No likes hearing those four words — “We have to talk.”
Those are the words that changed my life.
I am a member of the Morningstars Toastmasters Club in Gibsons, BC. As part of the program, each member has 10 speeches to complete that builds upon one another until you reach the 10th one. The inspirational speech. The speech that is to include elements from the previous nine. A final or thesis of everything one had learned.
It’s the speech I refer to as the Powerhouse.
There was a speech I needed to give . . . but it was going to break me to do it.
What made this speech difficult was how do you describe the symptoms to someone who hasn’t had a panic attack, never seen one?
For the beginning of my speech, I allowed myself to have a panic attack in front of everyone. I resisted the coping strategies that have become second nature to me. I avoided the breathing techniques I usually apply when I feel the initial pangs of panic.
I struggled to breathe. My fingers and limbs trembled. My stomach knotted. I felt like I was going to throw up.
And I delivered my “powerhouse” speech on social anxiety and the importance of breaking the silence.
I am now a CC Toastmaster . . . in spite of my anxiety.
Here is the speech, in it’s entirety (minus the visual demonstration):
My stomach drops through the floor beneath my shaky feet, only to be replaced by a vice that slowly twists what is left of the insides. There’s a slight ping in my lower back and shoulders as muscles instinctively tightened to act as a shield. With every laboured breath, my rib cage becomes a centimeter smaller. I wipe my hands on my pants but it does little to dry the sweat, or stop the trembling fingers. I can hear every heart beat in my ears as the organ sends blood racing through my body. A lump in the throat prevents me from swallowing, from breathing.
But what is going on physically doesn’t come close to the torture going on in my head. My mind leaps frantically from random thought to absurd idea. Am I going crazy? What if I pass out? Is it a heart attack? What am I going to do? How did this happen. Why me? Why Now? Why this?
This is what a panic attack feels like to me. . . . and I have at least one a week. At its strongest point, I would have 13 in a 24 hour period.
Madame chair. Fellow Toastmasters. Honored guests. I have social anxiety . . . and “We need to talk.”
Social anxiety disorder is the fear of social situations that involve interactions with other people. It is the third largest mental health care issue in the world today, affecting about 7 percent of the population at any given time. The chances of developing Social Anxiety Disorder or SAD during your life is slightly above 13%.
Most of us have experienced social anxiety at some point in our lives. First day of kindergarten? How about your first formal dance? First date? Wedding day jitters? Job interviews? Small talk? Delivering your icebreaker?
It’s normal to feel a bit out of place or awkward, like you are the little kid sitting at the adult table at Thanksgiving. You don’t understand the dialogue around you or what to do with all the forks.
Where social anxiety becomes a problem is when it prevents you from even showing up for Thanksgiving. Christmas. Weddings. Graduations. Birthdays. Meet ups with friends.
My husband and I had been living together for three years and married for six months when he asked me to travel with him on a business trip to our hometown of Portland. It’ll be fun. You can hang out with our friends.
Ten minutes before we needed to catch the bus to the ferry, I unzipped my luggage and dumped the contents onto the floor of my bedroom. I told him I wasn’t going anywhere with him. I was staying right there.
I let him leave the house, board the ferry and head to YVR thinking he did something wrong. That I was mad at him. It was easier than telling him the truth.
“Hun, I’m having a bit of a panic attack. I’m nervous about seeing our friends. I don’t know how to reconnect with them. It sounds like small talk.”
My temper tantrum was a wake-up call. Since then I have learned how to overcome my social anxiety attacks. I learned how to change my thinking patterns and emotional habits to be more productive. I have learned how to funnel nervous energy into positive excitement. I have learned to live with it, instead of in fear of it.
And I have learned “We need to talk.”
Secrecy is not our friend. Hiding our fears, what ails us or what is going on in our world cuts us off from the one resource we need – other people. It isolates us from our support group, the ones who care about us and people who may be going through the same thing. It creates the feeling that we are alone.
We all want to be normal. We all want to be the perfect, molded to the ideal. We want to be the mom, dad, employee, best friend, Toastmaster who does it all. We want others to think we have it all together and wrapped up in a brilliant purple bow.
None of us are perfect. The person who looks confident, calm and together on the outside, may be suffocating on the inside under layers of doubt, negativity, hurt, pain, fear and eroded self-esteem.
Why keep that in? Imperfect is the new perfect. Wear it proud.
“We need to talk.”
We need to share our stories, the triumphs and the struggles. Let them know your hardships, what ails you . . . what you are going through. Let people see your layers. You will find that you are anything but alone.
The most powerful weapon we have for disarming anxiety is our voice – and it is the most powerful when we are at our most vulnerable. When life is squeezing the air out of us, trying to prevent us from communicating is the precise moment to open your mouth and say the four words that will change your life.
“We need to talk”