As I've gradually learnt more about suffering with anxiety and depression, the more open I have become about sharing my experiences, both on my blog and in everyday conversation. One particular area I have neglected to share up until now was that I suffer with social anxiety. I was diagnosed with the illness in the same series of CBT sessions where I learnt I had depression. Similarly to depression, it hadn't ever crossed my mind that social anxiety might be something that I suffered from. I've always been greatly aware of my introverted-ness and that I could be painfully shy, but didn't know that the thoughts racing around in my head weren't the same as everyone else's.
A while ago, I penned
when when told that I should speak more. Knowing what I know now, reading it back feels incredibly strange. At the time I had grown frustrated that people would tell me I should speak more or speak up, when I felt as though there was a barrier between my brain and my mouth. I had listened in on countless conversations whilst my mind felt like a black hole. I could understand what everyone else was saying, but when it came to my turn to speak, I would dry up; particularly if it was around people I was desperate to please. I wouldn't know what to say, and so would scramble around trying to find something coherent, interesting or funny. Once I had settled on a response, I would then panic it didn't make sense, that they wouldn't find it amusing, that it was unintentionally rude or that they wouldn't like me if I said it. By the time I'd disconnected from my worries and rejoined the conversation, the topic would have changed multiple times and I would be right back where I started. So I got used to not saying anything, just adding a "Yeah" or a laugh if I could muster it here and there. Even laughing would make me feel self conscious. I remember watching stand up DVDs with my past boyfriend and his family, and being incredibly self aware that I needed to stifle my laughter in the fear that if I did laugh someone would comment on it. Why would that be a bad thing?
. It felt like it made sense at the time.
The biggest indication that I had social anxiety was my reluctance to attend any form of social situation. Apart from attending school and university, I unwittingly began to avoid anything which meant socialising in groups. Whether that was with people I didn't know or friends I had known for years, as well as various family gatherings and parties. I say unwittingly, because I just thought I didn't feel up to it. Events would be arranged, I would be excited, the day would roll around and then it would hit me like a ton of bricks. I would be overcome with an overwhelming sense of dread.
I can't go, I don't want to go, I can't go, I don't want to go
. It would start in the morning before the event, and slowly build up until it got to around the time I should start getting washed, dressed and ready to go. I would put off getting ready and then steadily becoming increasingly stressed and tearful. The feeling of crushing dread and pure fear would be so cripplingly that I would most likely end up fabricating a last minute excuse and cancelling mere hours or minutes before. I felt awful for letting people down, but it felt like the only coherent way to make these feelings subside. I stopped leaving the house, I stopped going out to see people and I stopped having friends, but the weirdest part of all, was that there were no alarm bells. I didn't think any of this was unusual. I figured it was because I had anxiety and that I enjoyed my own company; that I just wasn't overly social and this was just who I am.
It wasn't until I looked back on everything and realised just how many times I had bailed on, avoided or experienced discomfort in social situations, from when I was a kid to earlier this year, that it dawned on me that something was of course very wrong. Just writing it all down now makes me wonder why I didn't see it for what it was. I think that in some ways the lines were blurred. There's undoubtedly some cross over between being an introvert, shyness and social anxiety. I've always been distinctly uncomfortable when it comes to public speaking and have often unintentionally been labelled 'the quiet one' as I naturally like to listen and take in everything that is going on! Now I can clearly see the signs and distinguish between my natural traits and the symptoms of social anxiety. If I want to spend some time alone or listen to people chatting, that's just me. Whereas if I feel an urge to jump ship instead of meet up with friends, sense myself becoming self aware with concerns I should be filling every lull in the conversation, or become overcome with worry that I'm not saying enough or am not funny enough, that I'm going through the motions of social anxiety.
When I worked in retail, I built confidence in talking to anyone around me; whether that was customers or my colleagues. I was still fairly quiet, but if I had a query or
reason to say something
, I would. When my workload and stress levels increased tenth-fold at university and then when I began working alone from home, I feel this had some influence in the further development of the social anxiety and depleting confidence I experienced. As though I got out of the swing of having these social interactions and then the mere thought of them just seemed to worsen. Since I've begun taking steps towards combatting my anxiety, by reaching out to old friends, working to build relationships back up and exposing myself to situations where I feel discomfort, I've stopped experiencing the dread that takes hold and leaves me curled up in a ball on my bed sobbing, with no real reason as to why.
I'd like to get to the stage where no one would suspect me to be struggling with social anxiety, or even consider me as shy would be a bonus. I'm proud to say that I now see and talk friends on almost a daily basis; whether that's playing D&D, going to the gym, the cinema or on an adventure. I chat far more often to my Derby team mates now too, and even pluck up the courage to crack jokes when the situation arises. Even though I'm finding it difficult to break the habit of darting my eyes away from the strangers I smile at when I pass them in the street, I can feel myself becoming more confident in my own skin. I've come so far this year that looking back, I don't even recognise the person I was in January at times. I went and met up with a bunch of bloggers (!!!) in Manchester (!!!!) on my own (!!!!!) for crying out loud!
. And I'm sure it'll be onwards and upwards from here.
Come at me 2017.