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.

Side effects may include…

Chronic illness often brings with it a whole host of medications to try and control symptoms but what happens when these medications have more side effects than helpful qualities. I wanted to give a brief history of my experience with medications and their side effects to show how much balance is needed to find something that works better than it gives side effects.

I’ve been on anti-depressants since I was 18 years old (I’m 25 now) and a lot of them worked for a period of time and then it was like my body got used to them and stopped taking notice. For me, the worst one was Citalopram, the side effects for that medication took over any good it was doing me. It gave me disturbing dreams, which happens with a lot of anti-depressants I’ve been on but this medication made the dreams so vivid and horrible that I was struggling to sleep and I was dreading when night came around. This medication also made me feel physically ill, I was nauseous and dizzy a lot of the time.

I finally found an anti-depressant that works for me which is Venlafaxine and I’ve been taking this for a few years now and the good thing is, my mental health has improved. I don’t notice many side effects with this medication other than the excessive sweating which plagues my life. As I explained in my last post, Fibro/CFS gives me very poor temperature control so the excessive sweating which comes with this medication makes that symptom a lot worse. It came down to weighing it up and for me, my mental health is way more important than some sweating. People may stare when I go out and I’m struggling to adapt to the temperature, and I’m covered in a thick sheen of sweat but my depression is under control for now and that’s what matters to me.

For a while I took Codeine to help with the pain symptoms of Fibro/CFS and I took this for longer than I should have. To begin with, it helped numb my pain a bit and it had the benefit of helping me sleep at night. The main side effect I had with this one was addiction. After a while it stopped effecting my pain at all so I increased the dose and then I began taking it more often. It soon became a habit and I was taking it just because I felt I needed it, rather than taking it for the pain. I decided to come off of it because I didn’t like that I was relying on it.

Then came Gabapentin which was a nightmare medication for me. It was supposed to help with the Fibro pain but the side effects completely outweighed any advantage it had. The first couple of months taking it, after every dose (3 times a day) I experienced horrible dizziness and nausea and it knocked me out, all I could do was sleep which didn’t help me CFS! The worst side effect for me was the weight gain, I put on about 2 stone in a matter of months and unfortunately, even after coming off of it, I haven’t managed to lose this weight because I struggle to exercise with my pain so now I am very self conscious and I regret this medication completely.

I was recommended Pregabalin after this experience which was said to have less side effects than Gabapentin and so far, this medication seems to suit me a lot better, I haven’t noticed any side effects, apart from the fact my weight seems stuck no matter what I try to lose it.

Lastly is Tramadol which is something I never wanted to take because I’d heard horror stories and it seemed like such a strong and harmful drug. But my pain, although being more stable with the Pregabalin, was still extreme at times and I had nothing to help in those moments so Tramadol was prescribed for when my pain is at it’s worst. I’ve never had a drug effect me like Tramadol does, it helps numb my worst pain but it does give me a giddy and high feeling which I don’t enjoy and the day after taking it, I’m unconscious for most of the day because it knocks me out and my whole body feels like a noodle. At the moment, I take Tramadol sparingly, only when I can’t cope so the side effects are manageable and I can put up with them.

So there is my brief medication history. I always find it interesting how different drugs effect people differently and I welcome anyone else’s experience with side effects. To me, it comes down to weighing the advantages with the disadvantages and making some compromise.