Dealing With Social Anxiety

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I’ve always been a shy kid. And it’s cute when you’re little. You try to hide behind your mom or your dad and everyone just laughs and says “Oh she’s so shy!” or “She’s so quiet!”

Yeah, that’s me.

And when it comes to my friends, they all approached me. If it weren’t for them taking an interest in me, I’d be alone. And that’s…a bit unsettling. At my first job, it took me almost six months to get comfortable with my coworkers enough to say more than just “hi” to them. And it was a year before I could make an announcement over the intercom. Hell, I still hate doing it. My heart beats so fast I feel like it’s gonna overheat or something. I can’t breathe, my hands shake, my legs get wobbly, and I just wanna burst into tears.

Oddly enough, it wasn’t always this bad. Sure, I was shy and I was quiet. But the older I got, the worse the shyness got until it blossomed into full blown social anxiety. I didn’t realize it was social anxiety until I was poking around on the internet and the people talking about social anxiety sounded nearly identical to what I go through on a daily basis. And I realized I had it when I was a kid too. It was just easier to get away with it then because I was so young. But then I grew up and of course, I was an adult so I don’t have help anymore.

Now, what is social anxiety? According to socialanxietyinstitute.org it is the fear of interaction with other people that brings on self-consciousness, feelings of being negatively judged and evaluated, and, as a result, leads to avoidance.

And here are a list of things on socialanxietyinstitute.org that cause emotional distress to people with social anxiety:

  • Being introduced to other people
  • Being teased or criticized
  • Being the center of attention
  • Being watched while doing something
  • Meeting people in authority
  • Most social encounters, especially with strangers
  • Going around the room in a circle and having to say something
  • Interpersonal relationships, whether friendships or romantic

And yeah, these things sound simple. Trust me, people with social anxiety are aware that these things are simple and we should be able to do them. But it’s so difficult. And yet, I work in customer service somehow. So, I guess it’s possible to function in society with social anxiety.

You kinda have to. At least, I did. It’s difficult to deal with social anxiety when you have a mom that’s so loud and proud and can make friends with a damn cashier at the grocery store. I think it comes more from my dad. He’s pretty quiet and whatnot but even then, that man can get up on stage and sing his heart out and not even care. He has quite the stage presence that I wish I had. And that’s the trouble with it all. You wish you could be outgoing and you play out a conversation in your head. You practice what you’re gonna say to someone and then they make eye contact and say “hello” to you and everything you planned just disappeared and your brain went blank. You listen to people say over and over “This’ll bring you out of your shell!” while forcing you into situations that make you freak out. And yeah, there are going to be times where you have to kind of push yourself or you’re going to fall apart. But there are also times where you shouldn’t be forced.

But that’s the one thing I hate hearing. Because honestly, I’ve pushed through it all and I’m no further from my shell than I was before. And yeah, I make jokes about my social anxiety but it really is crippling. I honestly don’t know how I’ve been functioning this long.

I’m not sure what advice to give on how to deal with social anxiety. Other than trying to push yourself through things that scare you. I used to tell a friend of mine that she needed to stay positive. Attitude is everything. You think negatively, only negative things will happen. But it’s easier said than done. Social anxiety is a long, tough road and trust me, it’s gonna be tough for me too.

But we’ll get through it somehow.

For some information on social anxiety, go to socialanxietyinstitute.org

For some tips on how to overcome social anxiety, go to psychcentral.com

Let’s take this journey together my friends.

~B

Dealing with Depression

Trigger warning: mentions of self harm & suicide.

When I was younger, maybe eleven or twelve years old, I have to confess that I didn’t believe depression was actually a thing and I thought anti-depressants were just sugar pills that made you believe you could be happier. Believe me, I cringe at how stupid I was too. But I learned and as I learned with grief, I took the difficult route to understanding.

I graduated high school in 2013. I was so happy then until I watched everyone I knew starting college and I felt like I was on the outside looking in. I never did go to college because I had no money to go, I didn’t want to start my life in debt and I just in general didn’t wanna jump through hoops to get money when college should be free or at least cheaper.

But anyways, everyone’s lives seemed so exciting, I was having a hard time finding a job, couldn’t pass my driver’s test. All the things in my life that could go wrong were going wrong. And it was kind of embarrassing when my friends had their stuff together. And I was just falling apart for what seemed like no reason.

And at a certain point, the pressure and the loneliness and the frustration became too much and I ventured into self harming. Now, I didn’t want anything that left scars. I didn’t want anything that would require bandages. I wanted to keep it as hidden as I could. Mostly because the one person who would see it didn’t understand my thoughts and was only focused on me finding a job and that was it. So, I started digging my nails into my arm. It felt like such a release of tension and anger and all that good stuff without making a mess and drawing attention to what I was doing. The wounds lingered for days though and became more obvious against my already pale skin as they healed. So, it seemed there wasn’t any way to do this without it being noticed but…no one ever noticed. Guess I hid it well.

I felt so alone in my feelings. I felt so lost and so isolated. Everyone seemed so happy and I resented them a little for it because I was in such a dark place and had no idea how to get out of it. I could’ve gone to my friends but I felt like I couldn’t. Two of my friends didn’t usually offer much comfort. One I didn’t bother with because she had stuff going on in her life too and the other because she’s so opposite of me. I’m very emotional and affectionate and all that and she’s not. The one person I could turn to wasn’t around much. And that is so not her fault, not in the slightest. She was just busy with college and her sorority and her new boyfriend, how could I drag her down? Not telling her what I was feeling at the time was my own decision. She would’ve been there for me if I had spoken up. I know that in my heart. But she was so far away and all she could do was just text me back and forth. I needed someone to cry to and for them to tell me I wasn’t a complete screw up because I sure as hell felt like one. However, she was there for me without even trying. Whenever she had the chance to come home and visit me, she always did. And for a moment, I felt like myself again even though the feelings were temporary and I’d have to go home and be stuck again. She kept me going when I needed it and I’ll always be grateful to her for that.

In May of 2014, I got hired as a courtesy clerk after nearly a year of searching for a job and things started changing from there. I got my license, I could talk to my friends again, everything was great. And I had met Jennifer and she was helping me a lot too.

I still had my low moments and one day, I was driving to my dad’s house and I glanced at the trees to my right as I drove by them. For a moment, I considered making a hard turn and crashing into those trees. I know that sounds like a very stupid idea as far as suicide attempts go but I literally tightened my grip on the wheel. For a moment, I was going to do it. No one was near me on the road. I could’ve done it without involving anyone else. Luckily, I didn’t and I realized what kind of thoughts were running through my head and it was terrifying. I remember telling Jennifer about it and she told me I was having suicidal thoughts and I needed help. I agreed but I never did follow her advice. I just kept it to myself as usual. And I continued through my many ups and downs.

But in July of 2015 when my grocery store closed and I was laid off, everything fell apart once more. As Jennifer had died shortly after I was laid off. I got stuck in that dark place again and I was even deeper than before. I had promised Jennifer that I would never hurt myself again as I’d been struggling with it. But with everything, I broke that promise and I resorted to digging my nails into my skin again.

I was miserable for months. I didn’t wanna eat or sleep or write or do any of the things I used to enjoy doing. But this time, I simply couldn’t keep it to myself. I told the one person I knew would listen. Even if all I could do was text her, it was better than bottling this up until I actually went through with a suicide attempt.

I asked her if I could confess something to her and she said yes, expecting something totally lighthearted and stupid I’m sure. But I spilled my guts. I wasn’t sure what was wrong with me as I’d never been officially diagnosed but I felt so empty and so miserable and just not like myself. Almost like I was looking at myself in the mirror but I was looking at an entirely new person that I hated. I told her about my self harm, I told her about my suicidal thoughts. She was the first person I ever told.

About a minute after I sent that text, she called me. And she never calls me for anything so I was curious as to what was so important that she couldn’t say it over text. I wasn’t expecting the reaction I got. She was crying. I’ve known this girl since we were eleven years old and this was the first time I ever heard her cry. And of course, that made me cry because I never wanted to upset her, which is why it took me nearly three years to tell her what was going on. She told me to always tell her, to know she’d be there. Unfortunately, I’ve had my slip ups since then and never said a word. I couldn’t bear the sound of her tears again. And so, I continued to suffer in silence.

I could’ve gone to a therapist as my dad’s insurace would’ve covered it but I never had the courage to tell him I needed it. Even though he told me it was always okay to ask for help, I never asked for it.

I don’t want to self diagnose, I don’t want to say I had something if I didn’t. But I know in my heart that what I felt wasn’t right, it wasn’t normal. It was something different than just being sad. But, these days I’m feeling like my normal self again but it’s almost scary because it always comes back in full force. And I just never know when it’s going to come back. And when it does, I have to force myself to function so my job isn’t affected. I don’t want to suffer in silence anymore.

So, how does one deal with and overcome depression and self harm? The answer is, well, I’m not sure you ever fully overcome it. I think it’s just always going to be there. But how to deal with it? How to try and keep it away in a healthy way? I have found that keeping busy helps. As bad as my social anxiety is, being around friendly faces at work every day helps me immensely. Something as simple as taking a walk can be helpful. You just have to fight it. And I know it’s hard. It hurts a hell of a lot more to fight it than it is to just let it consume you. It’s easy to be smothered by that darkness and just accept it for what it is. But it’s not worth it. That’s the most important thing is that you have to fight it, even if you fall a few times. You’ll eventually come out on top. And as my dad said, there is nothing wrong with asking for help. There is no shame in it. Never, ever be ashamed of asking for help. It’s been almost four years and I have never once asked for it and that’s my mistake. And one day that mistake is going to come back to haunt me. Even if asking for help is just asking for a few comforting words from a friend or just anyone who will listen. It doesn’t have to be a therapist. Or get a journal, release all of your thoughts and feelings onto a page. You’ll be surprised by how much of a relief it is to release that negative energy.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, please call the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255  or go to their website at suicidepreventionlifeline.org

~B

Dealing With Grief

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Up until I was twenty, I never truly experienced grief. Well, when I was fourteen my childhood pet died and I took that pretty hard despite my classmates thinking I was insane. I still get pretty choked up when I think about that cat.

But the first time you experience death, it’s the worst feeling in the world. I’m not sure if every other time after that is easier but hopefully I don’t have to find out for a long, long time.

In November 2013, I made a video on an app called Vine. I remember it was my reaction to the Walking Dead midseason finale of I believe season 4. I don’t wanna spoil anything if you’re new to the show and haven’t seen the episode but it was a parody of Rick and the governor’s conversation about a tank.

I wasn’t expecting to get any comments as I really only had one friend on Vine at the time. Well, this time someone new commented on my Vine, telling me that I cracked her up and it was so funny.

Her name was Jennifer. I didn’t really think much of her the first time I saw her comment pop up on my Vine. But over the next few days, we started talking and we grew very, very close. Soon, we were friends on Facebook. And then we exchanged phone numbers and we were texting and Skyping all the time.

She lived on the East coast while I lived on the West coast so meeting wasn’t going to be easy. But we loved talking about what we would do when she visited me or when I visited her. She was so wonderful to me. Yeah, she drove me nuts sometimes and yeah we fought sometimes. What friends don’t though? More on that later.

We talked about making movies together. I’d write the script, she’d do the make-up. She wanted to be a make-up artist, working on The Walking Dead with Greg Nicotero. And I was always rooting for her. She was extremely talented with make-up and around the time we met, I started buying make-up and she helped me pick out all my eyeshadows and mascara and eyeliner and all that fun stuff. She was the one who showed me the Too Faced Chocolate Bar palette (which I now own)

And when I met her, I was in a very dark place and well, so was she. I’d like to think we helped each other. In any case, she helped me out of my dark place. I don’t think I did a very good job helping her through the stuff she was going through. Again, more on that later.

In April of 2015, I got a text from her when I was at work that almost made my heart stop. She’d had a seizure while she was running errands and was rushed to the ER. We thought for a while that it was from some new medicine she’d been taking a few days prior. Kind of a dumb explanation I guess but that was literally the only thing we could think of in the moment.

But, we were wrong.

She told me the next day that they discovered a golf ball sized mass in her brain. It turned out to be a tumor in her frontal lobe. It was terrifying at first but the way she explained the whole thing made it sound so simple. All she had to do was get surgery to have it removed. In my eyes, that would be easy enough. A part of me was relieved. Just get the surgery, she’d be okay. Everything would be okay.

A month later, she went into surgery. I was at work while it was happening. I was filled with anxiety, praying for the first time since I was maybe eight years old. And as I mentioned in my last post, I’m an atheist so, I don’t believe in prayer. But that day, I needed to. It was for Jennifer. So, I prayed. Prayed to whoever would listen that she would be okay.

She made it through the surgery perfectly. They removed 90% of the tumor. I can’t remember why they couldn’t remove the remaining 10% but it felt like the worst part was over.

But, it wasn’t. A month after her surgery, she was diagnosed with stage three brain cancer. Well, the way she explained it to me was stage two going on stage three. And somehow, the way she said it made me believe she would be okay. And I was constantly telling her that. And I genuinely believed she would be okay. God, the way she explained it all to me made it seem so simple, so easy. Maybe she was as naïve as I was.

It was a week after her diagnosis. We were texting back and forth as usual talking about useless stuff. Around one o’clock PM (my time, she was about three hours ahead), she stopped replying. That wasn’t too unusual as she usually took a nap and was awake again around 5:00 my time. But 5:00 passed but I never thought anything of it. I just thought, “damn, she’ll never get to sleep tonight since she slept all day.” she would usually keep me up when she couldn’t sleep. Not that I minded, she was one of my best friends. She was one of the only people I talked to. I didn’t feel so alone with her there.

But the night passed without word from her. On July 19, 2015, I woke up around 6:00 AM. I didn’t usually wake up that early but maybe I sensed something. I woke up to a text from Jennifer’s mom. She told me to call her when I got her message. I wasn’t too concerned. Jennifer had ended up in the hospital a few times after her surgery. I thought she was probably in the hospital for the third time and her phone died and her mom was giving me an update. Jennifer had been updating her Facebook friends and I didn’t feel like talking on the phone so early in the morning so I decided to check Facebook instead.

The first thing I saw on my Newsfeed was “gone too soon!”

“RIP Jennifer!”

“I’m gonna miss you so much!”

My world stopped but I don’t think it hit me right away. I just gasped, covering my mouth with my hand while I scrolled through her messages on her Facebook. Was it true? Jennifer had died? Wait, what had happened? I didn’t understand.

I went back and texted her mom again, asking what had happened. I was hoping it was a misunderstanding. Maybe people had just thought she died?

Jennifer had a seizure the night before, 8:00 her time, which was 5:00 my time. The time I thought she’d be awake to text me again, she was having a seizure. She was unresponsive after that and after some time of trying to resuscitate her, she was pronounced dead.

That was the moment it finally hit me. I looked to Vine for even more confirmation. Because apparently, the Facebook posts and Jennifer’s mom just wasn’t enough. It was 100% confirmed. Jennifer was dead.

I had never felt such heartbreak before. I was actually in pain. I felt so empty, a part of me was dead with her. She’d left and taken a part of me with her. I cried uncontrollably for three days. I didn’t want to sleep, I didn’t want to eat. I wanted to just stare at the wall and do nothing. I was broken and I couldn’t handle my pain.

I lived for eighteen years without Jennifer in my life and after a year and a half with her, I didn’t know how to go on without her. How was I supposed to live without this beautiful presence in my life? She felt like my other half, my kindred spirit and now she was gone. What was I going to do?

I was stuck in the denial stage for months. But underneath that denial was regret. Like I said earlier, she had some things going on in her life that I’d never taken on before. I regretted how I handled them. I regretted how I sometimes spoke to her. I wasn’t always the nicest person in the world and I wasn’t always the most pleasant. I got mad at her for things that don’t even require anger. Why did I do those things? Why did I speak to her so harshly? And why did she keep me around? I didn’t deserve her love or her support or her friendship. I regretted getting frustrated with her. I regretted all of it. I realized then how many mistakes I had made. I realized that I never showed her how much she meant to me and how much I cared about her and loved her. Of course, I said it back when she said it to me but I very rarely said it to her first. And I hated myself for a long time. I still don’t let myself forget it. I keep it in the back of my mind to remind myself that I need to appreciate the people in my life more and that I need to have patience and more understanding.

About six months in, I started realizing that the stages of grief were real. It wasn’t just some made up idea. It was real and I experienced it. And I learned that the grieving process isn’t a straight line as I’d expected. Did anyone ever watch the show Scrubs? Did anyone see the episode in season 5 where one of their favorite patients was dying and the grief counselor came in and they went through the five stages of grief? They went through one stage and moved through it like it was easy. I thought it was going to be like that. I thought I’d finish one stage and that would be it. But you don’t. You’re constantly going back and forth between stages and it feels like it’ll never stop.

I went from denial to anger, to bargaining, to depression, back to anger, back to bargaining, back to anger, back to depression, back to bargaining again. It was a vicious cycle. The weight of my grief was heavy on my shoulders and I could never let it go. I couldn’t let her go. I was afraid that if I did, she would be gone forever. I’d forget what she looked like, I’d forget the sound of her voice, I’d forget it all. And I never wanted to forget that. I wanted her close to me forever. But holding on sometimes hurts you more than it helps you. You can only hang on for so long until it starts tearing you down.

And I was essentially grieivng alone. My mom didn’t understand why I was taking it so hard as Jennifer and I had never actually met in person. My dad understood but after about a year he felt that I needed to move on and I was letting this hold me back. My friends I knew in real life never got to know Jennifer so even though they listened and comforted me, I’m sure they were kind of confused.

Acceptance is the hardest stage to reach. And even when you reach acceptance, it’s still not the end of the grieving process. I think the grieving process lasts forever and you just kind of have to learn how to live with it. There is no one way to cope with the loss of a loved one. I had to learn what coping mechanism was right for me and I had to learn it on my own. I didn’t have Jennifer anymore.

Now, this next part may sound crazy to some of you but just stay with me. One night, I truly believe that Jennifer visited me in a dream. I dreamt that I hugged her and I actually felt her arms wrapped around me. I felt her body heat. I thought I’d never get the chance to feel her hugging me and I did. She told me, “I’m okay, I’m not dead.”

I said, “Wait, if you’re not dead you need to go on Facebook and tell people!”

Jennifer just smiled and said, “I’ll see you tomorrow, Bailey.”

I’m not sure if that helped my grief or made it worse but the fact that she paid me a visit eased my pain a little. If she even did visit me. I believe that people, dead or alive can visit you in your dreams but obviously there isn’t a way to prove that.

A year had passed since the day she died and now that I think about it, my dad might’ve been right. I was still holding onto her and the pain in my soul was still too much to handle. It was affecting my daily life. I wanted so desparately to be happy again but I just couldn’t. I wasn’t coping as I should’ve been. I wasn’t talking to anyone about it. I just sat in my room at night and cried and cried until my head hurt. I reread all the old stories we’d written together and looked over all the old Vines and old Facebook messages. I found an old Facebook post where it said “If I can find the Norman Reedus to my Sean Patrick Flanery I can die happy” or something along those lines I can’t remember exactly what the post said and she shared it and said, “Well I can die happy then!”

It was almost like Jennifer knew she’d die young because she would say things like that a lot. She even sang along to a song on Vine that started with, “If I die young” and looking back at that, it broke my heart even more, dragged me down further.

Then, one day, I woke up and I felt such a weight lifted from my shoulders. I can’t explain it but I just felt like in this moment, I could let her go. I was ready to let her go and let her move on as she needed to. And then I wondered, was she holding onto me too? Was it her holding me back? Or was it me holding her back? Or were we holding each other back? I felt like maybe she was ready to let go now too. She took a piece of me and I took a piece of her. I felt so much lighter, so much more at peace.

Maybe not everything requires a coping mechanism. Maybe we all just need a good cry. Maybe some of us can’t push ourselves to move on. Maybe some of us just need to wait out the storm. Grieving is different for everyone and grief isn’t a straight, narrow path. It is a windy path with dark corners and bumpy roads. And sometimes, you get lost and it takes a while to find your way back. At the moment, my path is smooth but there are still days where I lose my way or I stumble and fall.

But I feel like I have my strength back. I am ready to move forward with my life and know that she’ll help me whenever I need it. She’s always going to be by my side and I know she’ll be waiting on the other side when I get there. And I keep her memory close.

So, I hope that if you’re going through the grieving process and you’re reading this, you understand now what’s coming. It’s going to be hard. There will be pain and there will be times when it’s so much that you cannot function. Just know that one day, you will find your way again. You take your time, grief is sometimes long. Don’t let anyone tell you what you should be doing, how you should be feeling. Grief isn’t a switch you can just turn on and off. It is something that sticks with you forever. It is something that sneaks its way back in sometimes even when you’ve reached the acceptance stage. You don’t have to do anything. Your grief is your own path to take. You move on when you’re ready to move on.

And just know, you’re not alone. You’re never alone.

 

Our time was so short. But it was the best time of my life.

I miss you every day, Jennifer. Until we meet again…

 

Jennifer Richards

December 9, 1992-July 18, 2015

Introducing…Bailey!

When I was younger, I’d read books about people posting on blogs and all that and I always thought it’d be so cool to have my own blog. Then again…those books were fictional and my life has never been filled with that level of drama. And then back in the Myspace days, you had a little journal that I dumped all of my mortifying thirteen/fourteen year old thoughts onto. Seriously, you wanna talk drama? You should’ve seen the comment section on my journals. Tons of fights were started from one post. My dad refused to call them blogs though. He insists on calling it “commentary” or whatever. I don’t know, the man’s almost fifty and needs to get with the program! Hahahah!!

But, I’m not a teenager anymore and hopefully my thoughts and opinions don’t cause fights in the comment section. Although, that’s quite an unrealistic desire isn’t it? In any case, I’m a grown woman now and I do have things to say. I have stories to tell, a journey to embark on that I’d like to look back on someday.

Where would I like to be in my life? Well, I’d like to be a wife, a mother, and a successful author. If I could get on Stephen King’s level that’d be fantastic too.

But where am I now? Well, I’m twenty-two, living at home with my mom and step-dad, and I work in a grocery store for minimum wage. Customer service ain’t easy for someone with social anxiety, am I right?

And that’s the cool thing about life. You can change things, make things better. No matter how shitty it gets, there’s still a possibility for change. I don’t know, maybe I’m just being corny.

I’m a Pisces, we’re very emotional.

Anyways, join me on this journey my friends. I look forward to your next visit.

~B