My anxiety “quirks”.

I thought it would be fun, or rather enlightening to list all the things that trigger my anxiety; or that my anxiety grips onto. My Mum calls them my “quirks” as if it’s what makes me unique and I like to think of it like that, rather than things my brain can’t cope with. So here is my list of anxiety quirks:

  1. Shops that are too small or enclosed, where the attention will be on me because I’m always in the eyeline of people who work there.
  2. Shop assistants who make conversation with me when I’m checking out, it’s lovely but I’m too awkward to respond.
  3. Answering the phone; I avoid it most times. I can’t make calls either, even to family or friends.
  4. Answering the door; it makes it hard when I’m ordering online because parcels come and I have to force myself to answer the door but if I’m not expecting a delivery then I hide and wait for whoever is knocking to go away.
  5. Locking doors; I have to be sure all doors and windows are locked before bed, or if I go in the bath etc. I even have a lock on my bedroom door so I feel more secure.
  6. The centre of town; I can’t go there to the centre of any busy town, it’s too much and I get overwhelmed with anxiety.
  7. Making sure the oven is off, If I use the oven then I have to check I’ve switched it off before I go to sleep.
  8. Appointments; I am used to seeing my local GP now but any other hospital or doctor appointments make me so anxious.
  9. Laughter; if I’m out and hear people laughing then I assume they are laughing at me because I don’t fit in.
  10. Lifts; being in an enclosed space with strange people is my nightmare.
  11. People asking for directions
  12. What I’m wearing; I end up changing several times before I go out and stress myself out to the point of having panic attacks.
  13. If there is a gap in the curtains at night; I panic that people are looking it the window, even on the second floor…
  14. Ordering food when I’m out for a meal.
  15. People complimenting me; it makes me feel like I’m the centre of attention and feels fake to me.
  16. Sweating; my medication and fibromyalgia make me sweat more than average and I worry people are staring or making fun of me.
  17. Taking public transport. I avoid it at all costs.
  18. Being on a ledge or high place where I could fall.
  19. My weight.
  20. Eating in front of people, I really struggle with it.
  21. Having my hair cut; the small talk and social aspect puts me off.
  22. Being on my own for longer than a couple of days.
  23. Pubs or bars because I always feel like I stick out and don’t fit in.
  24. Having my photo taken or being on camera.
  25. Being approached by people selling things in the street.

These are just the things I can think about right now, but I’m sure there is more. Anxiety is definitely a daily fight, it’s like my brain is constantly working against me. I’d love to be able to go out and be social but my brain literally finds that terrifying. It’s hard being afraid of so many things but I continue to live and make the most of what I can enjoy and at times, I push my boundaries and make myself deal with scary situations because I don’t want to let my feat dictate my life.

Why finding the right therapist is crucial to recovery.

I’ve had CBT 4 times during the past 6 years to try and help manage my depression and social anxiety. I hated it, I dreaded going, used to beg my Mum to cancel because I hate talking, especially about myself.

My first experience with CBT was like hell for me, I was virtually agoraphobic at that point and didn’t leave the house so I used to be forced out by my Mum and dragged to my therapy appointments. I learned pretty quickly that the therapist was only interested in discharging me as soon as possible. It was also like he was sticking to this strict appointment script, reading advice off of a piece of paper. He wasn’t interested in my feelings and I could tell. So I told him what he wanted to hear instead of what was actually going on with me, I faked my depression and anxiety scores so they got better and better until he decided I was fixed and discharged me. It was no surprise that my depression and anxiety was the same and the therapy hadn’t made any difference.

The next two courses of therapy were not even memorable, I was always given this timeline to recovery and if I didn’t keep to this then it was like the therapist got frustrated and annoyed with me. It made me cynical about the whole process and I was convinced that CBT was a load of rubbish. My depression was up and down and my anxiety was constant. Eventually the right medication helped me feel as if there was hope but medication doesn’t solve everything. My anxiety was still ruling my life and I agreed last year to go through another course of CBT but after the last 3 failures, my GP arranged for me to meet a particular high intensity therapist.

I went into my fourth CBT experience with an open mind, I wanted to control my anxiety but I was also worried it would be the same as my previous times. From the beginning, the therapist assured me that although on average it took between 8 and 10 sessions, if it took longer then that was alright and it was about my recovery. She also took an interest in my life and understood my anxiety wasn’t going to just disappear in a matter of weeks. She was the first therapist who was forceful in giving me homework and expecting me to carry it out. Although I didn’t like it, I needed that authority to scare me into doing the activities she wanted. It started off small with me just going on a small 10 minute walk, then it was walking to appointments on my own. The scariest homework was taking trips to the shops which I couldn’t do alone, again she went with small steps and I was allowed to take someone the first couple of times into the shop, then I had to leave them outside while I went in. Eventually I was going on my own.

It wasn’t easy and I had to want to control my anxiety. The gradual build up worked for me. I’m not cured, I still have trouble with certain places and my anxiety gets triggered easily. But I am trying not to let it control my life like before, I push myself to go to the shops even when I would rather stay in the house. Today I’m going out for a meal and although I may have to ask someone to order for me, I’m excited and not dreading it. I don’t think my anxiety will ever go away, it’s too deeply rooted in my brain but I can fight it and I can enjoy social events despite being anxious. That final therapist changed my life and it showed me that recovery is a personal thing, if your therapist isn’t connecting with you then you won’t be motivated to fight.

Shopping in small spaces scares me.

You’d think social anxiety would make it harder to shop in huge, busy supermarkets etc but I find shopping in a small, compact store way more anxiety inducing.

My social anxiety manifested itself in my teen years; it didn’t just appear and there wasn’t a single trigger. It came over me slowly and it’s only now I recognise what it really was. It boiled over when I was 18 and I just refused to leave the house unless necessary. I was scared of everything outside of my house, especially the people. I remember confiding in my boyfriend at the time that I was scared to go out and he laughed it off. He wasn’t being mean or unsympathetic, he just didn’t understand social anxiety was a real thing.

I think that’s the problem with social anxiety, people don’t believe it actually effects people, we just get labelled as anti-social and as loners. But social anxiety is a real thing and it’s a really hard illness to fight.

I find big supermarkets manageable if they aren’t overcrowded and I’m in a good state of mind. However, small stores overwhelm me with fear, it’s something about being the centre of attention in such a small space. I feel closed in and like the people who work there are staring holes into my head. I feel pressured to buy something because if I don’t then the person working there will know and dislike me. It’s a horrible feeling and for that reason, I avoid small stores. I physically can’t go into a small shopping space, my feet feel glued to the floor if I try and I feel sick to the stomach.

People also think those affected with social anxiety have these huge, obvious panic attacks and for a while, I believed that panic attacks were very obvious, I didn’t realise I was experiencing them. I would have panic attacks whenever I was forced to go shopping or out into public, they were triggered by different things but especially by strangers touching me. I person could accidentally brush past me and I would mentally lose it, I would start sweating, I’d begin digging my nails into my skin, my head would spin, I’d start hyperventilating and eventually feel dizzy and sick, at which point I would need to escape.

I’ve always cared a lot what others think of me and social anxiety plays on that, I constantly worry when I’m out that people are judging me, that they are laughing at me and talking about me. In reality I know that’s unlikely and it’s easy to be rational when I’m back at home but in that moment, rational thought doesn’t penetrate the overwhelming panic and anxiety.

I’ve been told I appear quite rude to people when out because I can’t hold a conversation when people talk to me. I hate being thought of that way and I try my hardest to be polite and open but when speaking to someone I don’t know, my mind is working at a mile a minute, pondering all the ways I could embarrass myself and so my mouth just doesn’t work and I end up just smiling or nodding.

I depend a lot on my friends and family to interact with people around me. I find it hard to order in a restaurant or a cafĂ© so I let friends do it for me, which is frustrating because I’d love to be able to pick my own thing and order it. I rely on family to accompany me to the shops and take over for me at the counter. If there is something I need in a small store then I have to send a family member in for me while I wait outside. This all seems odd to a stranger but for me and my support network, it’s normal.

Social anxiety is not just being anti-social or hating big crowds, it’s so much more. At it’s basis, it’s a fear of people which is sad to think about. I want to be able to interact with different people and make new friends and when I’m safe, at home it seems possible. But in the moment, surrounded by strangers it’s an impossibility for me, my brain doesn’t allow me to feel at ease and calm around people.