Often when talking to people about my struggles with extreme social anxiety, they find it incredible to believe that that was me. They are simply unable to reconcile the picture I paint of the person that I was with the person I am today.
I am very laid back nowadays. I feel it and lots of people tell me, so I am pretty certain that I am. A far cry from the person I used to be when I was struggling with anxiety. As mentioned above people find it hard to believe when I tell them and at times I find it hard to believe it myself. Was I really that person? Did I really go through all that trauma and have all those experiences?
It is bad when I start to question myself. Doubt starts to creep in and I start to look at things in a different way. Was it all that bad? Am I being melodramatic? How did I do all those things I did afterwards? I fall into this trap where I almost start siding with the person I am talking to, sat with that quizzical look on their face. By doing so, I am attempting to deny who I used to be.
This is not a positive thing and as such I am doing myself a disservice in two ways. I am not respecting or honouring the person that I once was. In actual fact I am doing the one thing that at the time of my struggles I constantly dreaded. I not acknowledging what I went through. I am trying to turn it into something it was not, mask it, disguise it, pretend that it was not there. It did not work back then and it should not work now.
Across the span of time that teenager, frightened and alone reaches out to me wanting to be acknowledged and understood. When I try to dismiss the past I ignore his pleas and turn my back on him. When I am honest with myself, that is simply unacceptable. And something I really should not do.
Secondly in dismissing my experiences, I am belittling all the hard work I have put in to get to where I am at today. It has taken literally years to get here. The fact that the steps have been gradual may have an impact here. It is not like I went from extreme social anxiety to completely ‘normal’ overnight. There was the therapy, the years of adjusting to what was essentially a new life. There were relapses here and there, major obstacles overcome and all those achievements met. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that all was achieved with these tiny little steps over a very long and winding road. It was really hard at times and I really struggled with things just moving forward.
Hope vs anxiety
I deserve to be both grateful and proud as to where I once was and where I am now. It was not easy and cannot just be fobbed off out of hand. Rather it is something to be both respected and celebrated.
When it comes to this, I cannot be too modest or self-deprecating for I do not give myself any justice in being so. Neither and possibly more importantly do I do any favours for those people out there I am trying to help. By highlighting what is achievable, I can give those people some hope. Something that in the past, for me, seemed so elusive. At the same time I can caution that, though achievable, it is not easily come by, that it takes hard work and dedication to overcome. And that it is a process that can take many years. In this truth and honesty there can be great power and understanding.
If I am able to pass on just a small amount of that power and understanding to others, then all I have been through will have been worth it. Ultimately as the title of this article suggests I cannot be afraid of taking ownership of my former life. If I don’t then I am just falling back into old habits. And that will be of benefit to no one.