The defining feature of social anxiety disorder, also called social phobia, is intense anxiety or fear of being judged, negatively evaluated, or rejected in a social or performance situation. – Adaa.org
I have wanted to write this post for a while now, but I have found myself getting worked up and upset, it’s a very personal and exposing topic for me.
I have lived with anxiety my entire life, it is a crippling disorder that has controlled my life, but what is it?
To some of you the everyday activity of making a simple phone call, asking for help in a shop, pretty much any social situation requires no thought, but for me they can be terrifying. I fear crowds, and panic out if i get caught in one, I shake getting on a packed train, I shake standing in a queue, I shake making a phone call, it goes on.
As a kid and teenager, i pretty much spent my childhood in tears, someone just had to look at me and I would break my heart because I honestly thought that person hated me or was thinking nasty things about me. My school teachers hated me as I was always that kid in tears, I had no friends, and I always thought it was because I was this ugly child everyone hated but looking back now, I had no friends because I was that annoying child in tears. I was much happier in my own company at times, sitting in the book corner alone is what I chose to do.
Just because I opted to be alone doesn’t mean I didn’t want friends, I was desperate to be liked and to have friends to get out and about with but I honestly thought I was disliked and unwanted so I never reached out. I never called or texted anyone because I was scared I was bothering them, looking back it’s such a shame mental health was not ever looked into at schools as I really could have had a much happier childhood if I was given the help I needed.
Growing up I had a dream career, as we all did, I wanted to be an actor, I wanted to pretend to be somebody else, i wanted to wear that invisible mask, but in a class of 10 – 15 others, again I just spent my time crying behind the curtain. I should have mentioned when I was 13 my mum and dad decided to move us into SE London from the countryside and I had to change secondary schools, they were just setting me up for hell by sending me to an all girls school a year in. I was easy prey and was bullied from my very first day, tripped in the corridors, glue in my hair, gum in my hair, spat at, verbally abused and threatened. GIRLS ARE EVIL.
It wasn’t until year 10 I was left alone, a girl decided to smear a tuna sandwich into the back of my head, so I went for her fists flying, suddenly I was everyone’s “bestie”. My mum always taught me to never start a fight, but if anyone laid a finger on me, I was to finish it, as they certainly would never bother me again.
Anyway back to drama, my teacher could clearly see as much as I wanted to learn how to act and perform, it just wasn’t ever going to happen so I was given a choice of taking a different course to the class so I decided to choose a study into masks and theatre. It’s during this I decided to create a version of myself I wanted to be, a confident, smart and out-going Abi and I would wear an invisible mask of this version of Abi I wanted to be. Sounds insane I know, but some how it worked, I started to interact with my friends more, go out more, and when my GCSE’s arrived I had to do a presentation of my studies and it was the first A I have ever got. Don’t get me wrong inside I was terrified, I broke down as soon as got home but as soon as I stepped out the house, the invisible mask went on, the fake smile plastered on.
So this worked for a while, my next challenge found me, my very first job. At 17 I went to support a friend go job hunting, she had heard that our local sports direct was hiring and dragged me along. My plan was to have a mooch about while she had her interview but the store manager insisted I interviewed as well, I declined and the staff had a giggle at me so I agreed out of embarrassment. The interview consisted of two questions:
1) Why do you want to work at Sports direct? I don’t
2) What is your favourite film? Erm what?
Just like that I was given a job, that I didn’t want, on a till, dealing with customers. It was my idea of hell but my friend convinced me the spending money would be good so I went for it and started my first shift the following week. I had a very turbulent experience, i spent a lot of time crying in cupboards and being told to smile. I hated every shift and some how managed 3 years there, but equally it done me some good, it forced me into social situations, it got me used to starting conversations and talking to those I don’t know.
Ever since I have remained working in customer service or at least some customer facing aspect. Though I would much prefer to be in an office tucked away! My social anxiety comes hand in hand with negativity, unfortunately I always focus on the bad rather than the good, and I get a lot of comments regarding it but I genuinely cannot help it, my brain is wired to expect the bad. I live daily with an internal battle with myself.
I get flash backs of memories that are no longer relevant, horrible memories, memories of embarrassment, and with each flashback i feel emotions as intensely. It’s like a curse. One day it was so bad, I wanted to take my own life, I went to my GP and was put on meds for depression and anxiety and rather than wait 6 months for therapy I took a loan out and paid privately for 6 weeks. 8 years on I’m still paying that off.
The therapy has helped but I have deep woven traits inside of me, I unknowingly push people away, I drop off the grid and will not talk to friends for a while. This has cost me a lot of friends but I so so grateful for those who have stuck by me and understand why I am the way I am. I build walls that people have to scale to get close to me, and trust me everyday I make the same wish, that I didn’t have anxiety.
A lot of you will look at my photo’s and think, no way does this girl suffer, anxiety is an invisible illness, don’t be fool by my mask.