As a teenager I was a very confident girl. I thought I knew how to do life. I knew to set goals for myself and take steps to complete them. I was going to make something of myself no matter how hard I had to work. I liked people and people liked me. I didn’t often second guess my interaction with others. I loved being around others and I was lonely when I was by myself. I did like some quiet moments of solitude where I could be alone with myself and think things over.
The only people I was afraid of as a teen was men. I was okay with most boys my age but men scared me. That credit goes to my mother. By the time I got to university, I was really nervous of men. If I thought a man was showing interest in me I would lose all confidence and run the other way. I was always extra careful to not put out any I am interested too vibes. It worked out fine because I had a steady boyfriend that I was very comfortable with so I didn’t have any interest in other men. I have never got over my fear of men even today.
But what has developed is social anxiety and that confident teen I once was becomes a misfit in many social situations. I get very uncomfortable sometimes around people and that leads me to acting “weird” or maybe a better description is withdrawn. I retreat and when trying to get out of the way maybe act different. It is hard for me to judge what other people are thinking of me. Luckily, I have a core group of very good friends that I have had for a long time so I have a safe place to be me and those around are very understanding of my needs.
I have also been working really hard on overcoming the social anxiety in the last 12-24 months with progress I believe. I didn’t even know I had social anxiety. It developed slowly and on top of the health anxiety. I thought it was one in the same. It wasn’t until I stopped retreating all the time and looked up and went something is off here. People don’t seem to be accepting me and including me, I am not even sure they like me.
I push myself out of my comfort zone and sometimes that is easiest with people you don’t know at all for example my hiking group. They don’t know anything about me expect what I choose to share. It gives my the opportunity to make conversation. Most people don’t know each other so everyone is on even playing field.
So where did this start?
When I was 18 I had my first cancer diagnosis. This is when I really learned reality, that bad things could happen to me. I was always worried about being raped or molested. I didn’t know I had to worry about my health. I didn’t know I could die. I mean really die. This is when anxiety become a more prominent part of my life. I had anxiety as a child but I didn’t know that at the time.
In my life plan that I was making I never planned beyond the age of 30. After surgery for cancer at 18 my life just resumed. I was very anxious about my health but I continued with my plans; getting an education, getting married, buying a house, having a child. But then what? I couldn’t see beyond that. Child number 2, then what? What did you do with your life? Sometimes I wondered if I was going to live beyond 30.
Then at 30 I get a second cancer diagnosis. This one comes out of nowhere as I never suspected my symptoms could be cancer. ( the doctors either) It was devastating. I had a 3 year old and a 3 month old. And this time it was very serious. I needed several surgeries, radiation, and chemo. It was during this time that I developed a very deep and spiritual connection with God. I was praying for my life but I was also learning about a lie, a terrible lie that I was told about not living past 30. The year I was in treatment I grew spiritually and I rebuked this lie and it was lifted from my spirit. I can’t recall the sequence of events but in the middle of my treatment I had a miracle happen. When the doctors went into to remove the cancer it was gone! All that was left was scar tissue and the surgeon said it practically fell out. I did have 19 radiation treatments before surgery but none was expected it to be gone. All pathology came back clear as well. It was a miracle and the direct hand of God.
I started living even in treatment. I was afraid everyday but I knew for the first time what came after 30 and that was family. It was 2 amazing little boys and one very supportive husband.
After treatment, you get back to “normal” but nothing is normal. The world looks very different. In someways, it is more beautiful then even and other ways terrifying. I didn’t know it but I suffered with PTSD for a long time. Anxiety was as natural a part of me as breathing.
Surgery resulted in me having life long effects and challenges. These life lasting effects are what cause the social anxiety overtime. I was extremely embarrassed by my medical issues. Mortified at times. Think crohn’s and colitis that would be the closest comparison but without the abdominal pain.
Yesterday, I knew I was pushing myself, it was a full day hike with no washroom facilities. That alone had me nervous and was dangerous. The day ended up being amazing and stressful all at the same time. Sometimes I wonder if pushing myself is worth the stress and anxiety. Deep down I know it is but I still can’t figure it all out.