I Survived My First Social Anxiety Attack! You Can Too!

The beginning of my Social Anxiety Attacks:

My Social Anxiety really “blew-up” when I was in my last year of post-secondary education. Specifically, it rampaged through my last six months. Social Anxiety was a real detriment to my life.

Here is the scene:

I had just returned from Christmas vacation, and was ready to get back to my school work. My first “real job” was looming in the near future. My goal was to work hard, get good grades, and hopefully land something worthwhile. I wanted to make a good impression. 

My first social anxiety attack happened: January 2000.

  • I was sitting at table, working on my laptop, and facing my friendly academic colleagues.
  • Suddenly, my face felt as if it was on FIRE.
  • My heart was racing, I couldn’t catch my breath, and I had no idea what was happening.
  • I was  embarrassed and scared!
  • The more embarrassed I got, the redder I got. The redder I got, the more I felt like my chest would explode.
  • I glanced at the classroom door. It seemed SO far away.
  • I sunk into my chair. I hoped that no one would see me behind my laptop screen.
  • My computer “beeped”. It was my classmate messaging me, “What’s wrong?” Ugh. Worst nightmare. I’ve been seen!
  • I paused, and replied, “I just don’t feel well.” Hoping I could pass it off as a weird cold or something. She said, “Hope you feel better.”
  • I felt that there was no way to escape. How could I leave and not be seen?
  • It was so random! I had no idea what was going on.

I didn’t tell anyone about the episode, and I continued suffering in silence for the next FOUR years! My Social Anxiety continued, and escalated. I avoided my friends. I avoided social interactions. And then, when it started to get really bad, I started to avoid my family.

How could this be happening?

It was so confusing. I had always had a mild form of Social Anxiety, but never like this.

  • I had managed to finish high-school without a Social Anxiety Attack. I certainly was classified as “shy”, but it didn’t have a horrible grip on my life.
  • I was nervous starting University but I pulled through. I developed a small group of close friends, and I graduated with a B.A. in Psychology (Hon.). There wasn’t one instance of a Social Anxiety Attack.
  • When I entered the last stretch of my studies (Post-Grad in Business), I was nervous but also excited. I was ready for lots of team-work. And then, everything exploded!

Why did MY Social Anxiety explode?

We are all individuals, and we will all have different reasons for why our body and emotions behave the way they do. I may never know the real reason, but I have my suspicions regarding the trigger that started MY Social Anxiety Attacks.

Lack of control over my environment is a biggie!

After a lot of soul searching, I realized that the TRIGGER for me was going into uncharted territory. I had no idea what was ahead of me.

  • Will I find a job?
  • Will it be a good job?
  • Will I be capable to handle the tasks in front of me?
  • Will I embarrass myself?
  • Will I embarrass my family?
  • Will I FAIL?
  • Will I be fired?
  • What would I do then? Could I cope?

Simply, I didn’t have control.

Yes, I had jobs and volunteer positions throughout my academic career. But, I still had the “crutch” of being reliant on school. During that last stretch of school, I was leaving what I knew. I knew how to work at school. But, now I was going into a full time environment of different expectations. Different judgements.

I felt as if a parachute detached from my body, and I was plummeting to the ground – fast!

LESSON: They may notice, but they really don’t

My title may sound confusing, but it’s really true.

Has anyone told you that “NO ONE will notice if you are turning red, shaking, and having an attack.” I had that said to me by one Therapist. It irritated me, and I didn’t believe it. I remember saying to her, “You can’t see into the future. Can you really guarantee me that?” In answer to my comment, she just stared at me blankly. I didn’t stay with her very long.

In MY opinion, it is better to recognize that some people will notice. But, in MY experience they don’t notice often. And, if they do see something, they really don’t care. As well, IF they do care (which is actually nice), they usually don’t see the situation like we do.

Inside we may FEEL like we are having a catastrophic meltdown. While on the other hand, the external world just sees some redness and mild shaking. They don’t see the situation as drastic as we feel inside. Somehow, that has been a comfort to me over the years.

Don’t get me wrong, in my younger days I’ve also had attacks where I’ve been crying and hyperventilating. But now, if I feel one coming on – I can use some coping mechanisms to bring it down to manageable levels.

LESSON: Get help right away

Back then (January, 2000), I didn’t get help right away. Please learn from my mistake.

I suffered ALONE for FOUR years before going to my family doctor. I hid it for FOUR years before telling my family. Who you tell and get help from is your personal choice. But, it is important to reach out and get help. It is really hard to take that leap, but suffering in silence doesn’t get you closer to relief and/or recovery.

During those four years, I had a million of coping mechanisms (which I will explain sometime later), but nothing helped me more than seeing my family doctor. I should have talked to someone the first time it happened. It would’ve saved me a lot of heartache.

On the other hand, if you have a family doctor who isn’t the most knowledgeable on mental health issues and/or you just don’t want to face him/her, there are SO many options that you can choose. For example, in Canada, we have the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA). There are many resources that they can direct you to.

Final Words: There is HOPE for recovery

Recovery is not a straight line. Sometimes you will have good days, and sometimes bad. I am happy to say that at this point in my life, I have MANY more good days than bad. It has been now 15 years since that first Social Anxiety Attack, and my Social Anxiety is now under control.

It’s been a long road to recovery, and there have been bumps along the way. However, Social Anxiety doesn’t have a gripping impact on my daily life anymore. I may never be “cured”, but I know how to use coping mechanisms that work for me.

My life is NOT defined by my Social Anxiety, or any other mental health issues I have had over the years. I am just ME. My life is defined by my strength, resilience, and ability to take one-day-at-time.

I can’t look back at Social Anxiety Attacks and smile, but I can smile at the accomplishment of making it through. I can also smile because I also am confident that I can tackle just about anything that is in my future.

There is HOPE!

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