Update 1: Valium, anyone?

I apologise that this post is essentially the”pick ‘n’ mix” version of blogging. It’s kind of all over the place, but this is what happens when I have to fit a lot into one post. This is the first in a series of 3 update posts.

University

I started back at university again 3 weeks ago. My anxiety skyrocketed for the first few days of this, and I suffered from insomnia. On the first day back, I was able to somewhat accept that sitting alone and not having any friends there does not make me any less of a person than anyone else, but that didn’t last long. I feel like everyone in my class dislikes me because of what a weird loner I am and they’d rather that I wasn’t there. CBT has helped me to realise that this is irrational, yet I still feel this way. I don’t know if it’s the changing of the seasons or simply because of the stress and anxiety that university puts me under, but my ability to deal with stress seems to be greatly diminished at this time of year, as does my ability to counteract my negative and unrealistic thoughts and beliefs. I really feel awful about myself lately, despite trying to love myself to be kind to myself. When I’m this lonely all the time and unable to connect with other people at university, it really does make me feel like I must be a truly horrible person that no one likes. When I was in high school, people there used to make horrible comments about me, such as saying that I looked like I wanted to kill someone when I was depressed/ that I looked like a serial killer. The only person I’ve ever wanted to kill is myself. Those people treated me like some sort of inhuman monster. The reality could not be further from the truth. Most of my problems stem from being far too sensitive and easily affected by the suffering of other people. I’m extremely empathetic and it really pains me that my lack of trust in other people and inability to get close to others means that I can’t show them how warm and affectionate I am. I was bullied to such an extent that I now see myself as some sort of horrible monster and I can’t believe that other people would actually want to talk to me or be around me.

I’ve carried on with the CBT and have tried to find at least one thing that contradicts my negative core beliefs each day. It can be really frustrating at times but I have made a little bit of progress so far.

One of the first classes I had this semester was a field trip to identify different plants (yes, despite the fact that I’m doing animal biology). As usual, I ended up standing very awkwardly by myself while everyone waited at the meeting point for the tutors to show up. As soon as the module leader arrived, she told us all to get into groups. When you have social anxiety and someone effectively tells you to go up to people you hardly know and awkwardly ask to be in their group, worrying that everyone else there will see you as a weird loner, while everyone else is already in groups with their friends, and your anxiety is already through the roof, you kind of feel like this:

(Just in case anyone’s somehow failed to realise this, that was me being bitterly sarcastic.)

Thankfully, one of the postgraduate students asked if I wanted to be in a group with her and her friends, which was greatly appreciated. But I was still so anxious that I couldn’t join in with the conversation. The people in my group and the mature student tried to talk to me but I was so anxious that I felt as if I was going to projectile vomit. I feel that they must think I’m so rude and not interested in talking to them, but that’s not the case at all. I’m just too much of an anxious wreck to even make eye contact or think of anything to say in reply. I did manage to talk a little bit to people in my group about the field work once I’d calmed down a little bit though. Speaking of the field work, when the tutor quizzed us on tree identification, I was able to identify almost everything she pointed out but, as usual, I was too afraid to answer in front of the class. I was like this all throughout school as well. It’s quite frustrating. I’ve learned to just congratulate myself when I get the answers to things right but I still feel like a failure because I’m too afraid to even say one or two words in front of everyone.

I’m feeling very glad indeed that I decided to go part-time. I honestly don’t know how anyone on the full-time course manages to get through the last year. I salute you. My head actually hurts from all the reading we have to do for just one of the modules. Sometimes I think that university is in some ways quite harmful towards my mental health. My inability to interact with other people there means that I’m still in mostly the same mindset I was in back in high school. Depriving myself of sleep in order to get assignments done on time/ study for exams doesn’t help either. I get far too stressed about my coursework, convinced that I’ll do really badly/ not be able to do it, despite the fact I’ve done very well so far.

Feeling immature and inferior 

I know that other people have different circumstances and that I really shouldn’t compare myself to others, but I do feel so immature and inferior when compared to other people my age, or even people a couple of years younger than me. It seems as if everyone else is racing ahead of me, making friends, having relationships, getting jobs, knowing what they want to do after uni, travelling abroad and having all kinds of new experiences, passing their driving tests and getting their own cars, and so on. I’m probably wrong but most of them seem to have things figured out far more than I do. Their social skills are so much better than mine, they’re so much more independent than me, and they seem to know far more about the world than I do. They already have so much more life experience than I do.

Driving

Progress with driving is still very slow. I often feel that I’ll never be able to drive because I’m such an anxious driver, and due to how anxious I’ll be during my test. My driving instructor actually told me that I should book my test today, so it’s good to know that she at least believes in me. She’s been a lot better than the other two instructors. The last instructor I had actually made my driving anxiety worse and made start beating myself up for every little thing that I did wrong. I would have never been able to go on the city bypass with her but I’ve done so many times with the new instructor. I like that the new instructor doesn’t berate me and that she congratulates me on things that I’ve done well. I also like some of the sarcastic/ funny comments she comes out with when we see someone demonstrating how not to drive.

Mock interview

The last employability session was last week. It involved us having to do a mock interview with one of the people leading the sessions. I was quite nervous about it but the guy who was interviewing me said that I came up with some really good responses. After he commented that my eye contact could be a little bit better, I revealed that I have severe social anxiety, and he was very understanding. He said that after taking that into consideration, I did extremely well. I told him that I probably wouldn’t do nearly as well in a real interview because I’d be so anxious that I’d forget most of what I wanted to say, and be unable to think of things on the spot. We talked about things that I could do to help with this, such as getting a relative to ask me interview questions over and over again so that some of the responses to things such as examples of various skills become embedded in my mind. I found it quite helpful and it gave me a small confidence boost.

I really like how friendly, empathetic, and non-judgemental the people at that place are. I actually feel that I can be myself to a certain degree. I actually feel…comfortable and welcome there. I think I’ll keep going there every couple of weeks or so, for the conservation volunteering, for the time being.

Conservation volunteering

At the other conservation group (the one where we go out for a large part of the day), I’m feeling a bit more calm as well. I still feel like a bit of an outcast because I only go once a week. Last week, two of the women from the group (who are around my age or slightly younger) asked me to sit on a bench with them while they took a short break, and they asked me about university. I still feel that I must bore them or annoy them with my poor social skills and that’s why they don’t talk to me as much as they talk to others in the group, but they’ve responded positively towards me so far. I just wish I could get rid of the paranoia that tells me they dislike me/ I annoy them and they think I’m really weird. Despite the fact that I have so far gotten soaked while gorge walking, ripped my pair of waterproof trousers on a barbed wire fence, been scratched by about a hundred gorse bushes while trying to remove himalayan balsam, fallen on my arse while carrying a strimmer, bruised my arm, been stung by nettles, and stuck in mud, I’ve really enjoyed volunteering there so far. I love being outdoors, especially if the weather is nice. Getting exercise and plenty of daylight does me a lot of good as well.

Getting a befriender

The woman from the mental health charity contacted me a couple of weeks ago saying that she knows of someone who she thinks would be a good match for me. We’ve each been sent the other’s hobbies/ interests form so we can find out a bit more about each other. We both like Oasis (the band) and outdoor activities. The person I’ve been matched with apparently said that she’s really looking forward to meeting me. I’m worried that I’ll be a massive disappointment. In my moments of more intense self-loathing, I even feel sorry for her that she has to meet someone as weird as me, though I know I should try to stop thinking that way. We were supposed to meet today but we couldn’t because she ended up having to work today. Hopefully we can meet sometime soon.

As if it wasn’t monotonous enough the first time…

I applied for the Christmas mail sorting job again this year. I didn’t enjoy it last year but at least it’s a job I can do without my anxiety going into overdrive. I really need the money as well (for driving lessons/ hopefully travelling around Scotland next summer). The interview for that job is about as informal as it gets. They don’t even ask you proper interview questions. I still got really nervous and a bit shaky before/ during the interview but at least I can actually get through it without bordering on a panic attack.

I should really be studying right now…

This blog is probably going to be quite neglected over the next 3 or so months because university now has to take priority. It’s kind of annoying because I still have loads of updates from months ago that I want to write about but they’ll just have to wait until later. Actually, I shouldn’t even have been writing this – I should’ve been reading over an environmental impact statement and figuring out which fictitious development I’m going to write my own EIS on. *Cries in the corner at the thought of it*. So if you see any more posts on here during the previously mentioned time period, feel free to yell at me in the comments section to get back to work. Two more updates to come, if and when I can find the time.

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6 Responses to Update 1: Valium, anyone?

  1. I just discovered your blog!

    I identify so much with most of the things you’ve written in this post. Getting into groups when you don’t know anyone, especially. Bane of my life during school.

    I know that it’s hard, and you’ve probably heard of this. But high school can be a really, really close minded place. Those people who said those things about you are just jerks. It’s place with a bunch of kids forming an opinion on someone, just so they can fit in as well. You can move on from that place now. Don’t let it define you. Don’t let misinformed, mean spirited people affect the way you think. Because you’re stronger than that. You can be strong.

    University is usually a place where it’s so much more open and where people are more accepting. The people that would have been bullied in my school now have groups of their own. And I find that others don’t talk about them either! And it’s also okay to be alone as well. In each of my classes, there’s at least a couple of people that stick to themselves – and from my own point of view – they don’t look weird. Nor does anyone treat them as such.

    When you’re in the moment of socialising, what sorts of things do you do to keep your anxiety in check when you think you’ve failed?

    I hope this helps…if there’s any questions, feel free to ask. I hope things are okay on your end.

    • Gemma says:

      Hi. Thanks for your comment. 🙂 I just read some of your blog as well and really enjoyed it, especially the post about self-compassion vs self-esteem. That’s something that I still need to learn.

      You’re right about high school being a very close-minded place. And yet, even though it’s been more than 3 years since I left that place, the way I was treated there still profoundly affects me to this day. There are people on social anxiety forums in their 30s and 40s who say they still have nightmares about what happened to them in high school. Maybe time combined with gradually exposing myself to social situations with non-judgemental people will eventually loosen the grip that those experiences have on my life. Thank you for saying that I’m strong. I do notice that other people at university who prefer their own company aren’t ridiculed by other people. Even the people who are socially awkward aren’t (at least not that I know of) ridiculed. And yet my anxiety has me completely convinced that everyone in my class must be judging me and ridiculing me. The paranoia aspect of social anxiety is so annoying.

      When I’m in the moment of socialising…I don’t really know. I suppose I do try to practice the self-compassion that you talked about but I’m not very good at sticking to it. I do CBT (but not in the moment of socialising). Sometimes it helps. Occasionally, I’ll also do a breathing exercise. There aren’t any real coping methods that I use when in the moment of socialising. I just…do.

      Thanks again for your comment and I look forward to reading more of your blog. 🙂

  2. Hey Gemma,
    That’s no problem at all. And thanks! I’m really glad you enjoyed my blog 🙂 I just started it a bit over a month ago, so I appreciate it!

    It’s so easy to have the social anxiety grow and grow. I lately had some issues with it, and I’m still fighting it – I sometimes get relapses. I find what helps is that I have to be stern with myself. Not in sense of self criticism, but every time I notice a thought of paranoia, I catch myself. I take a couple of deep breaths, and I reassess my situation. I think – “ok, what’s the best way I can handle this? what’s a realistic way of thinking of this moment?” and then I proceed with self compassion.

    It’s so difficult, and half of the time it doesn’t work as I hope it would, but it makes me come out of that situation better than if I had let anxiety poison me.

    I just read your other updates too. I actually relate so much to it all: the depression, family, and the academic stuff. With uni and relationships – it’s the trap of comparing! I fall into this a lot. But it’s unfair: people walk different journeys, people cope differently, and we’ve been given this thing called anxiety. Keep trying to focus on yourself. I’ve taken a lighter course load than others and I’m still struggling to do my best.

    Ah, you probably know all this stuff! I’m sorry if this advice is unwarranted and doesn’t help. I just thought I might reach out, because I’ve had – and still am having – similar sucky experiences.

    Good luck!

    • Gemma says:

      Your advice isn’t unwarranted and it does help. 🙂 I frequently need to be reminded not to compare myself to people who aren’t going through what I’m going through, and to practice self-compassion. I admire your determination in fighting social anxiety, as well as your determination to help others with the condition.

      I really liked your most recent post on the fear of missing out, and how toxic social networking sites can be for people like us. I have facebook because it allows me to ask other students on my course about parts of the coursework that I don’t understand, and to be made aware of various things that are going on as part of my course/ at uni. But I’m constantly seeing how the majority of other people on my course spend their weekends (out partying with friends), and comparing this to my typical weekend (stressing out to the nth degree about coursework, sleeping, and usually not doing much of anything). I know it’s not healthy. I plan to delete it once I finish my course.

  3. Great post – really liked the ‘celebration’ song bit! I get locked into being quiet and can’t get out of it. The only way I can stop myself is starting off talking straight away at an event so I get used to the sound of my voice and feel more comfortable. It still doesn’t take much to unsettle me and send me back scurrying into my shell…

    • Gemma says:

      Thanks. Haha, glad you enjoyed it. I’m the same but if I want to not be quiet, I have to put on this big act that I’m someone I’m not (i.e someone who is not socially anxious/ awkward and who has a proper social life), and I hate how much I feel I have to fake in order to be deemed socially acceptable when I do that.

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