I’ve been battling social anxiety for as long as I can remember, even though I didn’t always know what to call it. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to fake laugh when someone said, “Keep it down” or “You talk too much”, all the while boiling inside with anger. I’ve always been the shy and quiet one, so I took to concentrating on academics and pursuits of the mind rather than pursuits in the social sphere. I cultivated my logical mind and studied math and engineering - fields where I could put my thoughts on paper. (A college dorm-mate gave me the nickname “Silent Cal” after Calvin Coolidge, who evidently didn’t speak much; my real name is Clayton.)
From an early age, I didn’t have many close friends and never had a best friend to share my hopes and dreams with. I always felt disconnected from others, almost as if I were observing life rather than living it; as if the rest of the world were a TV show that rarely if ever broke the fourth wall. When at social events, the type where people circle up and converse with each other, I stood outside the circle. I often thought that no one noticed me, because the circles didn’t break to let me in.
I thought that this was just the way life is. Some people are just born different and they’ll be different their entire lives and there was no sense in trying to change it. It wasn’t a lifestyle that I wanted, but lonely nights and entire weekends spent not having a single conversation seemed the be the lifestyle I’d have forever.
In 2001, during a rough period of my life that I may share later, I happened upon a doctor who recognized the signs of social anxiety. I went out and bought every book I could find on it and searched the internet and even found an early version of Overcoming Social Anxiety Step by Step. I made good progress early on, recognizing and countering many negative thoughts. But I got cocky and complacent. I thought that I could overcome this emotional issue through sheer force of logic and I backed off on the therapy. (I didn’t complete this program the first time around.)
Through my (slightly) changed outlook on life and a lot of luck, my network of friends grew and I fell in love and got married and I moved up some in my career. But I hit a plateau. A lot of situations still made me anxious, so I just avoided them because life was good. But then life ran its course and some of the friends moved away or started families and had led time for my wife and me. We started our own family, so we had less time to socialize as well. Meanwhile, my job duties changed, requiring more and more interaction with others. The type of interactions that I had been able to avoid through the years because I never learned how to not get anxious.
I knew that I couldn’t improve any more on my own, so I looked around and saw that Dr. Richards had updated his therapy and I found a few other resources (without making a sales pitch, I’ve found The Shyness and Social Anxiety System by Sean Cooper to be valuable). I’m done with this whole social anxiety thing and I’m committed to overcoming it. I had always believed that maybe I was different enough that I could only make so much progress and would be mired in a life with anxiety. I now believe that this is a justification - an ANT - meant to keep me from achieving my life goals. I can overcome this and I’ll use all of the resources I can find - therapy, online systems, books, YouTube videos, this message board - to help me.
I look forward to the positive changes coming to my life. And I look forward to sharing my journey on these boards and watching others overcome social anxiety. Step by step.