One of the biggest themes of 2017 in my life is my social anxiety and how it has changed my life. It is my “great unknown” in my life, and I have trouble figuring out my anxiety triggers because they are so vast. I feel like I am in a fog with my anxiety.
I have tried to face my anxiety throughout the year, and it hasn’t really gone great at times. Even now I am struggling with the reality that I may have to limit the number of times I leave my house on any given day.
I wanted to reflect on 2017 and to try and see how my social anxiety has changed my life, and if possible identify some of the thoughts and behaviors associated with my social anxiety. That is after all one of the points of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
I was thinking today when was the last time that I saw a movie in the theaters? It took me a while. It was Star Wars Episode Seven, which came out in December of 2015. Then I got kinda depressed. I love watching movies but one of my biggest fears is having a panic attack in the middle of a packed theater.
My social anxiety started reaching new levels that I stopped watching movies in the movie theater because it is too hard to be around people in the dark for the length of a movie. I remember the last movie I saw having to take a couple Ativan during the movie just to survive. I am not sure if I consciously made the decision to stop seeing movies, or if it just started to happen.
I just know I kept saying no to invites to go see a movie with my friends and family stopped asking me to go.
I have tried in the past to go out and do things outside my comfort zone, but its never something I was good at doing. Last month I went to a live comedy show that featured Jo Koy and while I had a good time, I spent half of the time in total panic. It took several Ativan to get through that show. That has been a theme of late taking Ativan to get through a panic attack. I remember losing control and feeling outside my body. I laughed when I could but I was in real pain most of the night.
It was a relief to finally find myself home that night.
So what happens that causes my anxiety in this type of situation? It starts out before I actually leave my house. I start to think about all the bad times that I have let my anxiety take control of me in social situations and how I lost control. It’s always a real thing in my mind. Those were some of the worst experiences in my life and anxiety mixing with a panic attack is the worst. I lose myself and getting back in control in public, well it’s almost impossible at times.
CBT has taught me to change my thoughts and behaviors by analyzing what is causing my thoughts and find ways in the moment to change the thoughts to positive ones. I come up with an alternate thought that center around if the thought that is causing me anxiety could actually happen.
It was working for me during the summer and into late fall. I was able to leave my house almost every day and go places. I still avoided going to the theater or places that felt wrong, but I could leave my hours for a few hours and my night time anxiety was almost non-existent . Then the winter time hit, my depression began to take over, and my anxiety was not far behind. It seems to be a theme this winter.
Lately , I go to my favorite coffee shop to study and write but my time is limited to 3-4 hours before my anxiety kicks in. I usually end up leaving which makes me sad. I feel its the safest place for me besides in my own home, but that is far from healthy behavior. One of the things I want to work on before the end of the year is in those moments where I can’t take being in public any longer, I turn to CBT to try and change those thoughts.
Its the worst feeling when my anxiety thoughts take over my body. I feel outside myself in those situations. My mind races and I feel an endless cycle of not being able to catch my breath. I can’t sit still and yet I want nothing but to be laying down. As my panic rises my thoughts consume my every second. It feels never ending and in that moment I feel as if I could die.
That never happens, I am still here writing this blog, but you can’t tell me that I am not going to die, I wouldn’t believe it. Not in that moment. I have freaked out my family a lot this week with my panic attacks.
Social anxiety has changed me a lot. I go to less places because of my fears, and I know there is room to work on it. But, I am also not the most social person. I have talked about being an introvert a few times on my blog, and I feel the most comfortable in my own skin in the places where I have spent the most time writing. It is no wonder that I have less of a chance of a panic attack at home or my favorite coffee shop.
But I need to question that thought, is it valid?
Have years of believing that feeling great alone is a good thing? It is something to ponder because if I think about it, I have created a life for myself where I feel the best alone, and yet most of my worst panic attacks happen when I am alone. I doubt I would have ever realized this without my blog.
That is where I am at. I will most likely take this blog into my memoir The Bipolar Writer and expand and analyze this topic more in hopes to better understand who I am as person.
Anxiety has really controlled me this year, but I can fight this once and for all.
Always keep fighting.
Photo Credit: Matt Benson