Maybe your thought social anxiety was genetic or permanent. Well, read Earla Dunbar’s excellent account of her experience with it and how far she has taken herself and what she learned was the most important thing to remember about social anxiety. Notice how much she learned and progressed in her life. This is possible for you too!
Believe in Yourself: An Interview with Earla Dunbar
For those that have never been treated for a mental health issue, the prospect can be a scary one. In hopes of shedding a little light on what it is like to receive treatment for Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD), I interviewed Earla Dunbar, a recovered social phobic who currently co-facilitates a support group for SAD sufferers in Toronto. Earla was also featured in the “Transforming Lives” campaign to raise awareness at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, in Toronto in 2005.
Although Earla did not have typical social phobia, in that she also suffered from depression and suicidal thinking, this interview focuses on the treatment that she received for SAD and her thoughts about the disorder.
Q: What was it like when you first spoke with a professional about your anxiety?
A: It was totally scary, but I knew I had to take this step because the pain was too great and all I wanted to do was die. So I had to make up mind — do I die or do I live? I felt weak, and I felt like I was crazy. In the assessment with my psychiatrist, Dr. Martin Katzman, he asked me all these questions, questions no one had ever asked me. I thought no one knew what I was feeling and how I was coping with my social phobia, but here he was knowing most of what was going on inside of me. I was totally embarrassed, because I knew I had to be honest with him and I thought, How can I be this bad that I have what he called “social phobia.”
Q: Could you describe the treatment that you received at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH)? How long did your treatment program last?
A: Dr. Martin Katzman put me on medication, which I did not want to be on, but I’m so glad that I did take it. We started Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) on my first appointment. It is hard to say how long the treatment program lasted with Dr. Katzman. I started to see him in November 1998 and still see him just to check in about every 3 or 4 months. I did go to group therapy for 12 weeks with a follow-up in three months and then in 6 months. I also see a social worker every 2 to 3 weeks, originally for other things but now to keep me on track and to deal with issues I might have with social phobia.
Q: What happened during a typical therapy session?
A: I would see Dr. Katzman once a week and then every two weeks at the beginning. For CBT, I had to do thought records — and I did tons of them. We would go over the thought records at first and come up with a more logical thought. Later on I would come up with my own logical thoughts we would discuss. At first, I had to write a hierarchy list of my fears and I started doing a few that were on the lower end until I could do them with no anxiety or very little. Doing the thought records also allowed us to dive deeper into some of my anxiety. As an example, my thought records showed that my anxiety got worse as the day went on.
Q: What was the hardest part of treatment?
A: This is a tough question. Deciding to get help, leaving my house to see Dr. Katzman, taking medication, doing all the things that I feared, finding out more about myself and how very severe my social phobia was. Going to group therapy with other people. I was terrified. I started group therapy about 4 months after seeing Dr. Katzman. This was so terrifying, because I had to say my name each week and tell them something about myself.
Another hard part was my first crash; my nephew was very ill in the hospital, and so I spent most of my time with him for about a week. This totally exhausted me, so I had a crash. All the fears and depression came back and suicide thoughts, but I did get back up, and each and every crash it gets better and easier to return.
Q: How long did it take before you started to notice changes? Are there any particular things that stand out in your mind as “firsts” that you were very proud of?
A: My first feared item that I had to do was to leave the house every day. When I felt comfortable walking my block, I had to go farther and farther. I guess I am just happy that I faced all the fears that I had.
But what kind of woke me up to the fact that I was getting better was thinking about my sister’s sister-in-law. She is a very intelligent and strong woman, but her fear is flying. She lives in California, and she has to travel to visit family in Toronto, by bus, train and so on, which takes forever. And I thought, Wow, I had so many fears and I have faced them — I felt stronger then.
By Arlin Cuncic
Social Anxiety Disorder Expert