together. I had never been on a committee before as I always thought everyone else knew much better what to do and how to do it, and I felt I couldn’t contribute very much. I might do it wrong! I have slowly gained much more confidence in my abilities, doing things I would have dodged before. This includes ringing people with social phobia whom I don’t know and giving them encouragement, learning new skills such as taking minutes at the committee meetings and being part of organising the social phobia meetings rather than sitting back and letting everyone else do it “because they can do it better.” I am fortunate to have the opportunity to listen to the people giving their speeches at the end of their ADU course and then speaking to them about the SPSG, and that is still a good exposure task for me.
In joining another group, I found I had the regular opportunity of speaking in front of a roomful of people, as well as trying to socialise with them afterwards. I found both these things very hard but through perseverance I can now talk in front of others with much more confidence. At first I was hard on myself and would go over in my mind what I’d said and how I could have said it better….”why did I say that?…..I should have said that.” Now I let it go and stop losing sleep over it. Nobody has ever come up to me afterwards and criticised what I have said. Rather, on occasion, they have said how much they enjoyed my talk. It’s only through doing this repeatedly that I’ve become less nervous about speaking in front of others, but sometimes I can still get butterflies and that’s okay. It’s okay to be nervous. I’ll live through it. If I make a mistake, I am learning to laugh at myself, which isn’t always easy. I like to do things perfectly which is impossible because nobody is perfect.
I used to feel awkward if I was in a group of people who all seemed to be talking to each other and I felt I was just standing there like a dummy. So that would make me feel like taking flight and I often did. Now I can stay around, notice others, see that quite a few of them are also just standing around not talking to anyone else. Now I give myself choices. I can just listen to others talking and join in if appropriate, or go and start a conversation with someone else who is on their own. Some people are difficult to talk to, maybe don’t want to talk, so I can move on to someone else. I’m still learning the art of conversation, realising some people are simply easier to talk to than others. I don’t have to do all the talking: listening is just as important.
The best conversations are when we both seem to be on the same wavelength, but to have this happen I have to open up and be honest about myself. I think this is something I always found hard—letting my guard down and allowing others know me, and maybe let them see what I thought of as weaknesses. Also by listening to the other person I can forget about myself and feel more relaxed. It’s really good when you can share feelings with others and they have similar thoughts, and we can often laugh about it together.
It is by persevering and doing those things I find difficult that I have grown and progressed. I often have to repeat them until I feel more comfortable and then I can take the next step. I don’t have to do every single exposure task that comes my way and can give myself the choice of saying yes or no. I have learned that in helping others, even in a small way, I am really helping myself to become more confident.
By concentrating on one of the things I found the most difficult—speaking in front of others—the other things I used to find hard seem to have disappeared. I have no trouble eating in public now, I can sign my name and write in front of people without hesitation and so-called authority figures turn out to be just people after all, probably with their own problems.
My journey is about learning to accept myself, accepting other people, hopefully doing a little bit to help others and trying not to worry about what other people think of me.
The best thing is I don’t have all those feelings of total panic before I go into what was previously a scary situation to me. Maybe I will have a few butterflies but I absolutely know I will be all right.
I CAN cope. I WILL be okay. There is even a high probability that I will enjoy myself!