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With Lifelong Struggles, Effort Isn’t What’s Missing

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A friend told me a touching story about his high-school classmate—a story that I now believe happens, in some form, to almost everybody. It happened to me, and probably to you.

The classmate was known as a gifted athlete and a bad student, and acknowledged it himself. He played wide receiver on the football team, but he had a maddening habit of lining up on the wrong side, and cutting right when he was supposed to cut left. The coach kept him on the team because he was fast and played hard, and his route-running mistakes could be corrected.

But the mistakes continued, and the coach quickly surmised that something else was going on. He eventually had the student visit a psychologist, and it turned out he was inverting the pass patterns because he was dyslexic.

This explained his trouble in the classroom too. He wasn’t a bad student, he just had no idea he was experiencing schoolwork so differently than everyone else. Once he was assessed, he (and his teachers) could finally make sure he had the extra time he needed to do his assignments.

You can find countless similar stories of kids who were told for years that they weren’t paying attention or weren’t applying themselves, when they actually just needed glasses and couldn’t read the blackboard. What a world-shifting discovery that must be for each of those kids, as well as for their parents and teachers.

I now wonder if most of us are, in some respect, the kid who needs glasses but doesn’t know it. It’s a phenomenon common to so many life stories: struggling desperately with something because you’re unaware that you’re experiencing it differently than everyone around you.

When we struggle with something that most people don’t seem to struggle with, we start to believe the inevitable messaging that pops up in response: we’re dumb, lazy, or just not cut out for the activity in question. We need to focus, or put in more effort. We try.

A lifestyle develops around the story—one that leaves a wide berth around the problem, so as not to constantly trigger the pain around it. Someone who struggled in school, for any of a thousand reasons, might forever avoid intellectual challenges in every form, from attending college to attending barroom trivia nights.

That’s why these unrecognized differences in our inner experience tend to stay unrecognized—because we tend to live in ways that avoid making our struggles obvious. We avoid the situations in which we feel like we don’t fit, which prevents us from ever learning what exactly is happening.

The root of this oversight is that nobody can assess ease and difficulty objectively. Each of us gets to know the world and its challenges through a unique, private inner experience, which nobody else can see, so nobody has a direct view of what’s easy or hard in the experience of others. We piece together what’s “normal”—as in the benchmark we tend to compare ourselves to—by observing how others, on the whole, seem to be doing at the same challenges.

But here’s the kicker: they’re not necessarily the same challenges. Trying to understand a blackboard lesson with blurry vision is a much greater demand on one’s faculties than doing it with 20/20 vision. Dating when you have an anxiety condition is an order of magnitude more difficult than doing it without one, even with all other factors equal.

When we aren’t aware of a drastic difference between how we and others experience a given situation, all parties tend to attribute the difference in outcome to either innate talent, or vague, morally-salient qualities like perseverance, self-discipline, or getting one’s “priorities straight.” There’s even a billion dollar self-help industry largely focused on shoring up those qualities, as though deficits in them can explain all of our shortcomings.

I believe this oversight has a huge impact on how each of us sees ourselves and our possibilities, and not just in cases of diagnosable conditions like ADD, anxiety, or dyslexia. Something can be ten times harder simply because we don’t have a vital bit of information that others have.

When I first started playing guitar, there was a brief, frustrating time when I just could not understand how people made most chords sound good. I could make G major sound good, and C sounded okay. But everything else sounded muddy, and even other beginners were so much better. I knew I had the fingering right.

The problem was an extremely simple (but crucial) oversight: you have to push the strings down to the fretboard, not just put your fingers on them in the right places. A paradigm-shifting moment, albeit a small one. Suddenly everything was possible again.

However big or small the issue, we stop looking for real explanations once we begin to summarize our struggles as “I suck” (or when others likewise summarize them for us.) Unfortunately that’s often the first and most persistent message we get.

I don’t mean to suggest that there’s always some hidden misunderstanding, or undiagnosed condition, corresponding to every single thing we struggle with. Sometimes the difference is a haphazard matter of luck, confidence, experience or some combination. But when the struggle persists over years and decades, I would bet there’s a major, difference-making factor present that accounts for most of the difficulty—and once we see it, the world changes.

These through-the-looking-glass moments can completely alter your sense of identity, of how worthy and likeable you feel. And they can happen any time.

I’m 38, and just this year I began to understand the magnitude of my social anxiety issues, particularly how differently I’ve been experiencing things like concerts, parties, phone calls, gift exchanges, interactions with bus drivers and a thousand other ordinary situations. My whole life, these and other everyday normal-person things have seemed like tremendous challenges to navigate.  

To make a life-long story extremely short, I now understand the extraordinary difference-making factor behind so much of what has hard for me: I was operating, at all times, with a particular obsessive thinking habit concerning how other people were perceiving me.

Now that I see it, I can account for it, and life is changing rapidly. Goals and interests that seemed off-limits now feel as available to me as they always seemed for everyone else, for the first time in my adult life.

Living almost to middle age without understanding this inner difference created all kinds of secondary complications for me: severe procrastination; cynicism about success; a sense of alienation towards crowds, events, and people having fun; questionable drinking habits; writer’s block; an inability to ask for help, and many more balls and chains.

Now I’m experiencing the fascinating and disorienting process of reassessing my relationship to virtually everything I do (or have avoided doing). It’s a new world, one that makes much more sense.

I guess I’m sharing this to get two bottom-line points across.

Firstly, that two people’s experiences of the same challenge can differ wildly, and that there’s so much more at play than desire, effort, and perseverance. Yet most of the messages we get about success, in school, at work, and in popular culture, minimize everything else. When we account for the unseen complicating factors going on inside each of us, nobody can ever tell you how hard or easy something should be for you. They don’t have enough information.

Secondly, that when we do start to discover how we differ from most of the people around us, walls can come down.   

When it comes to our lifelong struggles, what’s missing almost certainly isn’t effort, or determination, or chutzpah or any of that crap. More likely, it’s understanding—both from others and from ourselves.

***

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katie38 January 22, 2019 at 11:16 pm

Wow. Your comment about secondary consequences really resonated with me, particularly the bit around alienation towards people having fun. At social events I often feel this distance from other people that I’ve never completely understood. I am in the early part of a journey in untangling similar hang-ups related to the opinions of others, and this was extremely helpful.

Honestly, just commenting on this post is a big deal for me. My own social anxieties and self-doubt often make it feel like a huge risk for me to share my opinions or personal experiences with people I don’t already feel close to, and I’ve only recently been realizing how limiting that is. I’ve long felt that talking about my personal life would bore people or cause them to perceive me negatively, but I’m slowly learning that it’s the only way to connect with people in a way that matters. I am an avid lurker of several blogs, but have never joined in the community anywhere until now. Thank you.

David Cain January 23, 2019 at 10:06 am

Everything in your comment sounds very familiar to me. And congrats on taking the step to share your experience here. I’m learning that while it feels like a huge risk to speak up, it’s a very small risk, and that’s clearer every time you do anyway. Welcome to the community :)

Brady Faught January 24, 2019 at 7:13 pm

Ironically, what’s helped me IS writing a personal blog. You don’t realize how terrifying / exhilarating / gut-wrenching / freeing it is to post your personal thoughts on the internet until you do it yourself. Even if it is just your mom reading it…:)

I think it’s had a profound impact for me knowing that a portion of my vulnerabilities, insecurities, worries are all out there for everyone to see. It’s helped me be more open and less anxious among other people.

Kerri January 22, 2019 at 11:47 pm

I am also 38, and beginning to understand the scope of my largely invisible social anxiety. My demeanor is calm, and I appear to have it together externally so anxiety didn’t cross my mind for years. Even after I was self-aware enough to see the inside didn’t match the outside, I assumed I was just introverted, and skeptical by nature. Your secondary consequences hit home —

“severe procrastination; cynicism about success; a sense of alienation towards crowds, events, and people having fun; questionable drinking habits; writer’s block; an inability to ask for help, and many more balls and chains.”

I could have written this list. These are not struggles I’ve attributed to anxiety, but man do they make sense. I look forward to your new posts. Thank you for this one — the timing was perfect.

David Cain January 23, 2019 at 10:11 am

I didn’t attribute them to anxiety either, because I don’t actually feel “anxiety” much… I think what has happened is that early difficult experiences set up these habits of avoidance that have kept me alienated and averse to unpredictable interactions, but I was so effective at the avoidance part that anxiety was triggered only very rarely. But the consequences of that were very serious.

Curtis Smale January 23, 2019 at 2:13 am

Great to see this in my inbox. Blessings to you, David.

David Cain January 23, 2019 at 10:11 am

Thanks Curtis

Jeremy Landreth January 23, 2019 at 3:04 am

There is a reason why I love reading your posts or doing a camp calm session, you are patch of sun through the darkness. This was a wonderful surprise in my inbox! Thank you!

randy hendrix January 23, 2019 at 5:51 am

Ditto Jeremy…well said.

David Cain January 23, 2019 at 10:11 am

Thank you Jeremy :)

Andrew January 23, 2019 at 3:22 am

This is such a great article, David. Well done. I’ve just started working as a coach. It’s really interesting to see close up how two people – my client and I – can experience things so differently. Obviously being curious about how the other person sees the world are what compassion and empathy are all about.

David Cain January 23, 2019 at 10:13 am

I think the differences in inner experience are greater than what we initially perceive, because each of us is trying to fit in and belong, so we have a way trying to come off like others even if the inner experience is very different.

Esme January 23, 2019 at 3:37 am

I wonder if this is a generational thing too. The world we live in now is creating more and more anxiety: more living in our own heads and less physical or verbal interaction with others. I was talking to my aunt (she’s in her 70s) about dancing when she was young, and a story involved ‘sitting on some young man’s knee’ – a total stranger, but that was completely normal in the 50s and 60s when out at a dance. It made me remember the slow-dances of my youth (the 80s) – at night clubs the last 15 minutes were basically grab someone for a smooch! – and how it is becoming unacceptable now to touch other humans. It’s all quite interesting, and maybe not good for us that as social animals we all spend so much time on our own.

David Cain January 23, 2019 at 10:18 am

There is definitely something happening generationally, and it has something to do with mass media. In the 90s, there was a rash of stories about child abductions by strangers (which has always been exceedingly rare) and it changed how parents reared their children. Add in the rise of online bullying, and the ability to function without much direct human interaction, and there’s no question anxiety and a sense of stranger danger would rise, even as the world is getting demonstrably safer from many real dangers. Now we have a weird strand of post-modernist activism that encourages a kind of shaming and calling-out of anyone who says the wrong thing, which must be adding to interpersonal aversion. Jonathan Haidt has written about all of these effects, and the spike in depression, anxiety and suicide has been very dramatic. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jan/10/by-mollycoddling-our-children-were-fuelling-mental-illness-in-teenagers

L January 23, 2019 at 4:37 pm

Hi,

I’ve heard about the helicopter-parent argument often, and although it makes a lot of sense, I can’t relate to it myself. My own parents had no trouble telling me no, and frequently encouraged my independence. Despite this, I was a horribly anxious child, emotionally immature for far too long. I’m not saying that the helicopter thing isn’t wrong, just that the factors of modern anxiety are far more complex.

You have a good point about mass media and shame and interpersonal aversion though. We behave differently when we know we’re being watched, even in a way that poses no real threat. Also, in densely populated cities, we often don’t put in the time and effort to interact with the same people and develop relationships, so we’re often judging people based on quick ‘snapshots’ day after day. Implicitly, rather than on purpose, we’re changing our brains to depend on and expect a ton of first impression glimpses of people without developing them into multidimensional human beings. We do this out of necessity, but maybe as a consequence, we feel defensive and anxious because we know others are judging us on snapshots just as much as we’re judging them.

Javier January 23, 2019 at 3:44 am

Thank you so much, David.

You should be proud of how much you are helping people around the world. From Spain in this case.

I’m 45, with exactly the same condition you describe, suffering for decades. Increasing awareness has helped me a lot, too. My reccomendation for everyone is to read Anthony de Mello’s book Awareness.

Best

David Cain January 23, 2019 at 10:18 am

I will check it out, thanks Javier.

aletheia33 January 23, 2019 at 5:27 pm

i love anthony de mello’s work and his tiny book “the way to love.” it has helped me greatly. glad to see his name here–where it fits well.

Javier January 24, 2019 at 11:40 am

That one si also very good! The thing with de Mellon’s is that he he says the same as other, but his way of saying it is so beautiful, delicious.

One minute wisdom is also very good

Accidental FIRE January 23, 2019 at 5:17 am

Thanks for opening up about that. I too have some social anxiety issues, but have no clue how I’m “supposed” to feel in social situations, or how others do. I’ll check out the book recco from the other commenter.

David Cain January 23, 2019 at 10:19 am

Yeah, I think there is a lot of supposing going on, but maybe there’s no real way we’re supposed to feel. Still, there are norms, and we have no idea if our experience aligns with them, except for how people seem to react to us when we share our opinions and feelings. There’s just so much that’s hard to see

Ameen January 23, 2019 at 5:36 am

This really hit home for me because it confirmed suspicions I’ve had for a while now. I struggle with many things that everybody else seem to never have had issues with. Similarly to what you have described, for the longest time I’ve chalked it up to not being normal in some way and the solution was that I needed to try harder, whatever that means.

It’s only recently that I’ve started to realize the contrary, which is that I’m carrying extra weight or baggage with the particular problems that I’m facing as opposed to others who have never had to carry that weight.

That’s not to say that the burden of carrying extra baggage is unique to me, I’m sure that the same people that think that the solutions to my problems are straightforward also face difficulty in areas that I find effortless or painless. However, I don’t ever look at their issues as something that has a straightforward cause or solution as most people tend to look at mine.

I’ve always thought that if it was possible for somebody to live in the same body with the same brain and lifetime of habits, experiences and choices as mine, they wouldn’t be able to get out of bed let alone try to tackle the issues that I’m facing.
Of course that doesn’t mean I should just surrender to my problems, but I’m able to realize now that my issues persist not because of a lack of determination, but it’s due to a lack of perception of what the real underlying causes are.

David Cain January 23, 2019 at 10:23 am

Well said. And I think we’re just now as a society starting to appreciate underlying causes. I shudder to think about how many people lived and died without ever having their inner struggles taken seriously by the outside world.

Nirbhika January 23, 2019 at 5:58 am

This post came at such a perfect time. Just this morning I was thinking about my struggles and was feeling so overwhelmed and frustrated that I can’t seem to get everything together and do supposedly easy things that everyone seems to be doing.
Just posting this link here as it is relevant.
https://zenpencils.com/comic/132-jiddu-krishnamurti-dont-compare-yourself-to-others/

David Cain January 23, 2019 at 10:26 am

It’s tricky because comparison is unavoidable to some extent. It’s a tool that gives us clues about what we might want to invest our efforts in. But it’s also very deceptive, because we don’t see the inner differences that help and hinder achievement and other outwardly visible attributes.

randy hendrix January 23, 2019 at 5:59 am

Great article, David…this one will be meaningful to a lot of people whether they comment or not. Thank you.

David Cain January 23, 2019 at 10:26 am

Thanks Randy, I hope so

Marsha Amanova January 23, 2019 at 6:14 am

David, thank you once again for a post that strikes straight to my heart. Like others here, I relate so much to the social anxiety issues you describe here as well as the secondary consequences.

What I’m now dying to know is, how to overcome the “particular obsessive thinking habit concerning how other people were perceiving me?”

Is simple awareness of the tendency enough? Have you found relief from any particular practices?

Marina January 23, 2019 at 9:24 am

Hi Marsha,

You’re right, what helped for me was being mindful and aware of my thoughts, and then asking the question: are they really true? I’m a big fan of Byron Katie’s work, her book Loving What Is is transformative.

Marina

aletheia33 January 23, 2019 at 5:30 pm

byron katie’s work has helped me tremendously also. not for everyone, but if it calls out to you, you can use it to gain deep understanding of yourself and others and the challenging relational issues that come up for everyone, all the time–even though many pretend (to themselves and/or others) that they don’t.

Marsha Amanova January 27, 2019 at 10:41 am

Marina, thank you for your response. I will check out Byron Katie’s work as well.

David Cain January 23, 2019 at 10:38 am

I can tell you what seems to have worked for me, but I want to preface that by saying it’s so hard to know all the factors that led to my recent insights.

The important idea I came across was Brene Brown and her work on shame and vulnerability. Her audiobook “The Power of Vulnerablity” almost perfectly diagnosed that issue for me and suddenly it was clear that I was trying to avoid being seen by others just as I was. I started practicing just letting myself be seen without any attempt to come off a certain way and I found I was able to do that. Nobody actually cares much what you look like, sound like, or act like unless you’re being mean or intentionally disruptive. Anyway, there’s a lot to it but it was her work that showed me that I was obsessed with trying to manipulate how I was seen — a never-ending task that is futile and also impossible.

A simple awareness of that tendency was transformative in itself. But I think that learning to live without succumbing to that long-time habit was aided hugely by my meditation practice. Essentially what I’m doing now is just going about my day, doing what I think makes sense (i.e. going about life in the straightforward way most others seem to) and just allowing myself to be seen as I am, without heeding any impulse to avoid being seen in a bad light. I just do the things, feel the feelings that happen, and every time I do that it becomes clear that it’s the right path.

Anyway, I might write about it in more specific detail later, but for now definitely check out Brene Brown’s work — it’s all about shame, which was at the center of my issue and perhaps yours too.

aletheia January 23, 2019 at 5:43 pm

just want to weigh in with what has helped me the most, after decades of constant work on growing myself up. meditation practice over the years has been crucial. more recently, a therapist taught me laura parnell’s anxiety exercise, described in parnell’s book “tapping in.” a game-changer for me. but most especially, and most recently, 12-step work, both for my various addictions/compulsions (not alcohol or drugs but several other behaviors) and for learning how to negotiate and heal relationships (al-anon).

it’s been in joining in groups of others who are doing the same work with the same intention (to grow), holding one another’s hands and sharing a devotional spiritual practice on a regular basis, taking inventory (i.e., observing) of one’s behavior, that i’ve found what you share here, david, the sense of a widening horizon of aliveness and joy. –i am 64! lifelong isolation has dissolved in my late-in-life discovery of how alike we all really are in our humanness, struggle, feelings, fears, need for love and connection.

truly it is never too late.

i believe that american society is brutal, alienating, isolating, competitive to the point of insanity (literally), and shaming. fortunately, it is possible to regain one’s true self and find peace of mind in the midst of it all, and along with that recovery comes the satisfaction of becoming able to help others make the same breakthrough.

thank you, david, for all you do, and for your inspiring honesty and vulnerability. you are a rare gem.

Marsha Amanova January 27, 2019 at 10:38 am

Thank you for your lengthy and encouraging response! I am peripherally aware of Brene Brown; I am sure I’ve seen her in a Ted Talk. I will definitely check out her other work as I could use some help with this.

And my meditation practice has been incredibly helpful for so many things! I think it’s a big part of how I’ve become aware of some of my habits and inclinations and started to question them. I suspect that it is my own tendency to self-judge and criticize that leads me to believe (and fear) and react as though others are doing the same to me.

Alison January 23, 2019 at 7:06 am

lovely & powerful. thank you!

Anne January 23, 2019 at 7:33 am

Thankyou David. A powerful reminder that we can’t know what someone else is going through, and of the need for non-judgmental compassion in all our dealings with each other. Your example of social anxiety seems to have resonated with many. I’m in my 60s and have suffered increasingly with this in recent years – I marvel now at my confidence in the past. If you felt able at some point to share more of this aspect of your journey, I’m sure many would appreciate it.

David Cain January 23, 2019 at 10:39 am

I will definitely write about my situation in more detail in the future :)

Tom Bath January 23, 2019 at 8:19 am

Brilliant as always. Thank you.

Ashley K. January 23, 2019 at 9:43 am

After moving to a totally new city after college, I spent about 3 years making zero friends and spending most of my free time by myself. I made the excuse that I was introverted and enjoyed alone time (which is true), but really I just had loads of social anxiety and I honestly didn’t think that any of the people around me would like me or accept me or want to be friends with me. My mind would be filled with thoughts about how I was different from everyone else, an outsider looking in, that others didn’t like me, or they were somehow “out of my league” in terms of friendship. So I avoided people and social situations, or found excuses to get out of them ASAP.

One day I read about an idea that intrigued me, so I decided to try it out – I just started assuming that everybody liked me. I began to disregard the usual thoughts of “I’m different, other people are judging me, they won’t like me, they don’t want to be my friend” etc. and started replacing them with the thought “This person likes me” any time I saw someone or talked to someone.

Within a week, the world around me went from feeling a little hostile to generally welcoming. I was talking to more people more often, getting to know them, and on my way to future hangouts and friendships.

David Cain January 23, 2019 at 10:41 am

Yes! It is amazing how a behavioral pattern can prop up a completely false belief, and as soon as we start challenging it, it destroys any sense that it’s true. I spent 25+ years assuming that it’s really hard to get people to like you, and it was that believe that made it so hard to connect with people. Now that I’m letting go of the need to be liked, connecting with people is ten times easier. And this happened suddenly — over a couple of days, like you said.

Dominick January 25, 2019 at 3:59 pm

I moved to a new city to take a new job 6 months ago and have made zero friends and spend most of my free time alone. I hate my lifestyle but I won’t give up, I will keep trying. I’m so mean to myself even though objectively (I mean less subjectively) I know myself to be a kind, clever individual. I know I have something to offer others and lacking the ability/opportunity/motivation/discipline to explore it and express it is deflating my soul. I am reminding myself right now to find a way to give more to others, to share my good fortune and my attention. As one gives, so shall they receive is something I believe really only in theory but I have yet to put it into practical application. The more I have tried to take for myself the more I have lost, it seems. Thank you for sharing your idea, technique Ashley.

Dave January 23, 2019 at 9:44 am

“I was operating, at all times, with a particular obsessive thinking habit concerning how other people were perceiving me” – this is my exact issue that is holding me back. I am aware and I do notice it, which is what you mention that has changed your perspective. But how exactly do you overcome and move past it just by noticing? It is still a debilitating issue for me. Is there another step to this technique?

David Cain January 23, 2019 at 10:45 am

Read my response to Marsha above… Brene Brown’s work helped me understand what I was afraid of (letting people see me just as I appear to them, without any embellishment or explanation on my part) and then begin to test what it’s like to live without trying to protect myself from that.

Tiara January 23, 2019 at 9:47 am

I wish there was a reason I could point to for my lifelong battle with compulsive shopping, but I don’t know what it is. It baffles me and frustrates me. Sometimes I’m able to wrestle it under control, then it gets away from me again. I have anxiety issues as well, maybe they’re linked. And since I’m continually broke I can’t afford therapy. But I will keep working to overcome it.

David Cain January 23, 2019 at 10:47 am

Therapy was a part of the untangling process for me, so if you can find a way to access it, it could save a ton of trouble in the long run. Best of luck with your recovery <3

aletheia33 January 23, 2019 at 5:48 pm

i have the same problem. in case you have not heard of this, you might want to try debtors anonymous. there is a website, and if there are no meetings in your area, you can find materials and people via the internet and telephone. for me it all is sourced in anxiety. 12-step work has helped me to understand my compulsion and to find freedom from it.

Sharon Hanna January 23, 2019 at 9:59 am

Thank you, David. I am 70 and what you said applies to me as well in a lot of ways. Your post arrived along with this one from Pema Chodron this morning which you and others might like to read – (I struggle to make the words perfect as I write – isn’t that so ridiculous…but that’s what “I do” ;-)….social anxiety up the ying-yang. Anyhow, here it is:

The dharma can heal our wounds, our very ancient wounds that come not from original sin but from a misunderstanding so old that we can no longer see it. The instruction is to relate compassionately with where we find ourselves and to begin to see our predicament as workable. We are stuck in patterns of grasping and fixating which cause the same thoughts and reactions to occur again and again and again. In this way we project our world.

David Cain January 23, 2019 at 10:50 am

I totally relate to this. My own patterns were definitely a repeated grasping and fixating on protecting myself from something that isn’t actually dangerous, and it created this roundabout way of approaching everything that made things so much harder. I have no idea how I’d be doing if not for my meditation practice and what I’ve learned from the dharma teachers in my life.

Valerio January 23, 2019 at 10:10 am

This really struck home. I am about your age and recently I’ve started looking at my life in a completely different way.
I really struggle with the concept that I might have wasted years of my life, yet I’m just lucky to have the resources needed to change things.

David Cain January 23, 2019 at 10:52 am

I am thinking about that too — I wish I could go back and redo a lot of things. But I’m just glad I did gain some perspective when I did. We’re all going to live and die without ever seeing behind certain patterns in our lives, so we should be grateful for what we do see, whenever we see it.

Paul J Longo January 23, 2019 at 10:43 am

Great piece! Applicable and generalizable!! The scrambling cognitive effects of undiagnosed have now paved the way for a more intentional, creative, even sensual look at reality. Thanks, David https://portfoliolongo.com/tag/dyslexia/

David Cain January 23, 2019 at 10:57 am

Hey good to hear from you Paul. I didn’t mention this in the article, but I’m now seeing a direct relationship between the social anxiety issue and a creative block I now realize I’ve been experiencing for just as long. Suddenly I feel a freedom to draw and create things that I think is the same sudden freedom I feel to connect with people and be seen by them. There’s so much to process…

Paul January 23, 2019 at 2:43 pm

Endless relationships! Thank you, maestro.

Dusanka Woods January 23, 2019 at 11:16 am

Thank toy dear, David, It’s very liberating to know that some of our life long struggles are not because of not trying. I am and have always been a very creative person who supported and gave my creative ideas to others that used it and made success and money but not me. I lived throughout their creative expression but did not dare use mine. I also had life circumstances that prevented me every time I wanted to ‘take that step’ but most of it was the lack of confidence, ‘the anxious quiver of insecurity’ as Ezra Byda defines it in his great book At Home In the Muddy Waters. As always, I deeply appreciate your courage and insight, thank you

David Cain January 23, 2019 at 11:44 am

Thanks Dusanka. I am discovering an interesting relationship between the alienation I described above and creative expression that I’m still figuring out… I think it’s the same block, in some way. I will check out Ezra Byda.

Kay-El January 23, 2019 at 11:34 am

A few moments before opening the email that shared your post I’d been thinking about the long-term health effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). Had just shared with a friend my perception that ACEs provide a very useful lens to understanding human (especially one’s own) behavior. Your closing line prompted me to share this thought with you and your readers. For more about ACEs, see The Deepest Well, by Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, recently appointed CA surgeon general.

David Cain January 23, 2019 at 11:45 am

Thanks Kay-El. I’m not sure what childhood experiences led to my obsessive thinking pattern, but something must have happened to become so overly self-protective. I will check out your recommendation.

Rebecca January 23, 2019 at 2:48 pm

But how are we supposed to know what we don’t know?

David Cain January 24, 2019 at 1:27 pm

Well we do have insights sometimes, or we encounter the right idea at the right time and it allows us to see something that was happening beneath our awareness. Sometimes hearing someone else’s story can help us realize what’s been going on.

Shera January 23, 2019 at 3:10 pm

Simply yes. To all of this. I grew up middle class in a very upper middle class community with a secret at home. Mom was a marvelous person, but struggled with mental illness so bringing people home would have been social suicide. Ironically I became an extrovert in my adult life (decades of working with the public will do that), but I struggle hugely with social anxiety. Mine is further complicated as extroversion (as most extroverts will attest too) brings with it a certain amount of tangible rejection. So I am very insecure, stress about fitting in, rejection etc… AND because of my social anxiety the ‘real’ rejections become paralyzing and lead to depression, procrastination, underachieving and low self-esteem. People who don’t know me well, and even some that supposedly do, would never in a million years know what I struggle with on a daily basis. In my mid 50’s now and truly trying to overcome all this. Any suggestions on how to forgive myself for feeling i wasted so many years?

aletheia33 January 23, 2019 at 6:05 pm

i too struggle with accepting how many decades went by before i could see my own anxiety and how it hobbled me in every realm of living.

my therapist told me today “we know a lot more now than we used to about all this”. i think this is important for us older-ish. for example, back in the 1980s was when the whole idea of PTSD first surfaced, and was quite controversial; even now, psychologists are still figuring out how to help this condition, and are learning more every day. this goes for all of what we struggle with. so there’s that.

aside from that, i sometimes feel such deep regret, but other times i am able to see it from a larger and more spiritual perspective. cultivating gratitude for where i am now helps. also, recognizing that we never truly get to “have” what has passed or what is to come. we live only in an eternal present, really, so comparing my past to my present, or to my imagined future, is just an attempt to tell myself a story about my life. (one text that helps to see this is eckhart tolle’s “the power of now”.)

so, i can choose to tell myself a story i like: right now it sounds something like this: “i am so grateful that i am learning how to be present and listen to others (and myself) in a way that allows and supports them to grow as i am growing. every day i see progress in the freedom and space and nonjudgment i am able to offer to myself and to everyone i meet. i see how my compassion can sometimes help others open. this is hard work, i keep learning how to do it better, and really it is no wonder that it has taken me most of my lifetime to become ready, able, and willing to do it. i feel so blessed that i’m getting to experience the joy and love in this work, the real work of being human and being free, before my time in this world ends.”

David Cain January 24, 2019 at 1:30 pm

I’m not really sure about coming to terms with the sense of having wasted so many years. I don’t feel that very strongly, I’m just glad I figured out what I did when I did. But I have heard people talk about a kind of “grieving” for years that have gone by in the mean time. We should allow ourselves to grieve if there is some grief present.

Sylvia January 23, 2019 at 3:59 pm

This has really resonated with me and I’m going to need to ponder it for a few days more, as it sinks in. I am 57 years old and have carried quite a few ‘hangups’ for my entire life. I just retired, so I’m starting a new life phase, and determined to let those things go, or work my way through them, or befriend them, as the case may be. Thank you for sharing your experiences and insights.

David Cain January 24, 2019 at 3:57 pm

Best of luck Sylvia!

Brad January 23, 2019 at 7:12 pm

David,

I enjoyed your article and insights. I relate very much to your experience with anxiety and other symptoms. My symptoms were due to trauma in infancy, which I believe most modern people experience to some degree – some of us much more than others. I mention this in case you or someone else reading the comments can benefit. I’m 58 years old and pretty self-aware. I didn’t know the primary cause of my challenges until four years ago. There was no overt abuse when I was little, but a lot of neglect which can be devastating. I’ve mostly healed from my long list of symptoms thanks to a lot of work, great resources (books, websites, forums, etc.) and the support of a few close friends. I suggest to anyone who experiences symptoms similar to yours and mine, to look closely at trauma (CPTSD) as a possible cause. With work nearly anyone can improve – sometimes significantly. As you describe, life can take on new meaning and become more fulfilling.

David Cain January 24, 2019 at 3:56 pm

Yeah I’m not sure about the instigating events of my issues. They might have been ordinary painful experiences (embarrassment, shame, whatever) that I overprotected against, building up a self-reinforcing pattern that made small things into really big deals. I don’t know.

Kelly W January 23, 2019 at 10:24 pm

I really enjoy reading your write-ups. Thanks for sharing!

Sara January 24, 2019 at 12:09 am

David, thank you for your post; as with many others, it resonated with me in a big way. I’m nearing 40 and have experienced social anxiety my entire life. I sometimes find interactions with strangers–a grocery store clerk, a receptionist who answers my phone call–stress-inducing to the point of overwhelm. It seems that for most other people, these interactions are ho-hum, which encourages thoughts that there’s “something wrong with me,” even though my logical brain knows otherwise. I’m aware that I have a habit of believing that I’m not good enough as-is, that I must appear artificially “better” in some way in order to be liked or respected. As you used to do, I get caught up in concern about what others are thinking about me, how they’re judging me (even though, in reality, I know half of them are probably caught up being self-conscious about their own appearance, etc.). I know my thought process is flawed, but it’s proven difficult to use that understanding to create meaningful progress towards overcoming my anxiety. I’m going to check out that Brene Brown book you recommended. (I love her TED talk on vulnerability.) Also, I greatly look forward to that future post that will go into more detail about your experience with social anxiety. Have you ever thought about writing a memoir about your journey?

David Cain January 24, 2019 at 3:42 pm

I’m aware that I have a habit of believing that I’m not good enough as-is, that I must appear artificially “better” in some way in order to be liked or respected.

This was the feeling I was experiencing almost all the time. I always felt like I had to come off better than I really was. Definitely check out brene brown, she addresses this

Calen January 24, 2019 at 1:14 am

David,

Thanks again. One of the amazing things about this blog is that each post that you write feels *current* to me in my life. Like, it speaks to some problem that I happen to be dealing with at exactly that moment.

I don’t think that there’s much of a chance that such things could happen by coincidence. So I’m thinking that what is really happening is that you are speaking to a cluster of problems in my life that are so pervasive that any time you address them insightfully, I can see some area of my life in which that insight applies *immediately.* So it feels like you’re speaking to the moment but really you’re speaking to all moments. And not just for me – you have to have noticed by now that you get a very large number of comments from people that say “Wow. How did you know exactly what I needed to hear today?”

That’s cool for a couple reasons. The first is that it means there’s a community of people here who, apparently, are drawn together precisely because there’s a feature of our internal experience that we all share in common. The second is that it speaks well of you, who has the ability to speak to that part in such a way that you can immediately sound like a familiar and knowledgable friend to a very large crowd of followers.

Anyhow, I do have a question, as well. I was wondering – could you describe the how you account for your obsession with what others think, and how other problems unravel as a result? It’s one thing to hear second hand that someone you know has dealt with the problem and their life has gotten better. It’s another thing to hear a firsthand account of what it feels like to wrestle with – and eventually release – a longstanding neurosis. If you can describe it with your characteristic accuracy I think it would mean a lot to many people here who don’t have any template that they can use to tackle their own patterns.

David Cain January 24, 2019 at 3:54 pm

Anyhow, I do have a question, as well. I was wondering – could you describe the how you account for your obsession with what others think, and how other problems unravel as a result?

I think I will probably write a post about this sometime. Basically I didn’t understand that at all times I was trying to calculate what other people might think of me if I do or say X. It became clear while listening to one of Brene Brown’s talks about shame that I was trying to avoid being seen exactly as I was in most moments — I felt I always had to have an explanation ready for why I was doing what I was doing or saying what I was saying, because I was afraid to be judged or misunderstood. So I tried practicing what Dr Brown suggests, which is “let yourself be seen” in everyday situations… on the street, at the store, wherever I was, and I found that it was actually safe to let myself be seen as I was, without trying to figure out how I was being seen and how my motives were being interpreted… Then I started to comprehend how huge that habit habit was, the habit of trying to make sure I wasn’t seen in a bad light. Basically it was at the forefront of my mind at all times except in super familiar situations. I find that almost right away I could let myself be seen in most situations, and it was immediately freeing. But now I’m bumping into the tougher situations — higher-stakes social interactions — and finding that many of those shame-driven patterns and triggers are still there, and I’m working with them one by one.

Sharon Hanna January 24, 2019 at 12:45 pm

Hi David. I posted something yesterday and don’t see it here? It has happened now three times. What am I doing wrong? Not sharing anything untoward, or advertising. Please advise. Thanks.

David Cain January 24, 2019 at 1:26 pm

Hi Sharon. Your comment from yesterday is there, and I did reply to it. If you are not seeing it, try refreshing your browser — CTRL + F5. I can’t think of what else might be wrong but it is showing up for me.

Sharon January 25, 2019 at 10:49 am

I see it, David! Sorry. In a way that is ‘more of the same’ ;-) Almost funny…..anyhow, I am an adoptee who spent a bit of time (like over a month) without a mother…that is to say, I am a pretty good example of lack of what is called healthy attachment. So small things can disturb me; happy to report however that with Pema C., therapy, and a few genuine friends, this is happening less and less. Thank you again for sharing deep stuff with us.

Pamela January 24, 2019 at 4:28 pm

I have also recently (via therapy) cast off some old fetters that have been with me for a long time. (I just turned 39 myself.) So interesting to feel them finally drop off and wonder, “Why on earth was I giving that diaphanous thread the power of a yoke for so long?”

I’ve always avoided asking for help because when I needed help most, I felt like such worthless vermin, who on earth would want to spend their time trying to put me back together? How could I possibly burden anyone with such ridiculousness?

Thankfully I gave birth last year, and it maxed out my insurance costs, so I was able to sign up for therapy for “free” (no added cost). Finally someone was being paid to be the surrogate parent I needed to help me look certain things full in the face without (internal or external) judgment. Finally the small child in me was respected so that the adult in me could breathe (and I can hopefully be a better parent than the ones I was dealt).

There’s still residual shame for needing that, but it is receding, seeming less and less important. A feeling that passes. What’s real is the quality of the present moment, and that is manifestly improving.

There is grief for years “wasted,” and there may be no real meaning in all the needless suffering, but there’s nothing I can do about that. Only about what’s yet in front of me. I am looking forward to it. And looking… what’s the word for looking exactly where you are?

And looking on in so much delight as my son discovers this big world with unconditional love and support at his back.

David Cain January 25, 2019 at 3:47 pm

I’m so happy to hear that… progress with seemingly-insoluble issues really is possible and it can happen fast. I’m not dwelling too much on the mourning aspect but you can’t help but think of it a bit.

Karen J January 30, 2019 at 11:00 pm

So happy to hear that circumstances have worked out to allow in the help you’ve been needing for so long, Pamela!
Wishing both you and your son better days ahead, <3

Patrick Lange January 24, 2019 at 7:35 pm

What a wonderful read David, I’m so happy that your life is unfolding in such a beautiful and eye-opening way. And how true that nobody can assess ease and difficulty objectively. With all due respect however I would like to add a little something different to the mix. You say when it comes to our lifelong struggles what’s missing almost certainly isn’t effort, or determination, or chutzpah or any of that crap. More likely, it’s understanding. I believe it was Mother Teresa who said understanding comes from doing. And while you certainly present a convincing case in terms of hidden misunderstanding or undiagnosed conditions, and rightfully so, we mustn’t forget that we can in fact learn a great deal about ourselves through a little effort and perseverance as well. Just sayin’.

David Cain January 25, 2019 at 3:52 pm

Yeah certainly effort/perseverance is sometimes what’s required to solve a problem, but if it’s a years- or decades-long struggle, there’s got to be something else going on. I think the belief that elbow grease fixes everything is extremely harmful and counterproductive when there are other issues at play. To tell someone who’s been struggling with something their whole life that the just need to roll up their sleeves and try harder is implying that they haven’t really tried to fix it, and that’s really ignorant and insulting.

Calen January 25, 2019 at 1:26 am

David (and everyone),

This post also had a bit of a familiar ring to it. And after some thought I realized where I had seen something similar before, so I’m posting a link here to a quote from C.S. Lewis.

I know that people here differ widely in their views on religion, and I hope that that doesn’t subtract from the parallels that can be seen from Lewis’ thoughts here. But in essence he talks about the arrogance of humans assuming that their ‘outside view’ of the actions of another are a true measure of that person. And he paints a picture of what it must be like for a being that can know, in full, the inside forces each person has to struggle with, and what that might mean for a final reckoning regarding our character and actions.

I suppose I can add one more thought to this. I’m in graduate school and for a long time I struggled to even work. I procrastinated horribly and tormented myself about it constantly. In fact, the experience was so painful that I wound up switching my course of study – I now study work habits and how personality (and emotion) influences them.

For a while I thought I had some sort of deficit of character, or willpower. The breakthrough that changed things wasn’t more effort, though. It was a change of environment out of the toxic one I’d been in, new (actual) friends who listened and supported me, a good therapist, and a round of antidepressants. With the weight of massive internal pain lifted off of my shoulders I suddenly had energy and focus to spare for work.

All that is to say, don’t underestimate the influence of your internal world. If you feel like you have to climb an entire mountain in order to go to the gym, or say hello to someone you’re attracted to, or speak up in a crowded room, then it shouldn’t matter that everyone else seems to be able to do it easily. It’s very likely that you’re carrying around a mountain that other people don’t see.

Link to the C.S. Lewis quote: https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/482608-the-bad-psychological-material-is-not-a-sin-but-a

David Cain January 25, 2019 at 4:00 pm

I appreciated this quote so much I printed it out and put it on my wall. Thank you so much Calen.

And your comment too is so well put and I hope everyone reads it. Everything we do in the visible outer world has to be actuated by our inner world, however troubled it is, and nobody else can see what had to happen for a given outer achievement to be possible. Yet we constantly assess each other on output alone with no idea of how great an achievement a given act really is.

Bruce Colthart January 25, 2019 at 9:42 am

Great wisdom in your earlier comment David:

“We’re all going to live and die without ever seeing behind certain patterns in our lives, so we should be grateful for what we do see, whenever we see it.”

Kevin January 25, 2019 at 3:12 pm

David, Reading your progress gives me hope. I have an 18 year old daughter with similar anxiety issues and is always concerned (overly) about how she is perceived. You state that now that you are aware you can compensate and it has made a huge difference for you. What are you doing differently? Did you get professional help? My daughter has been seeing therapists and is aware on an intellectual level what is happening but has not really made any progress. What made it suddenly click for you?

David Cain January 25, 2019 at 4:04 pm

I am seeing a therapist and journaling, both of which have helped. But the thing that made it click for me was Brene Brown’s work on shame and vulnerability. It happened to be exactly what I needed to hear with respect to my ever-present worry about being seen in a bad light. I still experience the issue with certain high-stakes situations (like a job interview-type situation) but with day-to-day walking down the street stuff it drastically reduced the problem. Everyone’s different but it’s a place to look. I also practice mindfulness meditation daily and that has given me all sorts of tools for being with anxiety and other difficult emotional experiences.

Dominick January 25, 2019 at 3:49 pm

edit: I’m sorry for the word vomit & wall of garbled stream of consciousness.

David, I so frequently feel “a stranger, and afraid, in a world I never made” (A.E. Housman). For the longest time I did not question this. Then I began to question it, yet found no answers. Only recently it feels that my search and struggle for understanding and growth has produced fruits, however minor. I sense I am on the path now (the truth and positive perception is that I have always been on this path in the sense that all my shortcomings & successes have brought me precisely to this moment) but it is discouraging to know that not only have I squandered/fumbled so many years and countless opportunities, I have yet a long way to go. This thought of having a long way to go and the despair that it brings is false though and still a product of a mind in disrepair and only serves to hold me back. Negativity is a demon. I am young and yet I feel my life is already over. Then I feel guilt about feeling that way. I am so fortunate in so many ways that I don’t feel like I’m even allowed to be despondent. How is it that I have fallen so short of my potential? Why, despite having nearly every opportunity and priviledge in this life, do I consistently take two steps forward and three back? Or four steps sideways into the weeds or woods? Lost and isolated though on the surface people think everything’s swell – they see a calm and naive child who lacks motivation and discipline (this is the story I’m telling myself and I’ve bought my own lies) Why am I so unforgivingly mean to myself and so uncompromisingly pleasant to others, to a point of fault? On the other hand, hope is not lost for good. I’m here, I’m trying, I have the intention to face my mental gremlins. I have increased awareness about my negative self-talk and awareness of what actions that within my capability and could help me. Healthy strategies to displace the routine of self distruction. I get out of bed and fight the fight every day. Still, I am distraught about the world today, so saddened by the mistrust we all seem to harbor for each other, especially the neurosis in dating today; others here have mentioned how much harder it seems to initiate true connection with others – “stranger danger”, fear of silence and strangers, the sense that we value our phones over other human beings within arms reach. This has all driven me to the edge. Your blog is one of the few threads that suspends me from falling into the abyss, sustains my flickering flame of optimism…

Thoughts are racing as I bookmark and note for later the books and techniques I’ve just now compiled from this page. I so want to be more a part of this community that has come together here instead of just looking in from the outside of the pack. Even as I write, some of these thoughts I have are exposed for the falsehoods they are. I am noticing now how hard I’m trying to tailor my response in a way that is meaningful, likeable, and coherent. I don’t get these thoughts out of my head enough and onto paper or into sound, and so when I do, significant course correction is a common result. It ties in with not having friends and not sustaining the relationships I do have. I’ve let my relationships lapse and half of me wants to cry and another part believes they weren’t worth it anyway and another part believes I’m not worth it anyway… Thank you for writing, sharing, for responding to all the comments that you do respond to, for your book How To Save the World and for generally coming across as genuine and daring to put in on the line… on-line.

This was helpful. I feel love via your post and other’s comments. I can’t believe I’ve been getting your emails for 6+ years. I do not read any other blogs. It goes to show that in spite of what you may think of yourself, I think all your posts are quite polished and insightful and helpful. We believe we are what other people – adults, caregivers, and peers – have told us we are since birth. Further, we don’t know what we don’t know…
Again thank you providing a space where I can let some of this out. Now it’s time to go & grow.

David Cain January 25, 2019 at 4:12 pm

Hi Dominick… so much of this sounds familiar, and I would say a few things:

-You said that typing this all out is helpful… I have found that too. I journal every day now, sometimes more than once, about how I’m feeling, what I’m worried about, what progress I’ve made — just a kind of check-in with myself. And it has helped me figure out so much.

-I’m starting to see how so many of my problems are connected to each other and cause each other. That’s good, because it means when you make progress somewhere, there is a huge, positive ripple effect, and many seemingly unrelated things can start to untangle.

-Negativity has a distorting effect on how we see ourselves and the world, so when we’re caught up in it we’re going to overlook a lot of what is good and overestimate a lot of what is bad. In other words, things are better than they seem on all fronts, and you are closer to progress than it seems.

-The last thing is that there are sooo many people like you and me, dealing with difficult internal stuff that makes life so hard. It’s just now becoming okay to talk about it, so however alone you feel, you aren’t alone!

Dennis January 25, 2019 at 8:13 pm

David, rejoicing for you re: your insights. Brene Brown is excellent. Hilary Jacobs Hendel and her ideas about shame and “it’s not always depression” are also helpful.

Seems as if you’re practicing the idea that it’s not the “why” (e.g., early childhood experiences) but the “what” (your actions, showing yourself to the world) that is most powerful.

David Cain January 28, 2019 at 10:33 am

Yeah… the why isn’t always obvious, and in my case I don’t think there was any particular “ground zero” moment that started things. We all have painful experiences, and protect against them in various ways, and some of those protective habits can feed on themselves and get out of hand.

RJA February 3, 2019 at 1:35 pm

This reminds me of a thought I had recently. I have always avoided horror movies and rollercoasters, and as a young boy of course I was teased about this. Even today I am sometimes made fun of for not wanting to watch horror moves, people joking that I am weak, a coward etc. But it struck me that I may subjectively experience these things very differently from those who enjoy them. For me horror movies creates feelings of anxiety and terror which can lasts for hours or even days afterwards, even if I know it is all fiction etc. For the person who enjoys horror movies they feel excitement mixed with the fear and alive, i.e. positive emotions. So it may look from the outside as if I am the coward and they are brave but in fact we experience completely different emotions and so face completely different choices when deciding whether to watch a horror movie or not. If they felt what I feel they wouldn’t have wanted to watch it either.

David Cain February 6, 2019 at 9:01 pm

Hey that’s a good point. I always hated scary movies too and to this day I don’t really get it. Either they’re not scary at all, or they’re actually scary, and who wants that? But that’s a different way to think about it — different feelings are being felt.

i February 6, 2019 at 3:08 pm

This resonates so much with me. I’m a transgender man and it took me 23 years to finally put the pieces together and realise a person should not have to live with this kind of struggle, this misery that is gender dysphoria. That there is care like hormones and surgery for a reason. Even though I had these experiences even as a young child, for it is internal, I never had any chance of understanding the realness of the situation, just felt like a complete awkward failure every year of my life after puberty started. and that the fault was all mine. Thank god for the internet and the possibility for trans people to mirror themselves and finally understand oneself through others similar stories.. It is such a weird, unsettling thing to slowly change into something you were never supposed to be, like seeing something alarming like a new scar when you get a glance in the mirror, except when you take a second look, there is no damage to be found, just a normal healthy teenage girl. Yet everything is wrong. It’s your face, but at the same time not. I would never have figured it out without others opening up about there internal struggle. I’m 6 months on testosterone now and slowly, subtly, i start recognizing my face again.
It is still a struggle to wait for the changes to happen, and to get my mastectomy and phalloplasty to end almost 15 years of suffering, (and add societal pressure like discrimination to that) but having a plan and having the words to understand myself makes me survive. Someday, every morning will not be a rude awakening to the reality that feels like someone elses body.
Sorry for my english. I’ve been reading and appreciating your blog for years.

David Cain February 6, 2019 at 8:59 pm

Thanks for sharing this. For all the cynicism we have about the internet, one thing it has done is it has allowed us to connect with people having similar experiences. Just to feel understood at all would have been impossible for so many people throughout history, because there was no safe way to share your inner experience with people who could relate to it. Just think of all the people who lived and died without ever connecting with another person who suffered in the same way and it’s the saddest thing ever. I’m so glad to hear you’ve found the right path.

Marie February 9, 2019 at 7:53 pm

I just wanna say that I’ve been following your blog since 2011 and it is one of the best things I’ve ever found. You, Mark Manson and Jordan Peterson are the only modern minds that seem to get through to me, but of those you’re the most effective. The depth and clarity you bring is amazing. I send your stuff to everyone I care about. It works. Thank you!

I just want to put something to you that I think is incredibly, scarily important and overlooked. Depression and social anxiety runs bone deep through my family, and social anxiety particularly is the single biggest factor that has sabotaged our lives. I’ve had it for most of my 26 years, and all the missed opportunities, messed up relationships, and the most wasted swathes of time have social anxiety running through them. It prevents me from being focused, authentic, mindful and aware of the stunning beauty of life. It even drives my depression. Like you said, it permeates everything. When I had a breakdown I did years of research into a cure for it, so I didn’t have to live with a constant drain on human connection, confidence and bravery. I had enough necessary suffering – I didn’t want unnecessary suffering too.

Turns out it can be cured. There is an immense amount of research on the link between the body and mental conditions, and a permanent state of anxiety, even subtle, is not a normal state for the body to be in. It’s not something you have to accept! When you find out that a deficiency in B12 can on its own CAUSE most psychiatric conditions, it kind of causes a paradigm shift. There’s a dozen nutrient deficiencies that are linked to/cause mental problems from bipolar, depression to anxiety, and since nutrients work in a complex dance in your body, a few deficiencies can cause serious imbalances. The gut-brain link is more widely known than ever, and most of the brain’s serotonin is made in the gut. Gut problems are linked to/can cause most psychiatric conditions too. Candida overgrowth in the gut is even found in most alcoholics. IBS is extremely common in people with mental illness. Hormonal imbalances with the thyroid and adrenal glands have an enormous effect on the nervous system and can ratchet up cortisol, and lower calming neurotransmitters like GABA and endorphins, which are very low in people with chronic anxiety. Scientists are proposing that inflammation is the major cause of depression now, after studies like the one where people were injected with an inflammatory…after which most of them developed depression. The toxic metals and chemicals we’re exposed to in modern times also have an extreme impact on the body, and on pubmed there are countless studies showing how toxins like mercury are related to everything from depression and schizophrenia, to shyness.

It’s not as simple as just eating well and exercising, which a lot of people think is the sum of good health, and then wonder why they continue to have problems. Like all worthwhile things, it takes work. When I found this out I got a test done, started a paleo-like diet and cut out sugar, gluten, processed foods, took 8 supplements a day to build up my body, and a few other things. It’s completely transformed my life in a way that nothing else has. I heard a lot of people say that they thought something was a part of their personality just because they’d had it since childhood – like shyness, anxiety, apathy, low self esteem. All of these people didn’t have great energy, and when your body is exhausted and slow it’s hard to be confident. I assumed I was naturally anxious and introverted, but I was wrong. Healing my body got rid of so many things I thought were normal, like cravings for comfort/escapism, brain fog, inability to focus, memory problems, waking up groggy and tired, apathy, random bad moods, needing loads of sleep, neediness, irrational insecurities, neuroses and fears…and my anxiety is almost completely gone. A mind that can’t relax and feels threatened by other people is not healthy, or normal, any more than liver disease is normal. The modern diet/lifestyle has made mental problems the norm, and we’re all starting to believe it. But now I know my personality was leached by bad health, and for the first time I feel like my real self. I feel like I used to feel on those amazing days all the time, like i’m on a high, but a real one. I have the energy of an extrovert, and I can actually connect with people on a deep level without analysing everything. I connect with my passions more deeply, and that in turns makes me more confident. Without this edge I now have, social anxiety would have kept me mediocre, wary of life and facing constant resistance to things I wanted.

It breaks my heart to think people are accepting this as a life sentence. Some people can’t even leave their house, have relationships, get jobs from it. It’s a disease, and it can be cured. When my brother tried to cure his depression/social anxiety with meds, exercise and meditation, he ended up in the psychiatric hospital, worse than ever. There’s a better way.

Chris Kresser’s site helped me a lot, eg:
https://chriskresser.com/functional-medicine-approach-to-anxiety/

Optimallivingdynamics.com is the research of a guy who healed his mental problems on his own.

The book the Mood Cure by Julia Ross also helped me get quick relief, which told me I was going down the right path. Myersdetox.com also helped.

I would love if you did one of your experiments on this, by going on a paleo diet, maybe doing some tests. I think it would transform your life, too. But to anyone else who reads this, know that you’re not alone, and that you don’t have to live under the shadow of social anxiety. It’s not a personality trait, it’s a symptom. And even if your anxiety is genetic, that only makes up 10 percent of you. The other 90 percent is environmental, meaning it’s really up to you.

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