I watched the BBC documentary by Nadiya Hussain with anticipation. Despite recently realising that my insecurity was actually a little more than just insecurity and actually social anxiety, I hadn’t actually spoken to anyone, or read/watched much about personal experiences with social anxiety.

Nadiya: Anxiety and Me

As Nadiya began explaining how she felt, how her mind worked, it was literally like listening to myself.  As I sat watching her talk to the doctor about the bullying she went through as a child, I was literally screaming at the telly.  It hit such a nerve, in a macabre way it was just so nice to know that someone else had gone through exactly what I went through.

The really interesting part for me was listening to Nadiya talk about her social anxiety, the triggers and her coping mechanisms.  I realised that there were so many things that I did that were clearly coping mechanisms.

So I began to really think about my triggers and my coping strategies, in the hope that I can identify and work on.

Triggers

  • Large group social situations
  • One to one social situations
  • Travel

I’ve been thinking about my anxiety triggers and they pretty much fall into the three categories above.

Large social situations

Large social situations are a pretty obvious one and I think a lot of people will understand this.  I can’t tell you the amount of parties and conferences I haven’t gone to because I built them up so much in my head.  So many people in one room that I either have never met or hardly know. So many people to dislike me.

One to one social situations

One to one situations are a little different. Generally the first time we meet it’s more nerves, but then I begin to build the pressure on myself.  I become anxious about not being good enough, it overwhelms me until the point that it is easier to just not do.

Phone calls are a huge anxiety trigger for me.  Just dialing a number or answering a call is hugely difficult for me.  All family and friends of mine will have called me at some point and I won’t have answered.  It wasn’t because I missed the call, but much more likely that I was frozen to the spot unable to have the courage to answer.

Travel

Travel is a huge trigger for me as so much could go wrong, so much is out of my hands. And having three kids just added to my anxiety, I start packing at least two weeks before we go anywhere.  And I can literally feel the anxiety leave my body as we go through passport control, or the train leaves the station.  God knows what adding Daisy Duke (our 12 week old Dachshund puppy) into the mix will do.

For so long these triggers have affected my life, in fact controlled my life.  And I’ve built coping mechanisms just to ensure that either I can reduce the anxiety as much as possible, or at the very least cover it so that others don’t see  And clearly I am not alone.

Coping Mechanisms

  • Avoidance
  • Organisation
  • Mask
  • Alcohol

Avoidance

This is probably my most common tactics, as it’s the easiest to do.  However the older I get the more I realise just how much I’ve missed out on.  So it may seem easy but I realise now I’ve pissed off friends, lost out on opportunities and missed some great parties.

Organisation

This is one strategy that I hadn’t necessarily realised was a coping strategy.  I just thought I was a little anal in regards to organisation.  However actually it’s more about organising what I can be in control of, so that my mind has less to stress about.  So my clothes being in colour order. My shoes being in style and colour order. The humongous whiteboard planner at home. Even my desk at work being in order.  All done to bring a little more calm to the madness.

Mask

Probably my most obvious (to me) but also my subtlest (to others) strategy.  I wear a mask everyday.  My hair, my make up, my style.  Most people will assume that my ever changing hair styles and colours are born out of confidence.  That my make up is always done because I ‘have it together’.  That my style is a passion (it kinda is). But it’s actually the complete opposite.  All these things are done to mask the anxiety.  I give people things to comment on, so that I can deflect from them actually talking about/to me.

Alcohol

I think everyone will recognise this coping mechanism, which i’m pretty sure we’ve all done at times.  The couple of drinks before going out to give you ‘dutch courage’.  However when I look back to my 20’s I realise just how much I fell back on this.  Take attending a boyfriends’ friends wedding. I had several drinks on the way to the hotel.  When I arrived my stress levels grew and grew as I worried about wanting to talk to other people, but literally feeling paralysed to do so.  Assuming rightly or wrongly that they would all hate me.  So I drank. I drank so much I passed out in the toilet, waking hours later when everyone had left.

Moving on

I’ve never ever done anything like that again but I definitely used alcohol throughout my life to cope.  Thankfully it’s less and less now the older I get.  Thought I think that’s probably because I just avoid more situations.  So I’m merely replacing one coping technique with another.  I need to break the cycle.

I can’t sort everything at once so I’m working on a few that I feel really make the biggest impact on my day to day life at the moment.

I spoke to a good friend the other day and admitted my fear about phone calls.  But I did this ON A PHONE CALL! Yep I picked up the phone and I called them, and I don’t think they hate me either LOL.

Next month I’ve booked to go to a workshop in St Albans on my own.  This involves travel, hotel stay and meeting strangers, what could possibly go wrong (it already has in my head)!

Small steps and all that…

And if you’ve got this far, thanks for listening!

Fay x

Disclaimer:  So I just wanna say that I am not writing for sympathy.  I’m writing because it helps me to put things down on paper.  Because I want others to realise they are not alone.  But mainly I think if we all just keep writing then eventually the stigma will be gone…