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Sorry in advance for the length of this but I did find it helped to be able to write about what I've experienced, anyhow enough prevaricating, here goes...

I think that I only developed full-blown social anxiety disorder when I was about 16 or so (I'm now 24). You see I used to work part-time in a very busy restaurant in town over the summer holidays, just washing and drying dishes mostly, and I absolutely hated being watched by people as I did it. Sounds crazy I know, but I think that's when the symptoms began to really manifest themselves. I'd always been pretty shy prior to that (everyone in my family is...) but I'd never before experienced such anxiety or unease when in the company of others and I soon found myself constantly thinking that everyone was staring at me or thinking negatively about me. It did have a pretty bad effect on my life too, I had got straight As through most of school but began taking a lot of time off during my final year and ended up not doing as well as I’d been expected to. Even when I started at University the following September I was a regular absentee and ended up switching courses after a few years because I was doing pretty bad (about 50% on average) and not enjoying my course at all ... for someone who was always used to being very near the top of his class at school that was a bit humbling too, let me tell you. My parents were also pretty concerned at the time about my reluctance to attend and my bad marks, but I just could never explain to them the anxiety and unease I felt around large groups of people, especially in tutorials where I was expected to interact with people.

Well I switched courses as I said and started doing better in my studies but still couldn’t seem to make friends or feel at ease around large groups especially, I would always assume people were thinking ill of me or that they wouldn’t want to talk to me etc. In the third year of my degree things got so bad that I could barely face going to lectures, I would just get so, so anxious and feel terribly self-conscious the whole time, even having someone sitting behind me, never mind beside me, would be enough to set my mind afire with all kinds of paranoid and anxious thoughts ... it was in the summer after my third year that I happened upon an article in a newspaper about social anxiety and its symptoms, and they just seemed to fit so perfectly with what I’d been experiencing. I started to research the condition and soon found my way to this site, I bought some books on the subject too; Gillian Butler’s book on ‘Overcoming Social Anxiety and Shyness’ I found especially helpful and I would read and reread parts of it each night to try and see how I might be able to lessen the effect it was having on my life.

I soon found that, through exercising the cognitive behavioural techniques I'd read about, my anxiety around people was beginning to lessen and through group project work I was able to become good friends with some guys on my course. In January of my final year I met up with a girl who I’d met through an internet chatroom, I had until then just saw talking on them as a way of passing time, but she seemed nice and we had some common interests and she said she’d like to talk to me on the phone ... my heart must have been going at 200 bpm at least, talking to her on the phone was the first time I’d ever talked with a girl (outside of my family) for more than 5 minutes, I found though that we did have a lot in common and I was really inspired by how bright and outgoing and energetic and vivacious she was (and yes I did have a bit of a crush on her lol...). We met up several times over the next few months and even though she just wanted to be friends I found it really helped to be able to talk or go out with someone so confident and talkative ... within weeks I found myself acquiescing to friend’s requests when they’d ask me to go out somewhere, I'd always just made excuses before then and had never set foot in a pub or nightclub in my life, but I started to go out sometimes and found myself quite enjoying it, would even do some (admittedly awful) dancing lol, something I could never, ever have contemplated doing a year before.

I was asked by my friends on the course to go travelling in China over the summer of last year too, after my graduation, and it was the greatest experience of my life to date, was a bit difficult at times given that I naturally got a lot of stares from people, being a Westerner I mean, but it was amazing being so far from home with friends like that, an experience I’ll never, ever forget :D

Well, I decided to go back to University to study for my PhD and that’s what I’m doing now, I found it pretty difficult at first given that I work in an open plan office with about 17 other people and so I still get a bit anxious at times when I have to talk to someone, knowing that everyone else can hear what I’m saying, I guess I just try to keep in mind that most people are normally too preoccupied with what they’re doing to have time to think negatively about little old me :roll

Helping to supervise in laboratory sessions with undergraduate students has also helped improve my assertiveness I think, I was so incredibly nervous on my first day of doing it but it has helped me alot, I even quite look forward to it now, as it gives you the chance to meet some really nice people. I've even learned to look forward to the feeling of butterflies I get in my stomach when I have to give a presentation or talk with a stranger for the first time, it's easy to say I know but life’s too short to let your anxieties always get the better of you or stop you from doing what you want to do ... you all seem like very nice, conscientious people and I hope you get to lead the lives you deserve to :)

There’s still a ways for me to go yet of course, while I have a lot of acquaintances, I still don’t have very many true friends but I’m certainly a more confident and happy person than I was a year and a half ago and that’s a start.

Hope I haven’t went on too long here, I am somewhat incontinent when it comes to writing things but I know that reading what people have posted on this site, and knowing that I'm not the only one to experience such things, is very comforting and I thought I’d share a little of what I’ve experienced. I just wish more than anything that I could have found out about the condition sooner ... I was 23 before I'd heard the first thing about it, I think not many people out there in the world are really aware of it at all and I know there must be alot of people out there suffering in silence, I know I never related any of what I'd experienced to my family or friends as I thought my friends would think me weird and that my parents would think it was their fault in some way ... anyways, thanks for listening :)
 

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Hey petestudent :wels
 

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Welcome, PeteStudent! :)
 

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I like reading the first step posts because I get to read great stories like yours from new members that unfortunately don't post very often. I hope you post more. It sounds like you're doing very well, and you know a lot about social anxiety. Your input on the forum could help a lot of people. I hope to see you around! :)
 
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