We all have times where we feel shy and awkward. Imagine those times persisted and start to interfere with everything. Here is an honest, revealing account of coming to terms with and managing social anxiety.
It’s typical when writing about myself I need a larger word count than given and yet with college work I always manage to be 500 words under. It’s a hard to know what to include, what is not worth mentioning and how to keep you guys still reading.
I’m 20, from Mayo, but living in Dublin studying photography and I have Social Anxiety (SA) or Social Anxiety Disorder. That’s the basics so let’s begin. For any of you that don’t actually know what SA is, you can read about social anxiety here.
But, to sum it up, Social Anxiety Disorder is the fear of being embarrassed and judged in social situations and when talking to other people resulting in extreme physical symptoms.
I’m not just one of those shy people, the ones categorised as “so shy they’re rude”. I get so anxious being in social situations that it affects me physically to the point of panic attacks and other symptoms. I can’t just “get over it” and people don’t “get nervous as well” like I do.
Learned to take control
To meet me, you wouldn’t even know I have SA because I’ve learned to control and hide it, seven years ago or even two years ago I never thought I’d be where I am today. I sat both my Junior and Leaving Certificates.
I’ve had boyfriends. I’ve gone to festivals and concerts. I’ve performed on stage with drama groups. I’ve been abroad and I moved away from home and into college.
Reading this you’re thinking, “she doesn’t have SA” and sometimes I think that myself when I’m able to do so much stuff but that’s because I’ve had to work at it, it’s been really difficult and I’ve missed out on a lot of things because of my SA.
Taking a look back
For you to understand I guess we’ve to take a trip back seven years…
During second year of secondary school, I get sick on the bus ride home, cognitive memory now associates the bus ride with the sickness and that embarrassment I felt. Something so insignificant (to most) took a hold of me and began to spiral out of control.
I stopped going to school, pretended to be sick a lot and often had to get off the bus half way to school in order to get some release. After that I began to fear getting sick, losing control of the situation and becoming vulnerable to other people’s opinions.
I began to function as best I could. Junior Cert arrived and I couldn’t sit my examinations in the hall.
I couldn’t eat for fear of getting sick and sometimes I did get sick because I wasn’t eating. I got a doctor’s note and sat my exams in a room by myself.
Transition Year was a much better year for me, school was more enjoyable and my friends were really supportive, although I’m sure they had no clue as to what was really wrong with me.
After TY things began to take a turn for the worse, I had major panic attacks. My breathing elevated, my arms and legs had pins and needles because I was so tense. I couldn’t eat or sleep. I was vomiting. I had cold sweats…I was a mess.
My mum brought me to my GP, it was decided the best course of action was medication.
I started Lexapro and began to see a psychiatrist. The, following year I started on Effxor and I sat my Leaving Cert. I am now in my second year of my photography course. I have achieved a lot despite my mental illness, but I’ve also lost out on a lot. I’ve missed out on trips away, meeting friends, cinema trips, meeting boyfriends, going on holidays, going on exchange, going to concerts and even just general everyday things.
Good weeks and bad weeks
Sometimes I have to get off two stops early on the Luas/Dublin Bus and walk the rest of the way home or to college. I begin to feel the negative thoughts creep in that set my anxiety into motion.
It’s all a chain reaction, my anxiety is based on my negative thoughts created by bad experiences and what if that happens again, what if…I have my good and bad weeks, it seems the smaller things effect me more these days.
I have learned to control my SA through my medication and coping techniques I learnt from my psychiatrist. I’ve learned to use pressure points and pain (digging your fingernail into your thumb, but not enough to draw blood) to distract my mind from the thousands of thoughts running through it, but I know that one step at a time and I will overcome it.