Sorry! – Part 2

Moving House (November 2017)

I think I mentioned in an earlier post that my mum and stepdad were buying a new house together. Well they actually ended up buying a bigger house, and my siblings and I moved with them. My sisters and I had initially talked about moving out together, but unfortunately it just wouldn’t be affordable for any of us right now. It’s really nice finally having my own room for the first time, though I do feel very odd living in a fairly fancy neighbourhood. My stepdad is paid ridiculously well for what he does, and there is no way he and my mum would have been able to afford this house otherwise. I’m trying not to get used to it, as I am extremely unlikely to ever make a lot of money if I am able to get a job in my chosen field!

Without meaning to offend anyone with severe SA who is older than me and still lives with parents (because I know not everyone is as lucky as I’ve been in terms of making progress with anxiety/ in general), I’m getting to the age where I feel pathetic/ like a loser for still living with my mum. I cringe every time someone finds out about this, and maybe it’s just my paranoia, but I feel them instantly judging me/ looking down on me, as if I live in my mum’s basement doing nothing but playing video games all day. I know that living with parents well into one’s twenties is certainly not unheard of these days, even for “normal” people, but this is something I feel so much shame over right now. It’s something I constantly beat myself up about and feel awful about myself for – it seems I always need to be beating myself up about SOMETHING – and I know this isn’t helpful. I just feel like such a burden. I would have liked to have been much more independent by now. I do what I can to help out (including cooking the odd meal for everyone and cleaning up after my 3 younger siblings) at home, and do get on fairly well with my mum and stepdad most of the time. My mum frequently tells me she’s grateful to me for helping out, as I’m the only one who does, and who seems to empathise with how much she does for all 5 of us, and how much she deserves a hand/ a break. Yet I still feel like I’m taking a loan of my mum and stepdad.

At the moment, I’m only working at my supermarket job 2-3 days a week, so I very much doubt I could afford even the cheapest of flat shares in Edinburgh. Every other day of the week, I volunteer (except for having most Saturdays off, which I usually spend with my boyfriend, at a meetup, running, or just generally collapsing into a heap). (I’ll talk a bit more about my voluntary work in my next post). I hope that the volunteering will eventually pay off in terms of helping me to get a full-time job more relevant to my degree, though at this point, I’ve absolutely no idea how much longer I might be living with my mum for. I also have to consider my dog when it comes to moving out, as I think finding a landlord who allows pets – and flatmates who would be happy to live with a dog, especially MY dog, who gets in at everything – may be quite challenging. There’s also the issue of what happens if I decide to go back to university to do a masters this autumn (God help us all!), and where I and my dog would both be living if I do go ahead with that. I’m really lucky that my mum and stepdad still allow me to live with them, and that my mum (who has recently been applying for jobs for the first time in decades) has some understanding as to how difficult it is to get a job these days.

I think perhaps a large part of the shame comes from having encountered a small number of people who, due to not being as lucky as I am, had to leave home at a very early age. For example, a woman I volunteer with comes from a fairly abusive family and had to leave home at the age of 16. This must have been incredibly tough. Yet her experience seems to have given her the view that anyone who hasn’t moved out of their parents’ house by the age of 18 is a complete and utter scrounger. In some ways, it’s a good thing that I’ve made so much progress with my anxiety that she apparently can’t tell that I may have issues that contribute to being less independent than most people my age (because let’s face it, while it’s certainly not an excuse for not trying my best to work my way up to full independence – mental health issues ARE a large part of that), though I do wish she could understand that perhaps my life isn’t so easy as it would appear on paper. My various issues have meant that since my teen years, I’ve hit many of life’s milestones significantly later than the majority of people. I am completely determined to get a graduate job, get my own place, and become a fully independent adult. It may take longer for me to get there than it does for most people, but I WILL get there. I just wish I could accept myself and stop beating myself up in meantime.

Local Mental Health Group

Around the time we moved, I started going along to 2 groups at a local mental health organisation – an introductory course on living with anxiety and depression, and a course on stress management (ironically, the first session was on the day we moved house). A lot of what we covered in the introductory course was things that I already knew, but I found it helpful and still learned new things nonetheless. One of the key things I took from that group is that we allow ourselves sick days when we’re physically ill, and tend not to feel bad about ourselves for lying in bed all day/ neglecting our usual responsibilities for a bit, yet we beat ourselves up terribly when we need to do the same things due to mental illness. Physical illness is seen as totally acceptable, and no one blames us for that, yet unfortunately that’s definitely not the case when it comes to mental illness.

I think I need to go over the booklets I got from the stress control group again, or possibly even attend the group again, as stress management is definitely is a major weakness of mine. I seem to get overwhelmed very easily, even by relatively minor issues. I’ve also just started a mindfulness course with the same group, which I hope will help. I don’t seem to get the same benefits from practising at home as I do in the group (in fact, I find it difficult to stay awake when practising at home), but hopefully it’ll benefit me in time. I’d say I spend around 99.9% of the time in my own mind/ preoccupied with other things, especially at the moment because I have so much on. It’s actually gotten to the point where I often can’t even pay attention to what other people are saying because I’m so fixated on other things. So I hope it will enable me to live more in the present moment. However, I find practising mind-numbingly boring even at the best of times, and, ironically, I’m so busy that I think I’ll struggle to fit it in most days.

Self-help

I’m also working through a self-help book on self-esteem right now (though admittedly I’ve been very much neglecting it in recent weeks due to trying to fit so much into each day), as I’ve realised that low self-esteem is perhaps my single biggest issue. I cannot for the life of me understand why none of the mental health professionals I’ve seen ever brought up my low self-esteem, given how incredibly obvious it was. I realise now that my cripplingly low self-esteem was likely caused by some combination of bullying in high school, emotional, verbal, and sometimes physical abuse by my dad, and being overprotected/ sheltered by my mum. My ‘Bottom Lines’ (i.e. the core beliefs I have about myself that fuel my low self-esteem) are:

  • I am unacceptable as a person
  • I am incompetent and inadequate
  • I am unlovable/ unlikeable/ undesirable
  • I am worthless
  • I am inferior and unimportant
  • I am a horrible/ bad person

I’ve written about my negative core beliefs previously, but the 6 bottom lines above are essentially what all of those core beliefs boil down to.

At a social anxiety meetup I attended recently, some of us were discussing the root causes of social anxiety. While this is fairly obvious, it seems, at the core, social anxiety is about feeling that you are not acceptable to other people. And I think perhaps a lot of our anxiety and depressive feelings stem from projecting our own negative beliefs about ourselves onto other people (or rather, how we think other people think about us). I think I’m worthless and unlikeable, so surely everyone I come into contact with must think so too, right?

I will likely write more posts about low self-esteem/ self-compassion (which seems to be the more modern approach to the issue, though I have not yet been able to get into) as I continue to work on self-help books. If anyone else knows of any good resources for either, please feel free to recommend.

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Sorry! – Part 1

First things first, I’m sorry that I haven’t posted on here for so long! I’ve been ridiculously busy recently, to the point where I’m not even getting enough sleep most nights. I’m a wee bit rusty with writing blog posts. I’ll slowly try to write a series of update posts, though it may take quite a while. Here’s what I’ve been up to over the last year (almost):

 Florida (May 2017)

I mentioned in a previous post that my entire immediate family would be going on holiday to Florida in May. This was a holiday that my family had been planning for years and years, and I think was originally supposed to happen when I was around 18, but kept getting pushed back due to the costs involved. I feel very lucky to have been able to visit 2 new continents (Africa and North America) in the space of less than a year. We did the typical tourist things while in Florida – visited many of the theme parks, the Kennedy Space Centre, went to the beach, and ate far more food than anyone really should. We were also supposed to be watching a rocket launch but it was unfortunately cancelled due to high winds. For me, being the huge nerd I am, the holiday also meant trying to see as much of the local wildlife as possible while we were out and about. Overall, I had a good time, and I’m extremely grateful to my parents for having planned and saved for this one last family holiday for so long. Unfortunately, for reasons that will become apparent in a later post, I didn’t enjoy the trip as much as I could have, and spent much of the trip in a really bad place mentally. Again, I did enjoy the trip overall, and I’m really thankful towards my parents, but the trip also confirmed that I’m definitely too old to still be holidaying with my parents. I obviously still enjoy spending time with them but I really need and want to be more independent than I am currently.

Scotland 2017 (August 2017)

Back in August, I visited Orkney and Aviemore with my boyfriend. We’d previously been away on a 2-day trip together but this was our first proper holiday together and we both really enjoyed it. I didn’t realise just how much there was to do in both places, and we’d both definitely go back. Highlights included visiting Skara Brae, St Magnus Cathedral, and a few of the Stonehenge sites in Orkney, though nearly throwing up on the ferry back to the mainland wasn’t so enjoyable! In Aviemore, we both really enjoyed the Highland Wildlife Park (where my poor boyfriend had to suffer me being a huge animal nerd!) and CairnGorm Mountain and its funicular railway – where bemused onlookers must’ve wondered what on earth we were doing as we both frantically ran around in random directions in the car park in a desperate (and generally unsuccessful) attempt to evade a cloud of midges while waiting on the bus back to our accommodation. (I do feel I’ve gotten the proper Highland experience now!) There were some lovely walks in both places too.

It’s kind of funny that I’ve been as far afield as South Africa, but there’s still so much of my own country that I haven’t explored. My boyfriend and I are thinking about possibly walking the West Highland Way this summer, if we can both find the money. There are so many other areas – particularly some of the islands – that I’d love to visit someday.

Gemma’s African Adventure – Part 2 (September and October 2017)

I enjoyed my first trip to Namibia so much that in autumn, I decided to go back. I wanted to see a bit of the country this time so I did a budget camping safari. Highlights included visiting Etosha National Park, watching the sunrise from a large sand dune in the Namib-Naukluft National Park, walking through the desert, visiting Deadvlei, visiting the Sesriem Canyon (which I’ve heard is nothing compared to the much larger Fish River Canyon in the south of the country, though it was still impressive), quad biking on sand dunes and jumping out of a plane! (I have to say, going skydiving was one of those very rare occasions where others around me were as anxious, or more anxious, than I was! Still not a terrifying as that group presentation I had to do at summer school though! Actually, it’s probably fairly far down my list of anxiety-provoking experiences. And it was amazing). The budget safari was a group tour (of 10 of us plus 2 staff members), and I shared a tent, so I once again really pushed myself with my anxiety/ social interaction, but overall it was a very enjoyable experience.

I also volunteered for a conservation project in South Africa right after my Namibian safari. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a great experience in terms of getting on with the other people there (I still very much felt like the group outcast/ weirdo), though I did try my best and some of the other people did try and include me, which was really nice of them. It was during this trip that I decided that going to the pub with a large group of people I don’t know well is definitely not for me. I can’t say I’ve ever seen the appeal of pubs, but maybe I’m just weird like that.

However, in terms of learning about – and having close encounters with – southern African wildlife, it was a fantastic experience. All of the staff there were really passionate and gave some really informative talks, including one on rhino poaching, which was rather depressing. I feel incredibly lucky to have seen a black rhino and several white rhinos in the wild. Other highlights from my time at the conservation project included seeing young lion cubs in the wild, seeing an aardvark on a night drive (apparently this is very rare – one of the staff members who had been working there for years said it was only the second she’d seen in her life), and a herd of elephants getting a bit too close for comfort!

I will hopefully set up a side blog at some point to write about my travels in more detail later, though I’ll obviously still be talking a lot about how it affected my anxiety/ mental health in general, and how I coped. I did feel far more confident temporarily after both of my times travelling by myself. Unfortunately, a large part of that confidence wore off a few weeks after returning home, though I am definitely MUCH better at doing things on my own now, and interacting with others in general. Though I think that’s down to pushing myself a lot in general over the last few years (the last 2 in particular), rather than just from travelling by myself.

Best year of my life

Overall, I’d say that September 2016 – October 2017 was probably the best year of my life, and I will always cherish those memories. I’m glad that I do have those happy times to reflect back on during difficult/ stressful times.

My mental health currently

Things haven’t been so great for me lately, mental health-wise. I’m doing so, so well with my anxiety, pushing myself so much and doing things I’d have never thought possible (more on this in the next post). On paper, my life is great. I’m in a loving relationship, working part-time, doing loads of voluntary work, making huge progress with my anxiety, and I may even FINALLY be on the brink of solving my epic quarter-life career crisis. Yet over the last few months, depression has been kicking my ass. I’ve cried more times than I can bear to admit, and the old suicidal feelings have even returned during the worst of it. My self-esteem is (as it always has been) non-existent. I still don’t think I’m worthy of being loved or that I have any value/ positive qualities. Honestly, I think depression and low self-esteem are actually a much bigger issue for me than my anxiety right now. I always used to think that my depression was purely a product being so socially isolated, and of all the things I couldn’t do/ missed out on due to my anxiety. It certainly does stem from that to an extent, but I think the roots are unfortunately much deeper than that. I don’t accept or value myself as a person, and that stems from both bullying and from my childhood. I actually don’t remember EVER having a healthy self-esteem or feeling good about myself as a person. I’ve always had extremely low self-esteem, as far back as I can remember. I’ve (reluctantly) asked to be referred back to CMHT, and have also been put on the waiting list for counselling with a local mental health group. On the days were I do feel the depression sinking in again, I start to wonder if I’m just a naturally miserable person. Nothing else really explains WHY I feel this way when, from the outside, my life looks great. Goodness knows why my poor boyfriend is still with me when he’s had to put up with the magical merry-go-round of Gemma’s depressive mood swings these past few months. He’s seen/ heard me cry more times than I care to admit, and put up with far more than anyone should have to. To quote him, after comforting me and trying to reason with me after I had a bit of a mini-breakdown yesterday, “It must just be because I love you”. WHY? I accept that he does, but I still cannot for the life of me understand how anyone could love me or even want to be my friend.

I’m so scared of getting very ill again. My negative thoughts have been going almost completely unchecked lately, and I know just how easily they could once again spiral out of control. Sleep deprivation definitely isn’t helping matters. I know I need to stop trying to do 48 hours’ worth of work in just 24. I know I need to take things a bit easier and get the help I need right now. I only hope I can make as much progress with depression and low self-esteem as I have with my anxiety.

Anyway, I’ve already written an essay here. I have far more updates to write but I’ll leave things here for now. A wee bit more positivity to come in the next post. Thank you for reading and I’m sorry once again that I’ve been neglecting this blog so much!

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Social Anxiety Disorder: A Day in the Life (University)

What follows is a post that I wrote a couple of years ago now, for another site, but was never published. I’ve decided to post it on here while I’m working on mega-updates on everything that has happened in my life (SA-related and otherwise) since the last time I updated my blog regularly. It’s amazing to see how much things have changed for the better since I wrote this post.


 

“This isn’t so bad”, I say to myself as I sit eating lunch in my university’s canteen. My hands are shaking, and I’m sitting alone while almost everyone else in the room seems to sitting with friends, but at least now I can actually stay in the canteen without having a panic attack. I would never have been able to do this way back during my first year of university. I look around the canteen and see other students talking and laughing with their friends and classmates. There seem to be hundreds of indecipherable conversations going on all around me. But I don’t need to decipher them to know that all of those students can do what I cannot. A wave of sadness and acceptance washes over me. “Try not to think about it”, I tell myself, “Think of the progress you’ve made. Things are better now”. Yet the progress seems like nothing at all compared to the misery, anxiety, and loneliness that I still feel on a daily basis.

I am 21 years old and about to go into my final year of university. It has taken me a year longer than most to get to this point, due to how difficult my mental health issues have made university for me. Everyone always says that these will be the best years of your life. So why have my university years been one of the most lonely and miserable periods of my life? I feel like an alien compared to other students. I have never been to a nightclub or student party, and my social life is almost non-existent. I spend my entire weekend at home. Even the thought of going out socially with a group of other students is enough to make me feel sick with anxiety. I have not managed to make a single friend at university, despite having been there for four years now. At least I do have a small number of friends now. I didn’t have any friends at all (except one online friend) until about a year ago. The friends I do have are still not close friends, though. I only see each of them about once every 2 or 3 months, so I am still very lonely and isolated. Making friends has always been difficult for me. I’d love nothing more than to have a group of close friends to spend time with and talk to, but my anxiety prevents this from happening. I don’t even have anyone that I chat with at university, so university is an extremely isolating experience for me. My anxiety has also prevented me from ever being in a relationship. Much like friendships, this is something which I long for intensely, but it is still an impossibility for me. I can’t even have a basic conversation with a member of the opposite sex without suffering from intense anxiety.

I have had social anxiety disorder for as long as I can remember. It has made life difficult in a lot of ways, throughout every stage of my life so far. Throughout my time at university, my anxiety has gotten in the way so much. Just sitting with other students in a lecture theatre is enough to make me anxious. I almost always sit on my own, as I am too afraid to sit with other students. I worry that they wouldn’t like me. I worry that they would take one look at me and then wonder why the socially awkward loner is disturbing them. Tutorials are even worse. I hate group work, because this usually involves me awkwardly having to go up to another group of students (if I can manage this without a panic attack) and ask them if I can join their group. I’m usually too anxious to contribute anything to the conversation. I used to have panic attacks during classes, and had to leave the room. I was convinced that my classmates and tutors could all see what a freak I was, and that they all thought I was pathetic. Group presentations were even worse, and would have been completely impossible without the aid of propranolol.

In addition to the anxiety, I have also suffered from episodes of severe depression since I was 14 years old. I believe that the depression results from all the ways in which social anxiety disorder limits my life. When I was 17, not long after starting my first year of university, I had the worst depressive episode of my life. I would get back from university each day and cry because I could not even have a simple conversation with anyone. I could not make friends. I was alone and miserable, and no one seemed to even notice me. I would cry myself to sleep most nights, until eventually I was no longer even able to cry. I thought about suicide a lot. One day, I decided that I could cope no longer. I had a really bad panic attack at university, left, and then decided that I would commit suicide by jumping from a suspension bridge (something I had been thinking about for months). Thankfully, despite my intense anxiety, I do have one good friend (who I met through the internet), and they, with the help of someone else, managed to talk me out of suicide. I continued to feel the same for months afterwards, but was somehow able to get through it. In some ways, that part of my life feels unreal to me, made real only by the scars on my arm. Yet in other ways, in spite of all my progress, I am still alone, still have no close friends or any chance of being in a relationship, and anxiety still pervades my life.

I am brought back to the present moment as I notice the girl sitting diagonally across the table from me. She sits alone, with her head down, shoulders hunched, and earphones in. She looks like a first year. I wonder if she too has social anxiety disorder, and if she is in the same personal hell that I am in. I wonder how many other people have to go through this loneliness, anxiety, and misery on a daily basis, longing for friends and human connection, but unable to obtain them. Social anxiety disorder is the third most common mental health problem, thought to affect 7-13% (Bryce and Saeed, 1999; Furmark, 2002) of the population in western countries. Yet the condition is almost unheard of among the general public. In my experience, the vast majority of mental health professionals do not know how to treat it, and many have never even heard of it, and refuse to accept that it a serious, life destroying disorder which can lead to depression and suicide. That’s why I’m writing this article. I want there to be more awareness of this crippling anxiety disorder. I want there to be more help and support available, and therapy that actually works. I don’t want anyone else to go through all of the pain, loneliness and misery that I have been through, and continue to go through.

A guy comes over to my table and asks if I’m interested in a gym membership. I manage to surprise myself by actually being able to make eye contact and not stumble over my words. I reply that I’m not interested. It’s not that I don’t like to exercise; it’s that my anxiety prevents me from exercising in front of other people. I still haven’t been able to face this fear. “Try not to focus on it”, I once again tell myself, “Focus on all the progress you’ve made”. While social anxiety continues to control my life, it is true that I have made considerable progress over the last couple of years. To give just a few examples, I passed my driving test, went along to some social groups, went along to a couple of job interviews, and even managed to get myself a job in a supermarket (a socially anxious person’s idea of Hell). While working there has been very difficult for me, it has also helped me a lot with my anxiety. I feel a lot less anxious in shops and other public places now. I just hope the progress can continue and that I won’t be lost to social anxiety disorder.

I remind myself that despite all the pain that comes with having depression and an anxiety disorder, despite all the times I felt I couldn’t go on with life and that suicide was my only option, I am still here. And I wouldn’t still be alive if I didn’t have hope that things can get better. If you’re struggling with social anxiety disorder or depression, I just want you to know that you’re not alone. I want you to know that you are stronger and braver than you know. You have to be to live with these conditions. I hope that someday, mental illnesses will receive as much care and attention and physical illnesses, and everyone who suffers from social anxiety disorder will be able to get the treatment they need, and go on to live a life that they can be content with, free from chronic misery and loneliness. I have decided that even if I achieve nothing else with my life, it will not be for nothing if I can raise awareness of social anxiety disorder in some way.

 

References:

Bryce, T.J. and Saeed, S.A. (1999). Social Anxiety Disorder: A Common, Underrecognized Mental Disorder. American Family Physician. 60(8): 2311-2320.

Furmark, T. (2002). Social phobia: overview of community surveys. Acta Psychiatricia Scandinavica. 105(2): 84-93.

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Sad But True

The memory now is like the picture was then,

When the paper’s crumpled up it can’t be perfect again

– ‘Forgotten’ by Linkin Park

If someone tells you something – whether that be that you’re ugly, worthless, a freak, no good, too horrible to have friends, etc – eventually, it becomes truth. So blindly true, in fact, that you don’t even question it. Especially if you are told these things when your brain is still developing (i.e. childhood or teenhood), and you lack the critical thinking skills of an adult. It is all the more true if you are told these things day in, day out, by multiple people. And the lies turned truths are even more effective if you have no friends to refute them, and to shield your highly fragile adolescent self-esteem from cruel words and actions. It’s sad but true that what someone says to you when you’re 13 years old can profoundly affect you for the rest of your life. The legacy of being bullied can last a lifetime.

Being bullied leaves an indelible mark. No matter the progress, the doubt – both in yourself and in others – will always remain. Perhaps time, and repeated positive social interactions, will help to heal. The memories will never go away, but perhaps with some hard work and luck, their impact can be blunted over time.


Edit: This post was taken from some “free-writing” I did a while back. I hope to FINALLY write more (mainly far more positive) blog posts soon.

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I Opened the Window and Influenza

As previously mentioned, I’m really out of practice with blog-writing/ writing in general, so I’ll stick to writing (or attempting to write) fairly short posts over the next few weeks. These will probably be a bit random in terms of subject and chronological order.


I mentioned in a previous post that after coming back from Namibia, I seemed to be coming down with repetitive bouts of the flu. One day at work, at the end of November, this lead to a rather dramatic (and somewhat embarrassing) turn of events.

The weird thing about this particular flu-like illness (other than that it kept coming back over the course of a month or so, after me feeling like I was completely back to normal) is that I would go from feeling completely fine to unable to get out of bed, in the space of only an hour or two. During this particular shift at work, it suddenly hit me like a ton of bricks. I started to feel very run-down and very cold, so I told my manager I that I wasn’t feeling well, put my work fleece on, and had a short break for a few minutes. A couple of my colleagues could see that I was unwell and said that I should probably just go home, but having always been a conscientious person, and not wanting to let my colleagues down, I tried to just keep working.

A short while later, I started to feel very dizzy and like I was about to throw up, so made my way back to my department as quickly as I could. My manager and team support people were busy as I got into the department, and so, feeling awful, but not wanting to be rude, I ended up leaning over one of the trolleys (as I felt like I was about to pass out), hoping that someone would notice me and ask what was wrong. It’s both funny and alarming that even when I’m feeling really unwell, I’m still anxious about interrupting people/ getting the attention of other people. After a few moments, my manager turned around, and I simply lifted my head up from the trolley and casually asked “Is there something that I can be sick in?”, then told my manager and another colleague that I felt like I was about to faint. A look of horror suddenly came over my manager’s face, and she and the other colleague rushed over to try and keep me steady. At the same moment, I felt like I was about to faint there and then (I had tunnel vision, just like I did before I fainted/ nearly fainted in the past), so I immediately sat down right where I was. I actually felt better (in terms of no longer feeling nauseous) once I had regained my vision, but because I’d nearly passed out, had a temperature, and still felt unwell, 3 first aiders were called to my department, and my manager (who seemed really worried about me, especially as I had recently been to Africa) decided that an ambulance should also be called. I started freaking out about my health at this point, as I really didn’t feel that things were serious enough to call an ambulance, but started to worry that something may be seriously wrong with me. This wasn’t helped by one of the first aiders telling me that the rash on my right hand/ arm looked a lot like insect bites. They also pointed out that I was shaking (due to the adrenaline kicking in to keep me conscious), but for a change, I actually wasn’t that bothered about it. Normally, having someone notice my shaking (or other physical symptoms of anxiety) would lead to me getting even more anxious.

The paramedics arrived really quickly and took all my vitals, and my blood sugar. They could find nothing physically wrong with me other than a raised temperature. However, given my recent African adventures, they decided that I should be taken to A&E just to be on the safe side. As I had been sat right at the entrance to our department (thus preventing my colleagues from returning/ processing trolleys), my colleagues all had to wait outside the department until my manager asked that they take an early break. I was taken out of our department in a wheelchair (just in case I fainted or felt faint again), with most of my colleagues looking on, which was rather embarrassing. I sheepishly said hello to one of the colleagues who had advised me to go home as I left, and she basically said “I told you so”>

I ended up sitting in A&E for about 2 hours before (thankfully) being told that there was nothing seriously wrong with me and being discharged. The doctors/ nurses reckoned that the weird rash on my hand/ arm was just some sort of allergic reaction, probably related to my eczema. Although I was much relieved, I felt pretty awful about the whole thing, as my sister had to miss classes at university, and my mum had to take the rest of the day off work, in order for them both to pick me up/ make sure I was okay. The member of staff who told me that it was likely just a flu-like viral infection seemed quite annoyed with me as well, and – even though it wasn’t my decision to call an ambulance – I obviously felt really terrible about wasting the time/ resources of an ambulance that could have gone to someone in a much more serious condition. I just hope that the medical professionals I’ve seen before about my fainting/ near-fainting problem are correct in saying that it’s related to anxiety, rather than a sign that something is physically wrong with me. In the CBT group that I attended, the therapists told us that it was practically impossible to faint when very anxious, due to all the adrenaline, so I do find it all a bit odd. Perhaps I’m just someone who faints easily.

I was sort of the talk of my workplace for days after my near-fainting episode, which was quite embarrassing. It’s nice to know that people care/ were concerned though. Honestly, the lengths I will go to just to skive off work, eh? 😛 The only good thing about the whole ordeal was that I got to relax, stay in bed, and do nothing but sleep and binge play Oblivion (the Elder Scrolls game) for three days. (Yes, I’m a massive nerd, and this is probably part of the reason why I didn’t have a boyfriend until very recently. 😛 But I make no apologies for that. It’s an old game but it’s a good game). Unfortunately, playing video games is something that I only get to do once in a blue moon these days, and I do miss the sense of adventure and escapism that they bring. (Again, nerd alert! You’re all free to run away now.)

Anyway…sorry for the word vomit. Life has been crazily busy lately (in a mostly pleasant way), hence the lack of posts. I haven’t forgotten my blog though.

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23

Amazing still it seems
I’ll be 23
I won’t always love what I’ll never have
I won’t always live in my regrets

– ‘23’ by Jimmy Eat World

I rediscovered this song on my ipod the other day (after having not listened to it in years) and it reminded me of how much progress I’ve made over these last few years. I remember frequently listening to that song, and couple of other songs from that album, when I was 16 and severely depressed, wondering what the state of my life would be like when I was 23, and wondering if I would even still be alive then. It was a negative song for me back then; a forecast of a bleak future, in which things would be even worse than they were when I was in high school, and in which I would still be just as incapacitated by anxiety, still be suicidal, still be self-injuring, still have no friends, and still have no chance of being in a relationship or holding down a job. I didn’t think I’d ever have any semblance of a social life, and I definitely didn’t think that I’d ever be able to travel to a different continent all by myself. Like the song lyrics say, I thought I’d be alone and lonely forever, trapped in a vortex of depression, and with suicide being an eventuality. I never imagined that things would be so different to how they were back then.

Now, at the age of 23, listening to that song reminds me how far I’ve come and how much better life is now than during my breakdown at the age of 17. It’s like night and day. This is the longest period of me feeling good about how my life is going since my last year of primary school. I do still have days where I feel as if I’m starting to sink into (mild) depression again, and I start to really worry about the future. I worry because I know just how bad things can get, and how easily everything could fall apart again. If you have ever experienced a mental health condition that has greatly reduced your quality of life, you’ll know that fear of relapse all too well. I fear my anxiety worsening again, and losing the progress I have made. I fear another episode of severe depression most of all. I’m not sure I could get through that again. However, things have certainly been snowballing in a positive direction over these last few years. I’m hopeful that if I can keep challenging myself and using what I’ve learned, this progress and positivity will continue. Even if things do start to slide backwards, I’ve gotten better over the years at recognising when this is happening, and taking steps to address it. If I’ve recovered from depression and greatly reduced my anxiety in social situations before, it stands to reason that I can do it again if life throws me a curveball.

I haven’t had suicidal thoughts since before I left university, and it’s been much longer since I seriously thought about self-injury. While my anxiety does still impact upon just about every area of my life, I can do A LOT more now than I could a few years ago. On a day-to-day basis, my anxiety is certainly a lot more manageable. Without meaning to sound overdramatic, I’m so glad that I didn’t end my life 5 years ago. I would have missed out on so many happy/ positive experiences. I have been very lucky, and I’m grateful every day, for every little thing (for example, yesterday I was able to start a conversation with a colleague that I don’t normally talk to). I will never take the SA-related stuff for granted. Life isn’t perfect, but I have a job (where I’m gradually getting better and better at talking to colleagues and customers), some more travelling planned, a boyfriend, FRIENDS (we aren’t close and I don’t see them very often but have been seeing more of one of my friends in recent months), and I have a social life. All of that is huge!  I also had great birthday this year (I normally don’t really look forward to my birthday as in the past, it served as a painful reminder of how far behind everyone else I am and how socially isolated I was/ still am to an extent). I felt loved by the people in my life, and was spoilt rotten!

I only hope that I can help to raise awareness of social anxiety disorder, and help other people who are in the situation I was in at my lowest point, or worse. My heart truly goes out to you all, because I know how painful and isolating a condition this really, and how life-destroying it can be. I really wish there was more I could do, though I am encouraged by the number of people who have commented on my blog or emailed me to say that my blog has helped them to feel less alone, understood, and/ or more positive about the future. I’ve had a couple of people email me with requests for interviews before, but have been too anxious to go ahead with anything so far. I’m also torn between doing something like that to raise awareness/ educate people, and losing the relative anonymity that I currently enjoy on this blog. I like my privacy, and I’m not sure that I would want my family to read this blog. Though perhaps in future, once I’ve reduced my anxiety even further, I will be ready for that sort of thing.


EDIT: I’m sorry if this post sounds really melodramatic and/ or self-pitying at parts. I just try to write as honestly and openly as possible about my experiences. Please also bear with my terrible writing, as I’m still trying to re-learn how to write blog posts after not blogging regularly (or writing at all) in so long. (My brain having turned into mince as the result of a brainless job is not helping – I swear my vocabulary and intelligence are decreasing by the day). I’m going to make an effort to try and write a new blog post at least once a week for the foreseeable future.

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Someone call the papers!

I mentioned in a previous post that I was attempting online dating again and that I might be meeting up with a guy from one of the sites. Well we did end up meeting up, and things have gone really well so far. I’ll need to write about our first date at some point, actually, as it makes for a funny story, in terms of how mortifyingly/ hilariously (depending on how you look at it) awkward I am. We’ve been going out for almost two months now, and I now have a boyfriend (!!!) Trust me when I say that no one is more surprised than I am! I was thoroughly convinced that I would never be in a relationship, given my mental health issues, unattractiveness, and low self-esteem. I still can’t really believe it now. This is a very prolonged and elaborate dream that I’m having. I really don’t want to mess this up, but I’m worried that all my issues that I mentioned above will inevitably ruin things. He knows all about my social anxiety and history of depression, and has so far been extremely patient and understanding, but it is still a worry. I have zero relationship experience (and not even much experience with friendships), and, as I mentioned before, being in a relationship/ getting close to someone is the area in which my anxiety and low self-esteem are most intense. I am also absolutely dreading meeting his parents (he has already met all of my immediate family, but his parents live up in the Highlands, so it will be some time before I have the opportunity to meet them, if everything continues to go well), even though they seem like lovely people. Everything in a relationship is so new and daunting to me.

While I’m of course really happy about finally having found someone I really like (and who apparently likes me) enough to be in a relationship, I am having huge issues with cognitive dissonance. For example, I can’t believe him when he says that he really likes me or that he finds me attractive, because most of my previous life experiences have taught me that I’m unlikeable/ unlovable, and that I’m hideously unattractive. Therefore according to the sum of my life experience and conditioning, he’s lying. And then I get suspicious and start to worry about what else he might be lying about. Stupid brain. All of this has made me realise that low self-esteem is my biggest issue/ obstacle. I’m currently reading a book on self-compassion in an attempt to address this. Another thing that I’m worried about is that I have intense anxiety/ issues around physical intimacy (I find it really difficult to talk about that kind of thing, but will hopefully write about it in more detail at some point, as I imagine it’s quite a common issue in those of us with SA). Even though he’s been super patient and understanding about this so far, I worry that my issues with this will eventually cause his patience to run out. Anyway…negative rant over.

It feels so great to finally have someone special in my life. I thought that romantic relationships would only ever be something that happened to other people, not to me. I’ve been so lucky to find someone so caring, patient and understanding when it comes to me and my mental health. I had the courage to be open with him about my issues, and he has accepted me, anxiety and all. I feel like this is someone that I may actually be able to trust and open up to completely. Although there are a lot of things about getting close to someone that make me really anxious, I have become so much more comfortable around him already (probably like a different person compared to how anxious I was on our first date), so I am hopeful that I will continue to improve and won’t let my anxiety get in the way of this part of my life. Even if things ultimately don’t work out, I’ve still really enjoyed our time together, and have some new happy memories to add to my collection. Any friendship or relationship that I have in my life is very precious to me. I won’t take this for granted, and I will certainly cherish this far more than most people.

Posted in Life Story, Positivity, Social Anxiety | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments