I went to see my counsellor today and for some reason my anxiety around other people was even higher than usual. I felt very, very paranoid as well. My bad habit of ‘mind-reading’ (i.e. assuming that I know what everyone else is thinking about me – with the vast majority, if not all of it being very negative) gets even worse when I have a bad day, anxiety-wise. I managed to push myself to do a bit of exposure therapy by going into a book shop, though I only stayed there for about 10-15 minutes. It went okay, I suppose (as in, I didn’t have a panic attack/ managed to survive it) but I did spend most of the time feeling quite nauseous. I was still convinced that everyone in the shop was judging me very negatively and felt as if everyone was looking at me and judging me based on the books I looked at. It sounds really stupid and completely illogical to me, having to type that out now, but I’m convinced of those things when I’m actually in the situation. Maybe I need to do more CBT – I haven’t done any in a while. Sometimes I try to make light of my anxiety by imagining that people really are doing what my social anxiety tells me they’re doing. So if I’m feeling very paranoid about people judging me negatively based on the book that I’m looking at, I imagine everyone in the shop sitting at a judges panel, holding up number paddles with very low numbers on them (yes, I’m weird). Sometimes it does help a tiny bit if I can make light of certain things like that or if I just ‘tell’ the anxious/ negative ‘voice’ in my head that it’s talking a load of crap (again, I know that sounds weird, but it helps). I even managed to go to the cafe upstairs, though I didn’t buy anything. I felt less anxious on the way home.
My counsellor and I were talking about how bullying has been a large contributing factor towards my severe social anxiety. He pointed out that the fact that I never gave the bullies a reaction shows that I’m a strong person, though I don’t really agree. Most of the time, I didn’t give them a reaction because I was far too scared to actually do anything. This was especially true when I was being physically bullied by groups of boys. How on earth was I supposed to do anything other than be non-violent and walk away? I always thought to myself that I didn’t want to stoop to their level, though sometimes I wish I had. Sometimes I wish that I had shouted back, or said something hurtful back, or even physically retaliated, as futile as that would have been. Maybe then I wouldn’t have internalised the years of intense anger and lash out at myself in the form of self injury, and mentally beating myself up. I wonder if I will ever ‘get over’ the bullying. I don’t know why it has stuck with me for so long. I’ve internalised everything that people said to me in high school, and the views they had of me. And I still believe that everywhere I go, everyone is going to treat me like people in high school did. What if that feeling never leaves me?
I’d like to write a big, essay-style post on bullying and it’s effects on mental health at some point in the near future because I think it’s a topic that’s very much overlooked.