Hi fellow social anxiety fighters!
I'm Heidi. I'm 24 and I live in Milwaukee. I've dealt with social anxiety my entire life. I can't remember a time when I didn't feel nervous about something. My anxiety has focused around food mostly; whether people were monitoring what I was eating, whether people would judge me for what I ordered, whether something would be too expensive, you get the idea. It was so bad that I even started to struggle eating at my own dinner table as a kid because it reminded me of the feeling of being in a restaurant and all the formality that goes with it.
I finally started seeking help for my anxiety my freshman year of college by seeing a counselor. It was really helpful, but mostly in sifting through family issues that had caused my anxiety. By the time college was over, I had successfully sorted through all of my baggage as to why my anxiety existed, but I somehow was missing the whole "what to do about it" part. That's when I found out about the Learn to Live online social anxiety program. I heard about it through a friend, and I decided to give it a try. I was a little skeptical at first, especially considering my anxiety was so specific to eating in restaurants, but I figured it couldn't hurt to try!
I began the social anxiety program and finished it in under 3 months. I appreciated that I could go through the program at my own pace, especially since the fear-facing stuff was pretty hard. I felt like this was the first time someone was telling me practical things to do to actually deal with my anxiety in the moment besides "just breathe." The program took me through my thinking process and showed me how to negate my automatic negative thoughts. The homework really helped, but I'm not going to lie, it was tough! No one wants to go into their most anxious places on purpose!! It was truly worth it though, as my life is totally different now that I've completed the Learn to Live program.
Right after I finished the program, I met Jon, a guy who went to my college, and we really hit it off. In the past, I purposely avoided first dates because they would inevitably be in a restaurant, which I knew would just tank the relationship when he saw me freaking out. First dates were pretty much a worst-case scenario for my anxiety besides thinking of my wedding day (everyone staring at you while you eat? NO THANKS!). I figured it was worth a shot to go on a real date considering I had all of these new anxiety-fighting tools to try out. I was absolutely freaking out before he came to pick me up, and I literally had the Learn to Live resources and tools out to help me talk through my anxiety before the date. Once he got to my house, I started using the techniques in my head, and the anxiety started to disappear. The date was awesome, and I was so proud that I wanted to jump up and down (of course, that was probably not the best idea in the parking lot of a bar and grill with a guy I just met!). Jon and I continued dating, and we got engaged in January.
Remember when I said worst-case scenario would be a first date or my wedding? I wasn't lying. I thought of a million ways to try and avoid having a dinner in order to not subject myself to that caliber of anxiety. Alas, social norms always seem to win, and we decided a dinner would be best. I began to brace myself for this day of anxiety. Then I remembered that I still had the homework assignments from the Learn to Live program, so I took them out and started to review. We had a beautiful wedding day. Everything seemed to be going perfectly, until we got into our reception. It turned out that all of the table numbers were wrong, and the head table was in a place that I hadn't expected: at the very end of the buffet line. That meant that every person who grabbed food would then stop directly in front of my new husband and me, chat about the food and take a good look at what I was eating… AKA my worst nightmare come true. Then other things started to go wrong, like the sound system was glitchy and my dinner music wasn't working right, and the projector wasn't working. I started to get really anxious. Really anxious. I took a deep breath, and I started to negate my automatic negative thoughts as they clouded my mind. Slowly but surely, the anxiety subsided. I ended up having a really great rest of my night. I'm so glad I didn't let my anxiety ruin my wedding reception! I have taken back my island!!
So a new question came to my mind: Does this mean that I'm a failure and that I'll have anxiety forever? Absolutely not. Anxiety is not going to define me. Will I have relapses when there are certain circumstances that are the perfect storm? Yeah, maybe. But it's what I do with those circumstances that makes all the difference. If I wallow in how anxious I am, of course I'll have anxiety forever. I'm giving it power in my life. But if I actively work to wear away at those thoughts as Dr. Russ and the social anxiety program taught me, they're less likely to come to the surface, and if they do, I can get rid of them much more quickly.
If you would have told me three years ago that I would be anxiety free and eating in restaurants like everyone else, I would have laughed and thought you were making a cruel joke. I had nearly accepted that this was my lot in life, but it's certainly not true. Take the Learn to Live social anxiety program seriously, and your life will change seriously. It did for me!
Best wishes, and keep fighting!!