An open letter from Earla

Most of my life I was terrified of people. They terrified me so much I would hide from them when I could. Life would have been so much easier for me if there were no people in the world. I would not have to worry about what I looked like, what I said and what I did. Always felt people were watching me and being critical of me. I could never relax. I thought people found me boring, stupid and that they knew I had no friends. I was sad, lonely and in so much emotional pain I really wanted to die.

But in 1998, when I was 44, I found out I was a social phobic. What I was feeling was wrong and I learned I could get well. With cognitive behaviour therapy and medication my life has completely changed around. I am outgoing, happy, and, believe it or not, love people.

The struggle to get well was very painful and hard. At times I wanted to give up the therapy. But deep inside me I wanted to live and be like other people. I wanted to be in control if my illness. CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) made me realize that my thoughts were false and these thoughts held me back. It taught me that I was the one in control of my thoughts and feelings, not other people and there is no magic pill. You control your thoughts and feelings. You have a choice. Life should not hurt; it should feel good.

Part of my therapy was to do volunteer work. My first volunteer position was friendly visiting at a seniors residents and later on visiting clients at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Clarke site. These 2 positions helped me so much with my social phobia and made me feel part of society. I enjoyed my time at these facilities immensely and as soon as I walked into each my smile became automatic and my worries disappeared.

In 2001 we had our first Social Phobia Support Group of Toronto meeting with 3 members held at High Park. Now we meet at the Clarke site. We are a non profit organization and weekly e-mails are sent out to 100 social phobics. We are very fortunate to have Paul Rennie as our co-facilitator. The first time Paul came to a meeting he told me he would like to help and since 2003 he has been in this position. We have many people in the group that help and volunteer their time and I thank each of them. Without them we could never do as much as we do.

Through CBT you can learn to like yourself and be happy with your life. People will respond to your positive feelings and will want to become close to you. How do social phobics get well? First they have to accept the fact that they are ill. Then they have to want to get better and get help. This is half the battle. The rest is up to the person's commitment and what support they can find that fulfills their needs. A person's level of success is dependent on the level of commitment a person is willing to contribute to themselves. You have a choice: life should not hurt, it should feel good. Face the fear, face the fight and believe in yourself. You can get well.