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“Living with social anxiety, Christmas can feel full of pressure”

This year’s Christmas appeal focusses on Claire’s story. In this blog, she describes how she’s learned to live with social anxiety, her hopes for mental health research and why Christmas can still be a challenging time.  

I really like the vibe at Christmas - it’s a time when people are happy. I love the lights and the decorations, and I look forward to seeing my family and being with the people who are most important to me.

But five years ago, things weren’t so good.

I’ve had an overwhelming fear of social situations from a young age. It started out innocently enough - as a child, I’d hide in wardrobes at family parties and I struggled to interact with others. But by the time I reached secondary school, I could barely function. I would blush whenever someone spoke to me and constantly felt on edge in case the teacher drew attention my way.

There was some respite during university, but when I moved away to London to work in publishing - my dream industry - this feeling of anxiety came back with a vengeance. The environment began to remind me of school and I started to have panic attacks.

Then, in 2013, just after Christmas, I had a mental breakdown.  

This was the start of a long and painful journey. It was horrendous at the time; although my doctor diagnosed me with social anxiety, I was told there was a long waiting list for therapy and that finding the right medication could take months. I felt totally hopeless. 

I was prescribed some medication, but it caused me to slur my words and made my body feel so heavy I could barely move. I became so tired that I slept for 18 hours. When I woke up, I couldn’t stop crying. I don’t think I’ve ever been so frightened. If my family hadn’t been with me, I hate to think what would have happened.

Five years on, social anxiety is something I’ve learned to live with. I did a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and I’ve found things that help in my day-to-day life. I recognise that I can’t allow myself to ruminate on worries for too long, so I try my best to limit those thoughts. I know who to tell if I get overwhelmed, have a panic attack or just need some time on my own.

But Christmas can still be a difficult time. My family have parties, and there are loads of people in the house asking me a lot of questions... about me! I enjoy parties, but I recognise now that I can do a maximum of two hours before I need a break - it’s a lot of pressure to be happy. Importantly, though, I’m no longer embarrassed about my condition.

In 20 years’ time, I don’t want someone else to be sitting in a doctor’s surgery like I was - frightened, feeling really alone, and being told that this is as good as it gets. That’s why I was gobsmacked when I discovered MQ - I’d never seen anything like it. A charity totally committed to finding out more about the causes of mental illness and developing better treatments. It’s brilliant. 

I believe there is a future where mental illnesses like social anxiety are better understood, and a world where people can receive timely and effective treatment without awful side effects. But the only way we’ll get there is by investing in more mental health research.

If you’re able to, please donate and help make this future a reality.

This Christmas, I’m in the best place that I’ve been - and it’s knowledge that has brought about that change.

Claire is an MQ ambassador, blogger and author of book ‘We’re All Mad Here’. To read more from Claire visit her website, or if you’d like to donate to our Christmas appeal click here.

Last updated: 14 December 2018

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