This is the final official installment of my series on group therapy (cognitive-behavioural therapy, or CBT) for social anxiety, although I will certainly revisit the topic in the future. Check out the previous post here: CBT DIARIES | Sessions 5-7: It’s Actually Hard Now…
A special note for any former group members who may stumble upon this series…
Hi there 🙂 If you haven’t read any of the other posts, let me assure you that I have never revealed any personal or confidential information about you or even shared your stories anonymously. I may have made brief references here and there to “group members” as an anonymous whole, but never in specific or revealing detail. This series has been strictly and diligently focused on my own experience and thoughts. I truly hope that in writing it, I did not do anything to make you feel that I breached the trust of our group. Good luck to all of you and thank you so much for being so brave and supportive. xoxoxo
The CBT program is over, and all signs point to “I survived.” The Exposure half of the program was very challenging, but it led to so many light-bulbs moments for me that it was totally worth it.
Exposure practices included a dress-up parade through the hospital (fuschia feather boa and garish CANADA DAY headband for me), a charades party in the lobby, small talk with strangers, voicemail messages, outings alone with my kiddos (to learn to manage the stress and fear of judgment), and — the most excruciating one — deliberate mistakes at the checkout in the form of “accidentally” handing over the wrong card (e.g. Shoppers Optimum instead of Air Miles).
I am still struggling a lot with that last one. Social mishaps are the Big One for me. Everything else is scary, but not in a “feels wrong to my core” kind of way. But hey, I made huge progress regardless. I’m happy.
In terms of “hard numbers,” my social anxiety score has gone down significantly overall. I began 12 weeks ago at the borderline between Severe and Very Severe, and I ended at the lowest end of Severe (I did dip into Moderate mid-program). And based on how I have been feeling, I would guess that my generalized anxiety and depression scores are also way down. So yay!
In thinking about how to summarize all the learnings of the final 5 sessions, I decided to boil it down to my biggest, most influential personal takeaways.
- Everyone progresses at their own pace, and everyone has different areas of focus. As long as progress is being made overall, no matter how small, it’s a win.
- Regarding the dress-up parade: my anxiety did come down the longer we paraded. I started at a 100-level anxiety and ended at a 30.
- Feeling anxiety about a situation does not actually mean I have to do anything to “fix” or “police” the situation. My assumptions and interpretations are not necessarily right. For example, if my kids are being a little wild and we’re getting a few sidelong glances, I don’t actually have to do anything about that. I can just sit with the anxiety, let it be. Even if I’m right about what others are thinking… so what?
- Related to the above, a huge anxiety myth was shattered in my mind: “I’m anxious because I’m doing something wrong.”
- I need to stop judging my insides based on someone else’s outsides. (This one actually comes from my mother-in-law, but it totally fits with CBT lessons.)
- Think about the pros and cons of the incredibly high standards you have for yourself. Who do they truly benefit? What would happen if you lowered the bar and let yourself breathe?
- You can be anxious and have fun at the same time. (I enjoyed that ridiculous parade, and that charade game…) Anxiety can coexist with positive emotions and experiences.
- Hiccups happen along the journey. Don’t beat yourself up. It’s the self-condemnation that is truly toxic, and can turn a lapse into a relapse.
- Even if there’s a little bit of backsliding after the program ends, you’re never really back to where you started. That’s in the past and you aren’t a time traveller.
And most of all: I have learned to identify anxious thought patterns, see them for what they are, and tolerate the feeling. I can tolerate the anxiety. I accept it. I can say, “Hey there anxiety, I see you. You’re not in charge anymore but I’m not going to pretend I don’t see you.”
The fact that I “have” anxiety does not make me a failure at being a human. And I don’t “have” anxiety because of some personal failing. I no longer berate myself for feeling anxious–that layer of the anxiety onion (or whatever) is mostly gone, or a lot thinner, or whatever makes the most sense for this analogy. Anxiety is just a part of me–a part of everyone, really. The goal has never been to eliminate it completely, but to learn to manage and tolerate it.
And I’m there.
Cured? No. That’s the wrong way of looking at it.
Changed? Strengthened? Coping? Yes. Yes. Yes.
If you have anxiety or any other mental health-related concerns: You are not weird. You are not bad. You are not weak. You are not alone. Help is available and progress is possible. Please give yourself the gift of a life less tormented. Seek support and seek it in whatever way you can. Do the best you can with what you have and where you’re at. It’s never too late to feel better inside.
Thank you SO, SO MUCH for reading, especially those who have been along for the whole journey! I’m not sure what the next steps will be for this blog, but I do plan to continue writing it. You guys are the best!!! Thank you for all your positive and supportive comments when I share these posts on Facebook. They have meant the world to me.
[[ But… you know… not in a socially anxious, dependent for others’ approval and validation kind of way… 😉 ]]