Imagine living each and every day with crippling fear and anxiety. Imagine always feeling apprehensive to be around others; each time that you speak, you’re terrified you’ve said something wrong. You worry about others’ disapproval and judgment. Ultimately, afraid of rejection and not fitting in, you find yourself avoiding social situations altogether.
This is what it’s like to live with social anxiety.
Imagine feeling this way every day and, then, add a life-threatening eating disorder on top of it.
Fifteen-year-old Lindsey knows these feelings well. A courageous patient at Eating Recovery Center, she reached out to me last month for help with her own healing.
Lindsey wanted to overcome both social anxiety and her eating disorder
. One of her therapy assignments was to give a presentation in front of her fellow patients and staff members.
Public speaking is one of the top fears of most people; throw social anxiety disorder into the mix and imagine how terrifying a speech must feel.
Lindsey’s idea for her presentation was to interview me about my past and my role as a National Recovery Advocate. I happily obliged.
As you read my answers to her questions below, keep in mind that the words you read were spoken out loud by Lindsey in her therapy group. Surrounded by support, she was able to overcome her anxiety, complete her presentation, and win the fight against her fears, one word at a time.
Jenni’s story, shared with Lindsey several weeks ago:
Lindsey: What influenced your decision to strive for recovery and give up your eating disorder?
On one hand, like they say in Twelve-step meetings, I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. Then, on another, when I began to taste (no pun intended!) a bit of recovery, I started wanting to give up Ed, my “eating disorder,” because there was more that I wanted out of life. Instead of simply moving away from the eating disorder, I began moving toward life. Ultimately, I recovered from my eating disorder and ended up recovering joy, peace, love, and relationships.
Lindsey: How have your past experiences positively impacted you career?
I never would have discovered my career if I hadn’t battled an eating disorder. Looking back, I can see that my pain had purpose. Out of pain, we can find our power. My second recovery—PTSD—has opened my eyes to a new form of suffering. I have a much deeper empathy for those who suffer from trauma. PTSD and Ed both taught me how to better connect with people, how to be resilient in my own life, and how to experience gratitude for a deeper, richer life.
Lindsey: What makes your career worthwhile?
I am deeply grateful for my job. I love writing, speaking, singing, and playing guitar. Amazingly, I get to do all of these things in my work as an author and National Recovery Advocate. But, the best part of my career is getting to pass along experience, strength, and hope. Helping others fills my heart. I wouldn’t be here today without those who shared their hope with me. Life can be rough; we have to support each other. I am lucky to get to participate in supporting others every day.
Lindsey: What advice would you give to those struggling with eating disorders, depression, PTSD, and/or anxiety?
Never give up. Mental illness tells us, “You are hopeless. You will never recover.” My eating disorder, anxiety, PTSD, and depression
all carried with them a huge ocean of, “You will never get better. Just quit.” But, these were all lies. To heal, I had to surround myself with relationships—with voices of support—that could combat these negative thoughts and provide encouragement. In treatment, I had to learn to trust my therapist’s brain more than mine for a while. The same goes with my doctors and dietitian. And, ironically, by letting go and trusting others, I ultimately discovered my own authentic thoughts and personality.
I concluded my interview with Lindsey by writing, “A full, lasting recovery is possible. Don’t stop fighting until the miracle of recovery happens for you.”
Recovery makes this all possible!
In closing, I must say that I was struck by Lindsey’s first question — about seeking help. Here’s why:
My recovery, my career and my current state of living a full life could not have been possible if I hadn’t reached out for help.
If you are struggling, and you wish you could get help for anxiety, for an eating disorder, or for something else, consider taking that step today. Tell a friend, a family member, or someone else that you trust.
We can face our fears
Too many of us stay stuck because we are afraid of what others might think about our problems. Even if we don’t struggle with social anxiety, we might be paralyzed by fear of something else.
As Eleanor Roosevelt says quite simply, “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
That’s exactly what Lindsey did.
An update on Lindsey
Last week, Lindsey’s therapist gave me the update that recently she has been attending social gatherings with relative ease. In fact, her therapist let me know that she has been “all smiles” when hanging out with friends.
And, here’s even more good news: Lindsey is well on her way to recovering from her eating disorder
, too. Like her healing journey from social anxiety, fighting her eating disorder meant doing something that seemed impossible, over and over again. Lindsey ate when she didn’t want to. She gained weight, even though every pound felt like failure.
Often, what we are most afraid of doing is exactly what will set us free.
Think about this question: what scares you? And then follow in Lindsey’s brave footsteps; figure out what you can do today to take a step towards overcoming your fears and stepping toward freedom.
If you think you can’t, do it anyway. You’ve got this.
Thank you, Lindsey, for allowing me to share your story.
Jenni Schaefer is a bestselling author and a National Recovery Advocate of the Family Institute at Eating Recovery Center. Contact ERC to learn more at (877) 957-6575. For PTSD-specific resources, contact ERC Insight at 877-737-7391.