In honour of Introverts Week, I have plucked up the courage and sat myself down to write this blog about anxiety. Now I know being an introvert is not the same as having anxiety, so let me explain…
Anxiety is a hard one to open up about, as I only recently realised or accepted it myself. I have told a couple of my closest friends and my partner, that’s about it. It was immensely difficult for me to tell my partner the real reason why I had gone to a counsellor, and I felt embarrassed by the truth. He actually almost laughed, not in a nasty way, but because he just didn’t see me as someone that lives with anxiety. In fact, most of the people I feel most comfortable around probably wouldn’t see what I struggle with.
And this is exactly my point, so many people we know suffer from anxiety but hide it or cope with it in their own ways. So why is there still such a stigma about it? Or are we our own worst enemies and place the stigma on ourselves? I for one know, I would never judge anyone who came to tell me something they were struggling with. So why do we judge ourselves so harshly?
I have always known I am not a confident or loud personality and I excepted that I was just shy, and that is how people have always known me. Or I have even been called stuck up by people that don’t know me, because I speak well and don’t often have a lot to say in situations where there are some big personalities.
There is a difference between being shy or being an introvert and suffering with social anxiety. Some shy people are fine with being shy and it does not impact their choices in life. A person with social anxiety, on the other hand, beats themselves up because of having this condition.
I beat myself up all the time. I used to think there was something wrong with me and actually hated the person I was. I would wish to be like the other people I knew who seem so confident and happy within themselves, despite this probably not being the case.
My anxiety would affect every aspect of my life. Simple day to day things like asking someone for directions, or asking for the bill in a restaurant, all make me feel anxious, in a way I can’t really explain or make sense of. It’s embarrassing and you feel stupid. People would pick up on this and tell me to do things which were out of my comfort zone and I hated it. Despite knowing nothing bad could really happen, there was just this huge brick wall in front of me and a clasp around my neck stopping the words from coming out of my mouth.
Bigger challenges have noticeably affected my friendships and career. It has held me back from doing the things I wanted to do, and I have made myself believe I can’t achieve certain things because of the way I am. Typical examples would be meetings at work where I would want to say something but couldn’t or clamming up in social situations with people I don’t know well. The idea of these things would fill me with dread and take over my thoughts and my own control of my body.
A recent example is when I first took my son into work to meet my colleagues, it is something I wanted to do but I was fearful of because I knew how my body would react, and that’s exactly what it did. I was sweating, mixing up my words, my chest and neck was going bright red and blotchy, my hands were shaking, eyes twitching and at one point I think my lip started to quiver. I was desperately trying to keep it all together, talk to people and make sure I didn’t drop my son because I was shaking so much. It felt like all the attention was on me, and they could see me having a meltdown in front of them, but in honesty, no one really cared about me, they just wanted to see the cute little baby! That whole experience was awful and something I still dwell and cringe over now. I came out of that office hating myself and wanting the world to swallow me up. Some people may be able to relate to this and others will tell me to calm down and stop being so dramatic. But if you know you know, and in that moment, I had no control of these symptoms.
I used to try to hide these types of reactions, like wearing high neck tops to cover my neck and chest or ones that’s didn’t show sweat patches! In social situations I would stick to just the people I knew like glue and probably annoy them for being clingy, or I would just avoid them all together and make up excuses.
The funny thing is, I first approached a counsellor about some emotional issues I was dealing with after the birth of my son and relationship challenges. It wasn’t until I filled in all these questionnaires, I was told I was also dealing with social anxiety and so they suggested trying CBT. This wasn’t a miracle cure for me, but just practising breathing techniques, taking more notice of your surroundings and changing your way of thinking is something I never thought of before.
Let me just be clear, I am not writing this to give advice, I am not qualified to do so, and this is all new to me too. But recognising that this is part of me, and there isn’t something wrong with me, has made it easier to accept myself. I hope others can relate to this and know they are not alone.
I recently spoke to someone, after they contacted me about this blog. It was completely out of the blue and I never expected to open up to them, ever! I always thought they were this loud, confident person, but it turns out this was their coping mechanism for dealing with their own anxiety. We had the most open and honest conversation for hours about all of our experiences, and I felt like I knew this person more then, than I ever did. The message here is, never assume someone doesn’t suffer from anxiety just because they come across confident and also, talk to people more. Having that conversation with this person who understood me, was such a nice sense of relief. Everyone wants to feel like they are not alone and have the support and understanding to open up. We need more of this.
I will probably always live with anxiety, the thought of going to a new baby group on my own with people I don’t know scares me. The thought of meeting my NCT friends or even ordering a well-deserved wine from the man at the bar, all triggers something within me, big or small. But since having my son, I am trying and learning not to let it control me, or hold me back from doing things, especially if it impacts him.
For those people that are introverts, shy or suffer from anxiety, it can sometimes feel impossible to fit into a society that thrives on the ability to be outgoing and active. Just know you don’t have to fit in, because these people too have their own anxieties, we all just cope in different ways.
Find strength in talking to others.
Help raise awareness. Tell your story.