I’ve had anxiety for pretty much as long as I can remember. I used to get very car sick, when I was a little kid, And my dad really enjoyed going out to restaurants, and, umm, once we got to the restaurant I would get ordered something of course and my parents, trying to be loving parents, would encourage me to finish everything on my plate. But I felt really car sick, and so I couldn’t. So then, my dad would get maybe a little bit mad at me, and thought that I was being stubborn, and that sort of thing. And I created, in my mind, at a very young age a negative association between restaurants and going out to eat, and feelings of anxiety. And so, I was fine eating at home for the most part. Sometimes, depending on what dinner was being served, (if I felt like it was a fancier meal) I couldn’t even really sit at my dinner table because I was just so concerned with what everyone else was thinking of me at the table. And all of my self worth was being poured into how much was left on my plate. And it was never really a body image issue, you know, that’s what a lot of people would ask me, “are you bulimic or whatever?” And it never was, cause once I was out of that situation I could eat a whole pizza by myself, it would be fine, but it’s just that association with the pressure of the table. And so, as I got older, that’s like the thing that you do – you go one dates with people. You go out to a restaurant. And I found that I was starting to avoid things in my life in order to stay away from these situations that would make me anxious. I had the opportunity to go to homecoming four years, and I only chose to go once because the thought of the dinner before hand was enough to make me not go, for three years. And, junior Prom, I ordered a bowl of rice for dinner, that was it, cause I was just so anxious and I just felt like I couldn’t do it, and it totally ruined my entire Prom – that I felt like I couldn’t do it. I took a class in high school, like an intro to Psychology class and we started talking about phobias and, you know, everybody writes down something stupid, like “I’m afraid of spiders” and my teacher is like, well that’s not really a phobia. So she had us write a little essay and I wrote my essay on not being able to eat in restaurants and how it really scared me and how I’d have panic attacks, and sometimes I would get to the point where I would throw up because i was just so anxious. And I didn’t really know why. And, umm, she pulled me aside later and she said, “can we talk about this?” “This is a real thing – all these other people are turning in things where they think that they have a real fear” “but there’s something going on here.” and she referred me to the school pyschologist and they thought about getting me some therapy but I just wasn’t really ready to face it with my family yet and so it kinda just dampered down but it was the first time that my anxiety was really on my radar. That this isn’t normal – other people don’t feel like this – what tends to be a fun situation for other people I’m hating my life. So I got to college and I thought to myself, “Well you know, they have free counseling in college – I might as well go take advantage of it, right?” And so, I started seeing a counselor once a week or so for maybe two years, and she helped me deal with things but just, it wasn’t quite enough to really take over the anxiety of being in restaurants. She kinda helped me deal with my past and that sort of thing, but it never really touched on the day to day what was bothering me I was still avoiding all of these activities. And that sort of thing. And I think it was valuable for me to go through my past like that but it wasn’t getting to the root of anything And so – I wasn’t seeing any real change – I think that was the problem. And so, I spoke with Emily about it – my friend – and she said, “you know, I have this really great program called Learn to Live and their kind of trying to figure social anxiety out, would you like to participate in it?” And i said, “well, wouldn’t hurt.” you know? Worst case scenario I’m exactly the same today as I was before. And so I decided to give it a try. And, it was just a really easy way to go through a program. You know, it wasn’t – sit down with so an so for an hour and talk about all this painful stuff, and you feel like crap for the two hours afterwards. And then you go on living your life as normal. I got to sit down when I wanted to and go through it as quickly or as slowly as I wanted to. And I really started to analyze what associations I was actually making in my mind. And where these negative thoughts were coming from and how they were linking to the things I had put together in my past, previously, and umm and that really helped me start to tackle my anxiety. And of course, it took a lot of practice it took, probably four or five or six months before I felt like I was, you know, completely to a point where i could be proud. But, it was tough. But I really feel like I’ve changed, a lot. “How is your life now?” My life is totally different. Umm, I have no trouble going out to eat no matter what the circumstance. You know, I still have these thoughts that creep up in the back of my mind and like, at the beginning when you sit down, like don’t order anything too expensive, or else if you waste it, then so and so is not going to like you… and dadadada…. Then I’m like, “stop.” It’s much easier now to shut those thoughts down. Like, this past weekend my boyfriend took me out for a steak dinner and we had a great time and I didn’t finish my steak and he still cares about me. So, you know, it just makes me feel much more secure and, happier. And less stressed about stuff that you don’t need to feel stressed about. At all. I remember, our first date was – it was pretty much right after I completed the Learn to Live program. So I completed the social anxiety program in December and we went on our first date, official date, like in a restaurant in like half way through January And so I was like, “OK, I haven’t told him anything about my anxiety. I’m going to see if I can just do it, and see if he’ll notice.” And I was in my apartment pacing around really anxious before hand and then he sent me a text message to say he was in my driveway and I took a deep breath and I went through – I had my Learn to Live worksheet out and I said, “OK, this is not right, this is not right, I can do this.” And I left the house and the date was wonderful. I didn’t have any anxiety the whole date. And I kept thinking to myself, when we got out into the parking lot, I just about jumped up and down because I was so excited that I had just made it through a date with somebody I barely knew, and that was like, something I never thought that I could do. And had a great time! And, of course I couldn’t jump up and down in the parking lot cause that would kinda give it away that I was dealing with something “How you doing back the Jon?” “Awesome, thank you – I like listening to stuff about our dates.” “Do you want to get on the camera at all, for fun?” Come sit on my lap! “Hahaha – I really enjoy listening about our dates.” “This is good, right? This is kinda of a different window.” “Yeah, I remember her telling me about that afterwards, later on – I had no idea.” “No idea that she was thinking about it – it was just like any other date, so…” I always wondered if I should never tell him – about my anxiety. Could I really get away with never letting him know? Well, it was a pretty big part of my life, so I thought I should share that with him. “At the right time, right?” Yes, exactly. When I’ve conquered in. Yes. Well, I had this big life change coming, where I was about to graduate college. And I was planning on moving to Milwaukee to do my student teaching and no one knew me in Milwaukee, nobody – I didn’t have any friends when I moved here, I just had a dream of being in Milwaukee and teaching here. And, umm, I thought to myself, “It would be really sad if I got through five years of college and I didn’t really go after this. That I have put my life on hold for as long as i can remember, and avoided things, and now it’s going to even be worse when I get to this new city because I don’t know anybody.” I had at least made this little safe community in Oshgosh and in Columbus that know my anxiety and they are willing to be there for me and cheer me on. These people don’t know me. And they don’t know what’s going on. And they would maybe be more up front and ask, like “Why aren’t you eating anything?” You know? Or, I don’t know. So. I just wanted to start my new life in a new city with an actual new outlook. On everything. And it just seemed like a very timely opportunity to do that. It’s just like everything came together – cause really, without the Learn to Live Social Anxiety Program I had no other plans. I kinda of doubted it at first – cause there were times when I felt like I was getting better and then something – you know anxiety is always triggered, too, by the situation – like I would get in a fight with a family member and then I would be out to eat with somebody else, completely not related at all and then I would be anxious or, it depended on who I was with at certain times. There are still certain people where I just get a little bit anxious with, but it’s a lot easier to overcome it. So when I first started making progress, I was kinda like, “OK, I’m feeling better, but is it just because I’m comfortable with these people? Or am I actually getting better? And I was very skeptical, and I tend to be a skeptic in general, and, umm, and then I started seeing those people that I would get really anxious around like, one of my professors invited me over for dinner, and that would be a really anxious situation for me and I was totally fine. And I was thinking to myself, “OK, well maybe this isn’t a fluke.” And I don’t think I actually believed it until I went on that first date with Jon. And, it went really well, and I was like, “Holy crap, this really works!” Cause I was just really surprised that counseling couldn’t help me, but an online social anxiety program could It never really addressed the issue of this day-to-day stuff. Where, yea I was dealing with all of my past, and that’s mostly what we delved into and my family relationships and where all this came from and, “oh well how are things doing at Thanksgiving, and how are you feeling about school?” But it never really helped me to find ways to actually conquer it. It helped me analyze, but it didn’t give me any tools to move forward and actually beat it. So, I think it was really great to analyze my past but you can only do so much analysis before you actually move on and get some results in your life. And Learn to Live WAS that for me – it was my results portion of the counseling. It definitely feels like a permanent change. I’m also realistic in knowing that there are times when anxiety pops up – Dr. Russ says this in the program – that there are just times when your life is more stressful and you have more triggers going on and you will feel anxiety but the difference now is that I know that just because I’m feeling anxious it doesn’t mean that I have to feel anxious And that’s the way it has to be for the day, or that’s the way it’s going to feel every time I’m in this situation and it doesn’t mean that I’ve failed just because I feel that way today. Or in that situation. It’s just, OK, well maybe that’s the way it is today and i’m gonna sit here and destroy these automatic negative thoughts and once they’re gone my day is going to be better, and tomorrow is going to be back to the way it was. It doesn’t feel like such a defeat. Like it did before. I actually did mention it to my friend – she kind of let on that she had a lot of similar symptoms, that I did. She wouldn’t really eat around me. And I just kinda asked her – do you feel weird eating around me? And she’s like, “yeah kind of.” And I said, “well, you know, you might want to think about this program.” And I told her that it’s really non-threatening. It’s not like you have to face somebody and say, “Here’s all my crap.” “I feel crazy and these are all the reasons that I feel crazy.” Because you are just looking at your own computer screen, and if you need to check out and take a break and look at Facebook for a minute, you know, you can. And deal with it, and you can write stuff down, and process it in your own time. And so in that way it’s very flexible, non threatening, and I really like the characters – the animated characters are really cute and they very much reflected how I felt – I didn’t think that they could. And, I like that you can work at your own pace and that you can kind of structure things to be to your specific anxiety – it’s not just like a blanket coverall. The lesson on automatic negative thoughts – identifying them right away and addressing them head on – that really helped me and I always kept thinking to myself, I’m taking back my island! (cause that’s the little tag line). For getting through it all. it’s just – this is mine! This is mine to own. No one is making me feel this way. I am bringing these feelings on myself. And, that I am in control of these feelings. And that if I just take time and identify – nobody knows that I’m doing all this in my mind – as I am smiling and eating my salad or whatever. I can be going through all of the automatic negative thoughts and putting the kibosh on every single one And there was one about being a fortune teller. Like, guessing what other people are thinking about you – and I was like, “Oh my gosh, I do that all the time! That’s the root of all this” – I’m making assumptions about what other people are thinking while I’m sitting here. And the majority of them aren’t true. Who would stop being friends with me because I didn’t finish my burger? You know, that’s not a logical, rational thought. And when I say it out loud, it’s like “Duh!” But when it is in your mind, and you’re feeling anxious. It just becomes this crazy cloud that you just can’t get through.