I’ve always been someone that everyone thinks enjoys the cent re of attention; who gets on with new people in the first 5 minutes; who is happy to be around people. However, nothing scares me more than others. When I told people that I was diagnosed with social anxiety last year, all of my friends were like, “You? Of all people I thought you’d be one of the least likely to be diagnosed with that!” Social anxiety is defined as ‘a discomfort or fear of social interactions that involve a concern about being judged or evaluated by others’. Writing this article created exactly that. I’m not one to write posts on the internet, however I am one who constantly refreshes social networking sites to see what others have to say. Family say I am addicted to the refresh button, however I’m actually obsessed with other people’s opinions, especially of me. I’m a perfectionist; an organised planner; someone who knows what their life will be like a years time.
In May last year, I left the University of Winchester with all the hopes and ambitions to be something. I was certain that I was going to leave, get an amazing job and be ‘someone’ within the following few years (the insurance that education gave me). How wrong could I be?! I chose Psychology because I’ve always been intrigued about other people. Throughout secondary school I got on with most people. I was never an argumentative type. I spoke to my peers and observed them throughout. I watched groups of people and judged them, just like everyone else does. Knowing that this whole of realm of judgement existed, meant that I then constantly worried about how I looked to others. I was never a girly girl, into fashion or cared about what I looked like. I was never felt popular. I never felt like I had a main core group of close friends (not until I look back now and see it). I ruined my own outlook of myself and lost my inner confidence based on constant paranoia of other people’s judgements. I acted like I didn’t care.
I put on this other personality, which has come known to my close friends as, Georgia. I went all the way through my degree being the level headed, responsible housemate. The one whose others’ parents liked and trusted. The one who just says it how it is and likes to get things out in the open. It’s the only way I know how to cope. I need to know what other people are thinking of me otherwise paranoia sets in. When I fell out with a very close friend of mine last year, not knowing what I had done wrong was worse for my mental health than knowing. I was going through the difficulty of not really feeling accepted in my job and my main group of friends. I’d left my core community at university. The distance between me and some of my closest friends felt like the distance to the sun. One person who I spoke to every day and knew me like the back of his hand was miles away. The other was next to me a lot but felt an awful long way away due to my mental barrier. That is when the judging turned to myself. I was paranoid about everything I did. I went back over every action. I over thought every conversation. I had panic attacks over others whispering, convinced it was about me. I would sit in complete silence, shut myself off from the group. I’d just blank out and only have my thoughts for company. I felt numb.
My parents noticed it first. I openly talked to them about everything. Always have, always will. At the age of 22, I laid in my bed with my parents and discussed whether going to the GP would be an option. So I let my Mum take me and discuss everything to the complete stranger over the desk. I instantly looked for other jobs. I needed to move on (even though the terrible reference from my then boss, nearly knocked that on the head). I calmed with the help of medication and was tortured through Cognitive Behavior Group Therapy.
Now, if you ever over think everything you do, then don’t go to a class where everyone talks about their symptoms. According to all those symptoms, I had a hell of a lot more to worry about than I first thought. Every anecdote, every tale about someone else’s life was compared to me and mine. Don’t get me wrong, it might work for some people, however I only managed half of the course due to not wanting to admit to new employers that I had a health problem. Now, according to laws and legislation mental health issues shouldn’t affect employment but who are we kidding? That’s another issue. Anyway, I guess I missed the half which was more about overcoming those symptoms and ‘fixing’ myself. Maybe that isn’t the point of that therapy, but I felt like I needed fixing. Having found myself on the opposite side of the therapy, compared to the side I saw myself studying, that bluntly ended my future plans. Gone was the organized planner who knew what their life will be like a years time. I didn’t predict my diagnosis. I didn’t know what was next.
That terrified me. One year on, I’m still socially anxious. I’ve had to move away from certain people who increase my heart rate negatively but I’ve found my true friends. My long distance friends are only a Skype call away. They never change when I see them again. They are true friends. I’m still happily with my boy whose been really supportive throughout. He knows me better than myself. I ask him for judgement before everyone and anyone else. He is my medication now.
I trust him completely. My parents’ words of wisdom are still greatly appreciated even if I don’t show my appreciation all of the time. I’m starting a new job soon, one with prospects, one which will open doors. It was the hardest decision with the biggest con being that I was leaving colleagues that have truly accepted me and I can totally be myself, panic attacks and all. My first port of call was my boy who told me I can do it. I rang them back without thinking (one of my many avoidance tactics) and accepted. New year, new journey. I don’t know my exact plan and that still scares me but I understand that people will always be judgmental. I don’t need a fix now, even though the medication helped me temporarily, it didn’t fix me. I didn’t really need fixing. I just needed to find my way of dealing with it. I still shiver uncontrollably and get panicky about certain things but I push myself to do things I dislike. I’m thinking more clearly. Its a life long thing but it will diminish with every day as I gain more control. I should control it and not the other way round.