Click below to listen to the audio recording of I's personal change story:
How other people judge me has always worried me. As a gay child, I cared deeply about being accepted and liked by others. For me, being judged "poorly" was terrifying and I did everything I could to "earn” the good kind of judgment. Little did I know that this normal human need to be liked and respected would turn into a sickness that would cripple my life many years down the road.
In my 40s, I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder. I am sure this was rooted deeply in genetics and decades of dealing with viciously homophobic people. I felt toxic shame, had a breakdown and saw a psychiatrist. I took antidepressants to live a somewhat normal life. Unfortunately the antidepressants had really bad side effects and eventually I had to stop taking them.
Successful people learn to hide mental and physical illnesses. Over time, I was forced to reveal mine, and finally, at 50, I could no longer tolerate the demands on my sanity made by my high-powered career and I took early retirement.
This major life change was difficult. No longer needing to "go to the office" made it really easy to retreat into an internal world of loneliness and deepening depression. I lost touch with everyone, because most of my friends were through work. My already troubled relationship with my parents and siblings took a major turn for the worse. I developed severe PTSD.
Two years after my retirement, I was living a very painful, lonely and depressed life. Gradually, my self-imposed solitude, something I thought I wanted and would be good for me, had turned into a full-blown fear of leaving my apartment. I got panic attacks driving, talking to people, even when answering the phone.
I had enough money and technology to survive inside my own little world — groceries and every other life need could be ordered online and delivered to me. Eventually, I was so lonely and fearful I realized that things had become impossible. I came across a description of what I was going through online. That is how I learned that social anxiety is a real thing.
Luckily, my therapist knew of an excellent social anxiety expert near where I live. He had a really informative and helpful website, which gave me enough courage to go to one of his introductory workshops.
The workshop took place in a room filled to capacity with dozens of people of every age, race, gender, sexual orientation, intelligence, lifestyle, social and income strata. Seeing them, I finally realized that I was not alone. And I could do something to help the sad creature I had become.
I joined the 5-month Social Anxiety Group program by signing a contract that required mandatory attendance at one 3-hour meeting a week, and LOTS of practical exercises and activities with other people. This sounds daunting but the structure is amazing. All the techniques used are widely tested, researched and combined into a cohesive "process" designed to succeed.
I was too desperate not to sign the contract. I realized that my life was literally on the line because the social anxiety was exacerbating my already major depressive disorder to breaking point.
Since completing the program more than 2 years ago, I can certify two things: firstly, while I still have depression in my life, my social anxiety is cured and my depression is certainly less intense than before. Secondly, I can only stay cured if I continue to do the things I learned during the program.
I can only speak for myself: for me it was definitely worth it. I feel it is my responsibility to share my story. I want to offer hope to others who are trapped in this crushing condition. It is possible to find personal strength and happiness and not live in loneliness and desperation.