My name is Jodie and I suffer from Social Anxiety.
I have tried on numerous occasions to pinpoint a specific thing that may have started or caused my anxiety. Some sort of trauma in my life. I had a rocky start in life but these were things that happened to me as a baby and not something I remember personally.
However, I do remember some things from my childhood that I can look back on and know that was anxiety causing them. I was about three or four years old when my mum married my step-dad (now ex step-dad), I was a bridesmaid and spent the entire night before ill. Then spent their wedding day as pale as a sheet. This also happened at my mum’s third (let’s not go there) wedding when I was about thirteen.
This sort of situation, where I’d feel ill before big events or holidays turned me into a quivering wreck. My family put it down to nerves and that was it. I also remember the way I’d practically disappear under the desk in an attempt to avoid answering any questions in front of the class. Reading in groups made my skin crawl. The school performances were terrifying.
Sleepovers were horrendous and we should probably take a moment to talk about parties. One that I remember was when my mum organised a surprise party. I walked into our living room none the wiser and everyone screamed “surprise” at me. I ran away and cried in the hall!
Another issue for me growing up and through to adulthood is eating in front of people. Any people. I would hide my mouth by putting my hand over my face, it was that extreme. I look back now knowing that this probably drew more attention to me. Eye contact is also something I struggle with and Hubby still laughs at the way we met, I would pretty much turn away from him to avoid the eye contact.
As you can see anxiety seemed to have riddled my childhood and most of it was surrounding social situations. I now know that this is a real thing, Social Anxiety or Social Phobia. I did have a few very close friends and I felt truly comfortable with them but I tried to avoid speaking to anyone outside of that or putting myself forward to approach possible new friendships.
Getting pregnant with Freya at fifteen years of age didn’t help. Part of social anxiety is having the fear of people judging you and I am completely guilty of experiencing this. Being a tiny, teenage girl with a huge bump meant I attracted unwanted attention, little comments in the school corridors and people approaching me with questions. I hated the idea of going out and even once I’d had Freya, I avoided baby groups and chances to socialise.
In 2013 I experienced my first ever panic attack. That day was a pretty horrific day for me. It started with me suffering my first ever hemiplegic migraine. These are migraines that give you stroke-like symptoms, I had numbness down one side and aura in my eyes, it also felt like my head was going to explode.
At the time, Eva was only six months old and exclusively breastfed. My mum decided to get me to A&E, as we arrived into the carpark my breathing escalated and the panic attack hit. I couldn’t breathe. It was honestly one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. Which thankfully has not been repeated since.
When we moved to Kent, I told myself this was a chance for a fresh start. At first, I continued to avoid the chances of meeting new people. My mother-in-law tried her best to involve me in baby groups. I’m pretty sure she initiated the first friendship I made actually.
Freya had started school and had begun to struggle with her friendships and I think this was the biggest kick up my backside that I needed. I didn’t want my daughters to suffer the way I do.
So I started attending local playgroups. Despite going weekly, I felt the nerves and my brain tried to make excuses for me not to attend. During the walk to the groups, I could hear my heart thudding inside my chest and my breathing was erratic. I’d take a deep breath and get through the group showing a confident side to myself.
That’s what I learnt to do, tell myself I was a confident person. That these people didn’t know me, I could be absolutely anybody I wanted to. I made some amazing friendships there and going to the same group each week allowed me to feel less insecure and more positive. Anxiety soon became excitement.
I think that parenting when you have social anxiety is both a blessing and a curse. It offers you an array of social situations from playground greetings, coffee mornings, playdates and parents night outs. These can be exciting and terrifying all in one sweep of emotions.
When there’s a new coffee morning or an evening out arranged, I get so excited then as that date draws closer the anxiety kicks in. My brain goes into overdrive and I try to come up with the most random of excuses so that I can avoid the situation without feeling judged that I just let my social anxiety win.
Right before the social events, my heart thuds so hard and my breathing gets faster. I start questioning my outfits, my conversations and whether I’ll be good enough, whether people will like me. Then during the social, I get worried why someone didn’t laugh, whether my laugh is silly, have I dressed wrongly or said something I shouldn’t, not said enough. Afterwards, it’s a continued evaluation of the event. It’s like I can’t rest. I’m petrified of judgement and rejection.
In the lead up to our Orlando holiday last year, I developed this rather annoying cough. It was like an “out of breath” empty cough. Coughing didn’t clear my throat, it was just a persistent cough that drove everyone, especially myself, mad! This cough is known as an anxiety cough and was caused by the stress of organising our holiday. When we touched down in Orlando, the cough disappeared. It does come back now and then when the girls are causing a great deal of stress or if we are dealing with something stressful.
Over the past year or so, I have been working on dealing with my social anxiety by myself. Like I said earlier, I don’t want anxiety to affect my daughters and I’m most definitely ready for it to stop affecting my own life.
Last year, I took a giant leap by booking a Christian camp with my church. That was terrifying and I spent a lot of time collecting my thoughts and my breath inside my tent whilst my girls played freely with the other church children. That camp changed my life and was the tipping point in my anxiety battle. I was able to see that I can achieve confidence, make friends and not let the anxiety rule.
Following that trip, I spoke in front of my church. This was the scariest thing for me to overcome but I did it! I think I’ve been implementing little tricks to help me cope in social situations and turn, things are getting easier for every social occasion that comes my way. Here are the things I use:
- Saying yes to the invites. Try not to automatically say no. Then you have time to build up the courage.
- Start with organising a social get together at your own home. Whether that’s a coffee morning with mums from school, or just having friends over. Your home is your safe place and things can be done on your terms, you are in control here.
- Take a deep breath before you enter any social situation and tell yourself you are confident. It doesn’t matter what others think of you. The more you tell yourself that, you can gradually begin to believe it.
- Go to every social event you are asked to go to. I know that’s easier said than done for someone suffering from social anxiety but I’ve found the more I am attending the easier I am finding it.
- My biggest tip is to tell the people you are interacting with that you are struggling with social anxiety. I have not had a bad experience of this yet. Telling people has allowed them to be reassuring and supportive when I might turn them down for an event, or if I overtalk from nerves.
Those tips are probably really stupid but they are helping me at the moment. Being inside my head can be so consuming. I am the worst critic of myself and I just can’t help it.
It’s ok to not be ok. I find myself sometimes chatting to everyone on the playground to stop my brain from overthinking the playground dynamics, then other days I’ll stand by myself attempting to avoid catching the eyes of parents who may want to chat.
I just want to say a huge thank you for getting to the end of this post. I hope it has given you a little insight on how I am affected by social anxiety.