“What’s wrong with being confident?”
- Demi Lovato, “Confident”
Have you heard that I’m bipolar and that I have social anxiety? Yes, I talk about my mental illnesses all the time. And I don’t care if you’re tired of hearing about it! Close the tab and go ahead to the next one. This website is clearly not for you.
You’re likely here because you find value in my frankness about my life with mental illness, addiction and trauma and how I’ve been weaving these experiences into my writing and podcasting. But I haven’t always been this forthcoming.
Social anxiety was, and still is, my biggest barrier when it comes to self-confidence.
I was fortunate to be able to receive cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) session a couple of years ago and learned how to identify hot thoughts, my core beliefs, and cognitive distortions. What it all boiled down to was simple; people aren’t thinking about us—we are all really just thinking of ourselves. As the cliché goes, we are our own worst enemies.
It’s tough to balance what building confidence looks like when a symptom of your mental illness can be grandiose thoughts or delusions. When it came to my aspirations, I’ve typically fallen on the depressive and socially anxious side – you’re not good enough, you are not talented and you have nothing new or worthwhile to contribute. The times where I’ve thought a bit too highly of myself never seemed to coincide with thinking my art was worth anything.
“Bring it on, ring the alarm
Don't stop now, just be the champion“
- Britney Spears, “Work Bitch”
Trying is the key component in building confidence. Since I’ve begun trying to make a career out of writing and podcasting, I’ve been met with some roadblocks and rejections. But those not-so-good experiences have made the victories that much sweeter. It’s really tough to make it as a writer or a podcaster – especially in Canada, especially with no academic background, especially being new at it in my late 30s and especially with a lack of networking skills. But the fact that I’ve been doing the damn thing speaks volumes to the skills I took with me from my CBT therapist.
I know these things about me; I’m an excellent writer. What I’m doing with my podcast is important. I have a unique voice. I’m creative, sharing and empathetic. I’m also opinionated and I can come off as stand-offish. It’s just part of the way my social anxiety manifests itself.
My confidence manifests itself on how I carry myself and the way I dress. In my openness and my vulnerability. In my successes and my screw-ups. In my ability to recognize when I need to push myself and when I need to take a step back.
Confidence is self-love, intuitiveness, sharing and gaining knowledge. Confidence requires courage, self-assuredness. Are you good at something? Confidence is not arrogance. Confidence is not egocentrism or narcissism.
“If I’m shinin’ everybody’s gonna shine”
- Lizzo, “Juice”
Lifting one another up, bouncing off of one another’s ideas, constructive criticism and supporting the girls is what exhibits our confidence. It’s the possession of self-esteem to believe that we have something worthwhile to contribute. Whereas a narcissist only looks out for themselves, approval from themselves and others, a confident person seeks to aid others. To give of themselves so that others are able to thrive with them.
Celebrating one another’s achievements exhibits confidence. Regramming a like-minded business’ post exhibits confidence. Even the day-to-day stuff; baby-sitting a friend’s kid while she has a networking event. Sending a check-in text to a friend after an anticipated job interview. Taking on more household labor while your partner is ill.
For me, writing isn’t just about expressing myself. Though I’d love to get published and be nominated for awards, that’s not the point. The point is to create pieces of art that others can connect with. Something resonant, something entertaining, something insightful and something intentioned. To brush up, I took a few creative writing night courses at George Brown. All of my teachers said the same thing—I’ve got a unique voice and I know how to use it.
It’s the same with podcasting. It’s not lucrative and I’m really putting myself out there by sharing intimate details about my mental illnesses. A naysayer might just think my podcast is some sort of exhibitionist version of self-therapy. But the pod isn’t made for them—it’s made for those who have experiences with mental illness, mental health issues, addiction and/or trauma. I use it as a platform not just to talk about myself and celebrities, but most importantly, to give others in this community of mine a chance to share their stories, experiences and opinions.
I’ve had the great privilege of getting to know myself on a deeper level ever since I was diagnosed with bipolar 2 in 2015. I’ve done a lot of self-reflection and I’ve been able to forgive myself. Having assurance in my own abilities and contributions is still a fairly new concept to me. But now that I’ve gained self-esteem, I’ve been pursuing resources to help me move forward.
I’ve recently joined the Women in Leadership program at the Parkdale Centre for Innovation. I’m very much looking forward to bouncing ideas off of other women and femme-identifying people from all walks of life and different backgrounds. We all have very different goals we’re looking to accomplish at the end of this, but the thing that binds us together is the confidence we have to root for one another and lift each other up. We were confident enough to take our first steps into the old Scotiabank building at Queen and Lansdowne. I have a huge amount of confidence that this particular group of women and femme-identifying individuals will have the confidence to provide one another with the reinforcement, feedback, and even the networking we may need to help make our dreams a reality.
“And if I fly, or if I fall
Least I can say I gave it all
And if I fly, or if I fall
I'm on my way (I'm on my way)”
- RuPaul, ‘Sissy That Walk’
So, here I am trying another thing! Sometimes I second-guess myself. I wonder if people think, “There goes Shaunna again, throwing a bunch of ideas to the wall hoping one will stick.” But the negative thoughts are no longer debilitating. I’ve followed through, and I’m proud of myself. I’ve never felt this way before. I’m confident this feeling will stick.