Age 25 - 1 Year Hard Mode: From severe social anxiety to something better
I imagine this might get asked - so first things first, I'm mid twenties.
Hope everyone's doing ok - I wanted to share some thoughts to possibly help out others.
Lets preface this - It's going to be long. I know you guys are like me and your brain will tell you to skim it or flick to another tab, but if you feel like it then give it a read. I've never really expressed myself about something like this in such detail so it may not be the most captivating read. I did try to be honest though.
Here's some reading music to keep you company:
So, I started all this shit because of social anxiety. I was sitting in a restaurant on holiday one evening (we'd been there the previous night) and I realized how absurdly different the reaction from the waitress was on the different evenings.
On the first evening I was pretty drunk, and the reaction was far more friendly and smiley and talkative. The next evening I was sober and I suppose the vibe I was giving off was just completely anti social and it absolutely showed in the feedback I was getting from this waitress.
Of course this is all obvious, but for whatever reason it absolutely struck home that i fucking HAD to change. I always knew I had to change - but I had some resolute idea that everything would eventually be ok. This was the point the ton of bricks crushed me; I NEED TO MAKE THINGS BETTER - ITS ALL ON ME.
When I got back I stumbled across an article that suggested different drugs and their different effects on the brain. I realized that all the drugs that have a significant effect on dopamine availability or upregulation were the ones that quelled my social anxiety.
This got me on to dopamine desensitization and in turn, no fap.
Those first two weeks I was fucking intensely happy, I thought I had it all figured out. I literally felt like I was on speed for the entire time as shit was finally going to be coming together.
Anyway fast forward a little bit, there are ups and downs and I do feel like I'm improving, but I'm kind of just WAITING for that day to click when the social anxiety it gone. I'm reading all sorts of reports about the guys who it took 60-70-80 days or whatever for shit to change, and I'm clinging onto those like a fuckin sloth. I became an expert on googling positive outcomes on no fap and social anxiety - I phrased it in 300 different ways to get different results to continue motivation (:D)
With that said, If we go back a little I've been on a spiral for fucking years of gaming/fapping/computer that is just a constant dopamine chase. This shit is a huge cause of my social anxiety for certain (I was slightly shy but extremely outgoing as a kid/young teen). I got into gaming as an avoidance behaviour for some hard family shit I was going through and never realized I was truly addicted for way too fucking long. I think it's because when I wasn't gaming I was either out drinking or doing some other dopamine intense activity - this meant I never got withdrawls so didn't think I could be addicted. Oh my word how stupid I was.
Annnnyway, on with the no fap report. I get to 100 days + and the benefits I've seen are kind of there but are kind of stagnating. The one thing I can truly say is that no fap and dopamine desensitization gives you ENERGY. Unequivocally this is the case. Mental energy, physical energy. I started working out far more intensely and never missed a workout, I started meditation.
My social anxiety is unfortunately still present at the above stage, though I do want to say I made some interesting breakthroughs in this period. About the 40-50 day mark I had a few weeks at work where my wit was completely with me - this NEVER happens. I exchange pleasantries and smalltalk usually but my wit and personality just fucking evaporate and I cannot be myself - it's so frustrating. I do not lack social skills they just fucking leave me when i'm with people (even ones I've known quite a long time). People at work must've thought it was weird as fuck!! This slowly disappeared after a while and I went back to the slightly better than pre no-fap social anxiety level that I had. This might be caused by the self esteem from having self control and doing something positive, or possibly just the higher dopamine availability, who knows.
Just to note - that whole 100~ day period was no fap and no gaming. I was still using the computer (I did try to limit it here and there - I also did some no music periods which was SO hard - but it made me start liking some simple pop music again which was kind of cool - I was listening to so much music that only ultra melodic prog with loads of counter melodies would really do it for me. Either that or something unique I hadn't heard before).
So, after this 100 days I decide shit has to get real - It;s time to go no computer - this must be the last bastion of dopamine right?
Holy FUCK the first week was hard. This is coming from someone who has been using the computer every day for fucking god knows how many years. Only times I wasn't using it I was otherwise occupied by drinking or some kind of activity that completely absorbs you. Meditation certainly helped with this - it taught me how to deal with being bored. My days consisted of reading, meditating, exercise and eating.
To be honest, I found it somewhat depressing, but I was also hopeful that my social anxiety would dissipate so I soldiered on with it. There were also times I genuinely felt great, I cannot understand why - I think the brain needs time to be bored in order to truly be happy possibly - I haven't dwelled on that one too much yet.
Time started actually going faster - there were really no figurative landmarks to use as a reference point. I went out drinking with friends a couple times (very very heavy drinking - don't do this!) but that's about it. I'm lucky to have my friends from childhood when I was sociable; they've stuck by me to some extent but I don't see them all that much.
This no computer period didn't make a noticeable impact on my social anxiety, however I did learn something from it. I should've learned this years ago; I suppose all this nonsense was just a way of avoiding what I didn't want to hear - but it was also more than that - I truly believe dopamine desensitization is VITAL in overcoming social anxiety (or a number of 'mental health' issues). Having an addiction that lets you escape and avoid shit without feeling pain is terrible, and it gives you an easy road which can lead to never being truly fulfilled. It also means your dopamine receptors are rinsed 24/7 so when you're trying to overcome things you don't have the energy or vitality to do so (it's too hard to build new pathways when the receptors are greatly reduced in the first place).
Onto the realization of it all - EXPOSURE is fucking vital. It's EVERYTHING. No fap is also vital - the energy it gives you is needed, but you have to transfer it. I looked back and realized that every significant 'up' I had was after a chance period of extra social exposure (i always get SOME exposure, but this was more), and then I went back to base level.
I'm talking a TITANIC, never fucking quit effort. You get out of the house every day, there are NO excuses. I remember back at university I thought the exposure thing was kinda bullshit because I was going out to classes quite a lot and seeing a lot of people - but what was I doing in the time between those events, and on the days off? I was sitting fucking gaming or some worthless other shit. If I did make a big effort to improve, I would reward myself with a nice long gaming session and feel happy because I had tried so hard - NOPE - GET THE FUCK OUT THERE AGAIN. Your reward is longterm, NOT short term. This whole thing is about replacing short term reward with long term fulfillment.
It will get easier, it does get easier. I have learned a great amount about myself - I'm sad that it took me so long to learn these things, but I avoided thinking with gaming and wanking for too long to ever really process anything.
I made a little journal and wrote some things down during my no computer days (yep that bored). Here are some bits that I've found to be particularly relevant to me (and maybe someone else - I hope so).
- Daydreaming is NOT meditation. It is the opposite. Meditation is a conscious process, not a chance to daydream and drift away.
- On feeling down/depressed - How you feel now is NOT how you will always feel. It's sometimes impossible to comprehend the fact in the current moment, but KNOW this. Things can change in a flash.
- Be as awkward as you have to be. Do the positive things you thought you couldn't bear to do. You WILL become addicted to them eventually (loose sense of the word addicted).
- DON'T QUIT. NEVER. FUCKING. QUIT. It will take a momentous, inexorable fucking effort, but it WILL BE WORTH IT.
- That awkward, cringeworthy feeling after a social encounter, AIM to feel that way. That's what you need to feel, that's what you want to feel. The more you observe yourself and others being social, the more you realise shit like this happens all the time and is forgotten about.
**tldr; No fap gives you energy, alone it only makes a minimal, minimal impact on social anxiety, but it can change your disposition and outlook and give you what you need to persevere with change.
Exposure, every day. Without fail. You don't want to hear it (it took me obscenely long to accept this fact), but it is what it is. Get out of the fucking house. Never accept isolation, EVER again.**
Maybe someone will read it all, maybe not. I've wanted to write this for a little while so it feels good to write it all down regardless. There is a ton more I wanted to say but I can't bring it all to mind or articulate it at the moment - maybe another time.
Keep fighting guys :)
I know you're going to get distracted and bored but if you have crippling social anxiety, please make the effort to read all of this. Read it a little bit at a time if you want. I was hoping, at the start of my journey, I'd have something more momentous at this stage. I always planned to post around this time though, and hopefully I can help put someone else on the right path.
So lets start by defining social anxiety, because everyone seems to have different definitions. I see a lot of people who are in relationships that talk about social anxiety, when they're really just shy.
The social anxiety I'm talking about is absolute - you cannot think of what to say, you're overwhelmingly crushingly tense, this doesn't change if you're around someone for a long time, it just stays. You are 10/10 self conscious even just walking around on your own. It's not possible to form relationships of any kind, even though you like yourself and know you have social skills, they just utterly abandon you in social situations. The only time it's different is when using certain drugs, and then you're the life and soul of the party.
I'm late 20's, I can honestly say I haven't formed a real relationship with another human being since I was very young (probably 13 or 14). Cutting out escapism is a particularly lonely road, but it's one you have to travel down.
I'm going to share my original post after a 6 month streak last year. NOTE: I HAVE ABSOLUTELY REVISED MY OPINIONS SINCE THEN - I NO LONGER BELIEVE IN THE HARDCORE EXPOSURE APPROACH I WAS ATTEMPTING So this is my original post - it was after a 6 month streak including a long time not using the computer at all.
The exposure thing IS necessary for those who are just very shy, for those that can form relationships eventually - there's always going to be an element of pushing yourself, but I've discovered mine is now purely chemical. I want to give you guys the whole story to help understand what I've been through, and to help you see what I've forced myself through to come to these conclusions - they're not placebo, or irrational. I would still like to stress it's important to keep a degree of regular forced social interaction, just to see the improvements that can occur. DO NOT GO INTO HERMIT MODE!
After my 6 month streak last year, I went back to fapping a few times a week with occasional binges. During the next 6 months I forced myself mercilessly to the point of exhaustion into social situations, and it didn't do shit. If anything it made me worse, because I was so fucking exhausted I didn't have the energy to even maintain my basic level of social retardedness. I knew no fap did SOMETHING to my social anxiety, but the effects seemed so minor it wasn't worth the effort. I decided I may as well commit to no fap again at the start of the year 2015, because I was really losing hope so I felt I might as well. I haven't fapped since 1st Jan 2015.
My 1 year story
Nothing really changed at the start of the year, it all felt roughly the same for the first 2 months (note that I quit gaming too, the same as my last streak). I was then going through journals from my 6 month streak, and I came across something interesting. The one particularly amazing social day I had, had been after 3 days no music (self discipline challenge). I was at ease walking around and flirting with shop assistants and felt fucking amazing for a day or two. I assumed, at the time, this was because I had been extra social during that month, and also put it down to general fluctuations of no fap. I knew music is something I've been almost constantly listening to since the days of Napster, and it's better than any drug for me. I just kind of assumed it couldn't have that big of an impact because everyone listens to it. Lets be clear - I'M NOT DEMONISING MUSIC - I'm saying for ME, it had become unhealthy and was apparently having a severe impact on dopamine availability. Listening to the right song was better than being nicely drunk or cocaine for me - it was like my soul was being warmed from the inside - I felt full of energy and completely alive. I abused the internet to keep this feeling going where I could, although gaming/fapping sometimes got in the way of it.
So I quit music - yep it was hard as fuck, but after a few days I had a hugely freeing social phase - my wit was apparent, I was making people laugh, I actually was able to think of things to say automatically. I was also extremely depressed - but I think that's linked with no fap fluctuations. If i'd quit both at the same time I'm sure I would've had that initial happy superpower phase many people get. Inevitably, this phase ended after a few weeks, and I went back to the struggle.
Month to month, things finally FINALLY slowly started to improve. The pace is unthinkably slow, but you see little milestones each month. You'll have many days in which you're worse than when you started, the anxiety and depression have been overwhelming for me too - I have literally had to cut out everything I thought made me happy from my life, leaving me completely alone with only my perseverance and resilience for company. I made the depression worse by doing extremely heavy exercise for the year, while already being in a high stress situation. Do LIGHT TO MODERATE exercise - you can't cheat it and speed up the process by pushing yourself into oblivion. Restoring dopamine receptors takes time. This is post acute withdrawal, the same as from any other long standing chemical addiction.
15+ years of addiction to music, fapping and gaming - it was never going to be easy, although I didn't know it'd be this hard. For me, I can't ever go back to how I was, so I'll keep pushing on.
So, lets get to the benefits. I need to state that I still have quite a long way to go - I still can't really form relationships with people, and I still feel self conscious walking around, but it's SO MUCH BETTER than it was.
- general anxiety far lower - this has also been extremely gradual, and it was severe for a long time
- depression still apparent - though I can't really comment on this as I'm quite certain it's been worsened by my approach to gym. I won't go into this any further for now
- self consciousness when out and about, and around others in general is MUCH LOWER! It's still there, and constantly improving, it'll eventually be completely absent I imagine. I sometimes find myself lost in thought, or distracted by something beautiful when walking around - this NEVER happened in my previous 15 years - I was consumed by discomfort and self consciousness.
- able to communicate and have passing conversation a lot better - I now often chat to people at work - I still have to force it, and still feel very lacking in things to say and a lot of the time have no social energy though. I occasionally get moments of social autopilot which is great - still a long way to go here.
- eye contact - this is something I have struggled massively with since being a young teen. You can't understand how much I've forced myself in this respect to NO FUCKING AVAIL. It's now MUCH better - again, still feels off and awkward a lot of the time, but far fucking better. The journey is a long one.
- brain fog and concentration - slowly improving, not even close to being great.
- self discipline - better than anyone I have ever known.
I will be brutally honest with you, it has been horrendously hard. If someone came in a time machine and told me I had to go back to the start of this year and begin again, I don't think I could do it. Those month to month improvements, and the knowledge that I can't go back is what keeps me going.
You also MUST understand that social anxiety has plagued me for so fucking long, it has been a constant icy wind biting at my soul - I have tried EVERYTHING up until discovering no fap - CBT, catching negative thoughts, meditation, exercise. Before understanding the role of dopamine desensitisation and gathering empirical evidence through no fap, no gaming and no music, nothing changed.
The problem is, all my efforts BEFORE finding no fap left me quite exhausted - I was so desperate to connect with people for so long, so desperate to be myself, I pushed myself all those years and couldn't understand why I was cursed. This has maybe been more difficult for me because I started no fap almost at rock bottom exhaustion.
It's as if I was in a rowing boat, tied to shore with an invisible rope. All those years I was rowing my heart out, but now I've finally realised the rope is there, and cut it, I have had to cross the ocean while already being tired from rowing for so long.
It's extremely lonely but sometimes you MUST sail alone.
There are a few others that have been through the extended recovery time like me - they have given me hope. On the plus side for you guys, I'm probably a worst case scenario - I don't think it matters if you've felt like me for longer, I think once you hit that point of social emptiness where you can't function, the recovery times are pretty much similar.
You need to find that rope that's latching you to the shore, be it wanking, gaming, gambling, whatever else, and sever it as quickly as you can. Don't ever look back!!
I will answer questions if people have them - it's very hard to get all the details into a post like this.
The best advice I can give you, and that I constantly write to myself in journals is ACCEPT YOUR FEELINGS - KEEP FUCKING GOING. I have learnt over and over again exactly what doesn't work, it's now time to keep doing what I know does work, regardless of how much it threatens to crush me.