Avoidance is my addiction!

We all have our coping mechanisms, and mine is avoidance. It’s a shame it works so well at the time – you don’t want to do a thing, so you avoid the thing and bingo! Anxiety relieved.

Last week I was supposed to be going to a local support group for a coffee and chat. I wanted to go, I really did, but as the date loomed closer, I started to feel fearful. I had a hairdresser’s appointment on the same day, which is another thing I’m not at all comfortable with. Although wearing a mask has made that a slightly more bearable experience, as I don’t have to sit and look at myself and try not to appear anxious.

My mind kicked in with its usual avoidant thoughts and I decided I couldn’t possibly do two things that made me anxious in one day, so I cancelled it. I felt guilty as I had to book my place and so I might have prevented someone else from going.

But that’s the awful thing about avoidance, you let people down or even end up lying about why you can’t attend something. I feel like I just can’t stop myself. It’s an addictive behaviour. I remember avoiding another past group – I was feeling increasingly anxious about being there, so I decided to stop going. This sudden euphoria came over me and I started hearing a happy song playing in my head as I practically skipped down the street!

I can only keep trying to tackle it, so I’m starting to do some graded exposure with my therapist. I hope that if I start small, I can begin to chip away at it. I have been feeling very sad though as I’ve been here so many times before. I would like to believe in myself and my capabilities, but as I keep repeating the same behaviour, I’m finding that hard. I will just have to keep reminding myself of things I’ve faced in the past.

I used the image of a rabbit for this post as it reminds me of myself, I’m always making a bolt for it!

The best advice I’ve been given about social anxiety and avoidance

Everything in life involves other people. It’s just how we are as humans – social connections are important. It’s why I think social anxiety is so cruel, by avoiding what you fear, you avoid the ability to live your life.

Despite this, I have managed to reach out to others, even if it’s just been in a mental health setting like a support group. It’s always seemed easier that way, as I felt I would be understood by others who have their own mental health difficulties.

I was thinking about the advice people have given me over the years and thought it would be good to share it here. It really helped to give me a different perspective.

Quietness can be a powerful presence

The first lot of advice came from the 18 months I spent in group therapy. I usually took a back seat within the group and found myself listening to other people’s stories and I would occasionally chip in with advice.

I voiced my frustration in the group one day and said: “Sometimes it feels like no one would notice if I didn’t even show up as I just sit here without saying anything. I almost feel like a ghost.”

They assured me that wasn’t the case, as when I did speak, they noticed and valued what I was saying as it was often thoughtful. One person said they wondered what was going through my mind. The therapist added: “You might feel like your quietness makes you invisible, but it can actually be quite a powerful presence that is noticed when you’re absent. When you do speak up, people notice.”

It stuck with me as it shows that there is value in being quiet. Of course, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work on expressing yourself, but it’s fine if you’re not a chatterbox too!

You either avoid, or you don’t

Next came from the social anxiety support group I used to go to. I was talking to one guy about avoidance, and how we used it as our main coping mechanism. I said that I often overanalyse myself and think about how small my life has become as I avoid so much.

He replied that it didn’t have to be so complicated. At the end of the day each time your fear is triggered, avoiding it is a choice. You either avoid something, or you don’t. If you’re sick of avoiding things, then you can choose not to. He then started laughing and said: “one day the earth will be swallowed up by the sun, so it won’t matter anyway!”

I guess you could argue it’s a simplistic way of thinking, but I kind of like it. When something crops up now, I’ll think: “well, are you going to avoid it or not?” The key is to not beat yourself up about it. There will be times when you feel like you need to avoid, it’s a coping mechanism, just try to balance it with facing things too.

Many people feel socially anxious

Finally, I’ve noticed that most people will have some understanding of social anxiety. I’ve mentioned it to quite a few different people, that I’m shy and socially anxious – they probably noticed it for themselves. What surprised me was that they can often relate. I’ve lost count of the times where people told me they feel like that too, and that’s from people who you would never guess!

Social anxiety disorder is obviously different from being a bit shy, but I found it reassuring that people could understand where I was coming from. And it helped me frame it in my mind: social anxiety is normal. It makes it easier for me to accept.

So there you have it, I hope you found my examples helpful or thought provoking. What’s the best advice someone ever gave you?

Avoidance has come back to bite me

When I start finding life difficult, I withdraw. It’s like I only exist to myself and I get very stuck in my own head.

I’ve been feeling physically unwell, with various things including stomach pain. I called my GP, who went off on a tangent about my anxiety, asking me how I was feeling and going over the top with trying to reassure me that what I was experiencing was “normal”. I just felt completely invalidated. Yes, I know anxiety can affect your health, but I don’t believe in this situation that was the cause. I think I’m self-aware enough to know that!

I wasn’t in the best mood afterwards. I ended up in over analysis mode, going over whether I am indeed ill or if it’s all in my head. So, I fall back onto my old friend, avoidance. I find a lot of comfort in being alone. As an only child, I learned to escape into my books and vivid imagination. It works pretty well as a kid, but not so much as an adult when there’s stuff to get done.

I will listen to my body and rest when I need to, but I want to get back on track with my blog, and the Journalism course I’m doing. Keeping busy helps to distract me from my overthinking. I read something recently about this – people have different ways of thinking and experiencing the world. Some think in pictures, sounds, or emotions and some have a constant inner monologue. No prizes for guessing which I am.

I’ve been consistent with my daily 10-minute meditation, which might not seem like much, but for a terrible procrastinator with her head in the clouds, it’s pretty good! It helps me get a bit of distance from my thoughts, which can only be a good thing. I’m trying to recognise the space between triggers and my anxiety.

In a way my avoidance is a comfort, as I always have a friend in myself. But I need other people too, I can’t let myself forget that, so I thought I’d write this post and put some of my thoughts out there into the world.