Can you speak in public? Get up in front of strangers and just speak loudly? I’ll share with you a history of success.
I study Russian. I won’t get in WHY i study Russian, but i study it in a federal university here in Rio. Federal universities in Brazil are the biggest and more important than the private ones, so they offer rarer courses like this. There is only one class for each level of russian (there are 20 for english only).
In october there was a cultural fair in which each student and classes, together for a day, invite lots of foreigners for cultural exchange, and present music, dancing, and other cultural traits for each course: greek, japanese, arabic, russian, french etc… Each student creates alone something to share.
3 weeks before the event my teacher asked us what we were showing so we could prepare (oh shit). Everybody started presenting something like cooking, a presentation about Russian cinema, hand works, a guy offered to make Kvas (Vodka is not the only Russian beverage)... i was the last one since i did not have any idea what to present. A friend of mine suggested for me Poetry. Yes. Get up there and recite poems in Russian.
When in front of people i get so anxious i can’t think right. Before i trained myself for public exposition, i just started to stutter, or say something awkward. Now a days i know by memory things to say, jokes, proper reaction etc… in my manual i just could not remember what to say when i don’t have a suggestion to present for a fair (The class and the teacher were staring at me waiting a response). I know i could simply say “I won’t go”... but i really like my russian course. I meet interesting people and culture, and i am good at it; rarely i have something to study that don’t make me anxious. So i said OK.
My friend offered me some audio and writings of poems, so since i had 2 weeks to prepare, i just picked one poem fast and started studying it everyday. In 4 days i had it all in my memory and repeated it perfectly… but i had no idea what it meant. LOL With the help of my teacher i translated it, and i discovered it was beautiful. The next week (My russian classes are on saturdays) i waited for most of my colleagues to get out to have the room empty and asked my teacher to help me. I practice it a lot so i took courage enough to recite it to someone. I recite it, and she said it was perfect. Hurray!
The next days i started reciting it to other family members: my mom, my sister; so i could get more courage. I had no idea how many people would be there for me to recite to. I worried more about knowing what i am doing than worrying what people would think. I really applied myself so if i have fear, and get anxious in front of people, at least i would know it was irrational. I knew that as soon i know my fear of failure and shame was irrational, i could ignore it not thinking it was something real.
The day came. The fair was huge and the building was full of people. I got there late and went straight to the class of Russian to meet the students… it was very boring (for me and by the face of the foreigners and the visitors) and there was less people than i thought it would be. Most of my colleagues did not come (that gave me a hint that i was not the only one nervous about it…) what was kind of sad because i was really curious to taste Kvas :-( (There was Vodka though hehe). Most of the colleagues were from more advanced classes, and i was not hurry to recite the poem… not at all.
As time went by, instead of fear i was gaining trust; i practice it so much, and my colleagues were presenting their work so bad, i was not getting anxious to present in front of people, but to present it already! My confident part turned on, and i asked the teachers that in my turn, they called people outside to join in to listen… the Russian fair was pretty boring compared with the Greek for example. I was feeling competitive i guess.
My turn came. The room was full of people, including with Russians and Ukrainians. I got up, and OMFG my body was shaking. The time stopped in my head and i felt how my body was unprepared. I did not expect my reaction, but i was aware i had no motive at all to feel that way. It was one more evidence i could not trust the signals of warning my body sends to me… or more technically, the signals the more primitive parts of my brain (mainly amygdala) send to my body, that makes it feel like a predator was in front of me ready to kill. I practice breathing and muscle relaxation, so i used what i’ve learned and paid attention to every inch of my body trying to relax it. Stop shaking dammit. I looked at nothing, while looking at the crowd, and started… Нет, обманула вас молва, Попрежнему дышу я вами.... etc, etc, etc… end. Everybody claps. But the body did not stop shaking. Went to another poem… yes, even though my body was making me uncomfortable, i chose to, this time, read another poem… so i recite it… everybody claps. I don’t remember anymore if my body was shaking or not. I was so happy i was not paying attention anymore. Now the translation (of course)... No, the rumours lied to you; As before, for you i still breathe… etc, etc, etc...More claps. More confidence.
I am convinced it was the highest point of the Russian fair, and i was very proud. But for a person that suffers of Social Phobia, the days after are as important as the day i had to face the crowd. My main concern was if they saw me shaking, or if the poem was too good, or if i was ridiculous in some way… my mind had to make absurd reasons to justify its fears. As gradually i revealed they were absurd, i noticed my fear completely apart from my reason. I felt divided. I learned i have a lot to learn and train so my body stops responding as it is right now. My brain is, in the primitive parts of it, working seriously against me. Now i have more fear of these primitive parts of my mind than i fear the crowd.
PS.: One thing bothered me though. My mom was there and she was so excited she did not registered it in any way, and in the pictures someone else took, i noticed there was a huge Soviet Union flag right behind my back. LOL I’m not a communist… so i could not share the picture with anybody in social media because people can mix what i was proud about that day.
So today there was a workshop in one of our courses, which usually means some introduktion to new material followed by some group assignment and lastly a presentation of the group's work with applying the new material. I usually dread the group presentations because of the fact that I will have to stand in front of the whole class explaining how we worked with a subject i hardly understand myself. There are just so many things that seems to provoke anxiety. Firstly, I have to speak in front of an audience, which means that I'm drawing attention to myself. Secondly, the time factor means that there isn't enough time for putting together, let alone rehearsing, the presentation, which is also frightening; in part because of the danger of a complete blackout, and in part because I have to contribute to the teaching, thereby setting up expectation that what I say isn't complete rubbish. Thirdly, putting my incompetence on display in front of my professional relations (class mates) is a really unpleasant feeling for me as well.
I feel I'm being thrown out there, among people I don't know and having to cooperate with them, putting on display how much I suck at this, and working towards a common goal of getting crucified at a presentation - all the while a mild/moderate feeling of dread and anxiety is molesting your inner space, putting a knot in your stomach, a lump in your throat and making you want to slip quietly out of the door to catch your breath and never to return. How open to learn new concepts and creative will you be, how focused, and how effective and effecient will you be at anything with this approach to the situation?
I LONG for feeling engaged, energized, enthused, fascinated, inspired - to be able to look at some assignment/research subject/concept/theory with joy and positive expectations of having my horizon expanded, instead of the usual and completely automatic anxiety response that clouds everything and imbues it with a sense of heaviness and dread and creating unsurmountable barriers that I cannot even bear to look at.
I LONG for something to dedicate my life to, something that is BIGGER than my automated responses and the inner turmoil they create, something that makes my anxiety condition seem petty and insignificant in comparison.
Everything is good with me today. That should make me feel better... and i am, but i went through this so many times, i know i should be aware with my reaction to things, and observe other peoples behavior to compare it. I don't put pressure on myself to be like them, but i observe events that make me nervous, and make sure i am reacting in a healthy way comparing myself with other people's behavior.
Here in my new job, as developers, we use a technique that recquires a short reunion at morning everyday. All the software factory get toguether and speak about what we did yesterday, and what we will do today, one by one, person by person. It normaly takes 20 minutes. It is useful for sharing experiences and know who can help you with a complex problem, and pehaps find someone that had faced it before.
I was relaxed the first days speaking about it, but last week, one day i could not sleep thinking about what i should say in the morning. I was having trouble with a project, that now is finished on schedule to the amazement of my colleagues, but at the time i was unsure i should just say that i was still on the same issue. The next day at morning i got late at work, and missed the reunion (the anxiety disturbed my sleep and getting up)… i did not hesitate and went speak with my boss (that knows about my Social Anxiety), and told him i did not knew it would be an issue, but it was. His sugestion was that we spoke everyday before i went out home about what i should say the next morning, and we do that everyday.
I am very lucky to have a boss like that. Makes me feel more inclinated to help the company in whatever work they need; and i wish more companies teach this attitude to their leaders. Leaders should not just assume employees are lazy.
One thing i should mention as my difference in my Social Anxiety, and as an advice to you: In the reunions i never appear shy, and differently from my colleagues that enjoy chatting and joking with other colleagues freely during work, but in reunions lower their heads and speak very low having trouble to chose words... i keep using the techniques i trained filming myself and reading about it: Speak clearly; look in the eyes of people and respond with a smile when they smile; show that you are open to advices and comments and ask for it when necessarily; show that you are in trouble about some issue at work, because that shows your are humble, and people like this. Be the person i want to hear and see in myself.
I am not saying it is easy to do. But i keep training it. I sweat, became nervous, but slowly i am getting used to it, and speak better and better in front of people. The only difficulty is that i still have to know in advance what i have to say… my next step is beeing relaxed EVEN if i don’t have nothing to say, or have to come up with it at the spot. Rome was not built in a day…
Sometimes it is funny how people assume i am charismatic and easy going, when i have such issues with anxiety. The difference between me and their behavior and thinking is pehaps that i am such a nerd, not only in work, but about my own problems. I apply my education in my own life, not only in academy and work. We can figure out how to solve things with science, and practice teaching ourselves, and bring down the notion that we will always be as the way we were born or grew up to be.
... i also am aware i have issues, and i am not in denial.
Small victories are coming one by one, and it is very important to us to keep track of them to make us remember that the effort is not useless.
Coming to the realisation that getting better from Social Anxiety Disorder was going to involve more than a quick fix, was the first real step I came to in finally starting to recover.
I was 22 or 23 when I made that decision, and I'd had severe S.A.D since I was 11. For years, although I knew something was wrong, and that I was far more 'nervous' of doing things than other people, I refused to listen to people telling me that I had to work hard to fix the problem. I honestly thought it would just eventually go away. That I'd 'get over it'. That one day I simply wouldn't have to deal with it any more.
For my entire time at high school I played the avoidance game. I became very good at giving excuses, making up little 'white lies', being 'sick' at invonvenient times or just not doing things. My friends and family came to simply 'accept' that that's what I did. It stopped seeming weird. In fact, if I had done something different, they probably would have made a big deal out of it - which maybe made me even less likely to try and change.
It wasn't until I'd dished out big money for a university degree only to find myself unable to sit in a lecture theatre without nearly fainting or vomiting that I finally started to accept I might need help.
Sure - I'd seen counsellors galore up until then, but leaving home meant that now I had to face up to some realities.
It's not normal to feel nauseas upon entering a supermarket.
It's not normal to be unable to breathe during a movie just because you aren't on the edge of an aisle.
It's not normal to be unable to eat 3 weeks before a performance (the day of, sure, but three weeks?).
It's not normal to lock yourself in your dorm room because you can't face interacting with your flatmates friends.
When I decided I wanted to be a teacher, I had to make a serious choice. I got offered a place on an intensive three week cognitive behavoural therapy group course for sufferers of Social Anxiety, but in order to do it, I had to quit my job.
So I quit my job.
I thought "I didn't really need to go on it", that "I wasn't bad enough to be in cluded in their group", that "this was only a way of helping make me cope with speaking in front a class".
But when I got there, it was clear that I was one of the worst.
I cried twice and had three panic attacks on the first day, and went home refusing to go back.
But I did go back, and it was hard. But it did help. Just not immediately.
Three years later, I am back in their clinic after relapsing. Seeing the same amazing clinician who is teaching me to slowly change my thought processes. To view panic as something that isn't dangerous, but just is. Learning that I will never fully be 'free' from anxiety, that if I were, that would in fact be a bad thing. That this process of 'overcoming' anxiety simply means learning to manage it better. No longer letting it rule you - but allowing you to have the skills to rule IT a little more.
There is no quick fix for anxiety and depression. It takes a lot of hard work. But it is So worth it.
Contact me and follow more of my journey and song writing project here. http://jessicaclaire.webs.com/apps/blog/