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The 'Baby Steps' of Facing My Social Anxiety

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I sat there in the waiting room, wondering why I had waited so long to do this. I was scared to be there, a million thoughts racing through my mind screaming at me to run. My breathing became shallow, my peripheral vision blurred as the walls closed in around me. My chest felt like it would collapse from the invisible pressure weighing it down. “This can’t be happening right now,” I thought to myself.

I was in the Mood and Anxiety Clinic at the Center for Addictions and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto. Building 100, fourth floor. It smelled like sanitizer and old carpet. A white sign on the secretary’s desk said to keep your voice to a minimum level as to not disrupt anyone. My pen draws circles around letters and words on the clipboard form on my lap. There are too many questions, which make my head spin and my stomach knot. A shuffle of feet, a clearing of a throat, a pair of wandering eyes that dart back and forth from the man sitting in the corner to the hallway where people have disappeared with a doctor’s company.

It felt like ages until she called my name. “Elena?” I looked up, frightened and hopeful. “That’s me,” I managed to squeak out. I really should have practiced this encounter more in front of the mirror before I left the house. I stood and followed the doctor down the hallway and into her office. She offered me a seat across from her and closed the door behind me. “Oh no,” I thought. “So, are you ready to get started?” she asked. I nodded, not trusting my voice anymore. My mouth had gone dry and my throat felt like it was closing. Damn.

The appointment lasted over an hour. Question after question, memory after memory. Sometimes a happy one but mostly sad. My head was doing backflips by the time she finished. “You’ve had a rough few years, girl,” I thought to myself. “This doc probably thinks you’re crazy. No amount of meds can fix this.” “All right, Elena, I have a diagnosis for you.” “Yes?” I asked, voice shaking. “You have social anxiety disorder. It’s evident you were in a manic depression episode when this all started, but those medications you started taking 10 months ago are helping, so continue to take them. Going forward, I have some options for you to look into. Are you interested?”

I nodded, but didn’t really hear her next words. Social anxiety disorder. Disorder. I thought it was just simple nervousness and worry. Depression. Was that what laying in bed unmotivated and failing out of university was? The meltdowns over nothing, the difficulty doing simple tasks. The pieces of the puzzle started falling into place. “I’m sick,” I thought. “I have a disorder, an illness. I’m sick.”

I let my mind float back to the doctor. She has just finished telling me about a group therapy session they offer. She held out a pamphlet, looking expectant. “I’ll think about it,” I said, giving her a weak smile, taking the pamphlet and standing. We shook hands and she let me out of her room. Finally! I’m free.

I walked straight out of the building, not stopping for anything. I needed air. My hands finally reached the large front doors and pushed them open, letting the cold winter air whip my face and fill my lungs. I took a long deep breath and stood there until I finally felt my blood pressure return to normal.

As I walked away from building 100, I felt as though I had taken a step towards making a change and getting on the road to recovery with a new plan of action. I still experience bouts of undeniable sadness, and there are days I am frozen with anxiety, but I still believe I can overcome this. I’m taking baby steps, and I’m not giving up. I’m not my illness, and I will not let it rule my life anymore. I am in control.

Follow this journey on Thoughts and Words.

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Thinkstock photo by Srdjan Pav

Originally published: March 14, 2017
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