Today, I can stand up and say with confidence that I’m ‘a bit of a self-confessed oddball’. But, just over ten years ago, things were not so clear to me. I didn’t know much about anxiety and I definitely had not found a real way to express myself. I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted.
From the ages of thirteen through to sixteen, I was very lost. The things that I enjoyed were far from popular. Reading, comic books and cartoons were certainly not the considered norm. I was surrounded by football, pop music and burgeoning relationships. I felt lonely and isolated, not being fully aware that I had a mental health issue that impacted the way I was socialising compared to other teenagers at the time.
For some people, not ‘fitting in’ with a crowd can be dealt with by pretending to be someone else or sharing similar interests, but with the anxiety I felt, I couldn’t achieve this. Instigating conversation is something I still don’t find easy, and I have gratefully been able to come to terms with this, but back then I felt like a freak. An outsider. It came as no surprise that people would label me as rude or non-conformist but I didn’t feel like it could be helped. Instead of mixing with my peers, I remained alone in my bubble choosing to fill my time by scratching my creative itch; writing, drawing or just generally escaping inside my own imagination. I was more comfortable in my own head than amongst crowds of people. It became a difficult road comprised of loneliness and depression. But one thing I did not anticipate was that this shy, reclusive individual was slowly growing into himself. When school ended, I decided not to continue my studies at the current sixth form, preferring a new environment at a local college. A clean slate.
With all that I’d been through, I now had a very different head on my shoulders. I may not have improved greatly in conversing with others, but I had become very confident in my creative abilities and who I am as a person. I knew my own mind. Surprisingly, at the age of seventeen, that was a very desirable trait. Gone was the clicky nature of school, replaced by a need in everyone to be an individual. Luckily I was most comfortable when being ‘individual’. The fact that I struggled socially didn’t really seem to matter anymore. People were much more understanding of eccentricities, which for me meant I felt safe enough to creep ‘out of my shell’.
I have found that the older I get, the more understanding I find in those around me. Now, I’m still not great at instigating conversation or small talk, in fact they are things I dread the most, but staying true to what I love and am passionate about has made me happier than I’ve ever been. I now have friends, am engaged and get to create and do what I love every day. None of this would be possible today if I had forced myself to ‘fit in’, betraying myself in the process.
Time changes people, it shapes them and I think only by being the best version of yourself, trusting that version of yourself, can you truly take the first step in overcoming anxiety. In fact, in writing this post I may have found something that I actually need to thank my anxiety for… making me, me.
Dave is a lively person; one you may not associate with social anxiety. Having lived with anxiety and depression for most of his life, he has learned to channel his experiences into his creative work, including story writing and playing guitar. Understanding the sensitive disposition that comes with mental health challenges, Dave feels it is important to talk and share with other individuals that share similar experiences to keep things in perspective and enjoy life.