We were on a family holiday in Devon when I had my first panic attack. I was only seven years old and we’d had a car crash - nothing serious but I felt like I was trapped, like everything was closing in on me. It was suffocating and horrible. My Dad had experienced panic attacks before, so thankfully he knew what I was going through.
I suppose that was what triggered my anxiety but I wasn’t aware at the time and I carried on into secondary school, without really knowing that I had a mental health problem. Secondary school was generally a difficult time; my confidence plummeted as I was bullied and a so-called friend started to call me fat and ugly.
“You can try and block it out but it’s damaging. I just couldn’t speak out and stand up for myself.”
Looking back, that was a turning point and I went into Sixth Form with zero confidence. I’d go into school but I wouldn’t speak to anyone. It’s almost like I could feel myself shrinking. Even little things, like having to read aloud in class, made me feel like I was going to die. One class had a particularly big clique and I couldn’t cope with it. I left and never went back – I had to teach myself the A-level.
By the time I got to university, I think it was clear I needed support. I texted my mum, as I found it easier than sitting down and having the conversation face-to-face. It somehow felt too intense that way. When she came home I broke down in tears and told her everything.
One of my friends, Nicole, told me I needed to go and see my GP and my other friend, Katie, agreed to come with me. She suggested that I write everything down in a letter, as it might be easier to get out my thoughts and feelings, without being on the spot. I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression.
Katie and Nicole were definitely the people who got me through. Katie came to every single doctor’s appointment with me. She’d get me out of the house and, even when I didn’t feel like going out, she’d come over and we’d look after the child she was babysitting, together.
Even though I’d spoken to Katie and my mum, the first time I spoke more widely about my mental health was online. I joined a mental health chat on Twitter and I felt like I had discovered a whole new world. I spoke to other people who knew what I was going through and it built my confidence. It gave me a voice.
I even found love! My boyfriend Rich was one of the people I got talking to on Twitter. It made such a difference to be able to talk openly, knowing that he understood exactly how I felt. By the time we met up, I felt like we’d known each other for years, and the rest is history!
I even filmed a vlog and put it on YouTube. My Nan saw it and said she had no idea what I had been dealing with.
“It just goes to show how well we can all hide what’s going on deep down.”
Being able to tell people how I feel has changed everything for me. I find people can make assumptions about social anxiety and, even though it’s well-meaning, people often decide for me about what I am and am not capable of. Having social anxiety does not mean I don’t have a voice.
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