An update on everything that has happened in the last 3 weeks.
My mood has been all over the place since I started back at university. I’ve been happy, I’ve been miserable and suicidal, and everywhere in between. The first thing that struck me when I went back was once again the feeling of alienation from everyone else there. The class sizes are massive compared to last year and it’s very easy to become invisible. As always, it disheartens me to see everyone else with their friends, knowing that I’m not able to make friends myself, and feeling like no one would want to be friends with me. In the very first class I had, I remember that the person sitting next to me was getting really stressed out because she couldn’t find enough information on her chosen dissertation topic and had to change it. Her friends were really supportive, saying that they’d help her come up with other ideas and find scientific journal articles for her to read. I don’t know…it must be really nice to have people to help you out and support you like that. To have a group of close friends and be able to support each other through difficulties, no matter how minor or major. To have a bunch of people who you care about and who care about you. People who like spending time with you. I wish I could experience that myself. It’s a lot lonelier and more difficult trying to get by without any friends to offer support and encouragement or laughter. I’m still feeling very much like the outsider at university.
In terms of the anxiety, I have coped quite well so far, but I’m still finding tutorials very difficult to deal with. As soon as the lecturer says “I’d like everyone to get into groups to discuss <random topic>”, I get a terrible sinking feel in my stomach and I’m filled with complete dread. Even when I’m actually brave enough to ask the people sitting next to me if I can join their group, I just end up sitting in silence and contributing very little (if anything) to the discussion because I’m too afraid of saying something stupid. I also absolutely HATE being late and having to walk right to the front of the lecture hall to find a seat. It feels like the eyes of everyone in the room are on me. Thankfully, this has only happened once so far this semester, but it was horrible. Sometimes I wonder if I border on being deluded when it comes to my social anxiety. I logically know that it’s a load of nonsense, but if people behind me in the lecture theatre are talking/ whispering to each other, I assume that they’re talking about me in the most negative light possible. If I hear anyone laugh or snicker, I assume that they’re laughing at how pathetic, ugly, or awkward I am, or how weirdly I walk/ sit, and so on. No matter how many times I tell myself that it’s completely illogical, the feeling is still there. The university canteen is even busier now than it was in the previous 2 years and there’s often nowhere to sit. This means that I usually escape to the smaller cafe on the next floor to eat my lunch. I suppose the avoidance is bad but I usually don’t have much of a choice. I suppose I’m still exposing myself to eating in front of people, but obviously not to such a large extent. Feeling a bit calmer when eating lunch – without feeling nauseous – is nice. I’ve only managed to eat in the canteen once so far, but I actually handled it really well and didn’t feel that anxious.
I met JW at university again, but only see her once a week now because she’s taking a different course. I feel that there is absolutely no point in trying to form a friendship with her (even if I knew how and actually felt comfortable making friends). She’s just someone to make small talk with, I suppose. The whole thing just makes me feel a bit crap, really. She just talks to someone else on her course instead of talking to me most of the time anyway. It makes me feel awful about myself but then I can’t really make conversation anyway, so I don’t blame her. Although, to be fair, I did manage to talk to both of them about the residential field trip that I’ll be going on next week as part of my course (more on this later). I felt that I did quite well but it was still awkward. As usual, I’m unable to take the conversation beyond a superficial level and actually open up to people in any way.
My last post was about the most recent SA meet, which didn’t go too well. The one before that went a bit better, but I still felt very inferior to everyone else there in almost every way. I did manage to talk quite a bit to the organiser though – she’s studying to become a vet, so we have a love of animals in common. She’s had social anxiety her entire life as well. I also managed to talk to the two new people, one of whom took photos of us, which I think made everyone feel awkward. But other than that, it went okay. We just chatted and walked along the beach together. There’s another SA meet tomorrow, which I’m hoping will be better than the last one.
In terms of my mood, the first week and a half or so of university wasn’t too great. I ended up crying myself to sleep a lot and I’ve felt suicidal on and off lately. As usual, this results from feeling completely hopeless about my future. This can often be caused simply by over analysing things to a ridiculous extent, losing perspective, and blowing things out of proportion – as, in hindsight, I did after the last SA meetup. Loneliness is obviously a massive trigger also. Feeling overwhelmed by university and worrying about not meeting deadlines or failing things doesn’t help either. It’s bizarre how lately, I can feel suicidal one day and great the next, or vice versa. Not sure what’s going on there. Exercise does help my mood a lot though. I tend to feel so much better after I’ve gone out cycling. I really wish that I had the time to do at least 45 minutes of moderate intensity exercise every single day. It would help so much. Just in the last couple of weeks, I appear to have gone into autumn/winter mode. This is especially noticeable on overcast/ dull days. I feel completely drained of energy, want to eat carbs and chocolate, and just want to go to bed and stay there. I’ll probably write more about this in my next post. I haven’t been using my S.A.D lamp due to the fact that I won’t be able to take it with me on the residential field trip and I’d probably feel worse ‘withdrawing’ from it rather than not using it at all. I’m beginning to feel like I need it though. I’ve been trying to get up earlier to make the most of the daylight, but it doesn’t really make any difference on overcast days.
The residential field trip – which I leave for on Monday – is to an island off the west coast of Scotland, and is for five days. I’m very, very anxious about it for a bunch of reasons. We’ll be staying in student dorms and I’m not sure how I’ll handle that. I managed to request a single room, with the help of student support. For most people, it’ll be 2 or even 3 to a room. The idea of sharing a room with people that I don’t know – and therefore having no time alone to recharge and calm down – just freaks me out. I’m still worried about it though – I imagine we’ll have to share bathrooms and might have to make conversation if we see each other in the corridors. There is also a single canteen in which everyone eats all of their meals. I worry that I’ll look like such a freak because I still don’t really know anyone on my course and I will be sitting all on my own while everyone else is in groups with their friends. Just knowing that I will have to eat all of my meals in front of them makes me feel sick. And what if they think I’m really weird for not going out drinking at night or whatever? Even worse – what if someone invites me along? Then what do I do? I’ll be spending my entire day in the company of these people. How do I act around them? How on earth will I cope? Actually travelling to the place makes me quite anxious as well. Going somewhere new or doing something new on my own always makes me anxious. What if something goes wrong or I get lost and don’t get there on time? Not knowing the full details of what the place is like and what buildings are there makes me feel quite anxious as well. I have the schedule for the 5 days, which is reassuring, but I still don’t like knowing so little about the actual place and accommodation/ layout. And then there’s the group work. We’ll be split into groups of 5 or so when we get there, and will have to do a group project together, which we will then have to do a rapidly approaching….*cue the ‘Jaws’ theme tune*……PRESENTATION(!!!!!!)…..on. I am completely freaking out. How much do I tell the people in my group about my anxiety, if anything? How do I actually interact with them? There are just so many worries.
The presentation (which I have been completely dreading ever since I found out about it over 5 months ago now) will be in front of about 70 people and will last 10 minutes. It counts for 10% of the module marks. It’ll be a group presentation but still… I am terrified. It’s no exaggeration for me to say that I would rather face the firing squad than stand at the front of the lecture theatre and talk in front of that many people. It’s my biggest fear.
I went to see a GP on Monday to see about being prescribed some anti-anxiety medication, because I feel that there is no way I could get through the presentation without it. I was once again reminded of just how ignorant some people are when it comes to mental health problems. I managed to give her a very, very brief history of my troubles with social anxiety, and she read through my notes from the psychology department. She then proceeded to have an argument with me about how this is all “Just in your mind” – I’m very interested as to where else she thought it (or indeed any aspect of reality) would be – and I was blowing everything out of proportion. She kept going on about how it’s apparently “so simple” to overcome social anxiety disorder and all I have to do is stop caring about what other people think.
Hang on just a second….oh my goodness, it worked! I just overcame a lifetime of anxiety and ingrained thought patterns JUST LIKE THAT! Suddenly I can talk to people and make friends and have relationships and do all the other things I’ve been missing out on for so long. It was THAT easy!
I kept trying to explain to her that it’s simple in theory only. In reality it is so, so difficult. But she was having none of it. She just kept going on about how I have to take a chance sometime and how “This is normal. Everyone goes through this.”
So everyone else in the world is incapable of forming friendships or relationships or of getting close to anyone in any way? Everyone else in the world is incapacitated by fear every single time they have to interact with another human being? Everyone else has no friends and has never held hands with a member of their preferred gender/s at 19 years old? Everyone else has a full-blown panic attack and feels like they’re going to die or pass out when they have to do a presentation? Everyone else has missed out on so many opportunities because of their anxiety? Everyone else has suffered depression which led them to self harm and feel actively suicidal because of the extent to which their anxiety has messed up their life? Wow…forgive my ignorance.
I told her that while I agree that everyone goes through a stage of shyness in life (usually as a young child), I completely disagree that what I experience is normal. She then told me that it IS normal and that I’ve just stayed in the same place because I couldn’t be bothered to actually take the chance in doing something brave. She then went on another rant about how I clearly wasn’t trying hard enough (despite me telling her about the progress I’ve made recently). “Everyone gets a bit anxious about asking people out or doing presentations, but at some point you have to take the chance – you know, just ask someone out for a drink. You have to start addressing this problem”. (Not that I haven’t already spent years and massive amounts of effort trying to address this problem, of course). She kept going on about how “None of this is logical!” (Wow…that never once occurred to me before!) I tried to explain to her that I know that it’s not logical – anxiety disorders are not logical things – but fear doesn’t care much for (and generally isn’t defeated by) logic. She just would not listen to me at all and was not at all understanding. When I was giving her a brief history of my anxiety, and any time that I mentioned the things that I couldn’t do/ was scared to do because of my anxiety, she just sat there with a smirk on her face. I was so angry and upset that I almost burst out crying during the appointment. The whole thing just made me feel completely pathetic. She seemed to have the attitude that my problem was simply that I was being pathetic and not trying hard enough, and that I should just pull myself together. It infuriates me that there are people out there who are still so ignorant about mental illness. I wonder how many other people with anxiety and/ or depression that particular GP sees. Would she tell someone who was suicidal to simply “cheer up”, or that they just weren’t trying hard enough to be happy? I wonder how many people eventually go on to kill themselves because they’ve had to deal with people like that for so long? I’m certainly sick of dealing with them. As if it’s not difficult enough to make yourself vulnerable by opening up to the GP and asking them for help. What if someone was suicidal and had went to see their GP as a last ditch attempt to get help, only to have to deal with someone like that? It sickens me to know that that will indeed be the case for a lot of people. I’ve come across loads of people on SA groups and forums who have gone through the exact same thing as I did, with their GP. You would think that GPs of all people should be knowledgeable and understanding about mental illness, but most of the GPs I’ve seen so far are completely clueless. They just throw their own ignorant opinions at you rather than actually listening. I saw my counsellor again on Wednesday and he agreed that she clearly was very ignorant and didn’t have a clue what she was talking about. It still infuriates me that she gets away with treating people like that though. As if we’re lesser beings because our problems are apparently just due to us not trying as hard as everyone else.
Anyway…the good thing is that she did prescribe me propranolol ( a beta blocker). For anyone not familiar with them, they block adrenaline, so you don’t show the physical symptoms of anxiety (shaking, racing pulse, etc) but you still feel anxious. I can’t even imagine what that would be like. I’m really hoping that they will help with the presentation, though it is hard to believe that anything could stop me having a panic attack in that situation. I’ll probably take them on the field trip as well, just in case I feel that I need them. However, I’ve promised myself that I’ll only take one if I’m sure that I’d have a panic attack (or come very, very close to one) otherwise. What I like about beta-blockers (okay, “like” probably isn’t the best word…) is that you do still feel extremely anxious, but they allow you to handle that. What keeps my panic attacks going (and I’m sure that this is the same for anyone with social anxiety disorder) is knowing that other people can see my shaking, sweating, trembling, chest heaving out when I breath, etcetera. If you remove that aspect, you break the cycle and (I’m hoping) prevent a panic attack. They allow you to cope with things despite anxiety.
I’ve been applying for Christmas jobs lately, and I finally got an email back from one company, inviting me for an interview. It’s on the 14th of October. So yet more anxiety! (It seems that all of my biggest fears have been squashed into the space of a couple of weeks). I am terrified. I’ve never been along to a job interview before and don’t really have a clue what to expect. I’ll probably spend the weekend before trying to come up with good answers to anything they might ask and rehearsing everything that I’m going to say, then I’ll pop a propranolol beforehand and hope for the best. I suppose even if nothing comes of it, it’ll still be good practice for the future.
Why is this all happening to me? And in such a short space of time? I think I’m going to lose (what’s left of) my mind. The next 3 weeks are going to test my anxiety more than it has ever been tested in my entire life. Not sure how I am going to find the strength.