This is a blog post written by one of my lovely young clients called Chloe who wants to share her story….
For as long as I can remember, social situations have made me feel intensely anxious. Talking in front of groups, meeting new people, or even just talking to people that I know well but am not super close to. I’ve always been labelled the quiet girl, always been asked why I “never talk” and I’ve often been dismissed as rude, antisocial or stuck up because of social anxiety.
Now, when I say social anxiety, I don’t mean it as in the “Oh, parties make me feel a bit nervous” type of way. I mean social anxiety disorder, which is different from just being shy or nervous.
For anyone who’s not familiar with it, the best way I can explain social anxiety is that it’s like being mentally paralysed. It’s not something that can be fixed by just acting confident, thinking positively or wishing it away. It’s affected my self-esteem, relationships, mental and physical health, and limited my career and personal growth.
Some say social anxiety is caused by genetics and environment, while others say it’s triggered by a traumatic social experience. And although I’d always been a shy and quiet child, I don’t remember it ever being an issue until I got a bit older.
Around the age of 12 is when I started to notice people pointing it out. They’d make comments like “Wow, you can actually talk!” or “Speak up, nobody can hear you!”. I just remember being made to feel like being quiet wasn’t OK and still to this day those comments continue. When the whole world is telling you that your personality is “wrong”, you start to believe it.
Trying to Fit In
I learned that I had to be different, or essentially just be anything other than myself, in order to fit in or be accepted by society. And I think that’s when social anxiety kicked in for me.
When the anxiety is at its worst, I feel sweaty, shaky, dizzy and like I can’t breathe properly. I have an overwhelming urge to cry and feel like there’s a huge lump in my throat. I worry intensely about what I’m saying or doing so as not to offend other people or embarrass myself, and I have a strong feeling that everyone secretly hates me.
In other words, I become very paranoid and self-conscious. There have been many, many times that I’ve excused myself from parties and work meetings to go cry in the toilets because these self-critical thoughts became so overwhelming.
As I’ve gotten older and sought help, it’s become a lot easier to deal with. It’s not that the anxiety has gone away, it’s just that I’ve learned how to live my life in a way that minimises it, without having to hide away in bed all day. I now also know how to cope better when it arises.
Although Western culture strongly favours extroverted and outgoing people, I’ve learned to accept that being a quiet person is completely OK because it’s part of who I am, and I no longer listen to anyone who tries to tell me otherwise. I’ve adapted my lifestyle, relationships and career to suit my own personal needs instead of trying to fit myself into a mould that I’ll never truly fit into.
Remember, You Are Not Alone
We all handle our anxiety in different ways. What works for one person may not work for another. In these times it can help to know you are not alone.
If you would like some support from me, like Chloe please contact me through my A New Chapter Coaching Facebook page…