Paralyzing fear and anxiety is when you are so overwhelmed, so terrified by something that you run and hide. I suppose this isn’t such a bad decision say if you wanted to climb Mt. Everest in the middle of winter. But it does become a problem when you refuse to hang out with friends because you’re worried.
We take it for granted the ability to call our friends on the phone, to text them, make plans with them and just hang out. But there are fears of being embarrassed, saying the wrong thing or not having anything to say. Ironically this shy child can stand in a room with hundreds of strangers and deliver a speech without stumbling and with correct inflection in her voice. Go figure.
Fear is about preconceived beliefs we have about ourselves. The key is breaking them apart, learning that they’re false and recreating our ideas about ourselves. You can convince yourself all you like that you are happy being alone, but if fear and anxiety is the real reason you are alone, then you’re lying to yourself. And the journey is far more fun when you can share with someone you care about.
For my daughter to overcome her fears we work on something called Exposures. They are opportunities to put her in the middle of what frightens her in order to grow comfortable in the experience. Whether that be driving, ordering a meal at a restaurant, or making plans with friends, we try to put her in uncomfortable positions in order for her to learn how to navigate through them.
We do this with all things that cause her to be uncomfortable. Every experience that she will have to live through as an adult, we put on a list so that we can give her the experience and grow comfortable with every day tasks and functions. Driving becomes easier and less scary, ordering food at the sub shop second nature. It’s hard to walk beside her making things difficult for her but in the end we know she’ll be far better at dealing with her life than if we didn’t.
She understands now why we are doing what we are doing. She has become a less reluctant participant in the therapy because she knows someday she’ll be going to college and getting a job. But she still has those fears of not knowing what to do. It’s blinding and scary and she still believes she’ll be okay without friends. It’s the hardest lie she tells herself for us to break down. She’s convinced herself she doesn’t need friends, doesn’t need to spend time with them and that she’s okay. I worried me because what I know about human nature, what I’ve learned is people need other people. We need a good support system, people who care about us, people we can care about. People who are the happiest have a good social network. And as I keep saying it’s not about having fifty friends and going out every weekend, it’s about having friends you feel comfortable and share things with.
It’s been a long struggle to get to where we are with our daughter. One day I hope that she will be able to initiate even just a text and invite a friend to go out, to a movie, to the mall or just to hang out laugh and share. One more small step towards a life without debilitating anxiety and fear. That’s what I wish for my daughter.