My Mental Health: Social Anxiety

Friday, 24 July 2015

I figured it was about time to do this post. One of my aims with this blog, is to promote honest and open discussion about mental health. And I thought therefore that I should tell you all about my own mental health issues. Because this will be far too long otherwise, I'm going to split it into two posts. This post is about social anxiety.

Social anxiety is exactly what it sounds like. Anxiety in social situations. I've always been a shy person. Throughout high school I was known as the quiet one. But I always thought I was just that. I didn't tend to enjoy going out with my friends and if I'd worry about saying certain things for fear of coming across as weird. This lasted throughout high school and college. It never occurred to me that it was a problem. When I went to uni, I stayed in my home city but moved into halls. For the most part this was okay. 

In the second semester of first year, something changed. Whilst I didn't have the greatest track record for attending lectures in the first semester, in the second one, I missed a full month in a row. To avoid meeting people in the kitchen, people I considered good friends at this point, I would go down late at night to lessen the amount of time I spent outside of my room. Because of this, I lost a lot of weight, which people noticed. I was tired all the time and I felt depressed. I went to the doctors and found I was low on vitamin D which was self-inflicted because of my fear of bumping into people.

In the second year of uni, I moved in with three of my closest friends from first year. I still missed quite a lot of lectures and seminars. Although I felt more comfortable in the house, there were still times when I just couldn't leave my room if I suspected people were down there. I would still occasionally eat late at night and I never really spent that much time in the living room as often my roommates would sit down there. I felt left out and lonely during these times but less so than during first year. In January I met Matt.

It was during third year that things got worse. In September, Matt suggested I go to the doctors because I was becoming depressed. I got in touch with a counseling service where they told me I had social anxiety. They went through the symptoms and things began to make sense. I really tried hard to force myself to go uni, but a lot of the time I wouldn't even be able to get out of bed. Many mornings I would end up crying and feeling terrible. I stayed with Matt and didn't see my old housemates much. Because I was staying at Matt's and he lived with people I didn't know, I tended to not leave the room.

So what does social anxiety do? It makes you presume what other people are thinking about you. In a conversation, a person with social anxiety might think, they think I'm boring, stupid, dull, weird. You tend to project your negative thoughts about yourself onto other people. To combat that, you will try to avoid social situations or have little things to do to distract you if you are in public. I usually have something in my hands such as my phone or a pen to play with. I also tend to wear headphones a lot. Some days my anxiety is okay and won't affect me. I can still go out and talk to people in the shops, or at work. And then as said above, some days I can barely leave the room and can have panic attacks. 

Another part of the social anxiety is that I am horribly aware of people who may be watching me. In seminars at university, I would always try to sit on the very last row so I knew that there would be no one behind me. As soon as there was someone behind me, I'd be uncomfortable and tend to try to hide what I was doing for fear that the people behind me would start talking about me and judging me. Exams were particularly difficult then because obviously you couldn't control where you were sat. Any exams I did have at uni I would rush through and leave early and often I picked modules based on whether or not there was an exam. 

There's more to it but these are some of the main ways in which it affects my life. I had never heard of social anxiety before being diagnosed with it. It's relatively unknown. And so in telling people about my own experiences with it, I hope to help people recognize it and be able to get themselves help if you think you may have it.

Thanks for reading!

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