A Brave New World: Overcoming My Social Anxiety

(Note: Normally Lisa would post on Monday, but as she’s out of town I’m posting today.)

When I first moved to England, every day felt a bit like a vacation. I was in this new country which felt like a whole new world and I was with the man I loved. It was perfect. I couldn’t work in those first few months until my second visa was approved so I was happy to just go wherever my new husband Chris went.

Chris reads gas and electric meters for a living and works his own hours so I would go with him and be the DJ in the car and while he was out of the car going to read a meter at the next house, I would sit in the car with the windows down and read a book. We would go to a local park for picnics on his lunch break. At the end of the day we’d come home and make dinner together and many times we’d go for a walk afterward. By the time I was allowed to work, I was pregnant with our first child and since we both decided it would be better for me to be a stay at home mom, I didn’t see the point in starting a new job that I would be quitting in a few months.

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One of many days out while Chris was working and I was playing the role of DJ.

We found out that my American driving license would be good here for a year and then I would have to take a driving test and get an English license. Well, that scared me. I’ve never been fond of tests, but I especially remember how nervous I was when I took my driving test in America. The thought of taking one here was not appealing in the slightest. So I was determined to be happy as a passenger. That worked for a couple of years, but eventually going to work with the husband wasn’t as exciting as it used to be. I don’t travel well when pregnant, every time we were in the car I was overwhelmingly car sick, so I decided I needed to start staying home instead.

I was still happy at this point because I had thoughts of my unborn child filling my head. I was anxious to meet him and I just knew once he got here he’d fill up my days and I’d be completely content. I was wrong. Don’t get me wrong, I love him to pieces and I love staying home with him. I wouldn’t trade my status as a stay at home mom for anything, I feel incredibly lucky to stay home with the kids, but staying home all the time is boring! Contrary to what I had thought, he was not very time consuming in those early days.

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Picnic in the countryside on a particularly sunny day (Hence the squinty eyes!)

It was after having Jude that I started to realize what a hermit I’d become. When Chris was at work, I was at home sitting in front of the TV or the computer and doing little else. When Jude came along, like all newborns, he slept most of the time. I was bored out of my mind. That, coupled with postpartum depression, meant that I was pretty miserable. I would sit here and get so down and feel so sorry for myself. I had myself convinced that I had the worst life because of financial struggles and not having any friends in the area. I was also convinced that all my family and friends in America either hated me, were forgetting me, or both. Whenever there was a family event I didn’t get to be a part of, I would be angry and bitterly jealous of those who did get to attend and convince myself everyone was happier for my absence. Those were dark days.

Eventually the postpartum depression went away. It took about a year after Jude was born before I started feeling like myself again, but I was still living like a hermit and feeling miserable about that part of my life. I kept telling myself that eventually I’d get out there and start doing things. I always had a reason to wait. There was no good reason, but I made them up in my mind. I would think something like, “Oh well, we’re going to be visiting Michigan in a few months and when we get home from there I’ll finally go check out the local children’s center.” Why? There was no reason for waiting, other than my own fear.

When Jude was one and a half we took a trip to Michigan for Thanksgiving. Leaving my family on that trip was the worst leaving experience I’d had at that point because Jude was starting to understand it a little more. My dad obtained a gate pass so he could help us get through security and find our gate. Once it was time for him to leave us at our gate, he gave us hugs and kisses and went on his way. Jude was in his stroller and I’ll never forget the way he kept craning his head around trying to find out where his Papa went and the look of confusion on his little face when he couldn’t find him. I felt awful for him and I’ll tell you now that I sat there in that airport, crying and not caring who saw me because I felt helpless, hopeless, and depressed. These were odd feelings for me to process because at the same time I was really anxious and excited to get home and see Chris again. It was definitely bittersweet. We’d been in Michigan for three weeks and I missed him terribly.

Jude on the plane after it landed in Michigan.

Jude on the plane after it landed in Michigan.

When we got back home I had a chat with Chris about our lives and told him that I felt in my heart we needed to be living in Michigan. He’s always been willing to do whatever I wanted when it comes to where we live so he was on board pretty much right away. We talked to my parents about it that night and they were thrilled and promised to help us out on the journey. We applied for a spousal visa for Chris in January of 2012 and we didn’t learn the final decision until November of the same year. I spent the better part of that year feeling depressed because I just wanted it to be over and I wanted to be living in Michigan with my husband and our son and the little baby we had on the way. We kept putting things off in our lives because we were in this limbo where we felt that we would be moving to Michigan soon so we shouldn’t spend a great deal of time or money on anything here. If we needed to replace something, we’d buy the cheapest version of it we could find. If I wanted to get involved in something locally, I would resist because I didn’t want to get invested in it and then have to leave. If there was someone I wanted to be friends with or try to get to know better, I wouldn’t because I was afraid I’d grow attached and then when I moved to America it would just be someone else to miss.

Well as I said, we heard the final decision about the visa in November and that final decision was a big fat NO. Chris’ visa got denied, quite unjustly in my opinion, and we learned that with our situation the best time to reapply would be 2016 and even then our chances of approval are only 50/50. Four years?! FOUR years?! Now what? Putting things off for almost one year was hard enough, how will I manage it for four? And what will I do if after that four years we’re denied again??

Then it dawned on me. I needed to stop living with my head in the future and live in the now. Who cares if we move and I miss things here? Surely it’s better to live an awesome life and miss things if I move than to live miserably for fear of missing it too much. I miss lots of things about America, but I don’t regret experiencing them in the first place. The people and events in my life have shaped the person I am today. More for the kids than myself, I need to start living here so they can see all that life has to offer. We’d take them out on the weekends when Chris would be home from work and sometimes we’d go out in the evening during the week to the park or shopping. The kids weren’t neglected, but all they knew about going places was that they went with Daddy or they went with Mommy and Daddy, but never with just Mommy. That needed to change.

One of our many trips to the park with Jude.

One of our many trips to the park with Jude.

You might be reading this and thinking, “Duh! I can’t believe it took you that long to realize that.” All I can say to that is you’re right. I’d also have to say that if you’ve never lived far away from everyone and everything familiar to you, and especially if you’ve never lived in another country, you can’t fully understand what it’s like. I’d heard similar things said before I moved and I thought people were wrong, I had a pretty good idea what it would be like. Turns out I was the one who was wrong. I had no idea. If I had known, I still wouldn’t change a thing, but I didn’t know.

It took me a month or so to finally build up the courage I needed to fight my shyness and just do things. The first thing I did was tackle public transportation. I decided it was time that Jude and I got out on our own for a mommy and son day. He’s obsessed with buses and since we have a car we rarely take him on one. There is a bus stop right down the road, so I took him out one Saturday and we rode the bus into the city center. We went to a bookstore and I let him pick out a book, we walked around and chased pigeons. We went to McDonald’s and had fruit, juice, and he got a balloon. It was so much fun! He loved it. We were sitting in a booth at McDonald’s and he leaned his head on my arm and said, “I love you, Mummy!” And I was so happy I finally took that step and braved public transportation.

Jude chasing pigeons in the City Center on our Mommy & Son day.

Jude chasing pigeons in the City Center on our Mommy & Son day.

The second thing I did was go to the local leisure center and attend a water aerobics class. We moved to our current home in January of 2009 and it’s so close to the leisure center that when I look out the front door I can see it quite clearly. I learned early on that they had a women’s only water aerobics class and I’ve always loved swimming so I was very interested in that. However, I was terrified of going by myself to experience this new thing where there would be who knows how many people that I didn’t know, and worst of all, I’d have to wear a bathing suit to do it! I felt extra courageous one day and I told Chris I wanted to do it and he really encouraged me to go, it was in the evening during the kids bath and pre-bed time routine. He assured me that he would handle it and I’d still be home in time to read the bed time story and tell them goodnight, so I went. I loved it. It was so much fun. I am overweight and out of shape and I have never enjoyed working out, but I enjoyed this. It was definitely a work out. It was more strenuous than I imagined it would be, but it was fun. I laughed a lot, I talked to the other women, they were all very friendly. The third week of class I forced myself to introduce myself to another woman that I had talked to a few times, but never learned her name. I’ve gone five times now and I’m not stopping anytime soon. It’s something I get to go out on my own and do and I feel good about myself afterwards. I needed that.

The third thing I did was ride the bus completely on my own. Jude wasn’t with me this time. I’ll tell you a secret, when I went by myself for the first time I let two buses pass me before I remembered that I need to hold my hand out so the driver knows I want him to stop. I took the bus into town again so I could go to the market and get some fruit and veggies. They’re so much cheaper at the market, but we never go because we have to pay to park and it’s just a big hassle taking the kids to the market because it’s so busy. So I decided to take the bus and go on my own. Even with the bus fare we save a lot of money doing it this way and I’ve started doing it weekly. It’s more time to myself and I feel good about the money we’re saving and the food we’re getting for the kids. Since this lets us afford more fruit and vegetables, I’ve also started buying more than usual and making Melody’s food myself. It’s fun, cheap, and I feel great about it afterwards.

The market on a Saturday afternoon.

The market on a Saturday afternoon.

The fourth thing I did, and probably the hardest for me, was to knock on a neighbor’s door and invite her and her son (who was born just two days before Melody) to go to the local children’s center with me. She invited me to her house the next afternoon. The kids and I went to her house for two hours and had a great time. We made plans to go to the children’s center when she gets back from her vacation next week.

The fifth thing I did was take the kids to the children’s center by myself. They had a special stay and play day last week for Easter and I took them both. Melody is still too young to care, but Jude loved it. He didn’t want to leave when it was time to go. It was a lot of work to take both of them without any help, but it was worth it and I’m hoping to take them more often.

One of my friends told me that when I took the plunge and went to water aerobics it inspired her to try kickboxing even though she was nervous about it. Someone I don’t know told me on a message board that she was inspired by my story to go try a class she’d been putting off for fear of growing too attached and then having to move away. I love hearing these things!

I know this was a long story, but it’s a topic I feel very passionate about. If you’re in a similar situation and you keep putting something off that you really want to do, I urge you to stop. It’s hard to put ourselves out there and try something new, but that feeling of it being a new thing only lasts for a short time and I promise you it gets progressively easier. I feel so much better these days for actually doing things for myself and for the kids. I look forward to things now where I used to dread getting up on certain days. I’ll soon be taking driving lessons from my husband so I can learn to drive here as well. I have to learn how to drive on the opposite side of the car and the opposite side of the road. I also have to learn how to drive a manual! I’ll get there though. I’m looking forward to it. I feel like I’m finally getting my independence back and making this place a home for myself and my children and that’s what’s most important to me.

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11 thoughts on “A Brave New World: Overcoming My Social Anxiety

  1. I have been there…I was afraid to go anywhere with Art. I am finally getting my independence back…and I love it! I am proud of you Ashley!!

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