I think it’s about time to inject some positivity into my blog, so this post will be about the achievements that I’ve made with my social anxiety recently. It’s taken me quite a while to actually get round to it.
I started volunteering at my local Oxfam a few weeks ago now. I wanted to do it just to have somewhere to go/ some structure to my day, for one day a week, during the summer, as I haven’t managed to get a job. If I’m lucky, it might also help with getting a job as well, and it’ll give me/ has given me experience of working. I had to phone the shop manager to find out about volunteering, which I was really anxious about, but I managed it. Then I went into the shop a week later to have a chat about volunteering and fill in a couple of forms. This really tested my SA and I tried really hard to fake ‘normality’ as best I could. Again, though, I managed.
The week after that was my first day volunteering there. I really was tested to the max on that day because the shop manager put me straight on the till serving customers after a brief explanation of everything. I was very, very anxious indeed and shaking/sweating quite a bit. I thought I’d have a panic attack but, amazingly, I didn’t. It was really difficult but my anxiety gradually reduced over the course of the afternoon. I was exhausted afterwards. Serving the customers was extremely awkward at first, and I suppose it still is, but I’ve perhaps made slight improvements. I had a hairdressers appointment immediately after my first afternoon of volunteering and I was a lot more confident/ talkative with the hairdresser than I usually am. My mum was also there getting her hair cut, and we’ve known the hairdresser for a few years now, but I never really managed to say much to her before. It was quite amazing how much more confident I felt after volunteering just once. I’ve never managed to say so much to the hairdresser. I’m proud of myself. I had a dental check-up a couple of weeks later and was much the same. I usually hate dentist appointments because I feel so awkward and never know what to say, but this time, I talked A LOT (for me). I actually felt that I said too much – I blabbed on quite a bit when the dentist asked me about my course.
I was volunteering there one afternoon a week up until a couple of weeks ago – due to another positive thing that has happened recently (I’ll mention this later in the post) – and will probably see about volunteering at the weekend while I’m at uni, as I feel that it’s really helped me. While I’ve worked in the stockroom as well, most of my time there is spent on the till. As I’m a volunteer, I’m allowed to opt out of being on the till if I don’t want to do it, but I’ve went on it every time I’ve been asked so far, and I’m really glad that I’ve done so, purely because of the confidence boost it gave/ has given me. Most of the other volunteers there say that they hate going on the till (though I’m not really sure why – I wouldn’t imagine it’s due to them being anxious about it, but who knows?) But other than the intense anxiety, I really don’t mind it, and even enjoy parts of it. On a scale of 1 to 10 (where 10 is the most intense, terrifying panic attack ever, and 1 is very, very mild anxiety), I usually start off at about 7 or 7.5 when I’m put on the till but this gradually goes down to about a 5 after a couple of hours.
I’ve managed surprisingly well in having conversations with the other volunteers there as well. I quite like that I’m the youngest person there because I seem to find it easier to talk to people who are older than me, rather than talking to people my own age. I’ve managed to talk to both the shop manager and one of the other, regular volunteers. Again, I feel that I’m being really awkward at times but I have managed very well indeed considering my SA and poor social skills. The second week that I was there, the shop manager’s husband came in and I managed to have quite a long conversation with him about my course and about their daughter, who is also at university. I felt that I was really awkward when I said goodbye to him, but I managed well other than that.
I’m still terrible at making small talk with customers and I’m not really sure HOW to make small talk. All I can really say is “That’ll be <insert price here>, please”, “Here’s your change and receipt”, and “Would you like a bag?”, which I feel awkward enough saying. I have awkwardly tried to say things when customers have talked to me, but I feel that I must look so weird/awkward to them, or whatever I’ve said just sounds stupid, no matter what I say. Sometimes I wish that I could just read a general rule book for small talk, or I could just automatically know what to say in a given situation, but I know that it’s nowhere near that simple. Maybe that’s the problem – I think that there must be something ‘correct’ to say in a particular conversational exchange, and that I mostly say ‘incorrect’ things. I suppose I probably think a bit too much in black and white when it comes to social interaction. But I don’t know how you’re supposed to formulate an acceptable response that won’t make you appear weird or awkward. I’d like to use volunteering as an opportunity to build my small talk/ general social skills, but I just can’t seem to get my head around it. Small talk is definitely not something that comes naturally to me.
Volunteering has generally made me a lot more confident, and I feel a lot more able to talk to people for the rest of the day, after I’ve volunteered. After the last time that I was there, I bumped into the lovely old couple who have lived across the road from us and known me since I was a very young child. The elderly woman is now very frail and doesn’t get out much, so I hadn’t seen her in about a year, but I managed to talk to her about my course, driving lessons, volunteering, etc and was a lot more confident than the last time I saw her. She said that I looked like I’d lost quite a bit of weight since she last saw me (which I have), and that I was generally looking lovely – not sure if I can really believe that but it was really nice of her. After that, I went to the supermarket (and felt hardly any anxiety!) and even managed to phone my mum from there (using the phone in public usually makes me extremely anxious).
So yeah…sorry that I’ve blabbed on so much about volunteering but it really has helped me quite a lot. I’d never have thought I’d have managed to do it even a few months ago, but here I am. It feels great. One thing I still need to work on, though, is looking at people when I’m out and about. I still find making eye contact – or even just looking in someone’s general direction – really difficult when in public and generally just look off in the distance or at the ground. I’ll probably try doing exposure exercises to get better at this at some point.
I’m still getting driving lessons (which can really trigger my SA at times, though I’ve generally managed quite well. I finally got started on studying for my theory test but I have no idea when I’m actually going to sit it. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to spent a little bit of time on it while at uni but I suppose I can wait until Christmas if not.
I’ve managed to get 2 weeks of work experience at a veterinary practice (the one that my dog is registered at). This involved handing my CV in to someone at the reception and having to explain that I was looking for work experience (I was really anxious about this but managed okay), then emailing the head vet there. I’ve been incredibly lucky indeed, as not only was it the first and only practice that I had to ask for work experience, but the only time they had available was the 2 weeks before starting back at uni, which was perfect for me. They even let me have Tuesday off so that I didn’t have to miss my induction day. Very, very lucky indeed.
On the Friday before starting work experience, I went in for a chat with the head vet nurse. I felt very anxious beforehand, and awkward due to the fact that I mostly just stood there and nodded while she showed me around and explained everything to me. I think I did okay though.
I started my work experience there last Monday. I’m in from 9:30 ’til 17:00 every day (Monday to Friday). It has been quite a challenge with my SA but I’ve generally been getting a bit more confident each day. There is a vet student there who is also on 2 weeks on work experience. Though it’s been rather awkward, I have managed to talk to her quite a bit. We generally don’t talk unless it’s related to the work, though I have managed a bit of small talk with her at lunch sometimes. I’ve also managed to talk to the cleaner there quite a bit. I had quite a long conversation with her today about my course/ my sister going to university/ her sons. Other than with eye contact, I didn’t really feel awkward at all.
The work has been mostly enjoyable though I’m still not entirely sure if being vet nurse is definitely what I want to do. I certainly don’t think I would mind it though. If I can work up the courage, I might ask each of the vet nurses what the best and worst parts of their job are, to get a better perspective on it. What worries me about it is that it seems a very social job – they’re constantly having to take phone calls/ phone customers, do consultations, and of course, communicate with other members of the veterinary team. I’m also worried about stressing out in an emergency and not being of any use to anyone. There’s also the short sleeves issue. I’ve managed fine with long sleeves and 3/4 length sleeves (as long as I keep pulling the sleeve down) so far, but it seems that short sleeves are required if you’re wearing scrubs (to help hold instruments/ organs in place while the vet operates), because I think that you’re supposed to wash up to your elbows. The other issue is that scrubbing my hands so much, hand-feeding dogs, etc, would cause the mother of all flare-ups for my eczema. Not sure how I’d get around that one either. (Okay, I’ll stop the negativity now). Those barriers will all some how need to be overcome if I decide that I do want to become a vet nurse.
I’ll probably write a more detailed post on my time at the vets sometime soon (I’d been meaning to do it before now but the work experience has kept me fairly busy). I’m so glad that I’ve actually gotten veterinary work experience this summer. I also managed to phone the SSPCA and Edinburgh Dog and Cat Home earlier this summer, to see about volunteering there. I’ve been put on their volunteer waiting lists, but it could take forever to actually get to volunteer there.
I will end this post here because I’m running short on time, but there is more positivity to come soon.