I’m writing this because I’m shy but I also suffer with anxiety.
A topic that I’ve been hesitant to touch upon on the ol’ blog is anxiety. It’s a serious, tough subject to tackle, on the whole, and I’ve been worrying that it’ll be taken the wrong way, much like it often is offline.
It’s no secret by now that I’m a shy creature. Or I was. But then you’re forced into adulthood and you can’t hide behind your Mum telling her to tell people your name and what you’re at a bank meeting for. But yes, I am intrinsically shy and of course in any given opportunity I’ll choose to fade into the background. As a result, I’d always put things like panic and anxiety attacks down to feeling shy. Those were the same, right? Everybody felt like that all the time, right? Like you physically couldn’t bring yourself to go somewhere even though you were meant to? Wrong, apparently. Shyness and anxiety, while sometimes linked, are completely different.
Anxiety comes in an array of forms and it’s difficult – near impossible – to pinpoint how everybody experiences it. We’re all wired differently and some of us are more prone to it than others. How I’d articulate my own anxiety is, in layman’s terms, that I worry, I worry again, I develop an intrinsic fear, the fear grows, I hold my breath for incalculable amounts of time, I grow cold and clammy then hot then cold. Then sometimes I’m fine and other times I’m certainly not. At the grand age of 24 and a half, I can sit here and tell you that my anxiety is particularly centred around public transport, condensed groups of people and social settings. It isn’t a hard and fast thing of ‘oh I’m on a bus, here comes that pesky anxiety’ or ‘I’m too shy to speak in this group’, I take many a bus and conduct many meetings, etc. throughout a typical day. But sometimes I’ll be really looking forward to my grand plans for the weekend and then a worry will spiral out of control. ‘I have to meet them at the cafe. But I don’t know where exactly it is. I’ll be late. Crap. Better leave early. But now I’ll look really eager. Too eager. I’ll use Google Maps. But last time I did that, it took me the wrong way and I got all panicky trying to find my way. *holds breath for 30 minutes* Ok, I’m not doing this. I physically cannot leave my apartment right now. I cannot move. I can barely see or breathe or hear. People are going to laugh at me as I worry about finding my way to a bloody cafe.’
There’s no rhyme or reason for my bouts of anxiety, though. I can’t safely say that every time I make plans I’ll bottle it or that I specifically go out of my way to avoid plans. Frankly I like to make plans despite my social anxiety. It’s all fun and games (not) when people cancel those plans or forget about them though. ‘Ok, I have brunch at Common Ground today. I know how to get there. I’ll take a handkerchief and fan because I’ll get hot on the walk over and I don’t want to be sweaty. Oh God, but now people are staring at me because of my fan. Oh my gosh, I’ve made it here successfully without having a bloody meltdown. Well. My fan says otherwise. Oh I’m early. Better pretend to text my one other friend in the city so the barista doesn’t think I’m batshit crazy. Oh. I’ve been cancelled on.’ Cue another anxiety attack.
Another way that anxiety manifests itself in my daily routine is simply leaving me exhausted with the facade of being okay in public. Now, sitting here at home, writing this, makes it all sound a little dramatic but hear me out. Coupled with being a very accurate introvert, being around condensed groups of people and, in fact, around people in general drains me. Of course I worry a little about making a fool of myself, but in these smaller groups, my main anxieties tend to be that I’ll suddenly be made the centre of attention or someone will notice something about me. I often dread situations where I’ll be in groups of people, whether I know them or not, worrying about having to be ‘on’ and in turn holing myself up and drawing even more attention to myself. Often unless I’m best buds with the entire group, I’ll be the wilting wallflower, wishing the minutes away until I can be in a safe place. Alone. My main way of dealing with these social situations is to not breathe. I hold my breath, I mean of course I breathe, but I don’t exhale properly until I’m home and safe. I genuinely don’t. Suddenly the panic and dread fills me and I’ll stop talking, I’ll stare blankly and hold my breath, nice and taut, and wait until the earliest appropriate moment to leave. I’ll forever rush my exit and you can bet your bottom dollar that I’ve planned the fastest route home already.
To the sometimes touchy topic of panic and anxiety attacks then! This is another tricky one for me. Whilst I can safely say that I’ve experienced anxiety since the age of around 15, probably, my first memory of a panic attack was at University, aged 18. I was overwhelmed with assignments, living with strangers, the pressure of going out… it was probably short but it felt like a lifetime. It felt like it lasted the entire evening. I slept it off for 3 hours, during which time my flatmates thought I’d left to go home! When I left London to work at a non-London based company, I no longer had to take the train everyday, something that had become a running joke with myself but also a nice to-the-clock routine. I knew that at 5:30pm, I’d be on a train and that at 5:53pm I’d be back in my town, safely in my own car or in my best friend’s car, heading to a safe place. Once that routine stopped though, I began struggling to take the train alone without feeling the onset of a panic attack. I liked popping to the Big Smoke for blog events or to see friends for dinner and a catch-up, but for an unknown reason, each time I got on the train at an unfamiliar time, I’d begin to panic that I didn’t know the station, I didn’t recognise the blurring sights beyond the window and even simple things like being in the ‘wrong’ carriage would catch me off-guard. To this day, being in that carriage feeling like I couldn’t breathe while people asked me if I was okay and crowding me will feel horrendous af.
It’s not an issue of motivation or not having enough energy, having anxiety is living with a subconscious that manifests itself when you least expect it, usually, and does its best to stop you from things through fear and worry. Biologically as humans we naturally protect ourselves from harm and, simply said, anxiety sufferers are more prone to feeling at risk from a wider range of things. I would very much say that I struggle with a strain of social anxiety that fluctuates from time to time. I often have very good periods where I flourish and pack plenty in, but also go through stages where I coop up at home, refusing to face the world or contemplate having to get through a morning of navigating life. It goes much deeper than feeling worried about a conversation or upcoming event, it completely takes over your mind, senses and body.