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Traveling The World With Social Anxiety

Traveling The World With Social Anxiety

January 03, 2018   -   Scott B Harris

So four years after my accident, I set out to achieve a goal that had been consuming my mind since 2010. This goal wasn’t just an itch that I had but a well-established infection. This goal was to go backpacking to the other side of the world, an event deemed impossible, from within, soon after my accident. It was deemed impossible because I now live life as a guy with multiple disabilities who could never fulfill a dream to go backpacking solo around with world… could he? This was the influence the accident had on my mindset.

I’ll cut a long story short because I’ve spend the last two years writing about it in a book, (due to be released in 2018 so watch this space), but what I will talk about here is one problem I faced and how I dealt with it. The problem is all about social anxiety.

Before we talk about the fun and games I was playing with my injured brain, I’ll explain to you how social anxiety works… no, first I’ll explain how social anxiety works minus the anxiety part. All the way through our life we have interactions with many different people on many different occasions in many different circumstances. We hold ourselves quite well with the people that deserve our respect and we forget about the ones that don’t. Well most of us do anyway. This is where I come unstuck a little. I’ll give you an example: Lets say that you’re in a social setting and someone does something that makes you think, “I really don’t appreciate the way this person made me feel” and you make a decision to act on your thoughts, to either let it go or cross them off the Christmas list, no harm done. Well, this is where the anxiety parts falls over. It’s not as easy for someone with an injured brain to simply just get over it. Move on. Let it go. Act like nothing happened!

In my brain, that initial thought that pops up will create a certain emotion. That emotion will often be one of self-pity; “Why don’t they like me?” “What am I doing wrong?” “Do they hate me?” “Why’s everyone against me?” “Am I worthy of their respect?”

The emotion that starts to consume us, then feeds back into the thoughts we once had and creates more emotions, which create more thoughts. Once the train has taken off, it becomes very hard to pull up. What makes things harder with an injured brain is that I can’t seem to find that switch that’s labeled ‘STOP THE BLOODY TRAIN’.

Due to my insecurities, living with an injured brain, I came up against this problem on quite a number of occasions whilst living abroad. I had been experiencing this prior to my trip of course, but I never knew what it was and I kind of just accepted that this was my life with an injured brain. Now I was on my own, on the other side of the world, with no strategies to help myself climb over this wall. I didn’t have strategies because I didn’t even know that this problem had a name.

Social anxiety only came up earlier this year with my neuropsychologist. That’s right, over eight years had passed me by before I discovered yet another problem I was facing.

I found that when I was on the move, I didn’t feel this too often because before someone had the chance to rub me the wrong way, I had done a Houdini and hightailed it to another country. This problem was mainly prominent when I was in the one location with people for an extended period of time.

Ok, so I had this problem with no name and no real solution to fix it. I did however, have my Nikon D7000 DSLR camera that was just crying out to be used. I found my escape through the camera lens, which is why photography became such a large part of my trip. Photography was great because it pulled me out of the mainstream travelers life, with all of my negative thought processing, and had me on my own. Being on my own meant that I wouldn’t say something stupid, I wouldn’t offend anyone and I wouldn’t have to deal with the thoughts that were circling my brain like hungry crocodile-sharks. It was a hobby that I enjoyed thoroughly so it was both enjoying and a distracting.

Photography was the first thing that I found in life, after my accident, that I was good at. Just like most people in the world, I like to be good at things. This, I was good at and as lame and pathetic as this sounds, I used social media as proof to gauge my talent. With every Like on Facebook that came my way, came a little more validation of my worthiness as a human being.

By all means this was not a solution, but this was the mechanism I had in place at that specific time of my life that worked. This worked because before those thoughts became strong emotions, I could take myself out of the situation. I guess in a way it was running from the problem but here I didn’t even know what the situation was that I was running from. I just did it because it felt good.

Photography is just a metaphor for a distraction. If you’re battling an injured brain, you don’t have to go out and take photos on the other side of the world like me, just find something that will take your mind away and give it a break. Something that will give you a temporary escape.

Obviously, I needed to get to the root of this problem, which was done with my neuropsychologist years later, but this was a great band-aid technique I used in the interim. This is still something that I fight with, in life but the difference is that now I can understand what’s happening and as we all know, awareness is the key right?

13 thoughts on “Traveling The World With Social Anxiety”

  1. Hi Scott, Thank you for this inspirational post. I took the time to read through your other posts and about me page. You truly are an angel and blessing in disguise. If no one learns nothing from you, it can only be because they choose not to. You are wonderful and so is your blog. Looking forward to reading more

  2. What a great interim band-aid technique though!. A very excellent way to engage in our world by seeing it anew. while meeting other needs too. A terrific post

  3. Such a great post. My son has Tourette’s and anxiety and this will be a really helpful post for him to read. I love reading your writing. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Really enjoying reading your blog Scott. Each post gives me a bit of insight into what you are going through, what you are living through on a daily basis.

  5. I found another technique which I think would be good advice for nearly everyone, brain injured or not. It’s called the “Iroquois Rule of Six.” The basic idea is that when someone does something, we ALL come up with an “explanation” but then we tend to treat that explanation as “The Truth” without really having much evidence! If we act on that — problems can arise. So, the Iroquois suggest that before you act or indeed, even get upset, you have to find FIVE ADDITIONAL possible reasons. Let’s say you have a project meeting with Fred. According to your calendar, the meeting is supposed to start at 10 am in room 435 and yet, here the clock on the wall says 10:10 and no sign of Fred. You think, “Well, hell! Fred doesn’t care about this project! If he did, he’d be on time! Maybe he just doesn’t like ME.” Ok, that’s all normal. But it isn’t FACT. Other possible explanations: 1) Fred comes from a culture where 10:10 is not “late” to a 10 am meeting. 2) You calendar entry might have the wrong date, or time, or room. 3) Fred was stuck in traffic. 4) Fred ran into the CEO and right now, he is discussing how important this project is to the company 5) The clock on the wall is wrong. You see how it goes. When it comes to the behavior of other humans, there are almost always multiple possible explanations.

  6. What a powerful post Scott. I will post this on our Adaptive Instructor FB page at Sun Peaks as the need for inclusion, acknowledgment and acceptance is obviously so necessary for not only someone with a brain injury but for all of us. Something as simple as validation by the number of Facebook ‘likes’ is worthy to note for our students who post about their lessons and experiences on the snow with us at Sun Peaks. Thank you for making us think.

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