Hi, So iv just finished a bout of 18 CBT sessions (without the aid of drugs) and id like to share a little about what I got from it, the challenges I faced and why I can wholeheartedly recommend this treatment.
Firstly Il begin by describing briefly about my main anxiety issues:
I have a small group of friends who I was adamant didn't like hanging around with me, I had very little self confidence, weekly (sometimes daily) panic attacks, severe depression, I could not for the life of me make eye contact with people outside my 'group of friends/family', I was almost always avoiding social contact if at all possible, the list goes on.
The first hurdle
This was by far the hardest stage for me, the thought of going into a GP's office and describing my fears were horrifying at best! But my dad pushed me into it and I must say it was the best turning point of my life (Although i didn't know it at the time)
The first few sessions
So I was extremely skeptical to say the least! I had a female (fairly good looking) therapist, looked like she was still at university even which made me even more skeptical, but she was nice enough even though i only nodded or shook my head for the first few sessions. She basically took me through how social anxiety manifests and feeds off of itself in a vicious cycle which i was too anxious to really take in and I was very close to not coming back.
4-7 weeks into therapy
I hated it. I couldn't see any improvement. Every session filled me to the brim with anxiety and id leave feeling like id been hit by a train, I even fell asleep once on the way home on the bus as I was so exhausted. But it was here that I realized that this isnt going to be a magic trick and im not going to be magically cured and that I would have to really put in some effort to at least get through the sessions.
8-11 weeks into therapy
The dreaded exposure exercises! Just as i was starting to get a little bit comfortable talking to the therapist BOOM! Exposure exercises, and my god they were frightening, all I had to do was read a passage from a random piece of paper to her. I then asked to go to toilet and ran out the building :\
She then contacted me straight away saying its perfectly normal and even expected me to do a runner haha so then next week we decided to aim a little bit lower and just make a phone call to a shop to see when they opened till. From this point it was more or less downhill. Together we made small goals, doable goals that i would have laughed at calling a goal, yet i felt a sense of accomplishment after doing them. And although in my therapists eyes I was making 'a real breakthrough', I felt no different, I still felt extremely anxious coming into sessions and again thought about quitting.
12-18 weeks into therapy
This was when i started to see change. I wont go into too much detail but as soon as i started working on more heavy weight exposures, I was able to start rationalizing thoughts that before seemed 100% sure, I realized i had no evidence to prove that I was going to screw up my words if i talk to so and so, and that i cannot read the future or their minds. That much is unwritten so far and we can change the path that we believe is going to happen(Excuse my poor philosophy). The penny dropped, I guess it was an epiphany of sorts (one which only becomes apparent after the previous work beforehand), and by no means is it overnight, but I saw significant anxiety drops after big exposures and i felt REALLY good after doing the challenging ones. The best I can describe it is like after you have been on a scary theme park ride, you get a warm glowing rush. That being said I still struggle with certain situations but it has been at least 5 weeks since my last panic attack, my depression has gotten mildly better, I can now make acceptable eye contact with strangers, I can now enjoy going down the pub with my friends (even if im not Mr talkative) and I almost never miss an opportunity to test/challenge myself in social situations (its become a game almost).
Outcome and Conclusion
By no means am I 'cured', but i now have the knowledge to become my own therapist, I have the tools to cope with difficult situations and I have the evidence to believe that with time I can conquer even the toughest challenges. But at the same time I still have a long way to go yet, I still have many challenges I want to overcome and I realize that I will probably spend the rest of my life pushing for these.
So in conclusion i will repeat, this is NOT a quick fix, you will NOT receive the 'gift of the gab' that others have, you will have to try hard, do the homework, open up to your therapist and most importantly you need to want to help yourself. Only then will you see results, you will be able to feel comfortable in situations you thought never possible, your confidence will increase, you will find it easier to reduce your anxiety levels intuitively, even become a little more compassionate towards yourself and others, I also learnt to be myself, not who i wished i was.
I wish you all the best of luck with your journey to overcome SA and I would also like to thank all the people that that wrote their own success stories and I encourage you to do the same as im sure I wouldn't have gone through the whole thing without the encouraging words I read on this forum. If this encourages one person to even think about starting therapy or to persevere with their CBT then it will have done me proud.