I paced in front of the boardgame cafe, Michael's hand securely in mine.
I can do this. I can do this.
I'd chicken out last minute and we'd walk a bit just to circle around and try again.
I never did go in. But that was a HUGE turning point in my mental health. I look back to it often to see just how incredibly far I've come. It was the time I realized there's something bigger than just what I can try and solve on my own. It was the moment I realized I felt trapped in social situations. It was the moment I realized I needed to ask for help.
The last couple years have been an incredibly intense journey with a lot of self discovery and quite frankly, attitude adjustments. Learning to self love and create healthy boundaries. It takes a lot of conscious effort. Bits and pieces of my journey will come up as we talk through the massively cluttered road map that is mental illness so I'll leave it there for now... Onto, specifically, social anxiety disorder.
Because I never knew what different anxiety disorders really were, it never even crossed my mind that things in my past had happened due to these illnesses. I hated school. Around junior high- that thirteen year old age we talked about on our last blog- I begged and pleaded not to go to school as often as I could manage. I would feel so sick in the mornings. Or I would simply just talk myself out of going. I can't, I won't, I can't. But then missing out felt almost as bad as trying to force myself to go. It was a cycle that lasted until my last semester of college when I could finally decide never ever to return to school.
With the memory of school buried deep deep down, I continued on with career and it went fine for a while. Living on this new bliss of being somewhat anxiety free. So blissful, it probably lasted two whole months. And then it would pop up in other aspects of my life ... career, events, meeting new people. My career revolved around meeting new people, I guess it was my kind of exposure therapy? And as much as I always managed my way through, it never got any easier. It was a constant battle I had to have in my head, convincing myself I would be fine.fia It felt like a mini breakthrough, but I truly had no idea I was inadvertently dealing with my social anxiety.
Still, on again off again, I went in search of new things and new ventures assuming I just needed changes and different things to make myself happy. Which is a little bit true, but still in the new, fun adventures I would feel sick, plagued with fear of judgement, stressing about not being good enough. All the while knowing these fears were slightly irrational, but with no reasoning or understanding behind it, I felt again trapped.
I had recently left a promising job where my social anxiety had allconsumed my behavior, attitude, and character. Sick to my stomach every morning the alarm went off, laying awake stressing about the most ridiculous things counting down the hours until I had to force myself to do something so painful. And the worst part of it all- no one could see it, so no one could really understand. At least, that's how it felt. There I was, trapped again. No idea where to turn, what was next, how I could help myself. It ended amicably thanks to incredibly understanding and thoughtful humans. But it also ended with me staring at what seemed like a dead end, yet again.
I knew I needed time, for me. I knew I needed to take control of the situation. And I knew I was the only person who could help myself by taking action. If I make this sound easy or attractive, believe me it was not. It took nearly 10 years - at least - to do something about it. I didn't know how bad it was, or how bad it had gotten, until I was staring it straight in the face out side of that board game cafe. Crippling.
It doesn't affect me all the time, and not every social situation is terrifying for me. Some are intense, some are a little less intense, and some are a walk in the park. I still struggle being at certain events or in certain situations so I tend to cling to other people so I don't feel like I'm drowning. But I get through, and I'm alive to tell the tale.
You would never know, because you don't feel my stomach tying itself in knots. You would never know, because you don't feel my hands dripping sweat. You would never know, because I'm not talking about it out loud. I'm not letting you know how terrified I am.
Imagine breaking your arm but no one can see it and you have to suffer in silence. Mental illness is so hidden, so secretive, you would never know. Which is why we're telling our stories. To let you know it's okay. It's okay to feel scared, nervous, stressed the heck out. You don't have to hide it, having a mental illness doesn't make you any less of a person or any less capable. You are strong. I mean it, STRONG. And no mental illness can define you.
We'll be chatting about how we work to resolve our social anxiety and some helpful resources to allow you to learn more about ways to cope on our final blog for this installment. I can give you a spoiler alert though - there is help out there, and things do get better.
Disclaimer: We are not medical professionals and are not able to provide licensed medical advice. This is a platform to relay information and share about mental illness.