I have moved. Where I was living in Iowa was a very small community, very far from the world at large. The nearest town with a Wal-Mart was 30 minutes away (which shows just how small and rural the area was).
When overcoming an anxiety disorder, only so much can be done in that type of community, and I was doing it. All it amounted to was internal alchemy: studying anxiety, learning coping statements and activities, changing the way I viewed the world, and using affirmations to boost my self-esteem. But internal maintenance can take a person only so far. We still have to get out and live, and that is most true of phobics.
While in Iowa I managed to overcome my fear of panic attacks without ever leaving home, and with that, the control panic attacks held over me. But where social anxiety is concerned, the pinnacle of treatment is en vivo exposure therapy, and I just couldn't get the most out of exposure where I was.
There were some very simple, easy things I could do and had long-since mastered, but there were no intermediate activities. The spectrum jumped immediately from “easy” to “hard.” I was stuck doing either the simplest, easiest tasks, which I had maxed out my growth on months or even years before, or doing something I had no confidence for. I couldn't make that sort of leap without a bridge to carry me there.
I am now in Southern Louisiana, surrounded by about 15,000 people, and perhaps another 100,000 around that, with New Orleans just an hour or so away. A community of this size brings everything close to hand, but is not so big that I'm frozen in place. There are no freeways here, as there were in Northeast Florida where I lived from 2005 until 2007.
I couldn't function at all in Florida because of the sheer amount of people in the stores and vehicles on the roads. Such a simple detail as there not being any freeways may make all the difference for me. I'm Goldilocks and this is my porridge. Not too hot and not too cold, but just what I need.
So where I'm at now means that I still feel like I'm in a small community, yet opportunities arise frequently. This gives me the “bridge” of intermediate activities I lacked in Iowa. There are many small though sometimes painfully frightening activities to tackle, each one a boon to my confidence, carrying me to my eventual goal of succeeding as an adult.
I am living with my mother. Having someone to push and motivate me to succeed, where the first thing I want to do is hide away, can be as painful as it is rewarding. I've discussed before how in years past I have lost opportunities by pushing the ones most able to help me away, because of my fears. This time around I hope I can allow myself to have an ally in my mother, who is still very willing to help me.
I have started a journal to keep track of my progress. Every day I plan on doing at least one exposure therapy to help myself grow. This had been my plan in Iowa, but the train jumped the tracks when I ran out of things to do—things that interested me, or weren't an hour away, or weren't so beyond my ability that I was helplessly intimidated.
For someone with a social phobia, I feel incredibly lighthearted and interested in life around me. I feel confident and excited for each day. It's been a couple of years since I felt that way, but I'll stay like this so long as I remain open to life as I am at this moment. Anything can happen, and I'm looking forward to what does.
Tao of Anxiety: Series
Tao of Anxiety: Series