The following is reddit user Tajimoto's account of his experience and success with Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. It is reproduced with his permission. The original reddit thread contains many comments and is well worth a read.
After I met my first gf (happened to be online) and she wrecked me, I fell in such a deep depressive lull that I had to drop out of college for a semester under the medical leave classification of a major depressive episode. I chose to seek therapy, and in my 6 months of seclusion, I decided I absolutely needed to get over social anxiety because I simply could not keep living the way I have been anymore. I decided to search online, and at last discovered a Social Anxiety Cognitive Behavioral Therapy group running at Mass General (I live in Boston).
I remember my first day. Walking in, nervous as hell, and sitting down among a group of 5 others just as socially awkward as I am. We introduced ourselves, and then filled out assessment forms covering two things - 1) if something makes us anxious, and 2) if that anxiety keeps us from doing it.
The first thing the therapist did was explain to us why we feel the way we do. Due to unfortunate social conditioning and/or negative feedback (whether it be bullies or your own self talk), your mind has programmed social encounters as something which causes great fear. Yeah, that means your anxiety levels from just small talk are literally as high as if you're being mugged/attacked/robbed etc. What even amplifies that fear is the vicious cycle of avoidance. We get invited to a party, we're about to go, but psych ourselves out and stay in our comfort haven - and you feel worthless and shitty because of it, you regret it. The next social invitation comes along and you avoid that too - only building on your anxiety and feeling of loneliness/worthlessness. In conclusion, social anxiety is an irrational fear that triggers your body's fight or flight response - the sympathetic nervous system... But that is the beauty of it.
The therapist told us that the fight or flight response is so intense and takes up so many resources from your body that (and this is key) your body CANNOT hold up that state forever. So what was her plan for the group, then? That's right - constant exposure to the most nerve wracking social situations you can thing of. In other words, to get over social anxiety you need to (yeah, you guessed it) - face your fears, and it's HARD.
The therapist exposed us to a system called SUDS. It's a chart from 1-100. 1 meant you weren't nervous at all, and 100 meant you are so nervous that you're in risk of a panic attack and NEED to get out of there.
I remember my first exposure. I was told to go up infront of the group. I was given a chart, and I was supposed to lecture the group about the subject of the chart. The chart showed the sexual anatomy of a girl and a guy - I was supposed to lecture sex ed. Throughout my ad-lib presentation, they kept asking me what my SUDs was. It was a good 8-90. I was sweating, my voice was quivering, my hands were shaking pointing at the graph. I couldn't hold eye contact for the life of me. I thought I looked like a nervous wreck infront of everyone. After the chart, I was told I needed to demonstrate safe sex.. I was given a cucumber and a condom, and had to demonstrate how to put a condom on. I almost died, haha. Once it was over, I sat down (and oh, the therapist records your entire presentation).
What happens next is the therapist asks you what your SUDS was. I said 85 at the start, and it dropped to 65-70 gradually. She asks everyone in the group what they thought my nervous level was at. Nobody said a number above 50. I was surprised. But then she played back the video of my presentation, and I was even more surprised. The thoughts rushing through my head really were not apparent at all in the video. I seemed a little nervous, but nothing compared to how I actually felt. That was just the first session.
After the session was over (it met for 2 hours each week), the therapist assigned us homework each week. She gave us a list of 'mantras' if you will, to recite each time a negative thought response enters our head. It takes alot of work and it's exhaustive, but it worked to some extent. For example, if i get thoughts like 'im never going to be socially acceptable', im supposed to say 'ill be there soon, i have as much if not more worth than those i walk by'. If I make eye contact and it feels uncomfortable and look away 'omg he probably things im weird', rather 'he may feel just as uncomfortable and thinking the same, everyone's too preoccupied with their own mind to judge others on silly things. I'll feel comfortable with eye contact soon when I truly realize this.'
Besides the thought reversals, we were assigned a social task (depending on the forms we originally filled out). Something as simple as dining outside with a friend. If you didnt have any friends (as some in the group did not), she told us to go to meetup.com and go to a meetup of something you have interest in. There's actually a surprisingly large variety of things you could be interested in.. From WoW meetups to scrabble to biking etc... Basically everything. So you need to put in alot of work to get over this anxiety. It's not just a feeling either, you really need to change your life around permanently. Isolation is disastrous and it will set you back.
Next week, we recapped what happened the previous week, and talked about what we did for our homework exposure. I signed up for guitar lessons. I was extremely nervous, but hey, it was always something I wanted to do. Once we recapped... The therapist brought in pizza boxes, and said to go eat and mingle as we please amongst ourselves. The moment she said this, my mind was yelling 'ffffffffuuuuck... the social lunch' and boy was I right. Nobody said a word, nobody made eye contact. We grabbed our pizzas, sat back down, and ate in complete silence. It was so awkward... but at the same time, I knew everyone else felt exactly like I did... so I had some comfort in that.
Next, she handed out sheets with tons of different songs on them, and told us to rank them in order of how well we knew them. Once completed, we handed them back to her, and she called me up... It was time for the next exposure.
She stepped out of the room, and came back with what i feared... a Karaoke machine, as well as random interns in the office. She hooked it up, looked at my list, and chose one of the songs that I said I didn't know that well - Margaritaville. She then handed me the mic, and told me to start singing.
First off, I've never sang to anyone before in my life. Not only was I going to sing infront of the awkward crowd i built ~some~ degree of comfort in, but random interns as well - some very attractive. I was dying of nervousness - my SUDS was at 90. I was close to dropping the mic and just bolting it... but I knew I was there for a reason.
So I started singing. After what felt like an eternity, the dreaded song was finally over. I was about to rush to sit down and she said 'wait. I want you to sing it again'. So I went again, and then a third time, until she finally told me to have a seat. She told me, 'so, do you know why I had you sing the same song 3 times?' I responded I didn't, and she reminded me that I said my SUDS was lower at the third song (it went from a 90 to a 70). She reiterated what she said in the class before - your sympathetic nervous system can't operate at that high of a level forever, and lo and behold - she was right. It got a little, little bit easier each time. She went around the room and once more, everyone said my SUDS was around 50, and around 35 after the repeated singing. She had video taped it, and played it back for me. I seemed to have a goofy smile on my face (out of anxiousness when i was up there), but it seemed like I was enjoying myself? Again, I was hit hard with what the reality actually looked like. I also observed myself as an audience member when the others were up there, and I wasn't judging them hard at all. I thought to myself, 'if this is how i feel when im observing an audience... then why am I so nervous when im up there?'. It really did give me some perspective.
Next exposure... Guitar and speed dating..
At the end of session 2, I was instructed to bring in my guitar. I knew exactly what was coming.
Sure enough, soon after the homework review was done (this week, I invited a few friends to a family bbq), she asked me to bring up my guitar and play infront of everyone. She invited alot more interns this time as well - almost all were attractive girls, save 3 guys. Granted, at this point I had only been taking classes for 3 weeks... So I started playing.
And I'll tell you, I don't think Ironman's basic verse was brutalized moreso than that moment. My hands were sweating, all my chords were off, the timing was off, and my hands were slippery on the strings. She kept me up there, asking me to play more and more. I switched to the only other song I knew - The Super Mario Theme Song.
During this amazing concert, the therapist asked the socially anxious girl in the group to come up and do karaoke to 'Brown Eyed Girl'. So yeah, imagine the scene - me horribly playing the super mario theme song while a girl nervously sings brown eyed girl infront of tons of attractive interns our age. After about 10 minutes, she finally asked us to stop and sit down. This time she focused alot less on the review, and moreso on the next exposure. You know those hot interns I mentioned earlier? Yeah, they were going to be part of your next exposure - speed dating.
The seats were all arranged in pairs of two - facing each other. We all had seats, and an intern sat across from us. To help with the process, the therapist gave us each note cards with questions. We had 5 minutes to talk with each person, and the clock started.
I was so nervous I could barely say hi. The girl I sat across from was gorgeous. Long, curly hair, almond shaped brown eyes. A gentle, girl next door smile, and dimpled cheeks. She was also in amazing shape. I stood there just kind of staring at her, and the therapist reminded me I had note cards. So the first thing I asked this girl on the speed date was 'what's your favorite color?'... facepalm. More awkward questions followed, and the 5 minutes were up. Next person.
The girls rotated, and this time a brunette sat infront of me. She seemed to be a more confident, sporty type and led alot of the conversation. This time I felt a little bit more at ease, and just talked about my hobbies and major.. where I'm from, etc. The 5 minutes passed once more.
The third girl I felt very comfortable with, I felt my nervousness in general was subsiding. I added to the questions asked from the before sessions and even made a joke or two and got her to laugh - it felt great... Maybe I wasn't hopelessly doomed with women after all. After this speed date, the sessions stopped.
We were told afterwords to come up and talk about our experience with social anxiety to the interns. A few of the people in the group actually cried when presenting infront of these strangers, it was so hard for them to relive all those painful past moments and project them to strangers.
When it was my turn, I shared that I hadn't made a single friend in college (I was a junior at the time) and how I felt in social situations. The therapist asked the girls I speed dated how I did, and the second and third especially said I did very well. I appreciated the comment and I told them the issue is, if I saw you at Fanuel Hall or Boston Harbor, I wouldn't think in my wildest dreams of ever going up and speaking to you as a complete stranger - therein lies the problem, this is structured... not real world.
That session was eye opening. Hot girls aren't scary at all, and I actually had some fun flirting. The fact that it was structured and not random obviously made it so much easier for me, and at the same time bothered me - are these sessions really benefiting me that much if they're in a controlled environment with the same people?
I shouldn't have doubted her. The therapist knew exactly what she was doing. The session was over, and she told us what we were going to do next week - Stepping into Boston for real world exposure.
After reviewing homework (I went to a family/friend get together on memorial day), the therapist went straight into describing what was next on the agenda - real life exposure. She explained that keeping the exposures inside that room with the same people at this point will do as much good for us as staying at home. The next step was to interact with real life people outside of the clinic. Destination : the Red Line. On our way over, she gave us each a stack of 10 papers - and she briefed us. She told us that what we hold in our hands are 10 copies of a survey with questions ranging from how many countries you've been to to how many people you've dated. We were to impersonate psychology students from a local university and get 10 people to fill out that survey pretending it's a research assignment. She turned to me and said 'if your guitar and amplifier were smaller, I would have had you play your guitar on the subway for two hours instead'. Thank god I love big amps.
Next, I got on the train with the 10 papers in hand. I saw all the people standing up, sitting down, and thought to myself, 'I'm supposed to approach a random person and ask them to fill out a survey with everyone around me in ear/eye shot? With a chance of them getting creeped out and saying no?This is impossible!'. After lingering on the train for 10 minutes, I had to step off. It was too intimidating.
I stood there on the stop and kept saying to myself 'dude, you need to atleast try and ask one person on the stop!' I lingered on that station for the next hour without a single person. I'd see someone and start approaching, but the second they made eye contact with me my nerves took over and I'd look away and walk in the opposite direction fast. Finally, I saw a woman sitting there reading a book - atleast I can go in without her meeting my eyes initially.
Atlast, after an hour, I approached the woman and told her I was doing a research survey. I was full of nervous energy, and she seemed really shy, so I just gave her the paper and said answer these questions if you can and I would be so thankful. She finished it gracefully and was pondering out loud about some of the questions, I said thank you, and went on my way.
My immediate though - you were psyching yourself out for over an hour just for that? That was nothing! Not only did you come out alive, but you signed your first survey as well. Immediately after, I was able to approach the second person. And a third. Next, I decided to get back on the trains.
I approached a group of two women and asked them both to fill out surveys. They were very outgoing and were laughing at the date questions, 'are you allowed to ask this? what kind of women do you take us for?!'. I just responded 'I didn't make the survey sorry!'. they filled it out and I moved on. I hadn't been rejected yet.
Next I approached an older man reading a newspaper. I approached him and asked him if he wanted to fill out the survey, he looked up at me, glared, looked back down, and just shook his head quickly. My first rejection. Yeah, it did hurt, but he was one out of 6 to deny me.
I kept going and got 3 more. For the last one, I approached a suited man with glasses. He was sitting in a sophisticated pose, his white hair well kept and brushed to the side. He was wearing a strong cologne, and had reading glasses on... To me he looked like a mix of teddy roosevelt and the monopoly guy. To my surprise, he was actually a professor.
When it came to filling out the question regarding countries, he actually told me he made it a life goal to visit every country in the world - and succeeded. I was stunned, and I asked him questions about all the different countries in Europe and how I've always wanted to travel there. He told me his favorite city was Amsterdam (yeah, i chuckled) and he went into indepth detail about it's history and architecture. It was fascinating, and I took down notes on various countries I had always wanted to visit - for a future Eurotrip.
At last, I was done. I ran back to the clinic, the therapist was actually locking up - I was 30 minutes late. She was so happy to see me there with the forms, she thought I avoided doing it. I got 10 surveys filled out in 11 approaches, and the rejection wasn't all that bad - I survived it! And got great world insight from the entire experience as well.. Not to mention a realization...
This was the first time in my life I ever thought to myself 'Approaching new people... isn't that bad'!
The next session branched off the previous one. Another exposure. This time, the exposure was to be two different parts: 1) indirect exposure 2) direct exposure.
After we briefed on our homework exercises (the female in the group agreed to accept a date from a coworker who's been persistent for the past week, and it went well!), the therapist told us to start heading outside. We didn't know where we were going, but she was holding two plastic bags worth of material.
We walked outside quizzically, and she stopped us outside of a CVS. She reached into the bag, and she handed me two items along with a receipt. This is what she told me next, "Your first task is to go inside and return these two items." It was midday, and the CVS was crowded. I was to return a bag of Adult Diapers and a pack of Small Condoms.
I walked inside, and the bag of diapers was cumbersome. I walked in holding it with both arms and the pack of condoms on top. I reached the counter, dropped the items infront of the register, gave the cashier the receipt, and said "I'd like to make a return, please".
As if a scene from a movie, the cashier looked me in the eyes, looked down at the items, didn't look back up, and started laughing. Other people inline started looking at me too, one guy had his eyes raised and a toothy smile on his face. I felt so embarrassed. Shrugging it off, I took the money, and walked out of the store. I never went in that CVS again.
Part 2 - Whole Foods
After the returns (the other group members had to return things such as astroglide, birth control tests, wart removal creme, lice shampoo, and preparation H), the therapist took us to the whole foods nearby. We stood inside the dining area, and she told us what our next task was supposed to be. We had half an hour to approach and talk to people in the supermarket about anything. It could be actual sales people, just try and initiate conversation.
The first place I went was the cheese isle. I was alot less nervous due to last week's exposure, and my previous anxiety spike from returning the items had subsided some. The cheese guy let me try out some exotic cheeses, and then I moved away.
I went to the nutrition department next and talked for 10-15 minutes to the sales rep - who was a cute girl - about different workout supplements and such. My therapist saw this, and she said 'I want you to try and approach a random customer for your next person.'
I was nervous. I walked through the different isles, and saw two girls looking for ice cream. They were attractive, and in the end I chickened out and didn't approach them - I had no idea what I was going to say.
I walked around some more, and at last reached the yogurt isle. This was so much harder than the previous conversations. I'm not just asking someone to fill out a survey or talk to me about the cheese of the world - this wasn't task oriented. I didn't want to wait an hour to make an approach like I did the week before, so I looked for the closest person next to me and initiated conversation.
A middle aged, pretty woman was browsing the isle and the awkward sentence that came out of my mouth was, "So... Yogurts, I'm pretty new to this yogurt stuff." facepalm. I turned bright red, she looked at me and turned red too, then looked away.
"Umm.. Which of these flavors are any good?" She pointed at vanilla and blueberry. I grabbed it and muttered "uh cool, awesome, thanks! bye" and walked away as fast as I could. I was embarrassed, feeling awkward as hell, but hey, I said to myself - I DID IT. And like the surveys, I'm sure it would get easier in time... It's been something I've neglected my entire life, like any other skill worth having, it takes time and practice.
The exposure was over, and my therapist said there would be one final one the next week - and it would be more intense than any of the others combined.
But then I got in a fight and my mom got scared, and said, 'You're moving with your auntie and uncle in Bel-Air."...
... Just kidding, doubters.
As we entered the clinic, the therapist met us in the lobby. She told us we don't have time to lose, and the entire session will be focused on this final real life exposure. We began walking outside, and we asked her where we were going.
Now remember when I said after the speed dating session, that I wouldn't in my wildest dreams be able to approach those interns out in the real world? You guessed it, this final exposure was to do exactly that. We were walking towards Fanuel Hall. We had two hours to hold 10 5 minute conversations with random strangers.
My heart was pounding. I didn't want another yogurt incident. The entire time we were walking towards the destination, my mind was racing. What was I going to say? Who am I going to approach? My end goal is to have friends my age and pretty girls to date... So maybe I should approach them? But that would be way too hard, I should approach elders instead... But wait, would I benefit from that or just taking the easy way out? We were getting closer, my heart pounded harder.
We arrived at Faneuil Hall. We convened at the Sam Adams statue between the hall and Quincy Market. The therapist told us to approach anyone, as long as they aren't employees. She told us to spread out along the plaza, and not to work together - we had to do this on our own (she was willing to help you approach your first person if you were having alot of trouble, but that's all). Meet back in 2 hours, she said.
I proceeded to walk around the plaza and observing people. I was nervous, it was hot outside, and I was sweating. My eyes kept darting fast between all the people and my body language seemed hurried - I assumed people thought I looked really sketchy/suspicious. This thought kept building in my mind and I kept thinking people were glaring at me. My anxiety was spiking, I had to get out of there. I looked to my right and entered the first store I saw - croc footwear.
I was inside the croc shoe store, and even though I was surrounded by some of the strangest sandals I've ever laid eyes on, my nerves subsided. Sadly enough, since this day on, crocs give me comfort whenever I see them.
Walking through the store, my nerves calmed down a bit, and I decided to approach the first person I saw without even a second delay. I approached a woman looking at these sandals and just said "hi". She said hi back... and I guess I was in!
I asked her what the hype was about crocs that made them so appealing. She said they're cute, unique, affordable, and come in so many colors they can match any outfit. I guess you learn something new everyday. I asked her if they were for girls only, and she actually grabbed my arm and dragged me to the men's section.
When she made physical contact with me I became red and really uncomfortable, it was unexpected. I tried to play it cool, but my anxiety was spiking up a bit more. We reached the men's section, and she said 'here'. I didn't really know where to go from there, but I wanted to keep the conversation going. I asked her what color she thought would look best on me... And she suggested gray or black. I said thanks. I paused a bit after.
Now, since I didn't ever usually initiate conversations with strangers - I had even less of an idea of how to end them. I saw that she got physical before, so I leaned in and decided to give her a quick hug... It was awkward.
Right afterwards I just turned around and walked out of the store. 1 down... 9 to go. I didn't think I could do it, the degree of which I had to force that croc conversation was overbearing.
I walked back towards where I came from, and saw 'Cheers!' to my right. There was a bench nearby and I saw an old woman sitting there watching a small street performance. A band of preteens were playing a cover of a song I couldn't recognize. Once again, I decided to just stick with saying hi.
She smiled at me gracefully and complimented that hi with one of her own. My past two approaches (yogurt girl and croc girl) I had used situational conversations, but I was struggling for words on this one. I decided to ask her if she lives in Boston. She told me yes, all her life. I was impressed.
I asked her why. She told me that her entire family have lived in the Boston area for generations - ever since her ancestors immigrated to Boston during the 'American Wake'. She was Irish. She told me stories of how painful it was for her family when they first came here. The racism, the starvation, and struggling to survive.
I resonated with her. I came to the US when I was only 2 years old. My Dad's degree needed to be validated, but his English wasn't strong enough to do so. He couldn't spend the time to hit the books when he got here, he had a family to feed. I told her how he worked at a small bakery, as a valet, and then as a 7-11 manager... where the store was once held up and he got shot at. I told her my parents came to the US primarily for a better life for my brother and I, and how I wanted to finish my degree for myself - but also because I knew after this 20 year struggle it would make them so happy to remind them of why they originally came here for. I spoke to her a bit longer discussing my major, and she shared stories with me about her upbringing here too - she was a nurse.
Once that conversation ended, I noticed at least half an hour went by. I found the old woman as very non threatening, and that put me at great ease. I then evaluated 'hmm.. why is it that I should feel any more comfortable around this old woman than an attractive one my age? Neither can actually bite.
I walked around and saw myself at a hot dog stand. I bought myself a blue poweraid as I was parched, and nearby I noticed a girl with her dog. It was a grown german shepard intimidating with a spiked collar. I looked at the owner, and the girl was a drop dead gorgeous blonde. She had long hair coming down the sides of her head, bangs covering the top half of her forehead. She had these large brown eyes with thick eye latches which were hard to look away from. She had high cheekbones, and a strong - almost masculine jaw. The intimidation factor didn't just come from her facial beauty, either.
She was wearing a black, sleeves rolled up button shirt, a spiked color around her own neck, a black bracer on her right hand, a black belt with metal studs, black jeans, black nailpolish. She was either punk or goth, but I think moreso punk... And I approached her.
One thing about me - I always loved animals. When I had SAD, I enjoyed going to the local lake and just observing + taking pictures of nature. I loved dogs, cats, geese, swans, everything... Non judgmental life.
When I approached her, I went straight to the dog. He barked at me at first, but I stood still, and slowly lowered my hand. He sniffed it, then started to lick it. I bent down and started to pet him/scratch him behind the ears. I got so caught up with the animal that I almost forgot about the owner.
I stood up, made eye contact with her briefly, and looked back down at the dog - she was way too beautiful and intimidating to look at her, I was so nervous and intimidated. I just said 'I like your dog. What's his name?'. She told me Raven... She also told me it's rare that someone isn't afraid of him.
I told her I loved animals, and I had always wanted a dog of my own. I talked about huskies, and how I wanted to wait until I had enough time to train it on my own. I had researched how to handle them and the difficult training always seemed like a fun challenge to me.
She seemed to be enjoying the conversation and talked to me about her dog, how she got it from a shelter as a puppy, and how she uses him to keep creeps away. She told me I guess that means you're not a creep. I blushed. I still could not get myself to hold eye contact with her - I'd keep darting my eyes between her and the animal. Finally, I felt myself sweating profusely, and my discomfort started to get the best of me. I told her I had to go, and she joked and said 'ill see you and your husky around one day!'. I walked off.
By this time, the alloted time was up and I had to head back to the meeting point. I felt amazing. Despite my nervousness, I approached three strangers - one of which was extremely attractive - and was not denied a single time. Not only that, but I learned a lot and enjoyed the context of the conversations as well. With the last girl, I said to myself 'wow, if only I wasn't so uncomfortable, I may have been able to get her number'. Right then and there something clicked in my mind...
One dial turn at a time, I'm slowly getting over my social anxiety.
Part 3 - Final Update
We met back at the Samuel Adams statue and began walking back to the clinic. On the way, the therapist asked us how we did. The girl in the group said she managed to approach 5 or 6 people, and in half those conversations someone had asked for her phone number. Another member, who was a financial analyst in his mid to late 20s, said he talked to this woman who claimed she ran the greatest burrito spot in Boston - he wrote down the info. Now here's something that became clear to me during these sessions.. You absolutely cannot tell if someone's socially anxious just because of how they look - the anxiety has so many different faces.
The group consisted of a latina girl who was 19 and attractive, a 21 year old attractive guy of european decent, me who was 22, tall, and decent looking, a business man in his late 20s who was asian but also attractive, and lastly another businessman who was 45 and married - his wife was the one who picked him up.
When I first walked in and based the disorder on what they looked like, I truly thought they were bsing and didn't really have the disorder. None of them looked like they had anything to be anxious or insecure about. Seeing them tell their stories and struggles though resonated so well with me... It really made me realize Social Anxiety doesn't have a face - it's completely mental.
When we got back into the office, we sat down, and the therapist brought in all the interns we've met before. She said before we parted, she wanted us to each go up and do karaoke one more time, just as a measure of improvement. I went up first.
She took out the karaoke machine but had trouble setting it up. I was standing there in the middle of the room just.. idling with everyone staring at me. I was a bit nervous, felt a little awkward, but my SUDS was at 50 max - I've done this so many times I'm getting used to it.
She kept having trouble with the machine, so instead, she said, 'hey, why don't you tell everyone a joke while you're up there?'. I was like.. Oh God, a comedian? Me? I can barely hold a normal conversation with people, let alone be stimulating enough to make an entire crowd laugh. I remembered some simple stupid jokes I read online, so I tried them out.
'What did the left butt cheek say to the right butt cheek?
Don't talk to the guy in the middle, he's an asshole!'.
To my surprise, EVERYONE laughed. They weren't forced laughs either... Everyone genuinely enjoyed the joke, and I felt amazing. I actually enjoyed being the center this very moment. Infact, it reminded me of a time when I was back in 8th grade.
We had taken a bus down to Washington DC for a field trip. During the way, the chaperone recommended the class go up and tell jokes. I had alot of jokes in my mind, but I kept psyching myself out and never went up - I was too afraid people wouldn't laugh and I'd be rejected. I regretted it.
After that initial joke, I just kept going.
'What do you call an Archaeologist?
Someone whose career lies in ruins!'
'What does Thor wear underneath his sheets?
And lastly, I remembered a more in-depth one:
'A man and his wife were in the shower when the doorbell rang. They quarreled as to who should answer it, and in the end the wife put on a towel and went out. She walked down the stair, opened the door, and there was Bob the neighbor.'
'Bob looked at her in the towel and said 'I'll give you $500 if you drop that towel.' The wife gave Bob a look of disgust, but she pondered it, and dropped the towel. Bob took a good look, gave her the $500, turned around, and went home. The wife stood there speechless for a moment, and began slowly walking up the stairs... confused. Her husband called out 'Hey, who was that at the door?' She goes, 'That was Bob, the neighbor'. The husband says..
'Oh, did he mention anything about the $500 he owed me?'
The room died laughing, and I was so happy. This is the first time I loved being the center of attention! The karaoke machine got started, and everyone was invited up to sing. We formed a big circle, and began reciting that dreaded song - Margaritaville.
After the singing settled down and the interns dispersed, the therapist sat us down. She told us we did a phenomenal job, and each and everyone of us made great progress. She said everything that we did, all the exposures, was all US. We were lead to water, lead to open doors, but we were the ones who drank. We took the steps forward. It was all us conquering our own fears, and from then on out we have to guide ourselves.
She told us to continue using the thought reversals she taught us, to continue with the homework assignments and to do something social involving meeting new people atleast once a week. She said to try and keep practicing eye contact with strangers, and smile and say hi to passerby's on a daily basis. Most importantly of all, she told us this -
Do not, under any circumstance, accept isolation again. That will drive even a sociable person into introversion. Avoid it like the plague. She said there will be minor set backs, but we are now all equipped with the knowledge and techniques to overcome them - along with the memory that we've conquered it before. She said she will check up on us once every 6 months.
From here, she bid us personalized farewells, and I stepped out of the clinic that day knowing that I was now that much closer to living the life I wanted - as a socially accepted human being.
After the sessions, I continued the weekly exercises. I still felt anxiety, but nowhere near as strongly as before. Classes started back up for me in July, and going in, I felt that usual nervousness of not knowing anyone... However, I knew I was now armed with the confidence that I can approach and talk to people regardless of that anxiety, and it will die down eventually. I asked questions in class, did very well on projects and quizzes, and classmates would start approaching me for help. I made my first 3 friends in college in that class, and two years later, they are still among my best friends.
After that summer session, I had two weeks between summer and fall, so my friend and I embarked on an epic Eurotrip. The things that happened then are worth a novel of it's own. It was all about exposure, facing my fears, doing things I've never done before. I had my first 'female encounter' in France(I never did anything with my first girlfriend... too anxious), I rowed a boat in the Versailles, I smoked my first high in Amsterdam, I bought my first painting in the Van Gogh (well, a replica, ' Wheatfield with Crows') museum, I got mugged in the Red Light District, I got wasted in Hamburg, Germany, and I had to steal food and drinks since that city didn't accept my credit card. Lastly, I faced my fear of heights by Paragliding and bungee jumping off a 300 foot canyon in Switzerland.
When I came back to the US, I searched my mind, and I noticed something. Peace. I had no insecurities, no worries, no anxieties floating through my mind. Just peace. For the first time in my life, I was living in the moment, and loving every second of it.