Thursday, July 11, 2013

It's Just S.A.D. {Living with Social Anxiety Disorder}

My 20th high school reunion is in a couple of weeks.
{yes, I'm THAT old!}
It took me a while (until yesterday actually!) to decide to go.
I'm not too busy.
I'm not too boring.
I'm not a snob.
I'm just scared.
That probably sounds ridiculous but it's the truth.
I'm going to let you in on a secret:
When I mentioned on Facebook that I was nervous
about my reunion, I received several messages from
concerned friends and family.

I know there isn't anything to be physically afraid of.
I just have some baggage.
Here's my S.A.D. story:
“Hey! I got it! Let’s say, ‘Come back here and sit with us!’ and when she does we’ll all get up and run!” I was walking next to the bus parked outside of the junior high school and I could hear every word that the kids on the bus were saying. They all laughed at the idea they had come up with that day and excitedly discussed their strategy until I stepped onto the bus. When they realized how close I had been during their planning it became silent and I took my usual seat at the front of the bus. I don’t know why that particular day, so many years ago, stands out in my mind. Maybe it’s because I knew two of the kids so well; one had been a very good friend of mine a few years earlier and the other one lived near me. I also don’t know what it was about me that was so funny to them but they enjoyed coming up with new ways to make me look or feel stupid.           
                        I used to have friends. I can remember in fourth grade being called into the principal’s office to talk with him about being a “peer leader.” I was happy and confident. I loved to sing and dance and be on stage. But in fifth grade I was in a classroom without any of my friends from the previous year. I also had a teacher that was a little impatient with my math skills and we started having parent-teacher conferences during lunchtime to discuss my grades. It became a joke among some of my classmates but I still had a few friends. Things improved only slightly in sixth grade. 
            There were one or two people in junior high that I considered my friends but other than that I went through those years alone. I knew I wasn’t the best dressed girl on campus but I didn’t think I was ugly and I didn’t have a weight problem or any of the other physical features that usually draw negative attention from emotional bullies. It didn’t seem to matter though, I wasn’t part of the popular group at school. In fact, I wasn’t part of any group.
         Things got worse in high school where I started having conflicts with larger groups, mostly girls, who didn’t appreciate any attention I sometimes got from a few guys on campus. I had more than one encounter with these girls that resulted in more than a few bruises. I often had suicidal thoughts but figured I wouldn’t “do it right” so I never acted on it. I tried to keep to myself at school but it only proved to make matters worse as more people got involved. Rumors swirled and festered and I would hear whispers and name calling and giggles as I’d walk down the halls at school. I cried myself to sleep a lot during those years.

           I became obsessed with perfection; if I was perfect then no one would have a reason to make fun of me. I spent countless hours exercising, redoing my hair, and perfecting my makeup to an art. I even practiced my handwriting over and over until it was flawless. I had a particular place for everything in my room. I always knew if someone had come in while I was away because I knew exactly how everything looked when I left it. 
            By the time I got into college I was just angry. I developed a hard outer-shell and made it clear that I hated everyone and didn’t need anyone. I never had any altercations at college but I did have a reputation for a bad mouth and attitude to match. I had a few friends my first year of college, mostly because my mom was praying for me and the Lord blessed me with a roommate that became my best friend. Not many people there knew me or my background and I was able to relax and let my guard down a bit. My second year of college didn’t go as well. I had a new set of roommates that were trying to grow-up too and I came home after my third semester. I purposefully left early in the morning without saying goodbye and I didn’t hear from most of them again.
            Being back in my hometown and seeing a few familiar faces brought back feelings I thought I had outgrown. Still haunted by painful memories, I tried to stay out of sight to avoid situations that might provoke a verbal or physical attack. It came to the point where I would only leave my house to go to the post office. Social Anxiety Disorder was still in its early stages of diagnosis. I never talked with a doctor about my social phobias so I went untreated.
My parents were aware of my struggles and tried to help in any way they could. I remember a time when my dad and I went to pick up one of our cars that had been left at work overnight. Someone knew it belonged to my family and had written crude and degrading things about me all over it. I still remember the look on my dad’s face when he saw the tears running down my cheeks. When we got home, he helped me fix some things in my room. My parents were always on my side, even when they had to deal with some of the unpleasant remarks or suggestions from misinformed people. 
            I went to church with my family but always kept to myself. At the invitation of my high school seminary teacher I started attending institute classes. He had been my friend and confidant all through high school and had written to me periodically during college. Soon, my stake president was calling me on a weekly basis, just to see how I was doing. My bishop met with me often and lent me books to study with my scriptures. I was slowly regaining some of the spiritual ground I had lost over the years and soon accepted a calling in the Primary organization. I also began working on a volunteer basis as a part-time secretary at the seminary building. 

            I still didn’t have many friends but I had grown to like it better that way. I read and re-read books written by prophets and apostles and prayed to be a better person. Around this time, I was blessed to meet the man I eventually married. He was with me from the early stages of learning how to deal with my anxieties. He could make me laugh when I needed it and would listen to me when I needed to cry.
            Several months passed and my boyfriend left to serve a mission for our church. As a child, I had always wanted to be a missionary but, due to my anxieties, I thought it was out of my reach. I talked with the stake president about my desires and concerns and he encouraged me to begin mission preparations. My mission call didn’t come for several weeks and my family and I were worried that something was wrong. It turned out that my social phobias and anxieties were a big cause for concern. My stake president assured the area president of my willingness to serve and I was soon allowed to go. However, it was on a “one strike” basis: if I had even one panic attack or an anxiety episode I would be sent home, no questions asked. My parents and I agreed to the terms and two months later they drove me to the MTC in Provo, Utah. I served a complete and successful mission.     

             It has been many years since I returned from my mission. I married my Sweetheart in the Mesa, Arizona LDS Temple and we have a beautiful family. I have served in several callings in the church and have had employment in different areas of industry. I go to the store, I take classes, and attend church like anyone else. On all outward appearances, I’m a perfectly normal wife and mother just going through my daily routine. My children are sweet and friendly, my husband is loving and patient and I’ve discovered a few things about myself that I actually like. But a few fears still remain.  
            I still get nervous meeting new people, especially if they want to get to know me. I tell myself to give only the minimum information necessary and end the conversation as soon as possible. In my head I imagine that people think I am dumb or embarrassing. When I do say something that I feel is stupid, I have to force myself to stay there and not run out of the room crying. I constantly go over conversations again and again in my mind to train myself to stay quiet. I feel okay in large groups of people because I can disappear but I get nauseous in small groups. I agonize for days before big events: I make sure I wear just the right clothes, that every hair is in place, and my make-up is picture-perfect. I hate making mistakes. Big events are difficult for me to get through without silently badgering myself about something I said or did.        
            There are still very few people I consider close friends, most of which are my own family. However, I can honestly say that I am grateful for the things I’ve learned through all of this. I’ve learned how to forgive. I’ve learned to be the first one to say “Hi” to someone whose head is hanging down. I’ve learned to help others when they are in need. I’ve even had the opportunity to help the families of two of the individuals whose words and actions were so cruel years ago. I’ve learned that my Heavenly Father is aware of me, personally, and knows my needs and will send help when necessary.  Most of all, I’ve learned that the Atonement of Jesus Christ is not just for the sinner but for the sinned-against. This quote has carried me: “When disappointment and discouragement strike, you remember and never forget that if our eyes could be opened we would see horses and chariots of fire as far as the eye can see, riding at reckless speed to come to our protection. They will always be there, these armies of heaven, in defense of Abraham’s seed.” - Jeffery R. Holland
So that's it.
That's me.
Even as I'm hesitating to hit "publish" because
I'm so nervous, this is who I am.
And I like me. =) 
I'll let you know how the reunion goes. =)
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  1. T.J. it makes me so sad to hear all that you have been through! I never would have guessed you felt this way. I have always admired how beautiful and talented you are and just thought you were really shy....being really shy myself I never reached out to people like I could have. I too have social anxiety and know how hard it is to go to something like a class reunion. I'm glad you decided to go and I hope that you have nothing but a positive experience! Keep your chin up, you are awesome! By the way, you look amazing! I have been following your diet/exercise progress and you are inspiring! :)

    1. I'm amazed at how many people this affects! It's far more wide-spread than I ever thought. It's hard being a teenager in general. Maybe this kind of awareness will help someone else who is struggling.
      Thank you so much for your sweet words. I truly appreciate your kindness. Thanks for stopping by! =)

    2. Well no wonder I feel so protective about my family! TJ if I had known all of this before I would have tried to make it better for you. I am so sorry for all the crap you were put through. When you are here for that walk down memory lane, remember I am here. No one should ever make another feel the way you have felt and I don't want you to feel that way again from small-minded, insignificant people. Love you Teej "you're good enough, you're smart enough and dog-gone it, people like you".

    3. Haha thank you Sis! I can always, ALWAYS count on my family! Much love!!

  2. Oh how I love you TJ!!!! Amy really was a great roommate for you. You are amazing and I love you to pieces!

    1. I love you too! You're one of my favorite people. Thanks for stopping by. =)

  3. Thank you for sharing this T.J. I would have never guessed this in a million years. You are one awesome person and you sharing this and helping others with S.A.D. by opening up about it is admirable. You are spot on that we never know what others have or are struggling with. I hope you have a great time at your reunion. Go there with the confidence you should have because you are amazing and so many people love and look up to you...including me!

    1. Thank you for being so sweet. I tried to keep it a secret for years but I think others going through this need a voice. I'm so glad that you stopped by. =)

  4. You are such a beautiful woman, T.J....inside and out! No one should have to grow up with that kind of pain. Thank you for opening my eyes to so many things...even about myself. I love you

    1. I love you so much! Without you, I wouldn't be me. =)

  5. You are such an amazing example to all, TJ! Thanks for sharing your story, it really touched me. I know I was only in your ward for a short amount of time, but I look up to you so much and feel so blessed to know you. I still have the hair flowers that you made me and think of you every time I wear them :) Your acts of service have definitely been a blessing in my life. You are a person of great strength and have overcome so much. Your story reminds me of one of my favorite songs ever! You've probably heard it, but if you haven't you should totally look it up. It's "Beautiful Heartbreak" by Hilary Weeks. That song has helped me so much and really put things into perspective for me about trails. Anyways, you're awesome!

    1. I'm so glad that you stopped by! Thank you for the song; it's beautiful. You are AWESOME! <3

  6. WOW, T.J., this is an amazing story of hope and success! You have been through the fire and have come out the other end so beautifully. I do not know you (yet) but I am saddened that you had to go through such a painful childhood. Kids can be so mean, and my heart brakes for you.

    It is wonderful that you love yourself and can see how you have grown from these are a great example for others to follow.

    It is fabulous that you are going to your high school reunion. You are no longer imprisoned by those past hurts. Hold your beautiful head up high, be the confident person you were born to be, and shine your light for all to see!

  7. Thank you so much for your kind words. It's been a long road but I've learned so much along the way that I wouldn't trade it. <3

  8. Truly inspiring! Thank you for sharing your story. Wow. It relates a lot to what I've gone through and to read your story of hope and strength gives me hope and strength and a renew want of getting closer to God. I've struggled so much with anxiety and it's lead me down to being agoraphobia but I haven't lost hope yet and this has only fueled the fire that I needed to get out there and to get life on a healthier and much happier road. Thank you sooo much

    1. I know it's hard. I know the road is long. But I also know there is a Heavenly Father who loves you and wants you to be successful. You CAN do hard things. Keep your head up. The best is yet to come.! =)