Social anxiety – the unwanted

This wanted guest moved in my head around three years ago; at first I thought she would stay for a couple hours and then leave, but several months later she was still there and whenever she left she would return announced just like she did that first time.  I told my then boyfriend about it, but, having an unwanted guest on you in a life where such guests are not discussed openly was not only stormy but downright turbulent.  You see, my boyfriend and I are from Kenya and we have no word in our languages to describe this guest.  Our friends would not understand because our parents labelled such guests as ‘white people’s made up problems’ who have no place in our lives.  The struggle is real.

The first time I realised she was here to stay was when she got on my back and wouldn’t let go and thoughts of running around naked saturated my mind.  Once while having an episode, I overheard my boyfriend tell someone on the phone that I was seeking attention by behaving like a lunatic.  I therefore decided not to share my feelings with him, instead I walked around with an unsettling smile and pained eyes.  There was a wedding to be attended in our near future, and the idea of mingling and making small talk filled me with dread.  Thank God for tequila – I started carrying a bottle in my bag just in case my unwanted companion latched on.  On days when she didn’t latch on, she would be by my side all day long whispering all sorts and tequila helped block most of her chatter away.

The first appearance was full on.  I knew for sure I was about to die.  I literally lost my voice for several weeks – I got it back though whenever I knocked back a few shots.  There was no warning or signs that she was about to become part of my life.  She gate-crashed into my life in the middle of a social gathering leaving a trail of destruction and confusion.  If only there’d be some warning I would have been prepared, but I didn’t even know what was happening or why. 

For the next few months I spent my days braced for impact.  Sometimes the appearances were short lived and would be in the morning just before I left my bed – this would instantaneously destroy all hope and no amount of meditation or prayer would chase her away.  Other times she’d stay for days controlling my every thought, intensifying any fears by making them bigger than they were, and constantly reminding me that I was a hopeless loser.  I felt under water the whole time and my subconscious stirred and brought to the surface crazy dreads and horrible thoughts.  Sometimes I tried talking to her to make her understand but I soon realised that made me appear insane and out of it.  In these instances, all I could do was constantly beg her to ‘get out of my life’, but she wasn’t having it.  She was here to stay.  I constantly thought the world would be better off without me (and her).

The wedding was a disaster: the crowd looked bigger and intimidating – I felt like everyone was talking about me.  The air felt thick and tangible; I couldn’t breathe properly.  The food tasted like sawdust, but the wine was good.  Conversations with the judgemental crowd was overwhelming.  Then without warning, every ounce of air left my lungs and I dropped to the floor.  As I writhed on the floor in mental anguish and agony, a small group of people gathered around me looking like overstretched forms looming large above my head and talking incoherently.  I saw the look on my boyfriend’s face, and I knew it was over – my constant companion assured me it was for the best: few minutes later an ambulance took me away and my companion and I receded to the abyss of my subconscious. 

My boyfriend broke up with me shortly after I left hospital – he was ‘too fragile to deal with a fragmented soul like me’, he told me: I later found out that his mother asked him to break up with me or she would disown him – stories for another day.  I was diagnosed with social anxiety and apparently had suffered a panic attack.  I was given a ton of tablets.  I didn’t take them for the first few days because a nurse had given me some in hospital and my companion had vacated my damn mind.  I was hopeful but time passed in a haze and my companion returned with a vengeance – it was like she was mad at me for abandoning her.  I was at a crossroad – take the tablets for the rest of my life and live in a fog or flush them down the toilets and live an isolated life with my unwanted companion. 

I locked myself away as I deliberated.  Then, my only remaining friend texted to ask how I was and if there was anything he could do to help.  I texted back after several hours with a ‘no thanks’ and a smiley emoji.  He texted back immediately, “I’m here if you need me.”  I didn’t text back.  Few hours later he texted me a link to a website – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) – it was the lifeline I needed.

I found a CBT therapist and after a few sessions, I decided my companion had overstayed her visa and needed deportation.  I had let her consume and confuse me by catering to her needs.  I decided I had to rise above her if deportation was to work – I didn’t want her making a scene like she did at the wedding.  I became resilient and openly defiance: in the past I would cancel plans to accommodate her needs; I would block every sound so hers was the only one; I let her creep into bed with me and listen to her lullabies instead of Louise Hayes’s night meditation – enough was enough and CBT helped.

My resilience to her grew by day and I was able to distance myself from her false reality, convincing stories and mind games.  My whole being trembled with fear and normal people’s anxiety as I peeled her away layer by layer.  The good news was that CBT helped me a great deal to cope with every episode, and every wave of anxiety or panic came decorated with clarity and hope.  I was happy and hopeful for the first time in years.  Visiting the local market became fun once again.  Piece by piece I packed her into a suitcase ready for deportation to hell.  I was done with her.

The recovery is a process.  I still get the occasional application for visa and I politely decline.  Whenever she comes in illegally, I am strong enough to send her packing because I can no longer entertain her rude invasions and constant chatter. 

Day by day I am learning to socialise again and enjoy the beauty the world has to offer.  Tequila left with her too.

A few times though, she has managed to enter without a visa, but I’ve learnt how to deal with her without letting her destructiveness invade or taint my reality.  I am in control of my mind.

If you or anyone you know suffers from social anxiety or panic attacks let them know there’s hope and CBT (more than drugs) can help.

2 Comments

  1. Liane

    A beautiful story. You were brave to share it but in doing so, I hope you have helped someone. I’m very proud of you. Love you xx

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  2. Iryn

    Unfortunately with this problem nobody can see the scars. People would laugh or think you’re mad to talk about feeling suffocated in open air. One can be quite alone and lose friends who don’t understand or want to know that inside you there’s a demon trying to kill you. It is termed as a ‘white mans illness’. Have friends who can understand and listen to you if you happen to go through it. As much as CBT May help, YouTube ‘how to overcome anxiety’. Remind yourself that it’s only a discomfort not a danger.

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