Two years off school. Home confinement. Living basically inside four walls. A small amount of socialising with family, no friends – does MSN count?
What’s this all equal? A socially awkward girl who didn’t realise the devastating effect of these things until she vomited outside her secondary school because of a little known bitch called social anxiety.
That’s me, by the way. (In case you weren’t keeping up).
Sweaty hands. A dry tongue that was seemingly swelling up inside my mouth. Short, panicked breaths. A dizzy head. Blood rushing to my face. Heart palpitations.
I used to blush beetroot and stutter in class when someone showed me to my seat.
I had no self confidence. Not a little amount, literally none.
My mum was stumped, before my time off school I was a confident and out-going girl who could talk to a room. But, at that point in time, I couldn’t even step out of the car. Literally, I was covered in nervous vomit.
As I was already under the watchful eye of the NHS our next appointment was the perfect opportunity to bring up the issue I was seemingly having. I suddenly couldn’t be around people. I didn’t understand it myself, the response was so physical that I didn’t even think it was innately psychological.
The doctor assured myself and my mom that is was not unusual for children such as myself to suffer from this reaction to social situations after such a long time in isolation. I fell ill two months after starting secondary school and then was out of the classroom for two years. This was going to affect me, he assured.
So, I was assigned Kate. A wonderful woman who I would still call a friend now. She changed my life. My perspective. She changed me.
Kate taught me that social anxiety is a subconscious cycle and that my body was entering fight or flight mode when entering into this cycle. My body was choosing flight. But, I needed to force it to fight.
We worked out that due to my time confined away from children of my own age I was a little scared that I didn’t know how to socialise anymore.
She asked me a very good question… ‘What’s the worst that can happen when you walk in there?’ After much thought we both agreed that nothing too bad could happen. You can always resurrect from social suicide.
So, we drew a new cycle in a big sheet of paper. A simple cycle of what to do when I got to school.
Kate taught me to treat my anxiety as if it were excitement – because the same symptoms happen with both. The quicker breath, rapid heartbeat and sweaty palms.
Kate taught me breathing exercises that when I felt like I was going to pass out, and believe me it did happen, guess what they were? To just fucking breathe.
My anxiety was my mental health struggling to cope but I chose to ignore my bodies flight response and choose fight. Each day that fight got a little easier. With each social interaction I grew in confidence and didn’t have to focus so much and actually breathing and getting my words out in the right order.
I’m not saying this was easy or fast. There was a lot of tears, sick and dizzy stars. But, I got there. It took months. It took work and coping techniques.
It’s difficult, but isn’t living in constant fear of people more difficult? I would never belittle social anxiety, I know all too well how hard it can be to just pick up a phone, knock on a door or just say hello back without going all high-pitched and red.
So choose fight. You won’t like it the first, second or even the twentieth time but in six months that door you didn’t want to knock on? It won’t be so hard to open.
It opens the door to human intimacy, friendship, support and bloody fun.
I read up on others that were also struggling and found that people, in my opinion, can glamorise social anxiety, almost making it seem like a cool thing to have? It’s not. I do believe that the internet is a great place to start when finding your confidence again – talk to strangers, talk to friends and even share your story. Help others realise their feelings are normal, as are your own.
Then step away from the screen and go do something worth tweeting your friends about. Make that step and choose fight. It’s hard, so so hard. Give people a chance to be as supportive to your face. People can be great. We are all human.
I truly believe the longer you wait, the harder it is.
That fight gets easier every time, I promise.
Featured image courtesy of Pixabay.