Instead of finding the cure, I have accepted who I am.
My name is Colin Devereux. I created DawnClouds, where I host positivity workshops to help others embrace positivity and discuss their mental health in an open and supportive environment with like-minded people.
For much of my life I have associated fear and discomfort with groups of people.
I never really knew where these feelings originated.
A person recently mentioned to me that they thought perhaps this anxiety stems from a fear of being made fun of as a kid in school. I hadn’t really considered this before, but having given it some thought, I feel there is a truth to this.
But why, if I have experienced so much fear of this group setting, have I decided to spend time creating spaces for groups to exist. It has been an interesting journey….
As a kid, teenager and young adult, I was always socially anxious. I wasn’t aware of the term “social anxiety” until my mid-twenties, but for much of my life I existed through the prism of my anxious mind.
At times I thought that this was not really an issue, but on other occasions it would have extremely limiting effects on my daily life as I was physically somewhere, but mentally elsewhere.
Some examples might be helpful here.
I had a fear of making a phone call in a quiet office. Dialling the numbers, my heart would be pounding, my head would be spinning and I would be terrified of losing the ability to speak while being conscious of co-workers listening to me (and I was paranoid they were straining to hear this weakness in my voice).
I was terrified of conflict. If someone said something to me I didn’t like, it would repeat in my mind for hours or maybe even days, but I would not have the ability to formulate words back in response to them.
If I made a decision that I afterwards felt was incorrect, I would imagine specific groups of people laughing at me and ridiculing me for my idiotic actions. In fact, as soon as I realised something I did was not perfect, I would mentally be transported back to A or many situations in which I was criticised for something totally unrelated.
I would dread any group environment that might require a contribution from people there, worrying that any of the following would happen
I would lose my ability to speak
I would speak but betray my anxiety
I would say something that people would laugh at that was not intended to be humorous
The group would collectively turn on me
It’s a bit weird to look upon this now more objectively. As a result of many of the practises I incorporate into my daily life, these do not play a major role now. However, I can still remember how intensely they would affect my psyche.
After exploring many avenues in pursuit of “The Cure”, a few years ago I found a group of like-minded people with similar experience of social anxiety who also wanted to create a space for us to consistently challenge this fear within us in a supportive group.
This was the greatest thing I ever participated in. The groups were initially formed as we were trying to overcome this negativity but it transpired that this environment was the most powerful entity I had been part of. I grew to love the challenge of facing the fear of talking in a group.
It normalised it for me to the point of pure acceptance. From the moment a group began, I was developing a healthier relationship with my anxiety.
“Hi, I’m Colin, I have social anxiety. This is my worst nightmare speaking with a group but I also enjoy it. It is one of the high points of my week”.
People were very open, friendly and most importantly all were there for pretty much the same reason I was. To overcome the challenges posed by our minds.
The fears I expressed with the group: judgement, fear of panicking, losing my voice, appearing nervous among others were echoed universally. It transpired these were not symptoms I alone experienced. And many of the people we were sharing with were hugely successful themselves. These were not people who appeared vulnerable or incompetent. These had successful careers, families and hobbies, but had navigated through life with these challenges on their mind with no avenue for them to express or face them in a way they found suitable.
I found the group environment to be a space to grow. It enabled less over thinking and more acceptance of who and where I am at this moment.
Over time, I noticed that there are not many social opportunities to listen and be listened to. I can see now that I often didn’t liked socialising. I always felt this was a problem. However, now I just see that it is something I am often uncomfortable participating in.
It can be enlightening to have the space to speak though positive aspects of our lives and share our small challenges together. Group learning through experience and positive energy.
No one is trying to get ahead of the other, we are trying to help ourselves to help each other.
As I became more comfortable with the group routine, I found it to be a blank canvas.
Creativity is within our grasp. There are moments of laughter, fond memories recounted, storey telling and differing opinions aired, while discussion of challenges and difficulties we may be facing can arise also. There is no shame in addressing these. We can all relate to them. I have found that I feel light being able to admit to not being the stoic, concrete man I had hoped to become, but instead feel vulnerable and believe that there is growth there if you choose to accept it.
I can accept there is some fear. But chose to acknowledge it and thrive within myself, and not as some egoic version of how I want others to view me.
Over time I found that I could reside in my own personality and not to be totally overwhelmed by the idea of what everyone is thinking. I guess this is about developing the ability to exist within the group as you as opposed to trying to entertain everyone through a self-imagined invincible version of you.
Accepting that fear and letting go of the need for everyone’s approval is important. We are all navigating our own thing, but we can help each other to find our way using our shared experiences, challenges and successes.
I have spoken, felt, lived and experienced the benefits of this. I began on this journey seeking a cure to my phobia of speaking in front of people but have navigated somewhere different, somewhere much more interesting.
Instead of sourcing the cure, I found some acceptance of who I am.