Finding Your Tribes: Solidarity Networks for Social Anxiety

Dark by Anna Vanes ©

Finding your ‘allies’ and ‘tribes’ is not to find groups of homogeneous personalities but to find networks of diverse people who share a common interest and can offer mutual companionship and solidarity. For individuals with social anxiety disorder symptoms, such groups also likely offer opportunities to learn to manage and overcome aspects of social fear.

Common support groups are friends, family units and the medical profession. However, finding wider and multiple tribes offers a richer set of resources to call upon. A tribe which includes individuals who can closely relate to one’s experiences, including of similar mental health difficulties, offers unique potential for understanding, as one writer puts it: “Her journey wasn’t mine, but at least I knew that she was still on it, still surviving. I was surviving, too, and eager to keep becoming the only self I would ever have.”

As a child, the writer describes herself suffering severe social anxiety and depression at a time that “the online community around mental illness was not as accessible or developed as it is today, especially for young people.” Her family seemed to not understand her difficulties and, yet, she found an unlikely ally. At first, comparisons with her Aunt Layla were uncomfortable: “I couldn’t view her journey as a parallel to mine. I couldn’t look at her and see the stable person I might one day become.”

However, having been the subject of her parents’ oversharing of her mental health difficulties, she comes to recognise that Aunt Layla had suffered a similar fate: “We had both been exposed and held up to our old selves—and also, in some ways, obscured. My fear of being confronted with my aunt’s stability dwindled and I began to empathize with her more.”

A simple gesture by her aunt during a moment of “paranoia” that lead to the writer, as a young teen, secluding herself in her grandparents’ house, seems to seal the bond between aunt and niece.

Another writer, Lizzie, writes on her blog of her challenges with coming to terms with grief after the death of two friends. One of her friends committed suicide and Lizzie describes a sense of guilt: “I wasn’t able to save my friend, and that was translating into all sorts of other things that I didn’t feel able to do. I began having panic attacks, to the point where they were happening everyday at work.”

It took an intervention from a work colleague for her to seek medical support, including being prescribed medication and undertaking cognitive behavioural therapy which, though not working on her grief, helped her anxiety symptoms. Despite these treatments, she describes putting up an “emotional wall” at this time and putting unrealistic expectations upon herself to succeed at work.

Reflecting on her journey, Lizzie writes of her social anxiety symptoms and her “control freak” desires to control what people thought of her as being obstructive traits: “I often struggled to let others into my grief, as I didn’t want to be a burden.”

Her Christian faith was a source of strength and, particularly, her church, when it came to integrating and processing grief: “During the summer of 2019, I had the chance to meet regularly with some ladies in my church and we dug deep into the difficult places of our heart and our past that were preventing us from living a life of total freedom. This is where I learnt about and was set free from the feeling of inadequacy relating to not being able to save my friend.”

“Self-compassion,” the writer adds, “is one thing that I did learn throughout this tragic journey. I learnt that there were things that were so out of my control, that it wasn’t worth worrying so deeply. Instead, I needed to create space for myself and allow time for healing.”

Allies and tribes are not homogeneous groups but people whose commonalities allow unique understanding and empathy and whose differences enable them to provide support. Whether an aunt, friendship group or church group, these networks, comparable to therapy groups, can offer a wide range of knowledge, interaction, understanding, trust and sharing. Combined with necessary medical treatments, they can offer meaningful and practical support for someone suffering mental health illness or difficulty.

Ayetola Fagbemi’s account of the discovery of her connection with her Aunt Layla can be found on the Sinai Magazine site here.

Lizzie writes of “Journeying Through Grief” after the deaths of her two friends. Click here for the blog-post.

Image designed by Anna Vanes.

‘Bullying’ – anxiety, exploitative relationships and social shaming

Apple by Anna Vanes ©

Socially anxious individuals can be particularly vulnerable to being exploited in personal relationships. The exploitation and deception not only inflicts pain and confusion, it can also give rise to social shaming, abuse and isolation. However, as two accounts linked below discuss from personal experience, whilst the harm can be long-term, new environments, healthy relationships and understanding of one’s mental health conditions can, eventually, reduce some symptoms and give rise to self-compassion.

In one blog-post, a mother, Paula, with social anxiety, describes having been deceived by her partner of 30 years, and father of her children. Their relationship broke up after he had a secret sexual relationship with another woman and then decided to leave for a new woman: “Silly me – the woman who was loyal, and worked her arse off farming and parenting alongside the man I truly, madly, deeply, passionately thought was absolutely love of my life.”

She remained with him for a period of time after learning of his affair and was demeaned by at least one social peer: “Roger’s best mate’s maggot wife, who told me he cheated on me because I must be shit in bed. That I was a terrible partner, and caused him to cheat. That I was never good enough. Or other friends, who just pitied the fuck outta me. Poor Paula, so pathetic, she stayed with that cheater. No self esteem, that girl.”

In another blog-post, a Swedish woman, Jennifer, with social anxiety disorder symptoms recalls being rejected in her late teens and, likely, cheated upon, by a boyfriend of a few months: “I cried in school, every day. I didn’t want him to see how he had broken me…”

She also experienced being verbally demeaned and abused, in her case in the public setting of a classroom, by both by both her former boyfriend and some peers: “I heard how he, along with my entire class, laughed out loud. I also heard some of them say “write this, write that.” The abuse she experienced at this time formed a ten year history of being victimised, both verbally and physically, at school.

Paula, the mother, though still scarred, writes of moving on with her life: “Meeting new people means no one brings their narrative about my life to the table.” She adds: “I’m not magically cured of my social anxiety. I still get short breathed, and prickly. But there is a quiet confidence in the background. That confidence that usually comes with age, but certainly, in many cases, with singledom.”

Meanwhile, the Swedish woman, Jennifer, now into her mid-20s and diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, social anxiety and depression, writes: “Bullying can ruin a person. Words can damage more than any physical pain. I’m still getting over it. I’m still damaged by everything I went through.”

However, new environments, relationships and experience has allowed her to reflect: “I’m not really pissed at them for bullying me. I’m more pissed at myself for having ALLOWED them to bully me. For having been so weak that I couldn’t, not once, stand up for myself. But, as I did find out during that last year in Gymnasiet – I have a diagnosis that doesn’t allow me to stand up for myself. Social Anxiety is a bitch.”

Deception and exploitation in personal relationships can be accompanied by abuse and social shaming, even once the relationship has ended, as these two accounts evidence. The long-term impact on the victim can be severe – but, there is the possibility of finding new strength to manage symptoms, especially, once the exploitative relationship and related social networks have been discarded.

To read the full blog-post by Jennifer from Sweden, Bullying – Part 4, click the link below. To read the post by Paula, who goes by the blog username, Horsesrcumin who writes about her mental health and personal experiences following divorce in her blog, “Tearing at the Fabric”, click here.

Image designed by Anna Vanes. For stock image and other credits, click here.


Life on the Borderline

We’re finally at the end, guys! So the next part is about my last year of bullying, and honestly it wasn’t half as bad as the previous years.

Like I explained in the last post I quit the art program after just one term. So now I was at home during the entire spring and summer and the year was 2011. At the end of August that year, I broke up with my first boyfriend whom I’d been with since February 2009. It was difficult, but had to be done. During that time I had just started a new program at “Gymnasiet”. It was an industrial class and I was interested in a future job as a welder, mostly because my mom told me how much some welders earn and how easily I would get a job as soon as I was done in school. Female welders are HIGHLY sought…

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“What No One Tells You About Mental Health and Pregnancy” — Medication During Pregnancy

Header with Oreuis by Anna Vanes ©

During pregnancy, the risks of taking antidepressant medication, including selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs), must be balanced against the risk to the mother and the foetus of withdrawal symptoms from ceasing intake, including depression and anxiety symptoms.

In the detailed personal account linked below, US military partner, Summer, living in Germany, followed her doctor’s advice, at six weeks, to stop taking Zoloft (Sertraline), an SSRI that she had been on for over three years – as well as Topamax, for her migraines. Whilst she does not state what the doctor’s reasoning was, she writes, having conducted her own research: “Zoloft is not as dangerous to the fetus, but it has been shown to cause withdrawals in the baby immediately after birth (like excessive crying). Topamax has up to a 3% chance of causing cleft lip and/or cleft palate if taken during the first trimester. (Source: FDA).”

The severe withdrawal symptoms of headaches, nausea and vomiting meant that Summer eventually resumed taking Zoloft. After discussions with a psychiatrist, she was put on the maximum dosage of 200 mg: ” The research seemed inconclusive as to the risks for the baby, but even more so, the risk of becoming severely depressed could be even more harmful to the baby.”

She describes feeling better and being more active but continued to experience vomiting and social anxiety about doing so in public. She also says that she lost enjoyment in doing activities she normally enjoys. At the time of writing the account, she was 24 weeks pregnant and still struggling with anxiety and sickness but describes having a routine and being physically active.

The dilemma of taking antidepressant medication during pregnancy is one that should be raised with all women who are prescribed. Withdrawal from SSRIs is recommended to be done gradually, to reduce withdrawal symptoms. In England, the health service advises that: “As a precaution, antidepressants are not usually recommended for most pregnant women, especially during the early stages of a pregnancy. This is because they might be dangerous for your baby. But exceptions can be made if the risks – including of taking Citalopram and/or Sertaline – posed by depression (or other mental health conditions) outweigh any potential risks of treatment.”

Image designed by Anna Vanes.
For stock image and other credits, click here.

To read the full blog-post by Summer on her blog,, click the link below.

Pregnancy comes with a range of emotions — highs and lows. While it’s a beautiful thing bringing life into this world, the toll it can take on a first-time mother isn’t something commonly discussed. I want to tell you about my personal experience — my first and second trimester of pregnancy and the mental, emotional, […]

via What No One Tells You About Mental Health and Pregnancy — Outside This Small Town

‘Both Parties Have Failed People With Disabilities (PWDs)’ – renewing the disability rights movement

Takie Tam - Anna Vanes
Takie Tam by Anna Vanes

People with disabilities need flexible and secure work and, when out of work, financial support. Even in developed nations, they are often denied this, inflicting hopelessness, isolation and depression on people seeking to contribute to society. As disability rights advocate, IndependenceChick, writes in a recent post, linked below, there is a need for social and political activism amongst disabled people to empower themselves, support the most vulnerable and create change.

In the US, the disability rights movement has made legislative and social progress, writes the blogger, a Republican supporter who refused to vote for Donald Trump partly due to his public mocking of a disabled reporter, but the unemployment rate amongst this group remains disproportionately high. Gains made are questioned, as the writer queries the authenticity and security of the jobs created for disabled people.

With the blogger citing Democratic presidential nominee candidate, Joe Biden, for recently infantilising a disabled activist during an interaction, she proposes a need to create further change across the board. She proposes self-empowerment and group empowerment:

“Focus on the life and the dignity, not the cure. Yeah, cures might be nice–I’ve sure thought about a cure for cerebral palsy. But I don’t sit around pining for one, because I am worthy to exist as I am.”

With dignity and self-worth, disabled people can campaign for equality and fairness: “Keep speaking, typing, signing, drawing, whatever you need to do. Communities and tribes like ours depend a lot on grassroots movements. If you can reach 5-10 people, well, that’s 5-10 who are thinking differently about you, about disability.”

Perhaps the most important proposal she has is for the joining of social networks: Find your tribe. This can be the local disability rights advocates, but it can and should also be tribes based around your interests (mine include writers, Christians, Christian writers :), Potterheads, theater mavens…)

A disability rights movement will necessarily include internal disagreement and inconsistencies. The blogger is a ‘red’ and challenges abortion as being anti-disabled people. Moreover, the range of disabilities experienced by people varies extremely widely. Even within a specific group of people, such as those diagnosed with social anxiety disorder, the range of symptoms, triggering contexts and levels of social functioning are great. This heterogeneity can be a strength, as the movement can bring together people from across social, economic and political boundaries and perspectives to create a truly mass movement. Moreover, the principle of fairness, equality and dignity will necessarily connect the movement to other political movements.

Image designed by Anna Vanes.
For stock image credits, click here.

Click below to read the full blog-post by IndependenceChick, ‘Political Bulletin: Both Parties Have Failed PWDs. Here’s What to Do About It.’

IndependenceChick's Nest

Hello readers,

The title of this post probably doesn’t shock you. I’m not going to spend a lot of time on it either, because this blog has never been political. But whether you love politics or are like me and would rather the nasty thing never existed, disability can be political. “The personal is political,” as someone once said. So if you are a person with a disability or not–perhaps especially if not–you need to know both parties have failed big-time. You also need to know what to do about it.

This isn’t exactly news. It’s been going on since time immemorial. At first, that was because people with disabilities were largely ignored. We weren’t expected to be or do anything except sit in institutions. We certainly weren’t expected to incite political change, so everybody from the President to Joe and Jane Schmo pretended we weren’t there, unless they were…

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‘Social Anxiety and the Gym’ – testing one’s capacity

Tanjirou Kamado by Anna Vanes

The blogger linked below shares her experience of developing from finding it difficult to even contemplate going to the gym, as an unfit mother of five with severe social anxiety, to going for a month, when she wrote the blog-post.

She was gently ‘pushed,’ as she explains, into going, as her “safety net” husband signed her up without her knowledge, leading to emotions of fear, anger and then guilt that she was wasting money by refusing to go.

A typical gym can be exposing and confusing for a new user with social anxiety. However, if one has the capacity to cope with the visual exposure and the unfamiliar equipment and set-up, a gym can also be a potentially safe and low intensity environment (depending on the clientele) to be around people, as only very minimal social interaction necessarily takes place, as people mostly focus on themselves and their exercise.

The blogger’s husband created a realistic opportunity for her to test her capacity and her fears. When she decided to take it, with preparation and courage, she learnt she had the capacity to prepare and cope – and, that the gym “is definitely not as judgmental as I thought it would be. It was truly a place where people want to see other people succeed. I am still struggling. There is no magic trick we just have to try.”

Image designed by Anna Vanes

To read the full blog-post, Social Anxiety and the Gym, click below.


Poetic Chaos

“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people just exist”–Oscar Wilde

I have struggled with anxiety for years. It has crippled many relationships of mine. I am ok with letting people go because it is better than confrontation. I live a very lonely and isolated life. My husband is my person. My husband is my safety net. My husband knows all my fears. One day my husband signed me up for the gym. I could have died. I was so angry I shut down. I became a hermit for two weeks.

The thought of going to the gym terrified me. My thoughts began racing about all the ways I could mess this up or embarrass myself. I would build myself up all day. I would get pumped, today was the day until it was time to actually go then tomorrow became the day. Were my clothes the…

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‘I don’t want to go to the protest today.’ Mental Health Illness Sufferers as Activists

Edward elric - anna vanes
Edward Elric by Anna Vanes ©

Social anxiety can diminish observation of others and the environment with self-thoughts. Moreover, the emotional struggles of anxiety can have a diminishing effect on the ability to empathise in situations. However, prolonged experience of vulnerability and emotional pain means that anxiety sufferers may have a deep capacity for empathy and compassion, if nurtured.

In the blog-post below, a new blogger, apparently based in India, writes humorously of his dismay at the pressure he feels through his social networks to attend political protests and to be politically active generally. He references protests in support of Muslims, women and other dispossessed and maligned groups: “At times, however, my social anxiety gets the best of me. And why risk panic attacks? I’ll probably be out of this country in two years or so and none of this would matter. I’m hoping Bernie would be my president. Maybe I’ll join his campaign.”

Continuing the humorous tone, the writer reveals that “all this hatred and violence doesn’t really affect me. I don’t say the last part out loud. People tend to be very judgemental.”

The blog-post is a reminder to activist groups and movements that they must broaden their tactics and their message if they are to harness the potential and support of mental health illness sufferers. In some cases, less confrontational, public, noisy or emotive political activity might suit someone with social anxiety. One-to-one attention to find out their desires and capacities can be effective in integrating and giving confidence.

Social anxiety and other mental health illness sufferers have personal experience of, in some cases, daily feelings of severe vulnerability and are well-placed to relate to other vulnerable people and animals. However, they may need to feel safe, trusted and affected to demonstrate their full range of skills and traits.

Working to benefit the welfare of others can be good for personal well-being and has potential mental health benefits, evidence suggests. What activity or level of participation is suitable for each individual will differ and this is a challenge for activist groups and mental health illness sufferers to explore. According to a study: “failing to take action in the face of a perceived sociopolitical threat leads to a poorer long-term mental health trajectory. Even engaging in activism online (e.g., tweeting about sexism) can benefit well-being.”

There is a wider lesson for activist groups seeking to create a movement. The Indian blogger expresses a sense of his well-being being ignored by his politically active and, otherwise, ethical peers. The obvious solution for this recipe for disaffection is to demonstrate real concern for individuals and their personal struggles to engender reciprocal feeling towards you and your causes.

Image designed by Anna Vanes.
For stock image credits, click here.

To read the full blog-post, I don’t want to go to the protest today, click below.


The color brown

And I don’t like being attacked for it.

Have I not been to enough of them already? I walked for miles, and I held one of those posters someone handed to me. Bhagat Singh or someone, I forget. And has it not been like a month since we started doing this? I can’t even see an end in the near future.

Protests are a weird affair. There’s dancing, there’s singing, people shouting till their voices break. A few hours of that always tires me out, and I prefer to go to a nice place to eat afterward. Or go to oxford and browse books on politics and history or read a newspaper. I like to keep up with current affairs.

The last time I went to a protest, I saw a bunch of guys in the white caps that Muslims wear, visibly poor, walking by my side. They had to…

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Reblogged: Buying the Milk: Employers’ Demand for ‘Reliability’

machine anna vanes
I am a machine by Anna Vanes ©

Employers’ expectation of reliability of performance and regularity of attendance can be at odds with the unreliability and irregularity of mental health illness symptoms and episodes. This leaves the mental health illness symptom sufferer who wishes and needs to work with difficulty finding suitable work. This is even more the case with someone, such as the writer of the blog-post linked below who lacks qualifications and a consistent work history and, therefore, references.

As the writer, who lives in Australia, discusses, there is a limit to how open a mental illness sufferer can be with an employer: “If the panel knew that my mental health had caused me to abruptly leave a job, that my anxiety about answering the phone meant I wouldn’t be able to be very good at the job they were interviewing me for, that my depression could flare up at any moment and would put me at serious risk of abruptly leaving the position, they wouldn’t have hired me.”

Yet, for some, ‘hiding’ severe illness is not a feasible option. The writer describes the second breakdown she suffered during her previous employment, causing her to leave for good: “Those negative thoughts, the feelings of being overwhelmed, and not good enough, started to bubble beneath the surface. They came back. It felt like all the progress I had made was futile. That this was just going to happen over and over again, and I would never be able to function like everyone else. Like I was in a hamster wheel and kept falling off.”

Now without work, social security has been made inaccessible for her: “The stress of applying for government help negates whatever my earnings would be. I have been and done that, and I have no desire to be treated like that again, even if it means living on the streets. Moreover, she wants to work, to feel purposeful – and to help support her partner, who is working.

Being out of work, the writer says, is like not buying milk. When she made her second suicide attempt, she intentionally had not bought milk. The writer describes needing employment on her terms – to fit around her mental health illness symptoms and that “could wait, just for a little bit” when she felt ill.

Reform of the job market is needed to provide more meaningful and secure work for those who suffer mental health illnesses. The benefits for employers will be dedicated workers with potential to grow and develop. Whilst freelance and zero hours working suggest flexibility, the reality of such precarious work, including, no or limited of sick pay, is very different. As with sick pay and all other worker rights, dignified and stable work for severe mental health illness sufferers will only be achieved through worker solidarity, organisation and activism.

Image designed by Anna Vanes.
For stock image credits, click here.

To read the full blog-post, Buying the Milk, click below:



Content Warning: Depression, anxiety, suicide, abuse.

I went to a job interview not too long ago, for a job I thought I wanted at the time, but I now view not getting it as a blessing. I was so anxious throughout the interview that my social anxiety of not wanting to drink the water they gave me for fear of being ‘too much trouble’ gave through to drinking the whole thing and asking for more. My throat closed up, my brain was foggy. I didn’t notice until I got back in the car that I had completely sweated through my dress. One question in particular threw me: “So these gaps on your resume, what happened there?”

There’s no easy way to answer this question. Saying, “Oh, I think that about covers two suicide attempts, three emotional breakdowns, and a general sense of futility about life” wouldn’t lead to them offering…

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