Retreating at school
I hated school. Well, I loved learning but did not enjoy the people. I was told that my disinterest in education was because I was dyslexic and that I wouldn’t amount to anything worthwhile. This knocked my confidence, looking back I realise that what I was feeling at the time was the start of depression. When I was eight, my parents told me that we would be moving to Cornwall. I was so excited for a new start with new people. I left my mixed-sex group of friends to travel across the country.
My dream of a new life was short lived. I clearly remember my first day, sat in the middle of the classroom with people I didn’t know. I remember how my face burned red with embarrassment. The school I joined was very small and the girls had a tight friendship group. Despite trying to make friends, I never really had the energy to commit to it long term. I was always on the edge of the group, never really fitting in.
Being the odd-one-out, I retreated into myself even more. My parents encouraged me to have friends over and I did, but I hated it. I never knew what to say and just did whatever they told me to, letting them take advantage of my good nature to win their friendship. I never felt good enough. As a tomboy I was very much the odd one out, all the way from my clothes to the books I would read.
I thought it would all change at secondary school…
It didn’t and I became increasingly isolated. I tried to make new friends but I didn’t have the confidence to step away from my comfort zone. I was thankful to make one good friend who became more of a brother to me. That’s still true even after 10 years and now his wife is a fab friend too.
I allowed some of the girls to bully me -mostly about my weight. I was worried that if I stood up for myself I would lose them as ‘friends’. Even when I lost a lot of weight and became dangerously skinny, I was still being called big and fat and ugly. I did not want to continue in a world where pain and suffering was the norm and I tried to take my own life at the age of 13. This wouldn’t be my last suicide attempt as I continued to battle suicidal thoughts over the years.
In class, I was very quiet; always scared to speak out, just in case I got it wrong. This led to me being removed from the fun classes, like drama, to do extra English lessons. The teachers mistakenly thought that I had some form of Educational Need simply because I wouldn’t interact with others. At each parent’s evening and in every report, my teachers would tell my parents that I might do okay if I engaged with the learning. What they really meant was engaging with people. It was during my GCSE’s that I discovered that I did have some confidence. In my DT lessons, I was one of only two girls in a small class and it was so much better. Most of the students were really bright and all had a good sense of humour.
I decided to stay at the school to complete my A-Levels. I wanted to move to a real college but the thought of all those people made me feel sick with fear. Sixth Form was the same as school, horrible. I made some good friends, mostly male friends, who supported me through those two years.
Who am I?
I moved away to Bath for Uni and I loved it. The first year was hard for me. I was still trying to find myself. I would go out drinking with the rest of my flat but always came home exhausted and would spend the next few days shut away in my room. By year two, I had moved out of halls.
I got back in touch with a friend from sixth form and I met new people through him. The group was a year older than me and a little introverted. I would sit in his room with the others, watching tv, playing games and just hanging out. There was no pressure to be anyone but myself. I started to realise who I was and who I wanted to be. During this year, I was introduced to an amazing group of people at the local goth pub and the rock night at a club.
In my last year, my Sixth Form friend and his mates had graduated and moved away. With very few friends left in Bath, I decided to go to the pub on my own. It took me a few weeks to gain the courage to do so. I bought a drink and sat at a table in the corner. Soon one of the girls came over and started talking to me. I was terrified and didn’t know how to react. She was lovely and reassured me that everyone would make me feel welcome. And they did. I started to make more friends and went out each week with them. The sub-culture of Bath truly helped me find who I was; I loved it!
I made some amazing friends who truly accept me for who I am. Each year I travel to London to meet three of them. They have helped me through so much, perhaps not even realising it. Thank you, YOU are amazing.
On graduation, I returned home to Cornwall and my life in a sleepy village. I lost my friends, my freedom, and I lost who I was. I got myself into an abusive relationship and felt that was all I was worthy of. For two years, I allowed myself to be physically and mentally abused. During this time, I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia -just another reason for nobody to love and want me. I gained weight and thought that I was lucky to have a guy, even though I was terrified of him.
I’ve tried out a few jobs since graduation. I’ve worked in retail, care, education, and waitressing. I felt anxious in most of my roles. I would quit when this happened, believing that somebody else would be more worthy of the job than me. This fear kept me from trying to gain a role I could develop into a career.
…and starting the climb
Then, I joined an outdoor activity centre for the summer of 2015 and found a new lease of life. I lost weight and met new people. Recognising that I was good at something, I realised I was worth so much more than I thought.
I left the abusive relationship. I became involved with a supportive and caring guy who accepts me for who I am, flaws and all. He looks after me, encouraging me to focus on my self-care. We often go out walking around Cornwall.
I still feel that that am not worthy of a happy relationship, but it is something I am working on. With his support, I started to work with children in schools. I loved supporting younger people, and in 2016, I started my PGCE. Quickly, I discovered this was not the role for me; I believed too strongly in helping others, rather than just telling them to learn stuff.
Despite all of this, I never realised that I was feeling socially anxious throughout my life. I’ve learned so much about myself over the past year working with Hayley and Quiet Connections.
I first got involved with Quiet Connections when I went to the monthly Speaking Connections meeting at Cafe Chaos. I was so scared being around new people, I didn’t know what to say at first but I quickly started to join in. Soon after, I began to help Hayley with Quiet Connections to gain some work experience. I have loved every moment of working with the company. Gaining some incredible insights into myself, I have learned so much about who I am and the way that I think.
During this time, I have discovered that I am introverted and rather sensitive – both powerful attributes. I’m learning to manage feelings of anxiety and take control of my depression. I now know that it is okay to be who I am and there are others out there who feel the same. I feel that I have gained control of my life once again and am part of a group who I understand and who understand me.
Through Quiet Connections, I can help support others in the ways that I was not supported. I love helping people learn about themselves, grow their confidence and start to feel more at ease with who they really are, gradually stretching their comfort zones to gain control over their lives. I think that everybody should know that it is okay to talk about how they feel. You’re not alone and help is here for you.
If you feel socially anxious, shy or like you’re not good enough, Gemma has one clear message for you: You’re not alone. Gemma has personally experienced this too, and she understands how it can hold a person back in certain aspects of life. Now, Gemma shares tips and stories using her own insights and those of other people. Gemma is passionate about encouraging others to celebrate their quiet strengths, grow in confidence and move forwards in life. You’ll find Gemma writing for our blog, running our social media accounts, supporting people at our gatherings or, in true introvert-style, she’ll be out in nature with her camera on another Cornish adventure.