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Sally's story

This page created September 2004.
By Sally

I am 21 years old and have lived with Social Anxiety Disorder since the age of 9 or 10. My first memories of my anxiety are when I began to be afraid of staying over at my best friend's house. Throughout most of my high school years, I missed out on many social occasions with my friends due to my anxiety. I was terrified of going out to dinner, going on school camps and missed both my semi-formal and my formal.

My transition into university was relatively smooth. Until May 28th. In a philosophy tutorial I got very dizzy and thought I was going to pass out. Afterwards, I went to the refectory for dinner, and I thought, "What if I pass out here? What if I throw up here?" And from that day, I started having those thoughts in increasing numbers of places and situations. Suddenly I was terrified of performing in public (I am a musician), answering or asking questions in tutorials and lectures, going to the movies with friends, talking to the guy I had a big crush on, getting lifts in my friends' cars, catching the bus with friends, etc, etc, etc. All my decisions were based on the "what if" games I played with myself. My life became increasingly limited. I could feel my world shrinking around me.

When I got to the point where I was uptight every moment of every day, even while in the "comfort" of my own home, I knew I could not continue life like this. I had thought about suicide but I knew that I wanted to live - I just didn't want to live like this. I was terrified of even eating by myself. I went to a psychologist a couple of times, but I did not feel comfortable with him. He referred me to a GP who is wonderful. She understood about social anxiety disorder and she lent me videos to watch. She prescribed an anti-depressant that is also beneficial for anxiety. I did not notice an enormous change on medication alone. I was still having all the same negative thoughts, but the thoughts would have to be stronger for me to have the same level of physical reaction as before.

Then I started seeing a therapist. The cognitive behaviour techniques are what made the difference. We wrote my thoughts down on paper, which enabled me to look at them objectively, and REALISTICALLY. We searched for alternative thoughts that may be just as realistic, or even more realistic (after some time with the therapist I realized these alternative thoughts were much more realistic than my old patterns of thinking).

This was the beginning of the turning point in my life. My life changed when I could answer my "what if" questions with a logical and realistic answer. With these new thoughts, my anticipatory anxiety diminished substantially. I went to some of my friends' 21st birthday parties - dinners included. I gave a 20 minute presentation on my thesis at university to a small number of people with great success. I performed in concerts that greatly reduced anxiety levels and remembered what it feels like to actually enjoy the performing experience. I can catch buses and get lifts with friends.

I still cannot believe how much my life has changed in one year. All the things I achieved this year, I never thought I would. Now I have a new part time job - the first time I have been employed by someone other than myself. I am looking forward to next year - my first year out of uni. I see it as an adventure rather than a big scary thing that I won't be able to cope with. I thank my therapist for guiding me in the right direction and teaching me skills that I can take with me through the rest of my life.

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