(NOTE: This is a continuation from my post yesterday about social anxiety. Read my commentary here: wworldcommentary.wordpress.com/2020/03/08/in-my-own-words-social-anxiety/)
This is an interview with Sadie Hall, which is her FIRST INTERVIEW EVER (yes, I’m serious about this). She’s a 34-year-old married mom of two living in Canada. Freelancing as a translator and editor, she blogs (wish her anxious little heart out) over at Blushy Ginger (https://blushyginger.com/) And she identifies herself as having social anxiety. Here below is my interview with her:
W.: In your profile, you consider yourself as “crippling shy” and your dream is to become “functionally shy.” Why do you want to be this way?
Sadie Hall: I recognized that shyness itself was probably never going away (nor does it need to go away, I would later realize), but that I needed to find a way to be my shy self without being held back by it. This was before I learned about social anxiety disorder and discovered that there was more much than shyness going on inside me.
W.: Let’s talk about your social anxiety, the main focus of today’s interview. Tell us what this is, and how does that identity/disorder impact your life as a whole?
Hall: In a tidy little nutshell, social anxiety is the fear of social situations. So for me, it boils down to a fear of people.
Very timely side note: My phone rang while I was writing the previous sentence. I sent it to voicemail and googled the number, because just hearing the phone ring made my heart race. That’s social anxiety.
As for how social anxiety impacts my life, I look at it as the barrier that keeps me from being myself, especially in relationships with others. I spent years grooming myself to be as palatable and inoffensive as possible in this world, based on some twisted inner ideas about what that meant.
I’m finally tearing down those old toxic beliefs and building up a stronger, more authentic sense of who I am. (Shocker (to me): It involves crazy-bright colors and lots of unicorn/cat graphics. Who knew?)
W.: Do you get overwhelmed with negative comments? And does negativity flow around your mind?
Hall: So, short answer, yes. I think I still probably get more overwhelmed than the average non-socially-anxious person by negative comments, BUT I get a whole lot less overwhelmed by them than I used to, say, pre-therapy.
I struggle with finding a balance between brushing off negativity and not giving it too much energy versus stuffing it down and not processing my feelings at all. How do you process negativity without being engulfed by it? It’s a balancing act that I’m still learning.
W.: How can we, the general public, take action for helping these people with anxiety? Or in simpler words, how can we “cure” anxiety?
Hall: That’s a great question. A complicated question, but a great one. It’s the one I’ve spent the most time mulling over in my mind this week.
Based on what I learned in social anxiety therapy, I would recommend that we all learn as much as we can about how to think in healthy, constructive ways.
For example, consider reading up on thinking traps (cognitive distortions) and cognitive biases. We’re all susceptible to wonky thinking now and then, whether or not anxiety is present. Understanding this about ourselves and others can go a long way to improving communication and empathy.
And I would also say that we all need to be generous in how we interpret other people’s behavior. Because you never know how much energy and effort it took for another person to just show up.
We all have so much going on beneath the surface. What you see in another person’s outer behavior and appearance is just the tip of the iceberg.
Be kind. Be patient. Keep a sense of humor.
W.: What are some tips for our readers to ensure a healthier lifestyle for all?
Let’s go with:
- Learn healthy thinking habits.
- Unlearn toxic diet culture myths (I’m learning about body neutrality and body positivity as well as intuitive eating as a way to resolve long-standing body image and disordered eating issues I’ve faced).
- Share your story and listen when others share theirs. We can’t raise awareness and end stigma by keeping quiet about what we’re all going through, or only sharing our own story without tuning in to anyone else’s (once we’re in a mental space where we are ready to listen).
- Stop viewing vulnerability and kindness as weaknesses. I do recognize that there can be value in practicing confident behavior until it feels natural, but I am SO COMPLETELY OVER the “fake it til you make it” culture.
W.: What are your goals in the future?
Hall: I want to keep writing and connecting with readers and fellow bloggers. Eventually, I want to find a way to make a living from writing and speaking about mental health. But I want to find my own way of doing it that lets me be real and goofy and creative.
I’m still finding my voice on so many levels. So really, my goal is to keep being brave enough to show up online and in real life as myself… whatever that may mean as I continue to recover from a life of people pleasing and self-censoring.
I’d love to write book. I need to turn the hard parts of my journey into something beautiful and valuable to myself and others.
W.: Before we end our interview, would you like to share a heartwarming story of your own that may be encouraging to our blog post audience?
Hall: Well, I do, but it’s a little long and it will either come across as heartwarming or ridiculous. Let’s find out!
It’s the story of my spilled lunch, some garlic mayo shoes, and a chance to see my recovery in action:
One day a couple of years ago, right after my weekly group therapy session for social anxiety, I decided to be brave and go into a small café on the second floor of the hospital. It was busy inside and I wasn’t sure if I’d have a place to sit, but I took a deep breath (or ten) and went in.
I ordered my food, did the thing where you pay for your purchases, and received a bagel sandwich in return.
The bagel sandwich itself, special thanks to Sadie for allowing me to use this photo. It was REALLY tasty that she ordered the same sandwich after answering our questions.
No problem so far. All normal human things to do.
But things went a little sideways (or upside down) once I started looking for a place to sit and eat. This is how it played out:
- A woman offered me a spot at her table. I became instantly flustered by this unexpected acknowledgment of my presence and needs.
- In my appreciative, flustered state, I managed to miscalculate the distance between the table and my bagel, and I ended overturning the whole package, spilling turkey, lettuce, cucumber, cheese, and GARLIC MAYO on the floor.
- And all over the woman’s bag.
- And her shoes.
- And my shoes.
- Everyone saw. (Like I said, it was a small, busy café.)
- I apologized profusely and did my best to clean it up by frantically dabbing at her feet with shaky hands full of napkins.
- She shrugged and said, “My bag will just smell tasty now.” Totally unruffled.
- Eventually, the kitchen staff noticed. And they offered to remake the sandwich, which flustered me further.
- They asked me to tell them what was on my sandwich so they could make it again.
- I wasn’t able to find any intelligible words or brain data at this point.
- So I just thrust two palmfuls of floor-sandwich-mess in their direction and looked at them with pleading, crazy eyes.
- They backed away slowly, found the original order sheet and started remaking it. (They didn’t actually back away slowly. That was my anxiety brain’s interpretation.)
- I sat down with the nice lady again and waited to cry from stress and embarrassment.
But I didn’t cry.
I realized that I wasn’t even close to crying. I wasn’t even all that upset, once I thought about it and checked in with myself. Yes, my cheeks were flushed and my heart was fluttering, but I wasn’t welling up or running away or cursing myself and the day I was born.
- I just sat there, a little dazed, sipping my water.
- I didn’t pull out my phone or find an excuse to avoid interacting with the woman.
- Once my new food was ready (and I had CAREFULLY placed it on the table), I stayed where I was, even though there were other tables now free.
- I pointed out to her the irony of being at the hospital for therapy for SOCIAL ANXIETY and then spilling my food all over a stranger. She chuckled kindly.
- We stayed together like that for a while. Quiet and calm. She sipped her diet Pepsi and I enjoyed that bagel sandwich more than I’ve enjoyed any food in a long time.
I was proud of myself that day. It felt like an important milestone in my recovery. Not just because I didn’t cry or break down — but because I didn’t berate myself for that crazy series of events.
I recognized that this could happen to anyone, and that it didn’t mean I was stupid or incompetent or shouldn’t be allowed out in public.
And it gave me a chance to take myself a little less seriously. (I’ve come to hugely appreciate the power of laughter — especially mildly self-deprecating humor — in dealing with heavy topics like anxiety.)
My mindset about myself was actually changing, through therapy.
So, long story short, if I had to wrap up that whole story into a piece of advice or encouragement, it would be this:
If you’re having a bad or hard day, cling to any silver lining you can find.
So much progress is made in the margins of our days, and it’s easy to miss.
You may find that you are doing better than you think if you change the way you think about how you are doing.
W.: Any final encouraging comments/thoughts for our readers?
Hall: I just really want to tell them that they aren’t alone or “strange” if they experience anxiety, body image issues, perfectionism, depression, self-esteem issues, or any number of other mental health concerns.
In the case of social anxiety, I can say from experience that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be extremely helpful. It’s the gold standard for treating social anxiety.
Try not to feel guilty or ashamed if you need to seek help. We only get one shot at this whole being alive thing — why spend the rest of it suffering in silence? You deserve some healing in whatever way you are able to access it.
I want to reach out to those who need it and just loosen that knot of self-loathing that’s buried inside so many of us.
Thank you so much for giving me the chance to share my story and to think about it in new ways based on your questions!
And we want to thank Sandie Hall (Blushy Ginger) for answering the questions and to accept this interview with us. If you want to check out her blog and interact with Sadie, check it out here: https://blushyginger.com/
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