Starting at sixth form, my shyness seemed to becoming more debilitating and I began to feel a lot worse about it. I struggled in class and socially, not feeling able to contribute in group situations, worrying excessively about ‘scary’ things such as presentations and debates, avoiding things that I didn’t feel able to cope with, and feeling really down about who I was and what I thought was wrong with me.
Hating going to school each day, I found it a continual reminder of how shy I was and I couldn’t wait to leave. Despite this, I dreaded leaving school because I didn’t feel ready to be an adult. I didn’t think I could cope with the next step of going to University or getting a job.
But what hurt the most for me, was that I was on a path that was taking me away from my heart’s desires. I was a musician and passionately wanted to study Music at University. But, because my parents were not impressed by the Music department at my school, I ended up in a situation where I couldn’t speak up and say what I really wanted. My severe lack of confidence and assertiveness was preventing me from studying my favourite subject at A-level! The A-level that I really needed to follow my dreams and apply for Music at University!
So I spent the whole of sixth form feeling very depressed and when I left at age 18, I didn’t apply for University entry. I had always been a straight A student and had excelled academically in all my exams, despite the personal struggles I had endured. I felt stupid to be the girl with the straight As who hadn’t applied to Uni and I was unable to explain myself to anybody.
I felt stuck in my first year post-school. I hadn’t yet overcome the communication difficulties that prevented me from expressing my desire to study Music. I couldn’t get a job because the anxiety felt too severe and I thought I was incapable of doing anything. Eventually, it got to the point where things couldn’t really continue as they were – I couldn’t just remain as a hermit at home forever! I knew I needed to start taking some positive steps towards my goals and start living!
When we feel passionate enough about something, we can learn to overcome the challenges of social anxiety, and my ambition and passion for music was strong enough that I was able to find the courage to move forward. I finally began studying A-level Music a year after I had left sixth form, enrolling at a new college. A year after that, I started my Music degree at University and I have continued to do things I never imagined possible ever since…
I used to believe there was no hope for me. 16-year-old me would be shocked to know that I have now completed undergrad and postgrad studies in Music, I have an actual job (!), I have done some class teaching, I talk to audiences when I perform as a flute player, I go on music holidays/courses where I don’t know anyone, I have taken a plane abroad by myself…and the list goes on!
Gratefully, I had a wonderful tutor at University who was the first person I was ever able to speak to about all things shyness, social anxiety and depression. It was the first time someone told me I am an absolutely great person just as I am. This was amazing because I had always struggled with feeling very different and feeling that no-one in the world could be as shy as me. I had previously thought I could never tell anyone my story as it was so shameful and no-one would accept me if they knew.
As a teenager, mental health wasn’t really on my radar. I didn’t realise I could talk to anyone about what I was going through. I didn’t know it was possible to get help and that things could get better. I used to believe it was impossible for me to get a job or to make a new friend, but I have now done both of those things -and more!
I still have struggles sometimes and I am continuing to learn and grow, but I am becoming more and more comfortable with who I am and, most importantly, I know that I can talk about feeling anxious and the challenges of being a quieter, more sensitive person now.
So, as I approach 30, I want to share my story to let you know that there is always hope. Change is possible and things can get better for you.
If you’re struggling with social anxiety, find out how Quiet Connections can help you here.