TRIGGER WARNING: This post is a kind of (maybe?) in-depth look at my anxiety, avoidance, and fear, and how it’s influenced my relationships with others. At times I go into detail about my symptoms of anxiety, panic, and depression, which could be triggering for some (again, maybe?). While I love and appreciate all of y’all for reading, I ask that you please, please put your own mental health and wellbeing first. If at any point you find yourself feeling stressed out, anxious, depressed, or afraid while reading, please don’t feel obligated to continue. If you want to talk to someone, feel free to contact me (Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook all allow for private messages, or you can comment on this post if you’d prefer). Again, thanks so much for reading; I am so grateful for each and every one of y’all, and I love you always xoxo.
See? I told y’all I would expand on my last ‘note to self’ on fear! Welcome to On Fear: Part 2… AKA the one where I go to a really vulnerable place.
Let’s talk about fear – specifically, my fear of… well, people, and relationships, and being alone. (Yikes, right? Who does this? Who posts this on a public forum? Oh right, ME.)
If you’ve read Part 1 of ‘On Fear’ (or if you just know me), you know that I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I mentioned before that (for me) this means that literally everything has the potential to make me anxious at any time, and this is absolutely true. Honestly, 99% of my existence has been spent as a walking, talking ball of anxiety.
I’m not talking about frequent bouts of ‘nervousness’, either. I’m talking stomach-knotting, chest-tightening, palm-sweating, vision-blurring, muscle-tensing, head-spinning, debilitating anxiety – anxiety that often leads to severe depression, and that really screws with my already-not-nice-to-me joints.
For perspective: I have a long (and annoying) history of laryngitis. It’s something that has led me to see several health professionals over the years, including my general practitioner, an Ear Nose & Throat Specialist, and a Speech Therapist, to name a few. Essentially, according to my ENT, at times, my anxiety causes the muscles in my throat to tense up so much that I am physically unable to speak. I shit you not, at one point in high school, this lasted for 33 days. A month of being totally unable to speak, all because I was anxious. This is the life I live, y’all, and that’s only one example! Not unlike many other mentally ill folks, I’m also all too familiar with being unable to get out of bed, go to school (ask anyone from MSVU, ha!), concentrate, or even eat. I’ve been there in the past, and I still go there some days.
The point is, though, that I’m an extremely anxious person, and unfortunately, one of the things that makes me most anxious is other people.
Why, you ask?
Well, mine is a pretty standard story, honestly. As a kid, I was extraordinarily privileged. As a white kid from a middle-class, Christian family, I was set up to be successful – after all, that’s how privilege works, really. I was relatively well-liked by my peers, I got good grades, I played just about every sport I could, I sang in the school and church choirs, and for the most part, I was happy. Sure, there were some struggles along the way (most of which were related to my health – a mystery that wouldn’t get figured out until the age of 22, as y’all know), but overall, I was doing pretty damn good.
That changed really quickly when I started Junior High.
I started experiencing feelings of depression and anxiety, and over time, it spiralled out of control. I started to eat less, I started to self-harm, I became more socially withdrawn… and as this was happening, I told nobody. Even when people around me would ask, I would find ways to hide what I was feeling, because I was afraid. I was terrified of what people would think, what they would say or do. For a long time, I just didn’t know how to reach out.
People in my life started to leave. Some of them I pushed away, and others just… I don’t know, faded out of my life on their own, I suppose. It was hard, though, losing people like that, and it ended up leaving me with some pretty serious abandonment issues – issues that were only made worse in High School, and that probably contributed a lot to the whole AvPD situation (womp).
Murphy’s Law, right?
The rest can be summed up pretty nicely as follows: Bullying, exclusion, isolation… a downward spiral that led me to extreme self-loathing, self-harm, and thoughts of suicide.
I hated myself, and I was terrified to let anyone in because I had convinced myself that they would just end up leaving anyway, and that nobody was worth that kind of pain – not again.
I just wanted to drop off the face of the Earth.
But somehow, as I continued to watch the majority of the people I cared about leave, I held onto the only thing I felt I could still control: Academics.
I worked my ass off in High School to make sure I got a scholarship to University. In my mind, this was the only way I could turn things around. It was the only way I could redeem myself.
And I did… kind of.
I graduated at the top of my class, won the Governor General’s Academic Bronze Medal, and was offered a full scholarship to Mount Saint Vincent. At first, it was like a dream come true! All my hard work had paid off, and I was finally going to get my fresh start, right?
The only problem was that despite it all, I still wasn’t happy.
When I started at the Mount in September of 2011, I realized that my downward spiral wasn’t even close to being over. Over the course of those next two years, my physical and mental health declined dramatically, I gained a whole lot of weight (note: I’m only addressing this because it worsened by joint dislocations… no fatphobia allowed here, so miss me with it), my grades dropped to the lowest they’ve ever been, and I just completely lost myself. I knew I had reached rock bottom when one night whilst trying to write a paper, I found myself sitting on my sister’s bedroom floor sobbing, telling her and my mom that I just couldn’t take it anymore.
I needed help.
That’s when this amazing woman came into the picture:
Dawn McKelvie Cyr, Psychotherapist
Not to sound melodramatic or anything, but Dawn McKelvie Cyr (aka my wonderful therapist) is basically the reason I’m here today, alive and doing what I’m doing. Over the course of the past few years, she has helped me to find empowerment within myself, foster a sense of resilience, and develop some much-needed self-care techniques. She has been my shelter in the storm, my light at the end of the tunnel, and every other cheesy-yet-true cliche you could think of.
She has helped me learn how to love myself as I am – but more on that later.
As you’ve probably already figured out, when I first started seeing Dawn, I was a hot mess. I just didn’t believe that things could get better, or that I was even worth the effort to try. Somehow, though, despite my defensive and indignant attitude, she managed to get through to me, and slowly things started to improve. Over time, I started taking the necessary steps to ensure my own health and wellbeing: I started taking anti-anxiety medication, I was going to therapy every week, and I started to do things that made me feel more comfortable with who I was (like cutting my hair, for example). Eventually, the differences became more noticeable: My grades went up, I was able to do presentations at school without getting laryngitis, panic attacks became a rare occurrence, I learned how to drive a car (something I NEVER thought my anxiety would allow me to do), and suddenly, I found myself on Social Work’s doorstep.
Funny how that happens, right?
Fast forward to today, a little over a month into the first year of my BSW, and I am astounded by how far I’ve come. I’m shocked to even be saying this, but the biggest difference I’ve noticed is my ability to connect with people.
Over the course of the past few weeks, I’ve made more friends than I did in Junior High, High School, and my first undergraduate degree – combined. Do y’all know how incredible that is? I’ve been able to connect with more people in the past four weeks than I was able to in 10 years.
Do I still get nervous meeting/talking to new people? Of course! I still have moments that I’m afraid nobody will like me, or that I won’t fit in, or that I’m not good enough. What if people find me annoying? What if they make fun of my leg braces or my cane? There are so many different ‘what if’ questions that pop into my head at times… because I’m not perfect, y’all – I still doubt myself every now and again.
But the difference is, I still meet people. I still talk to them. I reach out, and I connect, and I take the chance.
Hell, the original post, ‘Note to Self: On Fear,’ was inspired by me doing just that! I had sent a message to a classmate – someone whom I respect, admire, and think is pretty awesome – and I was absolutely terrified to do it. But I did, and instead of being ignored, or mocked, or any of the things that I’ve always been afraid of, you know what happened? Not only did they respond, they did so in a way that was kind, genuine, and just… really refreshing.
Frankly, it made my day (you’re a gem, and I’m a sap #sorrynotsorry).
The point is, I never could have done that before, but now I can… and that’s incredible to me. It’s amazing to be able to meet people and interact with them without feeling like I’m putting up a front. I can just by myself, and that’s enough.
Thanks to Dawn, and thanks to this BSW program, I’ve been able to learn a really important lesson about my fear of people/relationships, etc.: I don’t have to let it stop me from being with people, from getting to know them and from forming those bonds. I don’t have to let it act as a wall between me and everyone around me. I don’t have to walk through life alone – and let’s face it, life’s a hell of a lot better when you don’t do it all by yourself.
So, you know what? Fuck being afraid of people. Sure, some will leave… but the ones who stick around, and who accept me for who I am? There’s not a doubt in my mind that they make it worth it.
It’s people like that classmate who make me want to reach out, no matter how scary it can be.
To end on a positive note, I’ll say this:
Dawn, you have been my rock through all of this, and I am so unbelievably grateful to have you in my corner. You’ve helped me to essentially recreate myself and because of you, I am confident in and proud of who I am. You’re amazing, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without you. Thank you so, so much.
To all of my classmates, if you’re reading this: Thank y’all so much for being such kind, welcoming, amazing human beings. I feel so blessed to have been given the opportunity to experience this journey with you, and I am so grateful that I’m at a place in my life where I can really get to know y’all along the way. You have given me so much already, and words cannot adequately express how happy and thankful I am; I couldn’t ask for a better group of people to study with, truly.
NOW. I know this post was a long one, and it was extremely emotional for me, but it was something I felt I needed to share with you. It’s all about embracing vulnerability, and I hope that you all can find ways to do the same in your lives.
Thanks for reading, y’all.
– Stephanie, ECC
PS. If you think you could benefit from talking to a therapist, I really, strongly encourage you to reach out to Dawn. After her recent move to Toronto, she’s incorporated Skype into her practice – something that has allowed me to keep seeing her, even from here on the coast. She is a kind, compassionate, knowledgeable woman who is beyond dedicated to ensuring the success of each and every person she works with. She has been a blessing in my life, and I’m confident that she can make the same difference for any of you who may be struggling. So again, if you’re interested in talking to someone, and you think Skype may be a viable option for you, I can promise you that Dawn is the best of the best. All her info is on her website (including her email) so give her a shout!