Back in 2005, not long into my post at Hull Women's Aid as a Playworker, I was asked to speak at the AGM. I use the term 'asked' loosely; I was to give a talk at the AGM about what I provide by means of sessions, how they are beneficial to the children in the refuge and covering the statics over the past year.
Let me set the scene, as you may be thinking that I was just a younger version of who I am now, but this was not the case. I was studying my Psychology Degree at Hull university, was fresh out of a long term relationship, which was a good thing, but it was emotionally difficult to come to terms with, and I was new in post as I felt like I wanted a fresh start in my employment,, as well as my relationship status - I wanted to let go of everything and start again.
In my mind, I was working towards being a clinical psychologist; clearly this wasn't meant to be, but I didn't know at the time. I also didn't know I would find and fall in-love with psychotherapy and I didn't know I would be having years of therapy as part of my psychotherapy training. It turned out that there was so much I didn't know, about myself, but that's another story; one which I enlightened by during therapy.
I don't fully remember my reaction when I learnt about having to speak at the AGM, what I do remember though, was the pain I experienced on the evening, right before I had to talk.
It was sheer panic. I felt a total loss of control, I felt sick, my heart was beating out of my chest and I was struggling to hold back the tears. I remember vividly, as the familiar rash that I would get when I was nervous, began to take over my whole upper body, up my neck but not quite onto my face, and I asked my manager not to make me do this. My manager was a very supportive manager and although I can't remember how she got me up there - I found myself giving my talk and showing people my slides.
I survived it, but I never wanted to do it again!
Looking back, after years of therapy and years of being a therapist, I can see that I suffered with social anxiety all my life. It took on different forms - it wasn't just about speaking in public, that was a new thing; it was about meeting new people, going back to school after the holidays, being seen and judged/spoken about, having confidence to show skills I had. I also see that crying was my way of searching for a hero to rescue me from the pain, because I didn't know I could do it myself and I didn't have the confidence had I have known.
I learnt to overcome my social anxiety in therapy, which really was an unexpected bonus, as I didn't even know I had it. It wasn't so overwhelming that I stopped participating fully, but I did avoid situations and fear definitely overpowered enjoyment, at least initially.
Now I seek out public speaking, I give schools of children assembly's on mental health, I hold training events and group workshops. I do still have pangs of 'I can't' but they are short lived, not as loud and not as powerful as they were. Fear contaminate my enjoyment - I love my topic, I love to share it, I love the interaction and I love the buzz!
We are lucky that our brains, our ways of thinking and our behaviours are so adaptable - if you suffer with aspects of social anxiety, there are things you can do to change it; you can enjoy those social and performance type situations!