The title of this post is not to trick you into thinking I have a big secret that’s been under wraps for a long time or anything… But I do want to draw your attention to read this blog, just for a few minutes.
This blog is about mental health. Specifically as you might have no idea what’s really going on inside someones mind. (It might seem like a long post but hopefully worth the read).
How well do you think that you know me? Or even, how well do you know your self?
You might think, ‘Yeah pretty well’…. Or ‘Yeah a bit’… Well anyway, I would like to share with you something only very few people know about me. That is, I suffer from social anxiety.
* Just to note – This is not a plea for pity or any attention seeking *
I hope this post will give comfort/ establish empathy to those of you that know someone that has suffered or if you are suffering right now and no one else knows about it.
The NHS definition of Social Anxiety is; Social anxiety disorder, also called social phobia, is a long-lasting and overwhelming fear of social situations.
I know what some of you must be thinking… That this makes no sense, I come across as a confident individual that has no problems with social situations. But actually, I have climbed some pretty gigantic mountains to arrive at the point I’m at today.
I would also like to state that yes, there are many people that suffer from mental health issues, much worse than I do/have. This blog is to highlight that everyone has good and bad times, there is a way forward for each individual and you are not alone in your suffering.
The story (in short)
Most of you will know that 10 years ago I was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma, a form of rare bone cancer that occurred in my right femur in 2007. I was subsequently treated with 9 month cycle of intense Chemotherapy and a major operation 3 months into the treatment. The operation was to remove the affected bone to be replaced by a titanium prosthesis. (Yes, I shout to David Guetta every time I hear his song).
But this is only the first part of the story, yes it was extremely hard to endure and go through such an excruciatingly painful and unrelenting procedure to be cured from the cancer.
I had no idea of the mental consequences that later occurred following my year long treatment, problems that probably started many years before, but became apparent during the treatment.
I was completely dependant on my family and friends, I had lost my mobility, my independence, confidence and became almost a shell of what I had been previously.
That’s how it felt anyway.
Saying this, I learnt how to actually listen.
After I finished my treatment I went back to school, I spent most of the year going back and forth to hospital and school while trying to seem ‘well’ to everyone that surrounded me.
That wasn’t the truth though…
I would cry most days (without reason sometimes) after school or hospital visits, struggling for energy to carry on working, knowing that my best would never be good enough.
I found it hard to concentrate on work (one of the many effects of Chemotherapy) but decided I had to achieve the best grades I physically could and failure was not an option. I had become a perfectionist.
I feared contributing to a conversation incase anyone thought I was stupid or just dull. I wouldn’t speak in large social groups. In addition to this I obsessively replayed situations and conversations over in my mind, scrutinising and analysing each sentence and reaction, trying to find faults in my behaviour.
I was described as quiet and shy by my teachers and only spoke to my closest friends. But I felt that I couldn’t do what my friends did either, as they went out to gigs, went away on camping holidays or even just shopping in town.
Why? I was isolated by my own fear of unknown circumstances, physical restrictions which spiralled inverted behaviour and mental instability, a never ending vicious circle.
I would refuse to answer my phone, even if I knew them. I barely replied to texts, only if I had the strength to string some sentences together. Definitely never order a take away. This is still a problem I struggle with today.
During this time I was convinced that everyone was staring at me for the way I looked, with no hair and a wheelchair/crutches/walking stick. It drove me to work unrelentingly to gain physical strength and be able to walk without aids. I wanted to blend in with everyone else, so that no one would look at me or draw attention to me.
That anxiety and fear of the ‘unknown’ paralysed me, the overwhelming thoughts of what others thought of me crippled any self confidence. This is still an occurring issue, although not to the extent of what it used to be.
The journey to overcome The Fear
Now I’m no doctor, obviously this is only from personal experience and a suggestion to what could possibly help you or someone you know through a hard time.
Personally, I had faith in God, If it was His will for me to pull through, it would be for a greater cause, what ever that was. (Jer 29.11)
For some reason He decided I would live, so it was time to start living.
1. Recovery takes TIME.
It’s taken me 10 years to come to the conclusion that I have and probably always will struggle with anxiety at different levels, at various times of my life.
I still struggle with thinking that no one really likes me, I’m not good at my job and nothing I do will ever be good enough. But actually that’s ok, because no one is perfect.
2. Speak to SOMEONE.
That could be a close friend, family member or even a councillor. I went to see a CBT therapist for a while just so I could understand that I was irrationally thinking these things. That I tend to blow things out of proportion in my head. I still do, every day.
Luckily I had many supportive family and friends that were there when I needed them, even if they didn’t fully understand what was going on. Sharing with others is key because no one will know if you don’t tell them.
3. We are all DIFFERENT.
Everyone has their own story, some people go through many hard trials and others experience life to a different degree entirely. But we shouldn’t disregard anyone on the merit of their mental health or personal situation.
P.S. Share with others even if it’s really challenging. Ask if they’re REALLY Ok. Don’t give up on them.
Anyway, enough with my rambling. I hope this has given you something to think about.