Today we’re getting to know Ashley, who suffers from depression and social anxiety. You can find out more about Ashley on her site at https://missingtheexit.squarespace.com.
How long ago were you diagnosed? What made you seek help?
A:I first spoke to a professional about social anxiety and depression when I was 19, but I know that I’ve had it much longer. That was nearly 5 years ago but I remember being depressed and anxious since I was about 12, possibly younger. I decided that I needed to get help because I had let both of these problems take over my life. At 18, I dropped out of my first year at a fantastic university because I was too anxious to leave my dorm. I was so depressed that I started sleeping all day but so anxious that I couldn’t fall asleep at night. I began to obsess about the smallest details and everything just seemed so difficult, even the simplest tasks like going to class. Even after I dropped out it took me about a year to realize I needed help.
What stay-well strategies do you use in your everyday life?
A:There are so many strategies I use every day. In fact, a lot of them seem like second nature to me now. The best way I have learned to prevent myself from feeling too anxious is to see everything in small steps. When I first started, I would look at each little baby step as an accomplishment. Say I needed to go to the grocery store. The steps would look something like this:
1. Put on shoes.
2. Get in car.
3. Drive to store.
4. Walk into store.
5. Go to candy aisle.
Today, I am able to see the steps as much bigger chunks. Of course, I still have bad days where I revert back to the smaller steps but overall I am doing much better. I no longer have panic attacks or extreme fears about mundane tasks.
I also find it comforting to speak about my experiences. Vocalizing my problems makes me feel safe, even if the other person does not empathize. I am not longer holding on to it, allowing it to silently take over my life. The more I talk about my experiences, the less I feel that they define me. Instead, they are just another part of my life.
As far as depression goes, I take steps to give myself one present each day. I stole this idea from Special Agent Dale Cooper of Twin Peaks fame. It could be an hour of worry-free time watching my favorite tv show, a cup of way-too-expensive coffee or a new book. I also run four times a week, which helps much more than I thought it would.
What makes social anxiety different from someone who is simply shy or introverted?
A: I think it is common for people to confuse shyness/introversion with social anxiety but there are some important differences.That being sad, I think a person with social anxiety can be an introvert or shy but they do not have to be. I think it is easiest to look at each of these as 3 separate components, if that makes sense.
1. Shyness – Somebody who is quiet or bashful when meeting new people, not quick to speak up. I think nearly everybody has been shy at some point.
2. Introverted – Somebody who enjoys being alone, not necessarily shy in social situations.
3. Social anxiety – These people can be quite talkative, especially when they are with people they trust. The anxiety comes in (for me) with the intense fear of judgment or a social situation I will not be able to walk away from. People with social anxiety often get hung up on over-analyzing behaviors, words and motions. Something as simple as walking through the grocery store becomes a terrifying performance. Imagine that feeling of being on stage and giving an important speech. Now, imagine that is the feeling you have every time you face a social situation.
Do you have any words of wisdom for someone who is thinking of seeking out help?
A: My advice to anybody who thinks they are experiencing something like social anxiety or depression is to get professional help, no matter what your friends and family members might think. Take the time each day to tell yourself that you are okay and that you deserve to get better. Create a routine that makes you feel safe. I can’t remember where I heard this piece of advice, but it helps me a lot: if you wouldn’t say it to a friend that you love, don’t say it to yourself.
I would also like to add a bit of advice to family members/friends of those dealing with depression and anxiety too, if that’s okay. Never tell somebody “You’re just overreacting” or “Just be happy.” These are not helpful words, as much as you might be trying to help. Mental illness does not simply disappear at the drop of a hat. Even if you cannot understand the feeling, just hear the person out. Showing that you care is actually a great help.
I’d like to thank Ashley for educating us on life with social anxiety, which is a condition that doesn’t always get as much attention as schizophrenia, bipolar or addictions that is still very life-altering. Plus Ashley is a fellow Twin Peaks fan who runs, which makes her pretty awesome in my book!
Questions or comments? Please post them below!