Social Anxiety and Self-esteem
(why I talk a lot)
Hello, I’m Caitlyn and I’ve decided to share some of the struggles with mental health I’ve experienced. This is important to me because I’m not usually one to talk about these things, but that’s exactly the point of this month’s series of features, just how important talking is. It’s through talking about my experiences that I’ve come to terms with them and found improvement in many aspects of my life. Some things I’m still a little more sensitive about discussing but that’s the road to progress, its not linear or easy. I want to talk about my struggles with my confidence and feelings of loneliness, isolation, difficulties trusting people and extreme feelings of anxiety. I do have other underlying circumstances that potentially made these feelings worse, but I want to talk about my first experience with mental health struggles and how they’ve impacted me over the last 9+ years. Here’s where it started:
When I went from primary into secondary school, one of my friends I’d known all my life decided I wasn’t someone she wanted to be friends with, that her and the group of people she was around didn’t “want to sit with someone like you”. I’ve never known why she made that choice, but it affected me more than I really let anyone know or realised myself at first. Because I had no clue what she didn’t like anymore it left me questioning my value, if I’d done something wrong, said the wrong thing, was I just a terrible person to be around? These questions are something I carried with me for a number of years and still sometimes struggle with. Unfortunately, this was how I lost the people I’d been closest to for over 7 years, and at 10 years old, it felt like the end of my world. In some ways it was because I lost the friendship I’d always known, the people that helped me make my childhood. Looking back on this I’ve always struggled with feeling like this is a real and serious issue because it seems so small and trivial, but it is important because it has had effects I had never noticed until reflecting on my past.
Along with my then lifelong friends, I also lost so much self-confidence and worth. I didn’t like myself much, in looks and personality, and didn’t believe other people could either, so I decided to drift from the other friend I’d had since before I’ve got memories because I believed that it was better she stay with the group of friends not knowing what happened than to stick with someone like me.
This resulted in me feeling very lonely and awkward going to high school with the belief that I wasn’t really someone people wanted around and feeling like saying one wrong word would end in being widely hated. Which, when paired with my struggles to get my words right, makes me rather nervous about new social interactions or people who don’t really know me and I end up talking far too much and then I worry I come across as obnoxious, so I find some interactions intimidating or difficult.
I am incredibly grateful to the people who tried to befriend me and make me feel a little less lonely at lunches and invited me to join extracurriculars with them, but because of my diminished self-belief, I felt like I was a burden. It’s still something that I occasionally struggle with, however those days are rare now, but at the time I felt like a tag along. Everyone still tended to drift to their groups from primary school which made it difficult to feel like I fit as I couldn’t go back to mine, so I buried myself in my academics and tried to ignore the lonely feelings. Throughout my early years of high school I essentially considered my dog Bouncer to be my closest friend. He always knew how to cheer me up and refused to leave me alone if I was upset, he was a source of constant companionship and cuddles. I took his death pretty hard and still miss him a lot, but he was the best good boy and an even better friend.
I probably should have talked to someone then, but that first leap is the hardest and I’ve never liked to talk about things that make me unhappy. I prefer to keep the time I spend with the people I care about and would talk to as happy times so never wanted to talk about the negative things. I know now that balance is necessary. Around third year I fell in with a group of people and I fit in there. In fourth year, I befriended another group, ones I cherish so much and still consider my best friends. I started to become more comfortable with myself and be less careful about how I presented myself to people. Unfortunately, this progress ended up set back again when I became head girl, and the happy moment turned sour when one of the people I’d befriended in third year chose to believe a lie one person told her and decided I was a horrible egotistical person and didn’t speak to me for a month or so. I couldn’t forgive that, trust means more to me. Again, support came from people I never expected, and I am so so grateful for, but for a while again I felt like I would be hated and that I had to choose my words so carefully. Because my confidence had been badly dented again, some conversations had me so nervous about missteps that I’d feel myself shake when I walked away, although I was always able to put on a confident smile. Some conversations still do this, I worry about saying the wrong thing and that people don’t like me, that I’m a burden. Through talking all of this through with people that I know love me as I am, I’ve learned to rationalise these things and to not feel like this as often or as powerfully.
I decided when I came to university I wouldn’t try to adapt myself to be liked anymore, that I’d be me and the people that mattered would like it, and the people that don’t like it won’t matter, and it has made a world of difference.
Through my course and boat club I’ve found myself surrounded by friends (old and new) that care about me as I am and I’m so much more confident and comfortable. And I know now that I’ve always been worthy of, and always been given that love, I just didn’t love myself enough to see, feel or believe it, but I do now. And I know that even if my hands are shaking when I’m trying to get my point across, I’ve got people who know why they shake, and they’re willing to hold them till it stops.
I still talk far too much when I’m nervous (like how long this article is) I was so used to silence for a while that I subconsciously try to fill it whenever I feel it, but I’m lucky that I’ve got people that understand it and make sure I don’t feel bad about it.
When I first started talking to people about my problems I’d feel like there was a lump completely blocking my throat, it felt like I was choking on my words so I gave up trying for a while, but the more I talk through all this with the people I care about, the lighter the lump in my throat feels. I hate to feel like a burden, and I felt like I couldn’t talk about it to the people closest to me because I was and still am scared that it would hurt them to feel like they could have done something or feel bad they didn’t notice but it’s necessary. I just hope they know they're not at fault for not seeing something that was hidden from them.
Am I nervous about publicising this? Yes. Because of the cycle of losing close people, people who I had told everything, I find it incredibly difficult to be open about many things, especially things like this, but I’m hoping that in sharing this, if even one person feels a little closer to talking to someone about something that’s affected their mental health, then it’ll have been worth it to me. I know this is probably rather different to the other topics people are discussing, but I wanted to highlight that no matter how small the issue feels to you, if it’s something that’s negatively affecting you, you shouldn’t feel like you have to live with it just because you know other people that you feel have it worse. You are just as important.