What follows is a post that I wrote a couple of years ago now, for another site, but was never published. I’ve decided to post it on here while I’m working on mega-updates on everything that has happened in my life (SA-related and otherwise) since the last time I updated my blog regularly. It’s amazing to see how much things have changed for the better since I wrote this post.
“This isn’t so bad”, I say to myself as I sit eating lunch in my university’s canteen. My hands are shaking, and I’m sitting alone while almost everyone else in the room seems to sitting with friends, but at least now I can actually stay in the canteen without having a panic attack. I would never have been able to do this way back during my first year of university. I look around the canteen and see other students talking and laughing with their friends and classmates. There seem to be hundreds of indecipherable conversations going on all around me. But I don’t need to decipher them to know that all of those students can do what I cannot. A wave of sadness and acceptance washes over me. “Try not to think about it”, I tell myself, “Think of the progress you’ve made. Things are better now”. Yet the progress seems like nothing at all compared to the misery, anxiety, and loneliness that I still feel on a daily basis.
I am 21 years old and about to go into my final year of university. It has taken me a year longer than most to get to this point, due to how difficult my mental health issues have made university for me. Everyone always says that these will be the best years of your life. So why have my university years been one of the most lonely and miserable periods of my life? I feel like an alien compared to other students. I have never been to a nightclub or student party, and my social life is almost non-existent. I spend my entire weekend at home. Even the thought of going out socially with a group of other students is enough to make me feel sick with anxiety. I have not managed to make a single friend at university, despite having been there for four years now. At least I do have a small number of friends now. I didn’t have any friends at all (except one online friend) until about a year ago. The friends I do have are still not close friends, though. I only see each of them about once every 2 or 3 months, so I am still very lonely and isolated. Making friends has always been difficult for me. I’d love nothing more than to have a group of close friends to spend time with and talk to, but my anxiety prevents this from happening. I don’t even have anyone that I chat with at university, so university is an extremely isolating experience for me. My anxiety has also prevented me from ever being in a relationship. Much like friendships, this is something which I long for intensely, but it is still an impossibility for me. I can’t even have a basic conversation with a member of the opposite sex without suffering from intense anxiety.
I have had social anxiety disorder for as long as I can remember. It has made life difficult in a lot of ways, throughout every stage of my life so far. Throughout my time at university, my anxiety has gotten in the way so much. Just sitting with other students in a lecture theatre is enough to make me anxious. I almost always sit on my own, as I am too afraid to sit with other students. I worry that they wouldn’t like me. I worry that they would take one look at me and then wonder why the socially awkward loner is disturbing them. Tutorials are even worse. I hate group work, because this usually involves me awkwardly having to go up to another group of students (if I can manage this without a panic attack) and ask them if I can join their group. I’m usually too anxious to contribute anything to the conversation. I used to have panic attacks during classes, and had to leave the room. I was convinced that my classmates and tutors could all see what a freak I was, and that they all thought I was pathetic. Group presentations were even worse, and would have been completely impossible without the aid of propranolol.