When my doctor gave me my diagnosis with depression, he also added the extra bonus of anxiety, an illness(?)/disorder(?)/personality trait(?) that tends to go hand-in-hand with low mood.
I admit, I’d never really taken anxiety particularly seriously as I suppose I’d never really been able to distinguish between that and nervousness. It had always felt to me like something I would only understand if I were to experience it.
I think the first time I actually began to notice my anxiety was when I spoke with a friend of mine last year who had been battling depression for quite some time up until then.
During a normal coffee shop lunch/catch-up session, out of sheer curiosity, I popped the question “how did you know that you had depression?”.
She went on explaining about the symptoms that made her realise something was wrong: the random days of feeling like crap, feeling worthless, feeling like your life is going nowhere. It was in this same conversation she mentioned that she was also diagnosed with anxiety.
She explained to me that sometimes she would just feel nervous about situations she used to find perfectly normal – meeting up with friends, going to events like parties and sometimes even having a constant feeling of something going horribly wrong for no reason at any given time.
It started to make me think. I had always been pretty scared of big social gatherings. I would’ve had to have had at least 2 or 3 people I really knew well for me to even consider going to an event.
But, like (presumably) most people, I shrugged it off as a bit of paranoia. That common feeling of “yeah, that’s how I feel!” when actually, you’re just trying to empathise with someone.
My friend went on explaining about her sister also struggling with anxiety issues: specifically social anxiety. This was something I’d heard about but never really bothered to look into. Purely out of a lack of research, I figured it was just having a fear of crowded events.
The conversation stuck with me for some time. Weeks would go by where I would start to contemplate whether I was in fact feeling the same way.
I started looking back at my social life when I was younger. How I used to have an always 'up for it' attitude when it came to hanging out with my closest mates. I'd just go along and have a few laughs with my pals.
But slowly I started to give excuses for not going. One week I’d have a migraine (which I used to get quite frequently back then) and the next week I’d have the family round. It got to the point that I’d only be seeing my friends every month or so for our usual catch-ups.
This was when I was 18 and was yet to go off to uni so once that came around, we automatically saw a lot less of each other anyway. And this was just what happened in life right? You start to pave your own ways, pursuing different careers and gradually seeing less of each other anyway. But I always figured it would return back to normal.
But with each meeting I would get this almost crippling sensation of nervousness, as if I’d go there and say something stupid and everyone would laugh at me, and with each meeting, the feeling would get worse. Weird I know – as these were my closest mates so why would it matter about making a fool of myself? Unfortunately, I’d let my feelings get the best of me and I’d choose to sit indoors and play video games rather than see my mates.
Over the years, I picked up more and more things about myself that pointed to social anxiety. I couldn’t take phone calls in front of anyone and had to leave the room (I still prefer to speak on the phone away from other people) because I feel like people are listening and will make a joke about what I had said. If I saw an old friend from school walking towards me, I would put in a conscious effort to either cross the road, take the next turn or keep my head down and hope they didn’t recognise me. I used to get a feeling of dread when I knew there was an event happening on the weekend and I would still get that urge to cancel and give some tired excuse.
Now that I'm a bit older, I know that most people experience some of these feelings too. And at times, I still do. But I realise now that a lot of this was born from putting too much pressure on myself. It’s ok to not want to go to a social event if you don't want to. Just make sure it's definitely a decision you want to make and not your way of submitting to feelings of anxiety. Make sure that it is you making the decision.