I have always spent an inordinate amount of time worrying about what other people think. At best I imagined people found me boring, dull, quiet and plain – hardly someone you would want to spend time with. Plane Jane? Yep, that was me to a tee.
Added in 2015: I now appreciate that we each have something different to offer. What if we were all outgoing extroverts (I know I’m stereotyping here, for the sake of simplicity) – who would do the listening, the thinking, the considering? I can now be proud of the fact that I’m quiet, because it means I can give those close to me the space to talk, and they in return know I’ll listen. And surely the world needs more of this?
I spent a lot of energy trying to hide the fact that life could be terrifying, trying to put up a pretence of being “normal” while inside I was crying out for help. I felt like I was permanently on the verge of being “found out”. I survived for years by telling white lies to avoid situations I dreaded, or at best I’d stand counting down the seconds until I could leave.
I now know this to be classic avoidance behaviour, driven by the fear of situations that I couldn’t walk away from, but the knowledge didn’t make it any easier. I realised that what I really feared was fear itself, and countless self-help books explained that I needed to let the fear wash over me, but it was mindfulness that taught me how.
I felt like I was living a permanent lie, weighed down by so much pretence. The mask was getting less convincing, and I didn’t have the energy to keep it up any longer. People have said that what I did next was brave, but I think I was just tired.
I needed people to know the real me. I knew I needed tons of support and to get that support I knew I had to come clean. So I posted about my anxiety on Facebook, to everyone, no exclusions.
The response was overwhelming. Friends, family, colleagues and people I barely knew were all offering their support. Some of the strongest support came from the most unlikely places, from people who it turned out were also fighting their own secret battles, people I would never have guessed.
I had one message that I’ll never forget. A message from a guy I’d been to school with, someone I hadn’t properly been in touch with since. He had been struggling with anxiety for years (him? the popular kid? surely not!), and he wondered if I’d tried mindfulness? I hadn’t, but I was willing to give anything a go. Next thing I know, a book arrives in the post.
To be continued…