[Trigger warning: this post talks about self-harm and suicidal thoughts]
Madeliene describes her struggle with social anxiety and why she hopes research will discover new treatments that can change lives.
I've dealt with social anxiety for around 5 years now and it’s been one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to manage.
Growing up, I didn’t know what anxiety was. In primary school, I was always an outgoing and confident person who surrounded myself with people and had lots of friends. I was never afraid to get up and perform or act silly.
But when I got to secondary school it was like a totally different world. I was completely out of my depth and started to get called names: fat, ugly, spotty, attention-seeker. At first it didn’t bother me but then I started to believe the labels. I became increasingly isolated and stopped going out as much.
I had my first panic attack at a school parents’ evening. I was sitting opposite my teacher when I was suddenly overcome with hot flushes and shakiness. My breathing became shorter and faster and my chest seemed to get tighter and tighter. I went into a full-blown panic attack and could hardly breathe.
From that point on, it was as if a switch had gone off in my brain – telling me that I needed to panic and feel scared about everything.
Alongside panic attacks and the huge struggle with social situations, I was also self-harming. It got to a point where I felt so low that I was having suicidal thoughts. I was frustrated and angry that I couldn't just get on with my life like a normal person.
After my first panic attack my mum took me to the doctors. It was petrifying for me – I could barely get a sentence out, but I realised that I no longer wanted to live like this and needed help. I was referred to counselling and started my road to recovery. My family and friends have been amazing and supported me through some really tough times.
Although my panic attacks have lessened and I haven’t self-harmed for a year, to this day, I still struggle with anxiety. I’m mostly triggered when I am in a situation where I feel I could be judged. It makes me feel as if every single person in the room is staring at me, talking and laughing about me. At times, it’s got so bad that I’ve barely left the house and stayed in bed for days on end.
I wonder – is social anxiety something that I’ll have to deal with for the rest of my life? Or will researchers find new treatments to help people like me?
Reading about Professor John Powell’s plans to test whether an online tool can help relieve social anxiety symptoms gives me hope for the future. I think if I had this app when my symptoms first came on, it could have really helped me to cope.
You should treat mental illness just like physical illness – you can’t just tell people to get over it, we need to understand why these conditions exist and know how to treat them to really change lives.
Interested in social anxiety and the research that could help? Check out our MQ Open Mind podcast:
Last updated: 12 December 2017