My family still don’t understand…

My mum upset me this morning. I was maybe going to go along to a meet up group and meet an online friend there this afternoon, but my online friend wasn’t able to make it to the meet up, and the more I looked at the description, the less keen I was to go. There was supposed to be things like dancing, Zumba and tai-chi (all of which I would feel EXTREMELY anxious doing in front of other people), and probably a crowd of people at the event. So I decided not to go on this particular occasion. My mum then got mad at me, saying that I need to push myself out of my comfort zone and that I’m never going to get better if I don’t. What the hell does she think I did last night when our whole family (or at least my dad’s side) and my sister’s boyfriend (who I’d never properly met before) were at my sister’s birthday meal? What the hell does she think I do every day (or at least every day that I’m at uni)? And it’s not like I haven’t really had to push myself to go to meet ups before. I just feel that potentially having to take part in dancing or Zumba in front of other people is too high on the anxiety scale for me to face at the moment. That doesn’t have to mean that it will always be. And the main reason I chose not to go is because I didn’t think I’d enjoy it. None of the activities mentioned really appealed to me. If they’d mentioned going to the zoo, going to the cinema, or going for a walk and then coffee, I’d have gone, but I just wasn’t really interested in this particular meet up. But my mum’s comment just made me feel completely pathetic. I ended up crying in my room this morning. I cry a lot lately. It was a combination of her comment, not feeling at all understood by my family, feeling awful about myself after last night*, and just generally being depressed and very lonely at the moment. I certainly felt pathetic after that. I also felt like the most worthless, horrible piece of shit in the entire universe, as I do frequently at the moment. I felt like hurting myself (I didn’t) and that my family would be better off in the long-term if I killed myself.

* I compared myself to everyone else (in terms of life experience, friends, and so on) as usual. I did try to be compassionate with myself and congratulate myself for being able to cope in the restaurant and with my sister’s boyfriend being there, but it’s difficult to do that when the negative thoughts are bombarding me. It was tough to see my sister and her boyfriend kissing and holding hands and laughing together, because of how lonely I feel and because I feel that I have no chance of ever being in a relationship.

I started getting ready to go out once I’d finished crying but it would have been too late for me to get to the meet up on time. And once I’d thought about it, I realised the only reason I would have gone would be for my mum’s approval and to get her off my case. It wouldn’t have been because it was something that I wanted to do. I’ve signed up to go to two different meetups in the next two weeks, so maybe that’ll get mum off my back for a bit.

I’m just really sick of my family not understanding my anxiety or depression. While doing CBT on my core beliefs, I’ve noticed that although there is evidence for the alternative belief “I’m lovable”, such as family members taking an interest in how I am, hugging me, driving me places, and so on, the reason that it’s difficult for me to believe that I actually am lovable is probably that I don’t feel my family are as supportive as they could be when it comes to my mental health. I’ve heard of other people with social anxiety whose parents have researched their condition and tried to get them help after finding out about it. My parents have never (at least not that I’m aware of) made an attempt to educate themselves about either of my conditions. For the most part, I’ve had to try and get help and try to fight my SA all on my own. Even when I was put on antidepressants at 15, they still thought my depression was something that I could just snap out of by smiling, or that it was just teenage angst. It took a psychiatrist telling them that I was actively suicidal for them to wake up and realise that what I was going through was far more serious than teenage moodiness. The fact that my family don’t really understand what I’m going through is also a large part of why I feel so alone and lonely despite having a fairly large family. I don’t really have anyone who fully understands what it’s like.

No one else in my family (that I’m aware of) suffers from mental illness except my aunt, and I could be wrong but I don’t think hers is as severe as what I experience, and I’d feel awkward talking to her about it. I have one online friend who fully understands what it’s like to have an anxiety disorder, but not so much depression, and another who knows what it’s like to have severe depression but doesn’t really understand anxiety. The difference between my Swedish friend and my parents though, is that he admits and apologises for the fact that he doesn’t know how to help me, and he often at least tries to understand the anxiety. He also understands that overcoming social anxiety disorder is not as simple as just going up and talking to people, or just going out socialising with people. I think my parents are still under the impression that it’s as simple as “Face your fears”. I would argue that facing your fears does work up to a point, but facing something before you feel ready for it can actually make you worse. You want to avoid panic attacks if possible, because that will make you fear a specific situation more. Or at least that’s my experience anyway. It has to be a gradual build up, not a plunge into the deep end. Yes, there will be times when you will have to do something really anxiety-provoking, but it should never be anything that you feel completely unable to cope with, unless it’s something that can’t be avoided, in which case, you find ways of coping with it (such as taking beta-blockers or asking to only present in front of the lecturers).

To be fair to my parents, they are more understanding now than they used to be. And as they have four kids, it must be difficult to divide your attention/ concern between each person. I also imagine it’s very difficult to understand what living with SA and depression is like if you’ve never experienced it yourself. I think one of the main reasons why mental illnesses are still so heavily stigmatised and not understood is because unlike with physical illnesses, an understanding that people have differences in perception is required. But that’s another post… Another reason that my parents may find it so difficult to understand is that I never tell them when I’m feeling suicidal, because one of my younger siblings is usually around, and I want to protect them. Although to be fair, I was younger than my brother is now the first time that I was suicidal, but I still don’t want to worry them. I really feel the need to have a conversation about this with my parents and perhaps with my siblings as well. But I don’t know what I’d even say, or if it’s even possible to get it through to them what this is really like, and that overcoming SA is far from simple. I will try to talk to talk to my mum tonight.

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