2 years ago I developed social anxiety out of the blue, and it was truly something I had never experienced. I had all of the symptoms of social phobia during the summer after 9th grade, and after weeks of experiencing it, I became depressed and really angry. When school started, I developed some ways to help deal with it, such as convincing myself that nothing was wrong with my face, and I reduced my social phobia significantly. However, I also began to have OCD alot more, fearing that I would get anxiety if I didn’t perform my rituals. Eventually my mother helped me get treatment for my OCD, and for the past 4 months (I am 16 and a half right now) I have had little to no OCD (compulsions and obsessions). These past 2 months, however, I have realized that my life hasn’t felt the same since my social anxiety. I still don’t speak as wittily and on command as I used to, and I notice that I ask obvious questions and that I mimic what other people say. I used to have my own way of speaking and thinking, and I feel like its hiding somewhere, but I don’t know how to bring it back. I don’t get scared around people like I used too, but I know that my social phobia is still there, and its blocking me out. However, I feel like its been so long since I’ve been myself (about 2 years) and I don’t know who I am anymore. I keep thinking that i have lost all my opinions and that I am a fake and I’m worried this is something bigger. I wake up several times at night, and sometimes the center of my head, around where the hippocampus is, feels heavy and I get sad. All my life, until I was 15, I got all A’s and B’s, but my grades dropped during that intense OCD phase and now I feel like an idiot and worry about my future. Everyday I think about how I have lost my personality and identity, and life feels unfamiliar to me. I don’t feel the need to hang out with friends or make new ones because I hate the way I talk, and how not-genuine I have become. I used to love to hangout with friends and even my parents, but nothing feels the same anymore and I don’t know who I am. I used to have interests and think about the future but all I do is think about the past and how good it was. I feel as if I mimic others and that my thoughts are infected with other peoples. I just have no idea how I became so lazy in school and I feel as if my developement is being hindered as a result. Can this all be anxiety, or is it something else? (age 16, from US)
Thank you for writing in with your question. Yes, everything you are struggling with can be related to anxiety. Anxiety disorders can affect our functioning a great deal and can take a long time to fully recover from. Even though there are distinct diagnostic differences, such as the ones you describe here with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Social Anxiety, the lines can also be blurry and cross over.
I’m glad that you are getting treatment but you didn’t say whether it was medication or therapy. Receiving both forms of treatment would be ideal in this situation and you may need to remain in treatment for a while. Please be very open and honest with your therapist about all your symptoms because they can’t help you with aspects they don’t know about. Tell your therapist about your social anxiety, about your grades dropping, about your sadness and worry, your sleep difficulties and so forth. You might also benefit from finding a support group for adolescents coping with depression or anxiety. It can be very helpful to be around others who understand. There are usually many support groups offered within a community but you can also find them online.
Don’t worry if you don’t fully feel like your “old” self. You are still at an age that you are continuing to develop and grow. Be open to new experiences and be proud of yourself for fighting back. Don’t give up hope. Things will continue to get better.
All the best,
Dr. Holly Counts