I have suffered from anxiety for as long as I can remember. When you’re younger, you put it down to just being shy and ‘needing something to get you out of your shell.’
You assume that one day, everything will click. You’ll be able to walk into a room and talk to anyone without fear or the niggling pain in your stomach. That voice deep inside your head will finally subside.
I’ve always been scared of being wrong.
I’ve always worried about how I am perceived. This probably comes down to my own lack of self-confidence. I need validation from others to feel like I’m worth something.
Combine this with an all-consuming phobia of being wrong and I hardly used to speak when I was younger. So many of my teachers commented on how I was ‘a dream to teach… but flew under the radar’ because I was too quiet.
In my mind, if I kept quiet and to myself, I couldn’t be wrong. I couldn’t be judged.
So, I stayed quiet. I’d answer questions through gritted teeth if asked but I would never willingly put myself through it. This is something that still persists to this day.
I allow myself to enter frenzies, panicked states, over the most seemingly asinine things — walking into work or into lectures where I don’t know anyone — and I’ve been told to just get over it.
When I’ve been in new environments, people have told me that they thought I was obnoxious, awkward or ‘up myself’ because I didn’t talk to them.
They never take into account that I am so scared of them judging me or disliking me that it is so much easier to just stay back.
It would be so much easier if people understood that I don’t hide in the background out of arrogance or egotism; it’s because I am absolutely petrified of saying the wrong thing or being disliked.
I thought I had control over it, until the panic attacks started. Just out of the blue it felt like there was a massive weight on my chest, forcing all of the air out of my lungs.
My heart would start pounding. My hands would start shaking and I’d start to sweat. I’d get so dizzy and breathless that I had to sit down.
Every negative thought I had would culminate into one massive mass, like a clot, blocking every single synapse that might make it finally stop. I try to be pragmatic but in those moments, all I can focus on how I’m not good enough or how I’m perceived by others. They pass after a few minutes but the mindset stays with me for days.
Whenever I tried to explain this, they’d say I was being overdramatic. ‘There’s nothing to worry about so just pull yourself together’.
Okay, it may seem stupid for someone who has never experienced the haze of wanting to be invisible in the middle of a crowded room but if you were in my head for a couple of hours, maybe you would begin to understand why it sometimes consumes me. It’s difficult.
People also don’t understand the two sides of me. I began acting when I was 8 years old, to help develop my confidence. It was an escape, in many ways. I could be someone else, enter their mindset and become everything they were.
When on stage, I never really felt nervous. I felt more confident performing in front of tens or hundreds of people than I did having a conversation with a stranger.
People could never understand how I could be like that. ‘How come you’re so quiet and then you get on stage and wow?’
It was acting. Taking on a persona. I sometimes use it to push through. I work in retail, so I need to talk to people. Before I have served the first customer of the day, I get that sick feeling in my stomach but then I put on my persona. I play the part of a sales assistant, able to approach anyone without being scared.
For the most part, it is still an act. If I let my social anxiety possess me in every way, I’d never leave the house. I’d miss out on every opportunity because I’d be petrified of everyone and everything single thing.
There are so many things I have missed out on because I was scared but there’s no point regretting them. All I can do is play my part so that I don’t waste this life I’ve been given.
I am so lucky to be where I am now, I know that. I get to study what I love and, potentially, find an element of it that will pay the bills. I have the world on a string. All I have to do is be brave enough to take the chances that my anxiety would usually make impossible.
I am someone who hid in her room for a month during my first year of university because I was scared of going into the kitchen in case someone I didn’t know was there.
I am someone who would never go to parties where I didn’t know anyone else because I was terrified of being judged.
I am someone who blushes involuntarily if someone even speaks to her.
This has been my reality for as long as I can remember. My social anxiety will always be a part of me.
I am a naturally shy, quiet, introvert. I know that. I’ll never be a social butterfly, able to start a conversation in an empty room, but I can try to force those feelings of inadequacy to the back of my mind so that I can have normal social experiences like other people my age.