I’m a big believer that talking about mental health can help both those struggling with similar issues and aid wider understanding as we look to beat stigmas.
I’ve agonised over how to write this blog but I’ve finally come to the decision to do this in parts. So, here we go…
Cancer and depression are the headline struggles from the previous ten years of my life, but arguably the one that’s proven the most debilitating for me and I’ve never really talked about it in the depth that I could is social anxiety.
In the space of ten years, I’ve gone from struggling to go to school to having a first class degree in my pocket and my first job. It’s been quite the turnaround, but there’s still plenty work to be done.
But first things first, social anxiety? What is it?
One of the best ways I can try and verbalise what social anxiety is like is to compare it to living life in a glass box. I was stuck in this box and the walls were too thick to smash. I couldn’t break out, no matter how desperately I wanted to. I could see everything going on. Friendships I wanted to have. Things I wanted to be a part of. Chances I wanted to take.
But stepping out, honestly, just felt impossible.
Public transport. Walking into full classrooms. Talking to friends. Hell, even talking to relatives! There was a ridiculous number of situations that were just so difficult.
I was 13/14 when shy became social anxiety. I got to a point where going to school was near impossible. Going to class was climbing a mountain if I wasn’t there before anyone else.
If people were already in that room, sat down, it just wasn’t happening. Physically, I couldn’t push myself inside.
I was barely into my teenage years and I didn’t have a fucking clue what was going on.
My social anxiety made life so difficult that I grew depressed. Hope, I feel, is one of the most powerful things a person can feel. It can lead. It can inspire. In the darkest times, if there’s that slither of light you can hold onto, then you can pull yourself out.
Social anxiety made me lose that. I was a prisoner within my mind. Lost in my box. Stuck.
I did get help. My parents were commendable, while I had a psychologist who – to this day – is still one of my heroes. But those first steps didn’t spark an upward surge to “feeling good” again.
It was just the beginning
There were days I wanted to die. Days I wanted things to just stop. I wanted to fade into nothingness because I was just so damn tired. That slither of light I needed wasn’t there.
The key was school. Somehow, I had to find a way to make it bearable. A great deal of negative feeling was being fuelled from school so I had to find a way to A) want to go and B) feel okay when I was there.
I sat my class down and basically I tried, as coherently and as non-emotionally as I could, to explain what I was going through. I wanted them to know I wasn’t disappearing because I was a bad student. I wanted them to know I wasn’t interacting with them because I was a dick. I needed them to know I was trying. I was fighting. I was doing my best. And I did want to be a part of that class. I wanted to be their friend. I just wanted to have a good time of things. To enjoy life. To be happy.
So people were aware. Through my therapy I’d conjured up negative thought-counter-thought-action to take card-type things. Honestly, one of them had the weather as a conversation opener – I really didn’t know how to break through and talk to people.
And then, suddenly, I did.
It all started with a song.