Social Anxiety: Earning My “I Voted” Sticker

Several years ago, it became hard to go into public places without using the “buddy system.” I’m not exactly sure why this happened but I believe it stemmed from years of infertility and the self-hatred that grew during that time. By doubting my body’s ability to do something as simple as procreating, I became fearful of every tick and click inside. The fear took over like an avalanche. One day, I stood in line at Old Navy and started to hyperventilate– my palms were wet, the world moved in slow motion, and the exit was all I wanted. The feeling consumed me and avoidance behavior became my warm fuzzy blanket.

I allowed this to be “okay” for almost a decade. During this time there were several elections that I wanted to vote in. The last time I voted in-person was when Barack Obama first took office. Four years later, there were important issues I wanted to vote on as well as the presidential candidates. When the day arrived, I psyched myself up to go but when push came to shove, I couldn’t go through with it. The trouble with social anxiety and voting places are the long lines, one way in and one way out, and I swear the temperature is always overly warm. I didn’t even make it to the parking lot. I missed casting my vote because avoidance behavior was so normal, breaking the mold out of nowhere was impossible.

When the Trump/Clinton election arrived, the political environment was on fire and leaked into everyday conversation on social media and in person. Feeling guilty for not casting my vote previously, I told myself I would vote no matter what it took. I had not started therapy at this time but was aware that my condition was not getting better. I’m ashamed to say that while I did vote, I cast an absentee ballot and voted through the mail. At the time it felt good. I had accomplished what I set out to do. I voted, even if no one handed me a sticker. The truth is, while one goal was met, another was not. I was losing the war against social anxiety.

The absentee ballot is what it took to get angry. The fire had been burning before but not like this. I let it simmer for another year before I sought out therapy again. I say again because I had tried in the past with no success. I felt my options were limited; therapy seemed to be what held me accountable for making progress.

Finding the right therapist is not easy. It is not easy. It’s like searching for a new best friend; it doesn’t happen overnight, it takes time. With luck and determination, I found Amy with her “no shame zone” which allowed me to open up and dig deep. I don’t always agree with her, but I do listen. I can’t ignore the progress I have made while working with her. It’s a partnership I am thankful for and I have no plans to stop seeing her.

I earned the “I Voted” sticker this past Election Day. Yes, of course, I waited until the booths were almost closed; all day my stomach knotted, and I couldn’t stop thinking about the lines of people I would encounter. I live in a small town, so the idea of hundreds of people lining up around the building is a pretty ridiculous– chalk it up to anxiety and over- thinking. Driving two miles to the local high school took less time than I had hoped. The parking lot was full of people and cars in motion which heightened my nerves. I sucked in two deep breaths and heaved myself out of the car. Inside there were no lines, just friendly people taking my information and showing how the ballot worked. I was prepared with a copy of the ballot which I filled out at home in case I forgot something. Stressful situations can make me forget even the most ingrained memories. I filled everything out and fed the machine my vote. On the way out, a very sweet lady gave me my sticker.

It’s stupid how free I felt; tears pricked my eyes and I walked out of there with a grin I couldn’t erase. I did it. I exercised my right as an American citizen to vote. I took another step toward healing and overcoming anxiety. Some steps are so small they are hardly noticeable. Then there are bigger steps like facing one of my triggers head on and walking away stronger. I am climbing a mountain with my bare hands and making progress. I can do this and I know there is so much more I am capable of.

Photo credit: Selfie. That’s me with my badge of honor. Fingers to Sky!

Celebrating My Son’s Big Step with You

When we try to move beyond something that haunts or hurts us an overnight remedy is simply unrealistic. I know this to be true yet I still search for that quick fix. Time and time again I find there are rarely easy answers. Lessons come with trial and error, as well as age. I guess it’s true: with age comes wisdom.

I recently contributed a post on The Bipolar Writer explaining how my son was suffering from his first panic attack and how anxiety was crippling his desire to go to school or play on his soccer team. It hit us like a ton of bricks. He was normally a bright, happy six-year-old who had no issues going to school. Then he melted down. He physically curled into a ball and cried, telling me “I don’t want to feel this way.” It was heartbreaking. Hearing these words from him stabbed me so deeply. You see, I have said that very verse and felt it inside of me most of my life.

There are common things that cause the general population to be anxious. Maybe it’s the dentist, talking in front of people, going through security at the airport, a job interview. These are all normal stressful situations, though for those of us with anxiety that ball of stress blossoms into a beast that shreds our confidence and turns our body into scrambled eggs. My son has a new teacher who is stricter than his teacher last year. None of his friends from last year followed him to his new class. He was feeling alone, nervous, and scared. After a solid three weeks of tears and fighting me in the morning, his outbursts started to subside.

I never forced him on the bus; I drove him to school for a month. The last week I drove him he seemed cheerier, and I knew it was time for him to get back on the bus. This Monday he did it! He was eager to go to soccer again, and he has not been tearful or combative about attending school. He’s back! Here is what I learned from this:

  • Again, there is no overnight remedied. Patience got us through this.
  • We talked about it every day so he could feel heard and know the door is open to explore his feelings in a safe place.
  • The school and library provided us with books we could read WITH him. One particular I enjoyed is The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook, by Edmund Bourne. It has easy to read content and some activities you can do with your child.
  • I strongly encouraged him but did not push participation in We would sit on the sideline until he was ready to play. I also found Ninja Warrior Training, after one session to test it out, he loved it. I signed him up to get him around peers more.
  • I set up play dates with kids in his school. It helped him connect with a buddy at lunch and recess. Both times in the day he was struggling with socially.
  • Most important! I reached out to his teachers and school counselor as soon as I knew this was a real issue. His teachers became aware of his distress, they worked with him, and we are in constant contact. The counselor also pulled my son into a social group that helps kids learn social cues and proper behavior. The small group work seems to appeal to him.

Sometimes the smallest steps take the most effort. My son rode the bus! Can I celebrate that with you all for a minute?! He got back on the bus with all the noise, jumpy kids, and cranky old bus driver for a three-minute ride to school. He did it without resisting or showing fear or panic. I hope we have turned a corner, but I’m realistic. The lessons we have learned here will stay in a nearby toolbox. We are still working through the workbook with him because I think we need to finish. It will teach him what to do next time he feels “sad” or “nervous” and it teaches us how to talk to him.

What about me? Did my son’s anxiety affect me? Absolutely. I felt powerless and scared. I was hiding my face so he wouldn’t see me cry. I don’t want my anxiety to be projected on him or to know that he has inherited this awful thing from me. My husband and I are in constant communication about this, and when I started to feel anxiety swallowing me along with my son, I pulled myself out. I did this by revisiting some helpful tools I have picked up along the way which include self-therapy through writing, talking to my therapist, honing in on my mantras, staying healthy (food and activity), and reminding myself that this is not the new norm. We will all be okay, and we will all get thru this.

Post brought to you by Fingers to Sky. Today I raise my thumbs to say, “we are okay.”

Photo by Marius Ott on Unsplash