Social Anxiety, PTSD, Depression, and Hope
I have severe social anxiety. I have PTSD. I have chronic depression. I also have hope!
Growing up was difficult for me. My father left when I was five, I was quite obviously gay, my stepfather was abusive, I was bullied daily at school, and sexually molested several times by three different men. By the time I became an adult, I no longer saw people, I only saw threats. Everyone used to comment on how observant I was and how impressed they were, when actually, it was just hyper sensitivity to my environment. I was constantly on guard for threats and possible uncomfortable situations. I always sat with my back against a wall. I look around and make sure I’m aware of all the exits and all the corners and hidden areas in a building, just in case. All of this was absolutely exhausting. And then when I went to bed, I would have nightmares. Being chased, hiding, being dragged along the ground or just that feeling of overwhelming sadness or evil during a dream for no reason.
After about 30 years of this, I finally decided that I would see a psychologist. It was a tough decision because I was afraid of anyone new and also because of the stigma associated with seeing a mental health professional. I mean, how could I ever live a normal life if I have a mental illness, as if ignoring it meant it didn’t exist. “What would people say,“ I wondered. “What if someone found out,” I asked myself.
“What if.” My entire life revolved around “what if.” What if I can’t do this? What if someone laughs at me? What if someone sees me? What if, what if, what if? Two tiny words, by themselves are not particularly potent, but when put together, have the power to bring pause, to cause fear, and to change the very life and essence of a person. To make a child who hoped to one day make a difference in the world; leave the world just a little bit brighter than when he came into it, stop and cringe at just the tiny little task of opening the front door and going to school. As an adult, fearful of calling the credit card company to tell them that the payment would be a little late. It was just easier to incur the late fee than to call them. What if the person on the phone judges me as a delinquent? What if the person on the phone doesn’t like me and decides to just cancel my card? What if, what if, what if?
I did finally go to the psychologist. I always felt just a little bit better when I left, however, she just wasn’t the right person for me. She questioned me when I said I was gay. And when, after a few weeks, told her that I had thought about it and that I am gay, simply said, “Ok.” So I stopped going. It was expensive anyway, I didn’t have a lot of money and what if I needed it for some sort of emergency, as if I had ever saved anything for emergencies. What if she was actually a homophobe and my going to her was a bad idea. What if, what if, what if!
After a few more years, I went to another psychologist. This time I went because I had an addiction. An addiction to food. The first time we met, I sat across from her and told her a little bit about me. She said that the Native Americans long ago thought of homosexuals as special people who were able to project both male and female and that they celebrated this. Finally, I had found someone whom I could tell my stories without fear, or at least not as much fear. Little did I know that 10 years later and what I can only imagine the limitless patience a person can muster, I have hope. I’ve changed my vocabulary by the smallest amount. One letter, completely insignificant by itself. I replaced the “f” with an “s”. Such a small change. Such an enormous consequence. What if has become What is. What if no longer rules my life, what is helps me to stay present. What is happening is change. What is my life going forward is hope. “What is” is the only thing that matters. What if makes us fearful. What is gives us hope.
What is your story going to be? Mine is Hope!