Sometimes I feel like I should carry a little sign that says this!
Some of my closest and best friends have openly admitted to me in the past that when they first met me they thought I came across as rude, disinterested, and standoffish. (Charming eh 🙈). Don’t worry, years later we are best of friends so we talk openly about these things.
But that perception couldn’t have been further from the truth. I didn’t realise that my feelings of not being good enough and of worrying about what everyone’s opinions of me were, were coming across as rudeness. I also didn't know at the time that these were classic symptoms of anxiety.
Luckily my gorgeous friends persevered, my barriers came down and they saw what I was really like and not what I was projecting out to the world.
I am not rude, disinterested, or any of those things they thought I was.
I have anxiety.
It is interesting when I think about the occasions they refer to and how the symptoms of anxiety are not always known or obvious. My 'rudeness' and 'standoffishness' was actually me feeling all of the following:
Anxious that they wouldn’t like me, I mean why would they? I didn’t even like myself.
Awkward when the conversation came to me, I had nothing to say they could possibly have been interested in.
They wouldn’t want to be friends with me. They already had friends, who were confident and outgoing - why would they want to bother with me?
Anything I said would be wrong or the total opposite of their opinion, so I didn’t speak in case I was laughed at or ridiculed.
Like I wanted the ground to swallow me whole just so I could escape the situation.
As though my heart was going to beat out of my chest and that I couldn’t think straight.
In fact, any situation out of my comfort zone, especially involving meeting new people, set me off in a panic. These are all symptoms of being anxious and it has taken me a long time to understand that and even longer to talk about it.
To anyone who hasn't experienced anxiety to a level whereby it interferes in the way you live your lives, the below is a great description that is totally relatable to everyone:
"You know that feeling when you’re rocking on the back legs of your chair and suddenly for just a split second you think you’re about to fall; that feeling in your chest? Imagine that split second feeling being frozen in time and lodged in your chest for minutes/hours/days, and imagine with it that sense of impending doom and dread sticking around too, but sometimes you don’t even know why." - source, mind.org.uk
That feeling you get when you might fall off your chair isn't nice, but at least you know why you are feeling that way, it only lasts for a split second and you know it's a natural response to save yourself from a situation where you might get hurt. For someone suffering from anxiety, it's like sitting on that same chair, all four legs on the floor, on a padded floor - but still having that same feeling.
It is really not pleasant.
I have always thought of myself as a nice person. A help an old lady cross the street, give my seat up on the bus, be honest when giving directions to strangers - don’t make it up when you don't know, kind of person. So it bothers me that there are probably people out there now in the world that have the wrong impression of me. To those people, I’m sorry that on the time(s) we met, it was my anxiety you encountered and not the actual me.
Social anxiety has dropped by to lots of parties I have attended over the years, totally uninvited. (The anxiety was uninvited that is, not me!)
The occasions that stick in my head vividly are when I have been a +1, going into someone else’s work/friendship circles, where I only know one person in the room. In fact, I would dread my one and only ally even going to the bathroom as that would leave me exposed to a room full of strangers, who I thought would instantly judge and dislike me.
Inevitably, of course, it happened; I mean no-one can hold their bladder for a full evening. I would end up in a room full of people, feeling like the loneliest person in the world. Dramatic I know, but that is exactly what it felt like.
When these feelings occurred, I would basically do anything that helped me to look occupied ; playing on my phone, re-reading the menu 10 times, etc. To the outside world, this must-have looked as though I couldn’t be bothered or that I had no interest in engaging with them, which of course meant they didn’t try. My anxieties around being unworthy of having a conversation with someone were then reinforced. In my head, I must be unworthy otherwise people would make an effort to speak with me as they could see I was alone.
I have lost count of the number of times I have said, “Well, they didn’t like me, so I don’t like them”, but looking back now I realise that the common denominator was me. I often hadn’t given them a chance to start with, I had already decided to push them away to save myself the pain of them doing it to me.
For the people who have never suffered from anxiety, please don’t judge a book by its cover and reach out to those who you see distancing themselves. Yes, some people genuinely are happy being left to it, but it may be that you end up helping to change someone's mindset and help them see they are likable and worth talking to - just by making that initial effort to interact. For me, I would never have dared to go up to someone, and definitely not a whole group of people, and start talking, I would most likely have hyperventilated and collapsed - no lie! But if someone made the effort to speak to me, I would be so happy they had.
For those of you who do suffer from anxiety, I know first hand it can be hard to constantly experience the battle between your anxious mind and your rational mind and I wanted you to know you’re not alone.
If you would like to seek help, you can get in touch with any of the following organisations or always talk to your GP:
Anxiety UK - www.anxietyuk.org.uk
Mind - www.mind.org.uk
Social Anxiety Uk - www.social-anxiety.org.uk
If this is something I have experienced, then it is likely that there are lots more of you out there; please, please, please don't let anxiety run your life for you. You're likable, you're worthy and people would be lucky to know and be friends with you. Believe it baby!
Please feel free to share this post, especially if you think someone you know might benefit from it.
Until next time lovelies. Xoxo