Social Anxiety and Being in a Sorority

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Last semester, during a conversation with one of the newest sisters in my sorority, the topic of social anxiety came up. I am not one to shy away from my diagnosis, and I casually mentioned I overcome social anxiety on a daily basis.

Suffering from social anxiety herself, she asked me what seemed to be a very simple question, “How did you make it through rush and the new member process (pledging)?”

Instead of having a simple answer, I stopped short. I’ve been thinking about my answer for the past six months. I think I am finally ready to answer.

Truthfully, the first thing that came out of my mouth was “I got drunk.” I look back on my high school years and the crowded parties I threw and went to and realized the only thing getting me through those evenings was my lack of inhibitions. That was the same experience I had up until my sophomore year of college, when my body started to reject alcohol and any other kinds of substances. It was around this time that I noticed my discomfort and lack of interest at sorority mixers, formals and other large gatherings. My chest would start to hurt, I couldn’t catch my breath and I just knew everyone was staring at me.

I started to again fear being in social settings. I would choose to spend the night in with a friend or my sister rather than venturing to a party. I joked I was an old woman at heart, but deep down, I felt unsafe, even when I knew everyone around me.

Last semester, I was fortunate enough to be voted into a leadership position in my sorority, something I never thought I would do. Although it was something I was truly passionate about, I was now obligated to show up at events that exhausted me, and the subsequent hostility I received due to my reluctance to attend parties was overwhelmingly disheartening. Instead of being understanding, people would make snap judgments and practically guilt trip me into going, when I would have rather been putting my energy into my position and other events. I began to feel resentful and bitter towards a group of women who I call my sisters.

After stepping back from the organization a bit, I now realize having social anxiety and being in a sorority can be a giant walking oxymoron. You have to be willing to put yourself out there and be, for lack of a better word, social. Trying to find the balance between these two integral parts of my life has been one of the hardest and most frustrating challenges to overcome, but I now realize what I need to do so both parts of me are happy and comfortable.

This means putting me and my well-being first always, even when I feel like I should do otherwise. I never push myself to go to more than one “party” event a weekend because those are my worst triggers. And after these, I usually need at least half of the next day to be alone and “recharge,” which is imperative. If and when I do show up at a mixer, I surround myself with good friends who are aware of my anxiety and can go upstairs or outside with me so I can take myself out of a potentially overwhelming situation. It is so important to find the people within your organization who will love you and support you despite the things that make you different. It is really difficult being a typical sorority girl and college student when social events are your worst enemy, but having those girls who are understanding and nonjudgmental are going to make those scary situations at least a little worth it.

There are always going to be those who don’t understand, but as long as I am happy with my choices, it doesn’t matter if no one else is. Being “selfish” is the best thing I do for myself, and I had to learn that to make other people happy, I need to make myself happy first.

It may seem impossible to have social anxiety and be in an organization where being social is the main requirement, but with the right attitude and support system, you can turn it into something truly inspiring.

The Mighty is asking the following: Imagine someone Googling how to help you cope with your (or a loved one’s) diagnosis. Write the article you’d want them to find.  Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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6 Things I Want People to Know About Invisible Disabilities

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I have dealt with anxiety, depression and was diagnosed with a heart condition when I was 19 in college, but none of my friends knew or could tell. You could not tell just by looking at me. But my “InvisAble” disabilities also give me the ability to be great.

From my personal experience dealing with my disabilities, here are 6 things I want to share with loved ones and others I meet.

1. Not all disabilities can be seen. Growing up in a traditional Asian household, mental illness was a taboo topic. It did not exist, and if there was any conversation about it, the only responses I would get are “you aren’t thinking like a normal person” or “you are just stressed.” This only made dealing with anxiety and depression more difficult. My parents were well aware that physical disabilities existed, like the physical issues I have with my heart, but not open to discussing my other disabilities.

2. No two people will react the same to a shared disability. Every person will cope with their disabilities differently. When my anxiety kicks in, it feels like an extreme form of constant stress. I struggle to sleep, I have nightmares and wake up with tightness in my chest, I break down and cry, I get angry and am in a mental state where I feel everything in my life is going in the wrong direction. No one else can read your mind, so it is important to communicate what you are feeling and how you are feeling. Sometimes just having someone close whom you trust and who knows your behavior patterns can help.

3. Don’t tell me my disability is not “normal.” I have shared with close friends about my disabilities, and have even been told how I react is not “normal.” Even in the workplace, I have heard people say the way to deal with stress is to “just get over it.” I do not have a choice in how I react, it is simply the way I am feeling. There is no right or wrong with how I react to my anxiety.

4. Telling me I need help isn’t helpful. That only states the obvious. If I have learned anything from my disabilities, it is that I have to be willing to help myself before anyone else can help me. With anxiety, I have sought counseling and found activities to provide relief. When I learned of my heart issues, I was afraid to go back to the cardiologist and refused to accept there was anything wrong, but I eventually went back for help. When I first realized I felt different, I just kept telling myself nothing was wrong. I was wrong. It was not easy to want to get help; it took years. But whenever my family and friends learn that I am losing control of my disabilities and push me to seek help, the pressure only makes it worse.

5. Just be there. It is never easy to admit something might be wrong, or that you need help, but when I do, it is because I have found the courage to trust you. I care about how my disability affects my relationship with you. This does not necessarily mean I want you to do anything; it just means I want you to be there for me.

6. Disabilities are abilities. My social anxiety heightens my senses, making me more observational, rather than a participant. This allows me to read into people’s personalities much more deeply because I take more time to process. It has helped my professional career when it comes to interacting with clients. Because of my disabilities, I have found methods of coping with anxiety by writing advice for strangers through blogging. I sketch artwork for friends and family, and I write music for myself.

Whether you have a physical or invisible disability or both, make the most of it. Your disability does not define who you are as a person, but makes you unique as an individual.

The Mighty is asking the following: Create a list-style story of your choice in regards to disability, disease or mental illness. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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3 Simple Ways to Feel Calmer If You're Struggling This Week

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Many of us are struggling with feelings of overwhelm, anxiety, low self-esteem and depression. These feelings are uncomfortable, sad and painful. Some weeks it can feel as though our heads are barely above water trying to keep up with it all. This week, try to do the following three exercises, and if you like them, continue to incorporate them into your day. You may notice that as you start to use them daily, you might start to feel more calm and peaceful even amongst the noise.

1. Notice and allow yourself to feel gratitude every day.

It sounds so simple, but it makes a big difference in improving how you feel. When I first came back from living in a village in West Africa for six months, I was overjoyed with gratitude for such simple things like how green the grass was, how comfortable my bed was and how amazing an ice cold glass of water tastes on a hot day. Renee Jain from Go Zen states, “research suggests memories of certain unpleasant experiences can become progressively magnified in our mind which, in turn, leads to rumination and negative thinking. Fortunately, these studies also demonstrate that expressing gratitude makes us more likely to remember positive memories and can even transform neutral and negative memories into positive ones.”

Every day, spend some time reflecting on what you feel grateful for and write it down in a journal, or even in the notes section of your smart phone. Really allow yourself to feel how truly grateful you are. It can be for warm flannel sheets, the nice lady who served you at the coffee shop or the beauty of the reflection of the sky on a pond. As you start noticing and thinking about what there is to be grateful for, it can start to expand.

2. Practice self-compassion.

Self-compassion can make a tremendous difference in how you feel. So many people I meet are so kind, gentle and loving, but sadly they do not give that back to themselves. They get upset with their appearance, their mistakes, their pain and their perceived flaws. I understand there are many painful emotions, and things happen that really, really hurt us. As part of the human condition, we will continue to experience happiness, joy and pain. Self-compassion can help us to be with the pain.

Self-compassion is not the same as self-pity or being self-indulgent. Self-compassion means validating the difficult time you are experiencing and responding to yourself with kindness instead of criticism. As Dr. Kristin Neff explains, “First of all, when we relate to ourselves kindly even when we’ve behaved badly, it’s safe to face the truth about ourselves. We don’t need to deny what we’ve done or distort the storyline so that we blame anyone other than ourselves for what happened. Mea culpa. I can own up to it, because even though my behavior might have been bad, that doesn’t mean that I am bad. I can own up to what I’ve done without fear, because admitting responsibility doesn’t require throwing myself off the cliff of harsh self-condemnation.”

This week, whenever you notice yourself saying things to yourself such as “Why did I do something so stupid?” or “I hate the way I look,” just stop for a moment and see how those words make you feel. Then try to practice being encouraging to yourself. For example, you might use self-compassionate talk to say, “OK, I’m not feeling so great because of a mistake I made. I really want to beat myself about it, but that would just made me feel worse. The truth is I’m a human and we all make many mistakes in life. Mistakes are to humans as leaves are to trees, it’s simply a part of who we are. I will not judge myself for making a mistake, any more than I would judge a tree for having leaves. Making mistakes is just a part of all of us, a part of being a human. My self-worth has nothing to do with how many mistakes I make. Making a mistake does not make me a bad person.” Write these statements on cue cards (I call them my self-compassion cards) and carry them with you, so you can read them to yourself when you feel overwhelmed.

3. Do something pleasurable just for you every single day.

We go through life with many things we have to do such as get children ready for school, make lunches, go to our jobs, etc. It is important to balance ourselves by adding some small pleasures into our day. Every single day, write in your agenda — just like a scheduled appointment — something enjoyable you are going to do just for you. These can be small pleasures such a buying yourself a bouquet of flowers, talking a walk in nature, having a cup of your favorite coffee or tea, getting a massage, reading a great book, having lunch with someone special (or maybe even with just yourself) or going to a movie. Just make sure you pick something for every day this week, and that you allow yourself this pleasure. Not only is rest and self-care important (it’s actually essential for those of us with anxiety), but honoring that commitment to yourself gives you the message that you are worth it. And really, you are.

Wishing you all a beautiful week!

Andrea Andrea Addington, MSW, RSW specializes in anxiety counseling in her private practice in Moncton, New Brunswick. For more information about Andrea, visit www.andreaaddington.com.

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I Didn't Choose to Have a Mental Illness

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I didn’t choose my mental illness, it chose me.

It chose me with the hazy cloud that covers my mind with a daily forecast.

It chose me with the 2, 3, and 5 a.m. wake up calls that no sound, light or meaningful explanation could ever bring.

A handful of pills at 16 years of age when they didn’t quite do the trick, yeah, my mental illness chose me.

My depression chooses me every single day. When I go to climb out of bed, an anchor brings me back under the covers. But every time I check, there’s no anchor to be found — there’s just me.

My anxiety chooses me every time I dissect a situation 100 times over 100 days over 100 locations because the solution will never satisfy the makeup of my brain.

Mental illness is a part of who I am, but it isn’t my choice.

My choice lies in the courage and the strength I have to speak out about mental health in the face of stigma, discrimination and pure hate.

My mental illness empowers me every single time I support another person with mental health challenges with empathy, kindness and compassion because I recognize the pain since I have lived the experience.

Next time you think a person is trying too hard or not enough, consider their mental health. There is more that lies beneath the surface the waves could never uncover.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us a story about a time you encountered a commonly held misconception about your disability, disease, or mental illness. How did you react, and what do you want to tell people who hold this misconception? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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To My Best Friend, Who Didn't Run Away From My Inner Demons

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Dear Best Friend,

I know I can be quite a handful. I never know what mood I’m going to be in, or what is going to trigger an anxiety attack, not to mention all of the plans I make and then cancel because I just can’t handle it. I exhaust myself; I can only imagine what it is like to be someone who loves me.

I still remember the day you met my internal demons. I had been up for 24 hours, my mind raging with panic. You called and said you were going to stop by. I was too worn out to try to pretend I was OK.

I wonder what ran through your mind when you walked in the door. My tear stained face, half dressed, voice almost gone from crying, from screaming. My brain was too loud for me to form words, I could only apologize to you. I could only apologize to myself.

I was so ashamed.

But you didn’t leave. You didn’t run away. Instead, you went home and researched anxiety. You learned how to help me. You learned how my brain works. That’s the single most amazing thing anyone has ever done for me.

Since the day I opened up the door to my mind and let you in, you have gripped my hand with the strength of someone who isn’t afraid. You have answered every 2 a.m. phone call, every frantic text message. You have left parties and social events 10 minutes after arriving, simply because I am overwhelmed. You have patiently reassured me that you still love me, over and over and over again.

My friend, you have been a quiet voice and a steady heartbeat when I needed it the most. Thank you for showing me that even though I’m a handful sometimes, I’m worth it.

All of us, with our messiness and our mismatched puzzle pieces…

We’re worth it.

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4 Steps I Take to Cope With Anxiety

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The discomfort and pain from anxiety is real, and it’s hard for those who have never experienced it to understand. It is not the same as having stress or being nervous about something. It is relentless; it feels like something awful is going to happen. So how do we cope with these feelings?

Having lived with anxiety for my entire life and having now made a career helping others, I will share with you some of the ways I cope with these terribly uncomfortable feelings.

1. Ask yourself what’s causing the feeling.

The way I talk to myself when I have these feelings is extremely important. I can either make them worse or bring them down to a more comfortable level with my self-talk. I can say, “Oh no, this is so awful, I cant do this, I cant cope with this, this is the worse thing ever,” and if I talk to myself that way, I’m guaranteed the feeling with either stay the same or get worse. On the other hand, I can say, “Oh, here are these uncomfortable anxiety feelings again. What’s going on today that has me feeling more anxious? What am I afraid of? What am I dreading?”

Sometimes I can get an answer and know exactly why I’m feeling that way. In that case, I go on to step two. But if I can’t find any reason for the feelings, I go on to step 3.

2. Challenge the thoughts.

If I can get in touch with the thoughts causing me anxiety,  examine the evidence to see if these are true thoughts or, as the case almost always is with anxious thinking, irrational thoughts. For example: I’m feeling anxious because I have an exam today. I would ask myself: Are you prepared for the exam? Yes. Have you done well on your exams in the past? Yes, most of them, especially if I have studied. If for some unlikely chance, you do not do well on the exam, will it be the end of the world? No, it would not feel good, I would be disappointed, but it would not be the end of the world. Anxious thoughts are almost always irrational, and asking yourself these questions helps bring the logical part of the brain back into the game.

3. Relax the body.

So you’ve tried to figure out what your anxious thoughts are, and you come up with nothing. Everything seems OK, but you still have a body full of anxiety. In this case, your best defense might be relaxation. Deep breathing slows down the part of the brain that has you on anxious overdrive. It is actually the best way to reduce a panic attack. Deep, slow breathing means breathing from the belly — inhale, hold and slowly exhale.

I used to only do this when I was extremely anxious and then get so frustrated it was not working. I had to become consistent in practicing this every single day, even on days that were not as bad. Now when I do it, it really does help. Relaxation also can include massage, yoga, progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery (using visualization to bring yourself to a calm, peaceful place), mindfulness (paying attention to your five senses) and walking in nature.

4. Practice self-compassion.

On days when you are feeling particularly anxious, the last thing you need is to criticize yourself for having these feelings. Have compassion with yourself. Remind yourself that having an anxiety disorder means we may feel more sensitive, tired, have more body pains and generally that we require sufficient downtime, safe connections with others and self-care. Treat yourself with tenderness and soothe yourself with a nice cup of calming tea. Have a nice warm bath in lavender. Write positive affirmations about yourself, things you are grateful for and nice things others have complimented you on in a journal. Remember to tell yourself that feelings are like waves — they come and go, they ebb and flow. 

Andrea Addington, MSW, RSW specializes in anxiety counseling in Moncton, N.B. Her website is www.andreaaddington.com.

Editor’s note: Any medical information included is based on a personal experience. For questions or concerns regarding health, please consult a doctor or medical professional.

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