I am currently in CB Therapy. This is my third month. Here is a little bit about why I sought out help, what CB meant to me when I started, and where I am at now.
Brief history: SA got worse over time. In my youth, money and suburban life covered up much of my SA. When I felt nervous about eating around others, I simply slipped the hostess a "tip" and got a tall, isolated booth where nobody could see or overhear me. I drove everywhere in my car with tinted windows. And if for instance my computer broke down and I had to go into Bestbuy or somewhere to fix it, I would simply buy a new one and have it sent to me overnight online.
Then I grew up and reality hit me. I was on my own, living on a very small budget. That meant taking the bus everywhere, sharing an apartment, working along side coworkers, cafes, etc. I was in a big city and going to a big school. Classrooms, crowded public transportation, group projects, elevators, crowded cafes, sidewalks, you name it... people everywhere. With no constructive coping mechanisms (I had destructive ones like isolation, alcohol, etc. which didnt' help anything), my SA got worse and worse.
I could no longer function. I avoided everything because the pressure was too great. If I was 30 seconds late for class, the thought of having everyone look at me as I walked in late was too great, so I skipped it, even if major papers were due. I constantly missed appointments, being too afraid to go to them (though I was great at scheduling them!). Even though I loved certain cafes, parks, etc., I was too afraid to get outside and go to them because what that entailed (walking in public, the bus, what if the places were crowded?). I began to have panic attacks, grades dropped, got fired from multiple jobs for not showing up, relationships broke down. So I finally admitted I had a problem and signed up with a CB therapist (one on one sessions).
CBT experience: the first week.
I was excited about getting help. I truly wanted to get better, and was pretty depressed, so I was willing to try anything to get out of my mental state of hell. My therapist explained to me that we were going to try to change my (1) thoughts, (2) behaviors, and that that would eventually lead to changing (or controlling / accepting) my emotions, my bad thoughts, and even my physical comfort level. We started slow. She let me talk about all my SA problems and get them off my chest, which I really needed to do because I had no support system whatsoever. She started me out with simple exercises like mapping out my reaction to simple situations like getting the mail: what did I feel when I went to get the mail? Fears? Thoughts / bad stories? I enjoyed doing these exercises because I had never analyzed myself in such a way... sort of from a neutral, third person perspective.
The therapy didn't instantly "save" me or shift my perspective in life, or "cure" me. I still had major anxiety and depression. I felt upbeat in the first week in that I was out there, trying something new, dealing with my problems, talking to someone.
CBT experience: current situation.
After three months of therapy, I'd like to tell you all that I am much better, but that would be a lie. Things are moving along slowly... but they are moving. To shift my way of thinking is going to take a lot of time... and a lot of energy! Yes, cognitive therapy isn't some passive process where you lay back for the ride. On the contrary, it takes a lot of work, constant effort (in the form of thoughtfulness / awareness), and some faith too, to get through the bad times. I am still optimistic.
So what has changed for me? Not anything major, but I have small changes that occur in me daily that I am proud of. For instance, today I wanted to eat a bowl of cereal after finishing my dinner (instead of studying; procrastination). Instead of mindlessly getting and eating the cereal like a zombie, or screaming at myself in my head "don't eat the cereal you Fn loser, you need to study," and then stubbornly trying to study while still thinking of the cereal the whole time (which is what would happen before), I stopped myself.
I paused in the kitchen and I thought to myself "OK, my therapist said I should take a breath and be aware of my thoughts and behavior tonight, so I'll do that now before I eat the cereal." (I was still intending to eat the cereal at this point.) So I stood there in the kitchen, took some breaths, and "checked out" my body: I felt a little cold, my head hurt, my jaw was clenching, and my stomach felt full. I accepted all that. Next step, I reviewed how I was feeling: anxious (obviously), stressed, confused, low-confidence, aimless, sad, and much more. I accepted that.
Then I surveyed my thoughts (I was supposed to write them down by was too lazy, but I guess I'm doing that now): I wanted cereal, and I wanted it now. I didn't want to study. The cereal would make me feel good. I needed to study because I'm in finals, but I'm too stupid and tired to study at night anyway, so I might as well eat cereal. How did I become such a loser, standing in my kitchen analyzing if I should eat cereal? Just act! Don't just sit here. If I deny myself this cereal, my night will be ruined. And so on and so on went my thoughts. I accepted these thoughts.
At the end, I took all my emotions, thoughts, and sensations and told myself: "Hey man, this is what is going on with you in this moment. You are a stressed out guy, standing in a cold kitchen having just eaten dinner, full, not wanting to study because studying will suck, and wanting to eat cereal because it tastes so good and you need a break." I accepted all that. Then I asked myself "So what does this guy (myself) want to do at this point?" I decided to not eat the cereal and ate an apple instead.
That to me is CB therapy at work. I know the above was far from major, but that's fine, right now I'm just learning the technique, so when some major life-break down happens in the future (and those bad days always eventually come for everyone), I will be prepared. Through the CB therapy, I realized my old way of living was "auto-pilot": I just reacted to everything, kept repeating the same thoughts over and over, the same emotions, and getting the same results. CB therapy is slowly giving me some control back, so that in any given situation I have a choice to make, I don't just react. This is good because my old way of reacting to almost all social situations was this: "I'm a loser, I can't be social, I wish I just died...," which caused me to be depressed, which caused me to avoid whatever social situation was bothering me.
So whoever out there is wondering if CB therapy is right for them, I hope my story helps, if you managed to read my rather long post all the way through. Just know going in that it takes time. And you are an active participant. If you don't do the work, the therapy will fail. It's not some therapist giving you all the answers to life and telling you what to do to get better, it's really the therapists job just to give the tools... the techniques... for getting better yourself. The more I practice the above techniques of assessing my own thoughts and feelings, accepting them, and then going above and beyond them, the more control I feel over my life... and this GREATLY reduces my anxiety.
I will update you guys next year on where I'm at with my therapy. Thanks to everyone else for sharing your stories. (Disclosure: six months ago, I began taking anti-depressants for my panic attacks, and I've been on those the whole way through my CBT. They have also helped a lot. They've taken the "edge" off my fear and anxiety, enough so I can move, act, and think again, and not just stay home afraid to move.)