How Starting a Support Group for People With Social Anxiety Helped My Recovery
It was early September while I was on my hour-long bus commute to work. I have a pretty lovely view for half of it. A long lake with plenty of forest surrounding it, kayakers and paddle boaters out for their early morning practice rows. I do a lot of pondering while staring out the window on the bus, and on this particular day, I was thinking about how I’ve lived in Halifax for 5 years and I really don’t have a lot of friends. It’s not that I don’t like people. It’s not that I don’t get the opportunities to make friends. I just, suck at it. It terrifies me.
All I’ve wanted for years is to have a group of friends I’m comfortable being around. Comfortable inviting to do things, or just to hang out and have a conversation with. Friends with whom I don’t have to contemplate every word I type in a text message in fear it will be interpreted wrong, or I’ll come off the wrong way or they’ll think I’m weird, rude or stupid. I know I’m not rude or stupid. Weird, I can admit to, but how do I know how someone else is perceiving me? Do they know I’m fumbling my words and having trouble making conversation because I’m anxious? Do they notice my constant touching of my face and awkward gestures because trying to talk to someone new can be absolutely unbearable for me? If they did, how would it make them feel? How would it make me feel if I knew they knew?
This is the mind of someone with social anxiety. Not everyone’s brain is the same, but this is mine. So, while gazing out the window, ignoring all other passengers on the bus, I thought to myself, I can’t be the only one. I know I’m not the only one. If only I could meet people who know how I feel. Maybe then I could make connections without the constant fear of judgment and rejection. I already knew this to be true because my best friend has social anxiety as well.
This friend is Alyssa. Alyssa and I have known each other for a lot longer than we’ve been such close friends. For both of us, it takes a long time to become comfortable enough around another person to open up and really let them in. Alyssa’s fiancé was my manager at a previous job and through him, we became friends. Alyssa, our boyfriends and I would get together to have some drinks. After a few nights, Alyssa and I came to the conclusion we had one major thing in common: social anxiety. It still took over a year of only being comfortable around one another while drinking before our friendship blossomed.
It was from this that we became each other’s “security blankets” for stuff we wouldn’t have the confidence to do on our own. I was able to send texts and overanalyze them and explain my thought process to her. All the while knowing Alyssa wouldn’t judge me because she understood. I think it’s this flourishing friendship that made me realize how great a support group would be. Having the ability to be around people you know feel the same can give a much-needed sense of ease in social situations. Being able to vocalize how I feel without fearing judgment and rejection is therapeutic for me.
Upon the realization of my epiphany, of course, the first thing I did was text Alyssa and ask her what she thought about helping me start a group for people with anxiety. A group to get together, share issues and help each other, while simultaneously maybe making some friends along the way. Of course, she offered her assistance without hesitation
We started the group on September 12, 2016. It’s now April 12, 2017, and we have nearly 200 members in our group. We’ve held various meets and have met a plethora of amazing people. Starting this group has truly changed me for the better and every time we host a meet, I notice my anxiety getting better, and I hope it can do the same for those who attend.
Thank you to all who join us on this journey to a healthy mind and healthy social life. It’s possible for everyone, don’t ever think you don’t deserve to have good people around you.
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Thinkstock photo via g-stockstudio.