Dear Reader and Friend,
If I have given you the link to my little blog here :), it is because I am working on this as a therapeutic project- one where I can write my heart without feeling ashamed and one where I can share what it is like to live with mental ill health at times. This is something that has been a part of my life since I was 15 years old and I will be 28 this year. It doesn’t feel like 13 years have passed since I first got sick, but its true that time definitely passes quickly.
I decided to start writing this after I had to leave my job, which is a difficult event for anyone. For me though, it has proved to cause a dip in my confidence levels, which has provoked my anxiety disorder once more. Although I have never been formally diagnosed with social anxiety disorder, it has been recognised by many Drs and therapists I have seen, so for all terms and purposes, it is present in me and I have sought treatment for it
So what is social anxiety disorder?
Many of you would be slightly surprised to hear I have this as I can be bubbly and friendly, have some loving friends, am at times able to work (albeit part time) or study or go on holiday and go to parties or on dates, which most people take for granted. However, when I am feeling at my worst, when I am tearful and the adrenaline is pumping through my veins, wanting to hide from the world becomes the only way out.
I digress- social anxiety disorder is the general fear of having to interact with people, for fear of negative judgement or outcome. It can make a trip to the shops feel like the most insurmountable mountain, or going on a date feel like the most scary, terrible thing in your life, for fear of negative outcome- eg what if he thinks this/ that about me? what if I feel on show and have to get dressed up when I really want to hide? . As mentioned, when I am feeling well, the anxiety can be kept more at bay.
Social Anxiety is characterised by limiting, negative beliefs about the world or one self and is of course, an irrational disorder. Our bodies are programmed to ‘fight or flight’ and the adrenaline is there for really fearful situations eg when we were cave men and we had to flee from a predator. Our brains and our bodies have not caught up to modern times and still thinks we live in caves (except now the ‘predator’ is a fearful situation in our heads). The adrenaline and cortisol (a hormone) can cause a build up of stress in the body and our emotional reactions eg hyperventilation, painful chest, sweating, hot flushes, shaky etc.
However, what I have learnt about SA is that if you wait 40 or so minutes for this to pass and you keep telling yourself in mantras- ‘this will not harm me, this will go away‘, it does go away. You are meant to quite literally ‘ride the anxiety wave‘ and ‘see it out’ so it goes and your body returns to normal. This is obviously easier said than done and something that when I am fragile, I find hard. As when you feel like this, the natural instinct is to cancel the feared event so that your body and mind returns to normal. Many of you will have been a victim of my cancelling. This is why.
So where am I now? Well the reason I am talking about SA in addition to my bipolar (they are linked, when in low mood, the SA becomes stronger), is because that is what is affecting me right now…..
Sometimes I fear going out to typically anxiety provoking places. This week I cancelled going on a (half blind) date three times (!) because I was so scared to meet a new person and have to ‘show up, dress up, however I felt’. This is not so easy for us SA sufferers. However, I have been achieving in the past few months and been working, going on dates and out with friends. Its just at the moment when my confidence and self esteem are lowered that its really tough going. I call myself and other sufferers ‘anxiety warriors’ because when you have this, its like going into battle with yourself.
I have a job interview this week and my brain has already been processing the potentially scary and anxiety provoking scenario. I feel like this anxiety disorder is something I and many others, will just have to live with.
I have tried Cognitive Behavioural Therapy three times (where you unpack your thoughts and limiting beliefs in thought records with a therapist and at home). I have had talking therapy with a psychotherapist/psychologist and group therapy about anxiety levels with an occupational therapist. I have tried Charles Lindens brilliant ‘Linden Method’ anxiety programme- where he encourages you not to give in to the anxiety through going out and ‘exposure therapy’ and has been anxiety free for years as a former sufferer (his condition was far worse than mine). When I have been particularly bad, I have taken anxiety medication including benzodiazepines, which make me drowsy but do help with very acute anxiety. I dont take any SA meds currently, although my bipolar meds help with this. I have tried relaxation CDS, deep breathing etc but I feel that a lot of this doesnt help with SA, rather general anxiety.
I wish there was a treatment developed other than exposure therapy that could help- but it seems if I want to help myself, I have to literally walk out the front door, by myself into an anxiety provoking situation.
So thats where I am at almost 28.
I hope this sheds some light on this disorder that not many people understand. For help with it, check out Raj and his date in the Big Bang Theory. They communicate by text in public. This thank god has never been me but it shows the extent that the condition permeates our psyche. I cant currently remember the characters name, but in scenes, she also cancels dates and won’t go to parties out of extreme fear and embarrassment.
I am trying to get better again and so thankful for all my wonderful supportive friends (and of course medical team around me). Thank you for reading my first blog.
PS- I will be fundraising for Jami in the future so if you would like the link to my justgiving page, let me know!