I’m 23 years old and I’m thinking to myself, something isn’t quite right. I mean physically everything was fine, I was fit and healthy and I was aware of what made me happy and unhappy. Emotions on the other hand, they were everywhere.
Growing up I was very quiet, I’d never speak in class discussions (unless it was something that I was truly passionate about) and I’d turn the brightest shade of red whenever I was spoken to. Things don’t change, I’m still like this now! My school reports always encouraged me to speak up in class and I’d always challenge myself to do so, but I was probably more unsuccessful than successful at doing this. Believe me, I really wanted to participate, I’d have a ball of energy fire up inside of me, causing me to shake and get really excited, but my mouth just wouldn’t cooperate and then I’d kick myself for wussing out- is anyone else like this? At the time, I just classed myself as being shy and to be honest, so did everyone around me. Mental health just wasn’t discussed, it was seen as a taboo and there was a severe lack of information surrounding it (unless it was a condition that was related to a change in behaviour like ADHD).
It wasn’t until my final year at Bournemouth University that I discovered my mental health didn’t seem so healthy. My third year at university was a placement year and the friends (and one friend turned boyfriend) that I had lived with in my first two years either had a three year course or they too were off on placement. What this meant was I had to find completely new people to move in with in my final year and that was really scary. I was worrying about whether I’d get along with new people; would I want to socialise with them; how do I socialise with them; will I lose my current friends; how do I become friends with people…the list goes on!
I’d moved in to my final student share and felt so alone. My boyfriend and his dad had dropped me off with all of my things and when they left, I just sat and stared at the floor, crying. It’s at times like these when you question your actions and it’s definitely a time where fight or flight kicks in. I’d probably say that 6/10 I’m a flight risk, but when I know that there are so many pro’s to sticking something out, I go with fight.
It was in my final year that I started to realise that I was avoiding any social situation. My housemates would ask if I wanted to go round their friend’s house and I’d make an excuse up, like “I want to work on my assignment” or “thanks, but I think I’m just going to stay in” when in fact I really wanted to meet new people and socialise, but I just didn’t want to be in a room full of people I didn’t know. From the outside, it comes across that you’re not interested and just want to be left alone. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been in a situation like this and it’s felt like people don’t want to make the effort because of what I’ve said before.
To me, this sounds really odd, but if I know that I’m just meeting someone once, then I’m relaxed enough to talk to them and use humour as a defence mechanism which in turn makes me feel happy as I’ve managed to let my personality come out to a stranger. However, if I then see this person again, I will either run and hide so to avoid them all together, or I just wont speak to them until they speak to me. It’s not that I didn’t like them or found them uninteresting, it’s just a block that I cannot describe. If you were to look at me in a situation like this, then you’d see me all flustered and trying to encourage the other person to talk to me through smiling or a quick glance to see if they’d naturally encourage me into the conversation.
So having all of this social anxiety (as I now know that’s what it is) as well as stress and anxiety from university in general made me ill. I was so incredibly stressed that I’d developed the worst muscle pain in my shoulder. It would wake me up in the middle of the night and I found it difficult to concentrate. I then started to worry that it could be heart related so had an ECG done (which came back fine, woohoo!) but worrying about that as well made it worse. Long story short, I’d gone to my GP who said it was muscular pain which I was thankful for, but felt like a total hypochondriac- story of my life.
When I was alone in my uni room, I’d think about my behaviour and realised it wasn’t right. I decided to contact Bournemouth University’s chaplaincy which offered counselling, but unfortunately this didn’t help me. I wasn’t really assessed, despite pouring my heart out and was referred to a stress management class (that had other people in *alarm bells*) and telephone based therapy- which I really didn’t want.
After University I moved away to live with my partner and it was here that I did some deep reflective thinking. A change of job prompted me to seek professional help and so I went to my GP who referred me to a local counselling service.
On that note, this is where this rather lengthy post ends.
There is so much more information that I could put in here, but I’ll save it for another time.
Thanks for reading,