Throughout my younger years, I'd always been the 'happy kid'. The one that was always smiling and joking. I was confident too, taking part in plays and volunteering answers in class. When I got to the age of 14, I started to feel 'down', or at least that was how I thought of it. Suddenly I lacked the enthusiasm I once had. I withdrew, I stopped contributing in class, I excluded myself from chats with friends. This was somewhat alien to me. After a quick and concerned internet search, I came to to conclusion that I had something called 'depression'. The description fit like a glove. I was immediately concerned - not about my welfare, but about judgement from others, so I hid it, and not by covering up, but by hiding myself. I withdrew further and further and the further I withdrew, the more I was ridiculed. "You're so miserable", "cheer up", they'd say. Keeping all these feelings inside was driving me insane. Luckily, I had one or two close friends I could talk to, but the teasing from others was getting too much. I was self-harming, and hit a real low where I couldn't see a future for myself, and I felt like life wasn't worth living. I couldn't tell anyone these finer details; surely they'd just think I was a 'freak'. I suffered in this way for years.
I began to fear fear itself
When I got to sixth form, the depression began to subside, but something new was creeping in. All of a sudden, I started to experience sheer panic in everyday life. I found it hard to make eye contact and was terrified of every lesson for fear of having to read aloud/present to the class. I went to university at age 18, which was a huge hurdle for me. Meeting new people was difficult at the best of times. However, I faced many more obstacles than this. I was forced into 'Freshers' week' rituals out of fear of seeming boring, I had to attend seminars where I had to talk in front of large groups of people, and I constantly felt I wasn't 'making the most of the university experience' because doing anything non-compulsory terrified me. By the end of my first year, I became anxious just at the thought of attending my classes. All those eyes staring, judging etc. I began to fear fear itself and so just avoided any situation which would set me off.
I felt guilty for letting my parents know - almost like I was commenting on their parenting
By the beginning of second year, I'd had enough of living in such a way. I mustered the courage to go to my university's counselling service for my anxiety (which was, ironically, absolutely terrifying). Although it helped to talk to someone, I mainly just felt ridiculous and that I was making little to no progress. Alongside this, my assignments/seminars/life continued and was unrelenting, constantly forcing me into situations that made me more and more anxious. I was at breaking point, and so I told my parents about what I was feeling. I felt guilty for letting them know, almost like I was commenting on their parenting or that I'd failed them in some way. That is why people find it so hard to talk, for fear that no one will understand, fear that people will find them 'weird', and just a general fear of rejection.
It's time that we stop suffering in silence, and speak up
I'm now in my third year and I'm finding things tough. Life continues to be unrelenting. I've been told by my tutors to 'smile more' and 'not to be nervous' about presentations. This is why it's time for better education about mental illness- this is why there needs to be better facilities in place for those with anxiety, which is often just passed off as 'shyness'. Anyone that suffers with anxiety will know that it is a genuine illness and impacts the lives of those suffering hugely. It's time that we stop suffering in silence, and speak up. We are not 'shy' or 'socially awkward' or 'odd', and we deserve the same respect/equal opportunities to others.
It's time to end the stigma and to start educating people about what is really important!