I think I’ve made some more small steps towards progress in the last couple of days, though I’m not sure. Most of this post will probably be quite mundane, so my apologies if I bore anyone.
Going shopping is always a major trigger of my social anxiety, particularly if I’m alone. I went to a shopping centre on my own on Thursday with the goal of facing my anxiety in mind. I started with shops that I feel less anxious in and slowly worked up to the more difficult ones. I went into a sports shop to try and get myself a new pair of running shoes. I managed to stay in the shop for about 15 minutes and even try on 2 pairs of trainers despite being really anxious and just wanting to leave. However, I was so anxious that I couldn’t even decide whether I wanted the shoes or not. It was much the same in the 2 clothes shops that I managed to go into – I spent about 5 minutes in each before leaving empty-handed. Then I went into a book/ music shop for about 15 or 20 minutes. It probably sounds weird but even just taking a book off the shelf and trying to read it elicits great anxiety in me. No one was even anywhere near me, but my hands were shaking and I was feeling nauseous just the same. I couldn’t even take in what I was reading because of the anxiety. In that situation, I have thoughts like “What if someone sees the book that I’ve chosen and judges me negatively based on it?”, “What if they think I’m really weird?”, “What if they see my hands shaking and think I’m very strange?” I know that it’s completely illogical to be so afraid of such a minor thing, and I know that in reality, no one really cares or pays me that much attention. And, looking at those thoughts, I really can’t see why my anxiety is so high when in that situation. It probably does relate to being bullied to some extent…I’ll probably have to do a ‘Thought Record’* to figure it out. Anyway…I did manage to stay in the situation for a while despite considerable anxiety, before leaving empty-handed yet again. The whole experience was very pointless in terms of actually buying the things I’d wanted to buy but quite useful in terms of facing and trying to understand my anxiety. It was only once I was on the bus home – and considerably more calm- that I realised just how anxious I’d been at the shopping centre.
*I’ll talk more about these in future.
I came away feeling awful for what I’d seen as a big list of failures – not staying in certain shops for long enough, not making enough eye contact, not buying what I was supposed to because of my anxiety, not trying things on in the clothes shops, etc. This lead me to the same old negative thought spiral as I tried to fathom what it must be like to be able to do all of those things WITHOUT intense anxiety. My psychologist did help me to see that I’d actually achieved quite a lot though, even if I might not think so. I usually can’t see that I’ve made progress because I’m too busy focusing on what I didn’t manage to do. Often, I do need someone else to point out what I did manage to do before I get any sense of achievement.
Yesterday, I went to the supermarket (twice) and the post office. I honestly think that that’s the least anxious I have ever felt in a supermarket on my own. I did feel quite anxious while waiting in the queue at the checkout, but it still wasn’t too bad. My anxiety was relatively mild walking around the shop though. It was great.
I’ll have another chance to face my fears again tomorrow as my whole family is going shopping for holiday clothes. We’re going to a large and VERY busy shop so it’ll be quite a challenge. Bring it on!