At the age of 15 I found myself in my doctor’s office listening to him explain to me that my feelings of nervousness and depression were slightly more prominent in myself compared to the population of children my age. I remember sitting in his office that day answering what felt like a million questions and filling out survey after survey, asking me about my feelings – something that no one had ever done before. Even though I knew it was his job, something about his guidance to my realization of the roots of my emotions made me feel special, and my feelings warranted. I finally felt like a normal person. It was after this that he diagnosed me with social anxiety.
The actual definition of social anxiety is “an anxiety disorder in which a person has an excessive and unreasonable fear of social situations.” For me, it was the feeling of panic every time I left my house; the constant notion that the cashier at Forever21 was secretly judging my outfit and waiting to go on break and gossip about it with her coworkers; the struggle of always walking with my eyes glued to the sidewalk to avoid eye contact with anyone. It consumed me. No matter where I went or what I did, I could never truly enjoy myself because I was out of the comfort of my bed with the covers pulled up over my head and all of the lights out.
I was finally able to understand why I was feeling that way for so long – all because of this one visit to my doctor. Even though it did not fix all my problems, being diagnosed gave me closure and the courage to take the first step in getting treated. I signed up for monthly sessions with a mental health counsellor who gave me the tools needed to change my unhealthy thinking patterns. I remember getting so frustrated with him constantly asking me to explain “why” I felt like if I left the house I would get made fun of; but looking back on it now, I realize that he was only doing it to show me that my worries were unreasonable. Showing me that there was no actual proof that it was going to happen, it was just my mind convincing me that it would.
Although changing the natural reaction of your brain can take a long time, I find myself taking pride in the small changes I see in myself every day. Struggling with mental illness has taught me to always look for the positive in any situation; no I may not have been able to go to the mall today, but at least I went on a walk around the block – and that is good. I no longer try to hide the fact that I get very nervous in social situations, I just acknowledge that it is difficult for me and I try my best to conquer it.
I strongly advise anyone who may be feeling worried or stressed out to go and talk to someone. There are so many helpful personal on campus who are ready and more-than-willing to help you. My progress only started after I was able to go and speak to someone about my feelings, which has changed my life for the better in so many ways. I am looking forward to the day that I am able to leave the house without worrying about who I may run in to, or what may happen if I trip and fall in front of everyone. But until that day, I am taking pride in the little things, and I believe everyone should do the same, regardless of whether or not you are suffering from a mental illness.