Dear Papa Bear,
This isn't the first time I've written to you. Your advice really does help. I find myself wanting to write to you with every problem but that would be a bit annoying.
So, My dad is in the army. I'm 17, so I still have a few more years to deal with all the moving because I want to wait until I'm financially stable before I move out or even go to college. My question relates to this big time, though. I already mentioned I'm 17, but I've moved a total of 33 times in my life, in state and outside of state from all over the USA. It's a lot for a kid to move, and you could probably imagine the pain I've gone through having to leave my friends each time, if not having to experience it yourself.
I don't have trouble communicating when people talk to me, and I seem like a social butterfly around my friends. Making friends isn't a problem for me, either. But take those friends away, and boom, you have a depressed teen with extremely bad anxiety issues. I've written to you before about depression and your advice helped me cope with it, but this one is about the anxiety.
My social anxiety is really really bad. I have trouble being alone in a large crowd while my friend takes a bathroom break for 5 minutes. My stomach feels like it's being tied into several knots, even knots on top of those knots, and I feel really shaky. Sometimes, I'll even break down in a large crowd. I can't go anywhere without someone I know and trust, and because I move a lot, it's really hard to find people I can trust.
Well, recently, my dad got stationed in Mississippi. Before this, I've been in Puerto Rico, and the Mormon states in the Northwest, which is where I grew up for 14 years in many different parts of it, so you can imagine the huge change from a completely different culture and completely different views to down here where everyone is.....different. There really isn't any other word I could use to describe it here. I have been having major trouble making friends here, especially with the majority of the population of this town belonging to gangs.
As I mentioned previously, I am 17, meaning I'll be 18 soon and I'll have 2-4 more years until I go off to college. Between this time, I have to get a job. My social anxiety is the problem. I really don't know how to deal with it appropriately.
If I listen to music or make some kind of a beat on the spot, it works just fine for me and I'll feel fine, but that isn't something I can do in any random place. If I happen to get an office job, I can’t simply put in headphones during a meeting, it's rude and I could get in trouble for it. Another way I deal with this is bringing a plushie with me where I go. The people here though seem to frown upon a nearly-adult male bringing a plushie with them to Walmart or a restaurant.
With no job, I rely on the small things I do in the fandom to get money, like art and selling some music, as well as my allowance from my family, which is only $10 every other week and I have to pay for my own lunches from the store. My parents refuse to put me in therapy or get me medication to help with my anxiety, and I don't have the money to pay for therapy myself.
So do you have any advice on how to deal with horrible social anxiety appropriately in everyday life? It would really help me get my life back on track and could probably mean the difference between a mansion and my parents' basement.
An average robot dragon
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Dear Robot Dragon,
I’m gratified that my advice has been helpful in the past, thank you.
Yes, there are things you can do to ease your issues with anxiety. One of the problems you’re having is that you move around so much and your life is unstable as a result. I moved a couple times as a kid and young adult, but certainly nowhere near 33 times! Just the couple times I did move were very hard for me; I didn’t make friends as easily as you do, so at least you have that going on in your favor. The solution would be to find a way to settle down in one place for a while, but, unfortunately, that won’t happen as long as you’re dependent on your family and military father. Let’s explore some possibilities.
I would recommend that, instead of trying to find work with a high school diploma and earning enough money to go to college (extremely hard to do with the current cost of education), you should explore options for scholarships, grants, and loans for children of the military. Go to http://www.finaid.org/military/veterans.phtml to learn more. There’s a good chance that you can get a lot of your higher education paid for through military or other government programs. To keep costs low, I always recommend that, whenever possible, you spend your first two years at a community college and then transfer those credits to a four-year school. Talk to a college advisor about reciprocal agreements that often exist between community colleges and four-year schools with which they partner.
This is a much surer way of getting a college education than trying to pay for it with a low-wage job. Going to college will also stabilize your life, especially if you live on campus. You’ll develop a routine that will continue for two or more years, make friends, and feel like you have a more “normal” life.
Next, modify your diet. Believe it or not, certain foods can cause you to be more mellow, and other foods can make you more anxious (caffeine being the obvious one). Some foods that make you more like a cool bear include:
Besides caffeinated foods (coffee, non-herbal teas, chocolate, and sodas), avoid candy (the sugar rush and insulin high is followed by a big low. Also avoid booze, processed foods (hint: if it has more than three ingredients in it and most you can’t pronounce, it’s probably crappy for your body), and foods high in sugars (whether natural sugars, high-fructose corn syrup, or artificial sweeteners). Avoid food with aspartame artificial sweetener at all cost as it is a chemical that harms the nervous system (I don’t care what the FDA says).
Next, there are several calming activities you can pursue:
You’ve led a very topsy-turvy life, so, really, the single best thing you can do is find a way to stop moving around so much. You are putting up barriers for yourself that don’t need to be there. There are always ways around such things. At 17, you need to plan to get out into the world on your own and stabilize your life. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t show appreciation for your father, who is doing a brave thing through his military service while also supporting a family, but this is having a bad effect on you, and since your parents refuse to help you need to take matters into your own paws. Don’t be afraid to start taking command of your own destiny. You’re old enough to do it!
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