Panic Attacks Make Me Feel Weak.

There’s nothing like a panic attack to make the rest of your day feel terrible. I have social anxiety and the reality is; one single person can lead to me having a panic attack. I’m not just an introvert who likes to dwell in my own company; I have a mental illness that makes me terrified of people. Humans are a social species, we need other people to keep us sane and happy…my brain has decided despite that it’s going to make being social impossible for me.

It’s so hard to explain social anxiety to other people, it’s not just being anti-social; it’s being distressed at just the idea of interacting with other people. Today my panic attack was caused by something others deal with easily; a repairman turning up to update my smoke alarms. Others would have dealt with it like it was nothing but my brain can’t cope with someone turning up unannounced to my house. I then have to let that person into my safe space which completely takes away my feeling of safety. I live in council housing and my housing association have my issues on file so I’m given prior notice if anyone needs to come to my house. That simple act of letting me know and prepare is the difference between me being simply uncomfortable and full on panicking and having a break down. But today I had no prior notice and that simple act changed the whole experience.

I only answer the door if I’m expecting a delivery and that’s the only reason I answered the door today. Instead of a simple delivery it’s a man who needs to come into my house and do some work. This unexpected moment completely freezes my brain. I want to explain and say I can’t let him in, I want to ring my Mum who is ten minutes away and can come and deal with the situation. But I can do none of these things because my brain has short circuited and I’m incapable of anything but a one word answer. So I open the door and let this stranger in despite my whole body fighting me. I’m panicking but this man won’t see it because when I’ve learned to hide it very well. He can’t see that I’m gritting my teeth so hard it hurts, or that I’m digging my nails into my skin and scratching because pain is the only thing that stops me physically collapsing into a heap and crying like a baby.

The physical and obvious panic attack comes when he leaves. Because all that adrenaline that’s been rushing through my body has nowhere to go. My safe place feels unsafe because someone else has been in it and most of all, I feel like a complete and utter idiot because all I want to do is be a normal person and interact socially without a break down. All of this self-hate and adrenaline makes me hyperventilate, makes me sweat and shake. I’m crying and struggling to get my breath, while everything around me spins. I’m not in control of my own body and all I can do is sit and wait for my brain and body to run out of energy.

That’s my reality. I won’t forget it and get on with my day. I’ll spend the rest of my day feeling broken, embarrassed, ashamed and completely weak. I hate feeling weak, I like to think I’m a strong person, I’ve overcome so many obstacles and struggles. But the reality is I have social anxiety, I’m terrified of people and I am weak.

Sometimes I wish I had a big sign on my head that said “social anxiety” because then at least people could see my mental illness, they could try and be more understanding. You never know what battles are going on in someone internally, so be kind and be patient.

Mask exemption = prove you illness!

It’s a very confusing and worrying time right now and for those of us who suffer with anxiety; it’s terrifying. One of the latest things to affect my anxiety is the use of masks in public.

I think wearing a mask is a simple selfless act, it protects others and minimises the spread of illness. I agree that the majority of people should wear a mask. But where as it’s a simple act for a majority; it can be a distressing act for a minority and I feel that this should be understood and accepted.

I walk into a shop without a mask and although I look young, physically healthy and capable to the store staff; I suffer with autonomic dysfunctional which causes me to breathe difunctionally; I hyperventilate especially in situations of anxiety. As soon as I enter I’m questioned about my lack of mask and I explain myself, feeling like an imposter. As a person with social anxiety this is deeply distressing to me and as a person with a physical invisible illness, it’s deflating having to explain my illness and prove I have an illness despite my physical appearance. But the most distressing feeling comes from moving around the store, being glared at by other customers questioning why I can get away without wearing a mask like I’m committing a selfish and malicious act when in reality I’m just trying to do my shopping without making myself ill. The looks from other people are the most hurtful act as their judgement makes me feel like a disappointment, like a criminal.

Now, I have a mask and I wear it if I go out but when my symptoms flare up then I can either remove the mask or potentially pass out in front of everyone. I make myself wear a mask because the reality is, I’m too scared to go through the experience of explaining myself. My anxiety forces me to wear a mask just to avoid the judgemental glares and questions that will no doubt drown me if I choose not to wear a mask. But I watch people like myself, with an invisible illness trying to explain themselves and although in some cases they are treated fairly, the majority of the time they are asked for proof; they are made to prove their illness to a person who has no medical training, to a person silently judging them and making them feel uncomfortable.

I don’t go out anymore. For me, wearing a mask with my POTS and dysfunctional breathing causes my heart rate to rocket, I begin to sweat profusely and hyperventilate. This leads to dizziness, vision disturbance and I begin to black out. Instead of forcing myself to wear a mask and make myself ill I stay at home and avoid going out. I avoid it because the anxiety of potentially having to prove I suffer with a life-limiting illness is so distressing to me; I can’t even consider facing it. Before Covid, I’ve had to explain my illness and prove myself but the idea of doing so, just to go outdoors now is a horrible feeling.

The point of this post is to implore people to be less judgemental and kinder to those who cannot wear a mask. Of course, there are people who abuse the exemption for selfish reasons but you can’t treat everyone as if this is what they are trying to do. There are those of us who have genuine reasons for not wearing a mask and our chronic illnesses make our lives difficult enough without judgemental remarks and questioning. It’s a worrying and unprecedented time right now and we all need to think of others and be kinder and more understanding.

My anxiety makes me a bi*ch

Very often, I’m encouraged and pushed to go out to social places by my family and friends. These social places trigger my anxiety and as a result, I become an irritable, snappy, moody individual who takes it out on her family/friends.

Going shopping is something most women love to do but I hate it, I’m an online shopper all the way. But occasionally I go out with family to shopping centres and spend some time shopping. It should be enjoyable and rewarding but it’s a nightmare for both me and whoever accompanies me because my anxiety makes me crazy. My anxiety gets triggered by the unfamiliar place and unfamiliar people and I attempt to soothe myself however I can, and my family try to make it easier and less stressful for me which I am grateful for. But after an hour, I can’t control my anxiety anymore and I want to go home so my personality withdraws, I become quiet and fidgety. I begin to try and rush my family through things and then I begin to get irritated with them. I love my family and I would never take my mood out on them normally but my anxiety overrules that part of my personality and I suddenly find everyone around me, irritating!

I see my family enjoying being out and it annoys me because I want to enjoy it but my anxiety is taking over and I just want to go home so I start to snap at my family for small things, I get moody and refuse to get involved in conversation. I say horrible things and become like a moody teenager who hasn’t got their way.

That person is not who I am, I hate that version of me but in that situation, my anxiety rules and somewhere in my twisted brain, I believe that being snappy and difficult will get me out of the situation faster. In that situation, everything irritates me and I’m annoyed and scared so I turn into a bitch.

My family are used to this version of me by now and they know it’s a sign that I’m reaching my limit and need to get out of the situation but I feel bad for them because they take my snapping and moody comments without judgement and they change their own plans to accommodate me. I take my anxiety out on my family and they just try to help. Irritability is one of the main symptoms I feel when I’m anxious, it’s an overwhelming feeling and it makes me a horrible person to be around. I wish I could control it better and keep it inside so no one else has to deal with it but in that bubble of anxiety, it controls me.

Just another symptom of anxiety that makes my social life hell!

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.

Anxiety makes me a social idiot.

One of the worst things with social anxiety is the unexpected and unfortunately I cannot control that. So when a police officer turns up at my door while I’m chilling in my pyjamas, I panic big time and go on to make an idiot of myself.

I don’t typically have a problem with authority but I do have a problem with people turning up at the house unexpected. To begin with, there is the ‘do I or don’t I’ answer the door because I really don’t want to interact with anyone. I’m in my pyjamas, my hair is all over the place and I haven’t got any make-up on. But my therapist says I can’t avoid situations so I answer the door, expecting the post man or a delivery….it’s a policeman. At this point, my insides drop and my heart begins to speed up. He introduces himself and says not to worry, he’s visiting all the houses in the street to ask about an incident. Meanwhile, I don’t hear any of his introduction because my body is in flight mode. My anxiety is telling me to shut the door and hide, while the rational part of my brain is demanding I face my fear and snap out of it.

The worst panic begins when he asks to come in for a few minutes and I really want to say no because I’m alone and my home is my safe space, it’s my bubble away from people. But he’s a police officer so I can’t really refuse so I invite him in and then literally just stand in my tiny hallway because I can’t invite him in further, I haven’t tidied and deep inside, I want to protect my safe space. So we stand in a tiny hallway with him talking but me not actively listening because I’m trying to hold back a panic attack at having a stranger in my house. He asks me questions about if I’ve seen anything in the street, if I have any concerns or questions, can I provide any information? All I can muster up is one word for each question; ‘No’. In my mind, I have something to say, I do have some concerns and I have seen some worrying things but my mouth literally won’t produce the words, it can just manage one word. And of course he starts to look at me suspiciously because I’m only saying one word and my face is turning red because I’m embarrassed I can’t act like a normal person. He asks me if I’m alright, it I’m sure there isn’t anything I want to talk about and the same one word comes out of my mouth so he leaves.

I immediately go into my living room and begin hyperventilating, my whole body is shaking from the adrenaline and I’m panicking, replaying the scene in my head over and over again which makes the embarrassment and shame worse. Eventually I calm myself down and that’s when the regret starts because my rational brain has kicked in and it’s telling me I’m an idiot and questioning why I can’t act like a normal person and talk to strangers. Why on earth can’t I interact with someone normally, without embarrassing myself. The scene continues to replay in my head throughout the day and I go through all the ways I could have changed what happened, I could have invited him in to the living room so I wasn’t cramped in a tiny hallway with a strange man, I could have told him what I had seen in the street and what concerns I had, I could have smiled and been charismatic.

But that didn’t happen and I have to live with replaying it over and over until my anxiety finds something new to cling onto. I wish I could interact with a strange person as if I were comfortable and social but my anxiety won’t allow that. My anxiety makes me appear like a mute idiot when someone I don’t know talks to me, it makes me seem rude and cold. It makes people react negatively towards me and I hate that. Sometimes I wish I could just be honest when someone talks to me, tell them I suffer with anxiety and to be patient but I freeze up, I panic, my heart beats out of my chest and I sweat more and more. It’s frustrating and embarrassing.

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.