There is something that most people don’t know about me that I want to share. Lately it has become such an issue, such a crippling, mind-numbing problem that I felt like I was suffocating. Yesterday, I had a breakthrough.
What is it, you might ask, this unbelievable revelation? No, it’s not even that much of a revelation, but it is something that until these past few days, was becoming a very real problem for me.
In a nutshell, I had developed a strange type of social anxiety over the past six months. To begin with, from my teen years, I am a naturally awkward person, particularly socially. Usually this would manifest as kinda goofy and everyone would laugh and we’d all get on with life. But I find certain social situations hard to deal with. I am unable to start a conversation with a stranger without my insides curling themselves into a painful ball, I am not good at making new friends. It may come as a surprise to people who know me well, because I am generally not shy, especially with established friends. But there are quite a few situations that I have difficulty with. With time, however, and often by throwing myself out of my comfort zone, I’m able to blunder my way through. But after being on college placement for the entirety of 2013 and having very little to do with college-life and no lectures, I became comfortable with my little social setup. It was difficult being on placement obviously (I’m a student nurse), but I had learned to deal with it.
Around October though, while still on placement, I found myself withdrawing slightly into myself. I can be introverted at times, but it wasn’t until I was inconveniencing myself to avoid sitting with others at break-times and finding it difficult to begin conversations, that I realised something was amiss. However, while on placement, I was able to chalk it up to anxiety from the job in hand, and dismissed it.
Christmas came and went, and in January I started back into a “real” college semester. Back to lectures, back to studying, back to 9am starts instead of 7am. I was excited, I’d get to see friends, I’d get to wear what I please, I’d get to hang out on campus again. The reality was different though. Campus seemed overwhelming, there was so many people and it was just so busy. Lectures meant that our entire class was back together again, which with full attendance, is 200 people. Lecture halls are huge but suddenly they seemed stifling to me. The anxiety I felt at simply walking into a lecture hall and finding friends to sit with became a nightmare, an activity that I literally dreaded.
I started skipping lectures, choosing instead to hide in the library under the pretense of “studying”. Lectures that were too important to miss were excruciating. It was one Thursday at the end of February when I realised I needed to tell someone. I was in one of the bathrooms on campus before a lecture, and the thought of going to the class was so awful that I could barely breathe. I couldn’t do it. I just could not find the mental strength to leave the bathroom, walk into the lecture hall, find a seat and sit through it. At this stage, I had been sitting alone in lectures, deliberately segregating myself and hiding alone. I needed help.
And you know what, as soon as I said to my boyfriend (in, I must admit, the most dramatic flurry of tears, I did go into a bit of a meltdown!) that I was struggling, that I was having problems, I felt better. I felt like a weight was off me, I felt like I could breathe again. He was an unbelievable support, and when midterm broke two weeks ago, he had really helped me to tackle the two midterm exams that I had to sit.
Ysterday was my first day back in lectures after midterm, but I was prepared. I had spent part of my time off studying, I felt caught up on what I had been missing. I sat on the bus this morning and told myself that I could do it. I was going to be sociable, I was going to sit with people, talk to someone, not go into meltdown over something silly. I was still giving myself this pep talk when I went into my fist class. I didn’t see anyone I knew so sat alone but told myself it was fine, I had looked for friends instead of slinking in with my head down. And then something great happened. Three girls that I know in my class sat beside me. They must have seen me, and all three of them said hello, and how was midterm and all the usual smalltalk. But it lifted me. It completely made my day. This meant that I really could have a good day, that I really could get over my anxiety, and someone else had opened the dialogue. In three out of my four classes, I sought out people to sit with (the fourth one doesn’t really count, I was early and engrossed in a book and didn’t look for anyone, but in a good way). I spoke to people I saw that I knew, said hi to them in the corridors, walked with my eyes up, and not pinned to the ground as they had been for weeks. I felt like me again. After a lecture, I even ventured up to ask the lecturer about an article I needed, something I hadn’t been able to do before the midterm break.
And the best thing about it? The absolute best thing about the day, was that when I text my boyfriend to say that I was being sociable, I wasn’t feeling so anxious and that I had sat with others in lectures, his response was so positive. I half expected a generic reply, a yeah that’s good. Instead, he was so supportive. He said it was fantastic, he was so glad I felt like I could do it, and that he was so proud.
It really is the little things, the smallest victories, that make our lives. I’m sure today was a chain reaction from that girl sitting beside me, not to mention that I was attempting to try. She hasn’t a clue, has no idea what she did for me, but she really did help to save me from something that was very slowly taking me over.
Just due to yesterday, I feel more like myself. So much happier 🙂