Hi, here's my story. Sorry if it's a bit long, but perhaps it might provide some encouragement to others.
At 46, I reckon I've been suffering from SA for about 35 years. I can certainly remember a reasonable amount of shyness and avoidance from the age of about 10 and it obviously steadily progressed into this dreadful disorder from then on. Not sure where it came from but it may be from some innocent teasing at and early age coupled with some over protective parents. I could always ask them to do things for me whenever something slightly scary came my way, so I was never really exposed to anything, thus negatively reinforcing its significance.
School was, well, school. Didn't enjoy it all that much but did fairly well and always had a few close friends. College was pretty good because I enjoyed being there. I wanted to be an engineer and hence did very well academically. There were none of the student-presentations I hear so much about now. The lecturers all saw my interest so always involved me in ways that made me look good and hence there was no humiliation. About the 'worst' element was when I won the Best Student of the Final Year award and had to go up on stage to receive my award. No speech was required though!
My first job was involved driving to customers and servicing their computer equipment. Didn't like that at all, so got transferred to the workshop which I was much more comfortable with. I could use more of my technical abilities and I had a safe base where I didn't have to meet new people all the time! Two more jobs after that which I did very well at.
At the age of 27, I was given the opportunity for a job in the USA (I'm British). Been at the same job ever since. I have worked my way up and am highly respected there. I also had my own business for about 12 years which was also quite successful.
I have had great relationships since I left college and been with the same wonderful woman for almost 15 years.
It's amazing to me as I write this, because it doesn't sound like the life of someone who was constantly in fear of people does it? Looking back, I guess I've always managed to have those that are close to me do the scary stuff for me, just the way it was with my parents. My wife knows about the problem, so she takes care of phone calls, arranging things, shopping and so on. At work I am high enough up where I just ask people to take care of things outside my safety net. Maybe it's SA that drove me to get into these 'comfort zones'?
In 2004, work was very slow and so I had a lot of time to do some surfing. I knew I was different to everyone else. I felt very shy and self conscious. I hated being exposed or put on the spot. What made things worse was that, being British and living in the USA, every time I opened my mouth everyone looked at me! I couldn't blend in no matter what. So, after some serious searching, I found out that I wasn't shy at all but I had a mental disorder called Social Phobia or Social Anxiety Disorder. Wow! It wasn't just me but an actual medical condition. I wasn't too pleased at the prospect of needing a 'shrink' but at least I had something that was known about and apparently treatable.
So, I cranked up the wife and tasked her with finding me a psychologist. I went to see the him (talk about nerves - I was terrified) and spent an hour talking about things. Well, it's the old story. He didn't really know anything about the condition. He said he could treat it but couldn't tell me how long it would take or how much it would cost. So, that was that. I tried and got nowhere. That's all I had in me.
So, knowing what it was, I continued on with my life and tried to make improvements wherever possible. My wife said I had got better over the years since then but, looking back on it, I hadn't really. What I had done was get better at putting a brave face on it, but the actual gut-wrenching fear never went away.
Three big events occurred in the last few years. I got my US Citizenship which was reasonably traumatic (big room full of people waving flags). With that came what I can only remember as the most horrifying experience of my life: Jury Service. I ruminated about it for weeks and weeks. Went to bed at 1am the night before and was up at 3:30am pacing around the house. Went there and sat in room of about 700 people. You had to say "here" when they called your name. Then, in the courtroom, each juror had to answer questions and give a little speech about themselves. I can't describe how I felt but I cannot imagine anything worse. Finally, my wife had a reunion party at our house 10 months ago. It was only her friends and not mine. This too was extremely traumatic for me. I snapped (internally) that night and decided something needed to be done.
Karen Carpenter is one of my favorite singers and she died at 32 from anorexia. For years, all I heard was "How can you do that to yourself? Surely she could see was so thin? Why didn't just eat something to save her life". I agreed with these comments until I had the revelation that she had a mental disorder, just like me. Finally I got it. The mind is that powerful and she couldn't just snap out of anorexia any more than I could snap out of SA. Suddenly I had an appreciation of what mental health professionals did for a living! It actually scared me that a mental disorder could essentially lead you to your own demise.
More searching lead me to Dr Richard's OSA series, which I bought in April 2013. I was encouraged by the fact that he had gone through what I've been going through. So, I followed the series, doing everything that was asked of me. I took about 10 days per tape. I have a 40 minute drive each way to work so this is an ideal opportunity to listen to the tapes. Being a guy, I spend a long time reading in the bathroom, so that was the time I'd read the handouts. I'd whisper them to myself in slow-talk. 10 months later, I still listen to the tapes in the car every day. I feel like I can almost quote the whole series verbatim!
It's been a fascinating journey so far. Being an engineer, I like (have) to know how things work! It's amazing how so simply you create SA for yourself and you have no idea you're doing it (that will be a paradox). It's also amazing how simple it is to get out of it. Once you've completely digested the material on the tapes, there's really not much to it to begin to break the cycle that is so self-destructing. Now that doesn't mean once you know what's going on, it just goes away. What it means is that you now have the tools to start to turn things around. It might take a long time to fully get over SA (probably be years in my case), but I don't care. Things are slowly getting better all the time. I know I'll get there in the end if I don't give up and keep going. And it's really no effort once you've learnt the material. The correct thoughts will come into your head automatically rather than the old negative ones. Again, this is automatic and no effort at all but still doesn't eliminate your SA 'just like that'. It enables you to chip away at it a little bit at a time. It's actually quite fun! But stick with it!
One of the main things that helped me is to realize that when you're in a particular situation and anxiety rears its ugly head, the situation itself is not really anxiety causing, it's that your brain has been programmed (by you over the years) to associate that particular situation with anxious feelings. It's no different than if someone mentions Christmas, you instantly think of Santa and Christmas Trees. You don't consciously do this, it just happens through the association. It's a big help to know that as unpleasant as the anxiety is, it's just an automatic association. As long as it's not too much and you apply all your 'tools' to rationalize it, then, over time, it starts to become less of an issue. This is what probably leads to 'setbacks'. You've been doing well for a while and all of a sudden you get a rush of anxiety because, although the last few times you've done OK in a particular situation, there's something about it this time that resembles an older association and hence triggers the old feelings (especially if you no longer think about what you're doing because of the progress you've made).
Anyway, I'll end it there. I'm working on it all the time and realize it can't be rushed. Just keep going and don't try too hard. Just let it happen and things will slowly improve. Good luck!