Facing Fear can be transformative

Image via Sali Sasaki

I got dealt a rough hand when I hit puberty. I mentioned before that I struggled with depression that started around the time I turned twelve. I went from being an outspoken, gregarious girl (I have a report card that called me a 'social butterfly') to an awkward, introverted, and painfully shy girl. 

I have always been a voracious reader- then books became my only refuge. I would walk the halls at school with a book in hand, and at one point my parents grounded me from reading. 

I started to come out of my shell, mainly thanks to people like my friend Wendy who dragged me out of the house, and turned into a somewhat functioning member of society. I was still shy but I started 'faking it until I made it' and gradually the shyness dropped away. I will always be an introvert, but nowadays I can go out to a party and meet people, even though I know that the next day I will need to hibernate with my books to recover. 

I still have moments when I am riddled with social anxiety. I have panic attacks and break out in hives (thankfully they are just on my neck and my hair hides them) when I have to go someplace by myself. Yet, I still go because I believe in challenging my fears.

I am very grateful to have a whole boatload of amazeballs people in my life and I knew that if I asked, someone would come with me, but I also knew I needed to step outside of my comfort zone and so I went to the Sunday Dinner Club solo. I did have a moment of 'I don't want to go' but I pulled on my big girl pants and headed out the door. On my way there I was feeling anxious and the hives were just waiting to erupt.

I was seated at a table of three couples who all knew each other. That ratcheted up my anxiety level another notch. They were a very nice group and welcomed me to their table, but I felt like an interloper. 

By the end of the night I relaxed and enjoyed an amazing meal, oh, and beer. 

So, why do I do this to myself? One reason is that with every experience I have where I challenge myself to step out alone, it makes the next time easier. A few years ago I was heading to a party, and even though I knew people that would be at the party, I was still panicking. It took a couple of phone calls to friends who bolstered my courage and encouraged me to go. A few years before that I panicked so badly that I didn't make it to the party even though I knew the hostess. My fears and anxiety were so severe then that I couldn't even leave the house. Today I can see that I've definitely made a lot of progress. 

I also go solo to events because every time I end up meeting someone awesome. 

Here is my guide to going to events solo:

  1. Just breath. This may sound really basic, but it is the first step to keeping panic at bay. 
  2. Call someone before you go and touch base with them before you walk in the door. This makes me feel like I've got a friend in my pocket.
  3. Bargain with yourself. I give myself permission to leave after half an hour if it is a party. For networking events I give myself permission to leave after I have made two meaningful connections. Most of the time I end up staying, but having that out makes a huge difference. 
  4. Realize that while you feel like you are the only one who is feeling this way that a ton of people struggle with social anxiety. That person standing alone in the corner would feel great if you walked up to them and started talking. 
  5. Don't forget to breath. Focusing on your breath can be very meditative. 
  6. If all else fails leave. You want to challenge your fears, not end up passed out on the floor because you hyperventilated.
  7. Create a Mighty Life List. Creating my Mighty Life List helped push me outside of my comfort zone. Having a kind of crazy list of things you want to do helps you focus. Plus I really like checking things off of my list. 

There are a lot of fabulous things to do in the city if you want to try something unaccompanied (unless you feel you need adult supervision!).

  1. Go to a coffee shop. Sometimes it helps to just start small. Go hang out with yourself at your local coffee shop. 
  2. Go to a movie by yourself. Have you every gone to a movie by yourself? I have friends who do this all the time, but I went to my first movie by myself last year. Guess what? It's awesome. You get to pick the movie and the snacks. 
  3. Go to a lecture. There are so many free events at museums and around the city that it is a shame to not take advantage of them. Check out the Newberry LibraryChicago History Museum (they have a pub crawl coming up!) or The Art Institute
  4. Read a book and talk about it. I love going to Feltre for their book discussions. Meet up has some book clubs
  5. Check out an art opening. There are always little galleries in the neighborhood that are having art openings. Stop by the Cornelia Arts Building Open Studio and say 'hey' to my friend, artist Doug Birkeneheuer. I promise you'll get a warm welcome.  I also recommend the Museum of Contemporary Art's First Fridays
  6. Go to anything Mac & Cheese Productions offers. Saya is brilliant at creating an environment that makes networking friendly. Wait, scratch that, she is brilliant at creating an environment where magic happens and friends are made. I recommend starting with Potluck! A Smorgasbord of Ideas because there is some time dedicated for meeting peeps, but the main event is the presentations. You don't feel like you have to be 'on' the whole evening. If you see me say 'hi'!
  7. Dabble classes. I teach Dabble classes and I take Dabble classes and I can say that Dabblers are the most interesting, intellegent and engaging people I know. Plus the classes are so much fun. Come to one of my Dabble classes, Interior Design 101. They are BYOB and taught in my home, which creates a great casual atmosphere. 
  8. Check out Feastly which connects you to local people cooking. I haven't tried this yet, so let me know how it goes. 
  9. Want to try something new? Then check out Vayable. It connects you to locals who give you a tour of their favorite thing. Just looking at Chicago there are a ton of experiences to be had. This is one of the things I have not tried yet, but I plan on it. 
  10. Go to Ignite ChicagoPecha Kucha or 20 x 2. These all have somewhat the same format as Potluck! It is a chance to meet people, but you can also just hang by yourself. 
  11. Meetup has a gazillion things going on. Whatever your esoteric interest is- you can find it on meetup. 
  12. If you are crafty then go find your crafty peeps. There are Stitch 'n Bitches scattered throughout the city. If you are crafty and you like comics then Third Cost Comics Drink and Draw & Knitting Night is for you. If you like craft beer then see what the Chicago Beer Gals are up to. Their next event is in collaboration with Noktivo and is a Beer and Beauty Night. As an FYI, men are welcome to their events as well. 
  13. There are tons of entrepreneur/tech things going on in the city. Try Entrepreneurs Unpluggd1871 or Orbit Media, who has some great wine/beer and tech events. 

Coming out of your shell is definitely one of those "it's the journey not the destination" type things. Set a goal to try one new thing a month. Just one. From a recovering panic attacker- I know you can do it. 

Originally published 4/7/14 

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