To give hope



Hi, bumped into your website, I don't consider myself a social phobic anymore, but it's definitely there in my past....

I live in England, I'm a 40-year-old man now, very happily married and loving life. But it wasn't always this way.

I grew up in a small village, where everyone knew everyone else and attitudes were very conservative. I had an idyllic childhood in many ways - we had very little money, but my mum and dad loved me and I knew it. But the roots of my phobia began in that idyllic time. As I grew older, and had my own feelings - rebellion was never an option, I had to learn to act in a different way to the way I felt. Eventually I didn't know myself, I was acting all the time so as not to upset anyone. And living in an isolated village I didn't have the opportunity to develop social skills with my own age group. I went to school, but after school had to get the bus home and then could do nothing but study. Also, my school was a boys' only establishment - a very good academic education, but not the best way to get comfortable with girls (a strange English tradition, that one).

In all this time, I was an academic high-achiever, I could play a musical instrument (including public solo performances) and I'd learnt to drive with no problems. Yet I was unable to socialise, or so I thought.

When I left home at 18, to go to University, I was absolutely terrified. I went from a tiny village to a big city, surrounded by others who'd lived in cities, and I was completely unequipped. I joined in as much as I could, but the tensions never went away. My jaw was stiff, my hands shook, I sweated every time I walked anywhere busy on my own, and I was convinced that everyone was watching me and talking about me.

It all came to a head when I found out people thought I must be gay, because I didn't seem to be interested in the girls around me. Well, I couldn't handle that. I didn't know what I was, I'd never let myself relax with another person, male or female. I didn't know what my sexuality was. (Only years later did I realise that I was actually quite an attractive young man - but girls expected me to make the first move!).

That made me start feeling suicidal, but I was lucky - the University had a very good support service, and with help from a psychiatrist I joined a discussion group and started a 'social skills' course at the local hospital.

And you know what? I didn't complete the course, and I left the group.

I didn't complete the course, because in the first session all they had to do was train me to look in someone's eyes while talking to them. And it worked - I realised I could communicate.

I left the group because I realised it was a group for people with clinical depression - I wasn't depressed, just overloaded with fears and tensions. I realised that the friends I had around me were actually very valuable.

The final piece in the jigsaw came when I got my first job, as a computer programmer. I absolutely excelled at it! At last - something I could do - better than lots of other people!

With that confidence behind me, I started to become more assertive - still shy, still no girlfriend, but I had something solid and respected.

The thing that finally put SP behind me was a team-building weekend that I attended. I was scared, but had to go. One of the exercises involved everyone walking around the room with a big sheet of paper taped to their back. Each one of us had to write one word on everyone else's back, to describe that person. And only positive attributes could be used.

When we'd all finished, I looked at mine and almost cried. Words like 'amusing', 'entertaining', 'intelligent', 'confident', 'wise' and so on. All this time I'd worried about what everyone thought of me, and I'd got it completely and utterly wrong!

From that point, there was no turning back. I was still without a girlfriend, still a virgin, thought it was a big deal. Unfortunately that meant I made my last big mistake as a result of SP - I married the first girl who showed an interest in me. We had four kids, we had the house, the car etc, but it gradually became clearer that we had nothing in common and it ended in divorce.

However, after that I was much more relaxed about meeting new partners, had a couple of years of fun (say no more!), then met the wonderful woman who is now my wife.

Even now there are some situations which make me uncomfortable; crowds, speaking in public (without having a beer first!), situations where I'm being judged (e.g. quality audits at work). But I've realised that any normal person has some social fears. And those years of controlling how my emotions appeared mean I can appear cool as a cucumber (English expression, don't know if it's used in the US!) when under pressure - in other words, I'm now the opposite of the man I thought I was.

So - there is no recipe for pulling out of SP, and the root of everyone's problem is different. But in some cases it can happen. When you're young, people around you appear confident but either they're bluffing or too stupid to realise what they don't understand.

I know I will never go back!
Thanks for listening

Chris, July 2005


Well-known member
WOW!!! What an awesome story :) Conragulations. I have a shyguy at work that i am so crazy about..he is extremely shy and i believe has social phobia but i haven't given up on him yet - i know he likes me too he just can't seem to pull himself out of his sadness and stop the overwhelming nervousness when i am around (he is obly anxious around me) and i think its all stems from his love-shyness...he is almost 40 as well.

Thanks again Chris, you give alot of hope.