In February we had our son christened. It was the first time I had stood up in front of our family and friends since having a baby, and even though it was all people we knew, loved and had chosen to invite ourselves, I felt overwhelmed.
While I was getting ready, I looked in the mirror and saw a different person to who I was the last time I stood up in front of people at our wedding. I suddenly felt emotional, my chest felt tight and I was breathing very quickly. I had a few tears, forced myself to take a few deep breaths, and finished getting myself and the boy ready and into the taxi.
After a busy morning, sitting in the taxi for 25 minutes gave me time to think about what was about to happen. I felt the tears coming, my chest tightening, my breath quickening. With nothing to distract me I struggled to take back control.
Once we got to the church, I took a deep breath, put on a big smile and acted like everything was fine, like I always did. No one knew anything had happened that morning.
For another three months I carried on like everything was fine, but inside I was struggling with myself. I stopped going to some of the baby groups I had previously enjoyed and was forcing myself to go to the remaining one for the sake of my son.
The realisation that I needed some help came suddenly one day when I found myself not walking down a street because someone else was walking up it in the opposite direction. It wasn’t the first time – I’d been doing it for weeks. If I did have to walk past anyone, whether a single person or a group, I would put my head down, speed up and get past as quickly as possible while taking deep breaths to calm myself.
I made an appointment with my GP for the following day, but even at that point I couldn’t say it out loud. I lied to my husband and told him I was going because I’d been feeling under the weather and tired for a few weeks. I felt stupid and ashamed. Here I was with my perfect little boy, nothing that I could really complain about in my life, and I was struggling. Struggling with what?
I felt like a fraud walking into the doctor’s waiting room the next day. I sat and held my son close, almost in tears, taking deep breaths and fully expecting the doctor to laugh me out of his room.
My name came up on the screen and as I walked toward the door I considered just telling him what I told my husband – I was feeling under the weather and tired – and getting out of there as quickly as possible. I sat down and started saying it, then suddenly burst into tears and it all came pouring out.
I looked at the doctor, waiting for him to tell me to pull myself together, there was nothing wrong with me. But he didn’t. He believed me and I felt a wave of relief wash over me. I wasn’t being stupid, I wasn’t going mad.
I have social anxiety.
There, I said it.
I was prescribed a low dose of an anti-anxiety drug to take each day. It wasn’t a miracle cure, it was a bit of help. It wouldn’t stop the thoughts, it wouldn’t numb my feelings, it would just stop my heart from racing so I felt more in control and could get myself out the front door and into the places I wanted to go.
Almost three months on and I’m feeling better. Not perfect by any means, but better. I still have the same thoughts, but I have been able to control them and not get into the state I was before. I’m back to the GP again next week, and after making such progress at my last check up he’s probably going to gradually reduce the dose of the medication so I can come off the pills and, hopefully, now be able to control the anxiety myself.
Why do I suffer from anxiety? How did it start? I’m hoping by being honest with myself and exploring the answers to these questions I will be able to take back control. But that’s a post for another day.