Updated: Mar 3, 2018
I am 15 years old, quiet, anxious and I have just counted on my copy book during the last class in school that day how many days it was until I would be finished secondary school forever. This was not because I was dreading leaving school but rather it was the only way I could accept in my own mind that the persistent bullying I was experiencing could only last another 2 years and after that I was free. As a teenager with social anxiety disorder I was seen as an easy target for some students to persistently embarrass me, try and make me stutter on words, making fun of my physical appearance and any other way which could make my day any more uncomfortable than it already was.
Due to having social anxiety disorder, I rarely answered back and unfortunately you begin believing the abuse and insults thrown in your direction and realise you are living each day with no confidence and counting down the minutes until you can shut yourself away until the very next day.
Unfortunately the above experience is one that many people that social anxiety disorder can relate to. Sometimes a person can be bullied because of some of the behaviours that they exhibit because of the condition and at times the bullying can result in the onset of social anxiety disorder in someone that did not suffer previously. Regardless why the bullying was occurring there are pieces of advice that I would give the 15 year old me;
• You are not the only person that feels this way. Social anxiety disorder is an extremely common condition that affects at least 1 in 8 people in Ireland. Take a look around your classroom, you certainly aren’t alone.
• Social anxiety disorder doesn’t just stop. Unfortunately you will not wake up one day and find your anxiety has disappeared. This can be difficult to accept but can also motivate you to seek the help you need to manage the condition.
• There is no magic fix for social anxiety disorder, proven and logical methods tend to be the most successful ways.
• Just because at times your social anxiety makes it difficult for you to say clearly what you are thinking does not mean you aren’t intelligent, interesting and a unique person with lots of great characteristics.
• Don’t hang onto the anger you feel towards those that chose to bully you as it can consume your mind even further and prevent you from rising about their level.
• Alcohol is not a cure for social anxiety disorder. It may provide a temporary reprieve in social settings for your anxiety however it will only make your day to day anxiety worse and result in a dependence that may be difficult to escape from.
• Overhearing someone saying your name does not always mean you are been spoken about, and most importantly it does not mean that you are been spoken about negatively.
• Realise that not having the confidence to express your opinions is not the same as not having an opinion.
• Find someone to confide in about your social anxiety. This will be a very difficult step to take but one you will never regret. Talking out loud to a family member, doctor, teacher, etc. will feel as though a weight has been lifted from your shoulders. Speaking to someone about your social anxiety is not a form of weakness, it takes immense strength to have that initial conversation.
• Follow up on that initial conversation with the appropriate professional help i.e. counselling, support services, etc. is essential towards addressing your social anxiety long term and ensuring it is not driving every decision and action you take for the rest of your life.
• Making progress to address your social anxiety will take hard work but with each bit of progress you will gain more confidence and eventually break the stranglehold that social anxiety has on your neck.
• Try and find new ways to interact with people, this may be taking up a hobby, sport or other activity as forming connections with others is easier when participating in something both person enjoy.
• Learn to breathe through the tough moments. A poor breathing technique can lead to shortness of breath, increased anxiety and onset of panic attacks.
• And most importantly always remember that having social anxiety disorder does not define you as the person you are right now or the person you will go on to be. It does not make you any less intelligent, funny, caring, imaginative, and helpful or countless other traits that do make up the person you are. Social anxiety disorder is a battle you will win once you begin taking the right steps but like many of life’s battles these are steps which you must begin yourself.
Francis Cleary is the Founder of the not for profit organisation, Step Out Ireland. They support people with social anxiety disorder through their peer to peer supports groups where people can meet others with the condition, remove themselves from isolation and ultimately reduce their levels of social anxiety. For more information see their website www.stepoutireland.com or twitter/Facebook using the handle @stepoutireland