“I’ve been searching for ways to heal myself, and I’ve found that kindness is the best way.”Lady Gaga
May is National Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States. Each year, the first week of May is recognized as National Anxiety and Depression Awareness Week. It’s time to erase the stigma that still persists, despite increased awareness. So I will share my story.
I have suffered with a social anxiety disorder through much of my life. I obsessed over everything I did, playing an incessant loop of “what ifs” in my head. I’ve had many sleepless nights, too many to count, wondering how I could have done things better. This disorder has cost me many opportunities and has impacted my family and social life for many years.
Interestingly, it rarely interfered with my military career. When I donned the uniform it was like wearing a Superman cape. I was indestructible, fearless and confident. I managed my condition by routinely seeing a psychiatrist, and taking the prescribed antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications. This all blew up in my face when I retired from military service.
When I hung up my uniform and moved to northern New York State, I unknowingly ditched my support system. I struggled. I felt like a fish out of water transitioning back to civilian life. There were no other female retired Navy officers here (that I knew of) and I had little in common with anyone. I retreated to my home and kept to myself.
People who did not understand what I was going through called me lazy, because I would make plans to do activities, only to cancel them. I was even bullied by some family members and friends. They gave me a cruel nickname “Back-out-Barb” which makes me a little uncomfortable as I type those words. Additionally, I was battling Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, which drained me of all my energy and left me with brain fog.
Thankfully, I’ve learned many coping mechanisms to deal with the anxiety and social paralysis that accompanied it. First and foremost, I have found that by being kind to myself I can live my best life, practically anxiety free. My goal is to share my experiences and techniques with the hope that I might help others who suffer from debilitating anxiety disorders.
Talk About It
For years I tried to hide my condition. This left people thinking I did not like them. They thought I was insociable, difficult, unapproachable or uppity.
Let those around you know you suffer with an anxiety disorder and have limitations. I have found that honesty is the best policy. Chances are, they have already given you an erroneous label. So why not set them straight?
Explain what they can do to help you. For the most part, people will understand that we all have our issues and no one is perfect.
As I have become more open about anxiety, I am learning that I am not alone. Many of my Navy shipmates also suffer from anxiety disorders, men and women, alike.
Live in the Present
You hear so many people use this term, but what does it really mean? For me, live in the present means trying to focus on what is right in front of me.
It means remembering the past, but not letting it drag you down or keep you up at night! Let it go! Get your mind off of this stuff. You can’t change the past, so why dwell on it?
When I start feeling anxious, I find the 4-7-8 breathing method gives me immediate relief.
This is one area that is a complete win! You have to take care of yourself. It’s easy to fall into a trap where kids, work, school and community service take so much of your energy, that by the end of the day there is nothing left.
I never had any time to myself. But now that I’m retired and the kids are grown, I have all the time in the world. And I’m lavishing in it!
- Take a yoga class
- Watch your favorite show on tv
- Light a candle and have a glass or two of wine 🍷
- Go to bed early or sleep in late
- Get a massage
- Read a book
- Go for a walk in nature
Just Say “No”
I’ve learned what my comfort zone is and I am no longer afraid of holding my ground, guilt-free, when I decline invitations or cancel plans.
If I don’t feel comfortable doing something, I don’t do it! I do not like to travel in airplanes. I did plenty of air travel when I was in the Navy and I simply won’t do it anymore. I’ve made that clear to everyone who knows me. Long road trips are soon to be on the chopping block, as well.
There is no shame in letting people know your boundaries. Don’t let them guilt you into doing something you simply don’t want to do.
As a 60 year old, I feel I’ve transcended beyond the labels and negative feelings associated with having a social anxiety disorder. I’ve been medication and counselor-free for years. There is no absolute cure, but I have found ways to manage it. I rarely have anxiety attacks anymore. I owe it to the work I have done to find peace and gratitude in all the aspects of my life.
Additionally, I am thankful for all the support my husband, daughter, friends and sisters give me! They are my biggest advocates! I am becoming the best person I can be, and have taken back my confidence!
This is my personal experience with debilitating anxiety and what worked for me. It might not work for you. If you suspect that you may be suffering from social anxiety, don’t be afraid to bring it up to your primary care physician and talk to a medical professional. There is no need to suffer from this condition.
Thank you for reading! – Barb, the River Blogger (Btrb)
Feel free to reblog anything I post. I welcome all comments and discussion.