When Tamar was 14, she was waiting for a bus when she witnessed a horrific car crash just ahead. Other people at the bus stop rushed to help, but she had hung back, feeling paralyzed by shock. Everybody told her afterward that there was nothing she could have done. Especially as a 14 year old, she was right to have stayed out of the way. But the vision of the car crash and the feeling of crushing helplessness took hold of her and changed everything.
Social Anxiety and Selective Mutism
Tamar had been a confident, happy, sociable kid. Now she retreated into herself. She avoided any situations where she would have had to put herself out there, to initiate or take control. Eventually, even talking made her feel too conspicuous. Tamar started to avoid conversation altogether.
Tamar had never been interested in computing but got heavily into coding purely because she thought it didn’t involve talking to anyone else. In truth, she would have had more success if she had liaised with other junior programmers. But that was impossible for her to even consider.
Social Anxiety and panic attacks
As the years went by, Tamar’s silent, solitary ways became part of her identity. She would challenge herself to see how long she could go without exchanging a single word. If she had to visit the doctor, she would bring a notepad and communicate that way. But no matter how quiet she was, no matter how hard she tried to disappear, the feelings inside her were still churning away. Eventually, a semester into her new computer science college degree course, they started to come out in the form of panic attacks. She ended up dropping out.
Starting Therapy for social anxiety
It was at this point that Tamar started therapy at Kav L’Noar. Tamar’s therapist had two goals. In order to treat the social anxiety and panic attacks, it was necessary to go back to the original trauma. The therapist worked on trying to help Tamar recognize and process her feelings appropriately. The other was much more practical, to help Tamar find a way to live a normal life again based on interacting with others in a healthy way.
Meanwhile, Tamar needed to find a job. She could only find one in a local care facility for elderly adults with Alzheimer’s. Not only was she required to talk to the elderly residents, but she also had to touch base with her co-workers throughout the shifts. At first, she found it excruciating to hear her own voice. But she was so caught up in the busy job that she soon got used to it.
Learning how to socialize again after so many years of hiding herself away
It was much more challenging for Tamar to learn how to socialize with her peers again after so many years of hiding herself away. Tamar’s therapist spent many many sessions role-playing with her. They practiced going to a cafe or attending a party, discussing what other people would think of her if she did this or that. Above all, the therapist was building up her confidence to face the world again.
The therapist helped Tamar build a step by step route back into normal life. She began by first chatting to her programming contacts online. Afterward she was able to physically joining them in a programming team exercise. Eventually she was able to her sister’s birthday party. Before every new step, they would go over and over it, thereby creating a sense of security in what lay ahead. Once this had all been achieved successfully, it was time for another big hurdle- entering the world of dating. There were many months of preparation before Tamar felt ready to go on a date. But thanks to her therapist’s constant support and encouragement, she did it. Subsequently, a few months later, she became engaged.
Tamar still has many unique sensitivities and difficulties and still experiences panic attacks from time to time. She continues to be supported by her Kav L’Noar therapist and hopes to go back to college one day.
*All names and identifying details have been changed to protect client confidentiality.