Dear Blog Readers,
I wrote this blog for a charity then decided I wanted to share it with you on my own blog first. I have written it to reach out to you, to tell you if you suffer from this as I do, you are not alone.
I first started suffering from anxiety disorders when I was young. I was always an anxious child and teenager and had my first proper episode of anxiety aged 15 where I experienced racing thoughts and heart rate and couldn’t sleep for a few days. However, at aged 16, I became hypomanic when away on holiday, in front of 30 other teenagers. This meant I was very disinhibited with others, talking far more than normal and being slightly manic. Shortly after this episode, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and my embarrassment and shame at being hyper and not my ‘real self’ stuck with me through the years.
It was after this time that I developed social anxiety. Social anxiety is underpinned by negative beliefs about oneself. You fear others judgement of you, their negative reactions and what might happen to your friendships and relationships. Sometimes, you may want to avoid other people because the thought of socialising makes your heart race, negative thoughts popping up in your head about being judged. What underpins this all for me though, is the feeling of ‘not being good enough’ for others.
The worst part about living with social anxiety is the stigma it still has in society and the shame you feel at cancelling arrangements. Recently, I was unable to go to an important occasion due to an intense panic attack that left me unable to leave the house. Not everyone understands how hard it can be to leave the house when this happens and it is often triggered by subconscious reactions. I know that if I had a broken leg, the reaction would be different but sometimes having a broken head at times is far more difficult to understand. It can cost you friendships and ironically, others begin judging you as being reckless, thoughtless, flaky or selfish. Everything you have been trying to avoid.
I am writing this article because I want people out there to understand that social anxiety is not your fault. It is a mental health condition like any other and a growing number of people suffer with anxiety disorders. Luckily, certain therapies can help although I am trying to find the right one for me. I have done CBT, hypnotherapy, art therapies and exposure therapy. I have found that exposure therapy, where you put yourself in your feared situation, to be the most effective at reducing anxiety levels. The more I do, the more it is easier to do.
I hope that soon anxiety disorders will be understood as well as physical illnesses. In truth, anxiety disorders are also physical, with many underlying symptoms such as palpitations (raised heart rate), sweating and feeling faint .
I have some fantastic friends and family who support me despite this condition- I am lucky. Not everyone has that. I am learning to let go of the shame of my anxiety disorder and embrace the fact that not everyone can understand it. The most important thing is to keep going, keep trying and living life as best I can so that stigma can be combatted.