I feel like I used to be a different person. I was outgoing, confident, and eager to meet new friends. When my illness began I became isolated. I rarely saw my old college friends. I was anxious when I was around new people and I felt like I didn’t have anything to say.
I have realized that I felt this way because of the negative symptoms of my illness, things like social isolation, poverty of speech, and diminished emotional affect. When I came to this realization, I sought therapy as an answer. Now I must put in the work.
In therapy I go over my anxieties and practice things like eye contact and expressing emotions. I sometimes get comments that I have a poker face, a face without emotion, and so I must work to express my feelings through facial expression and gesture. Things that used to come naturally to me take concentration and effort.
I think something that drove my isolation was the fear of rejection. I did not want people to see this change that had taken place inside of me. It was just easier to not see people than to make a huge effort in order to interact with them. My fears also extended to expressing emotions. I felt vulnerable when people could read my feelings on my face and so I began to wear a poker face as a mask. I hid behind this mask and it became second nature to me.
My social skills are now coming back to me and my confidence is returning. I still feel anxious around new people but I feel like my fear has become more manageable, and that it is not a reason to isolate myself.