She is just shy. She will grow out of it. Once she joins secondary school, she will gain more confidence. These are all things my parents were told by my teachers when I was the token quiet child in the class. I had a lot of friends and got on well with everyone but still hadn’t found my voice to answer questions in front of the class and participate in group discussions.
Despite what they said, I never did grow out of being ‘shy’. A few years into secondary school, I was diagnosed with a general and social anxiety disorder. Whilst I will never let my mental illness define me, it does make it harder for me to socialise with others. I find myself getting tired quickly and wanting to leave social situations early. But I’m also scared of letting people down and making an awkward excuse to go home prematurely. For me, it was often easier to just not go in the first place. That would mean avoiding all possible embarrassing conversations and staying home with a pint of ice cream and Gilmore Girls repeats.
With all of this in mind, you can imagine my delight when lockdown was announced. As the government reeled off their unembellished statement, my eyes lit up. I’m being forced to stay home for the foreseeable future. No socialising. No work. No ornate excuses as to why I can’t come to your gathering.
Being in my final year of sixth form, my life had been planned since January up until the end of my International Baccalaureate exams in May. Every hour I had spare was taken up by re-reading Le Petit Prince for the 50th time or memorising the characteristics of a certain biome. However, when the announcement came through that all of the exams had been cancelled, I suddenly had all of this time on my hands. I think I tried every single lockdown ‘trend’ there was: baking, yoga, Netflix binges. This was my idea of heaven.
However, I knew that this dream could not last forever. With the government’s roadmap for the ending of lockdown being set to lead us out of what is possibly our last lockdown, I want to take the time to remind those who cannot wait to get back into the world of socialising that many of your friends may take some more time to get used to going out into society again. Those who often suffer in silence are going to have to re-learn how to cope with their anxieties about social situations so please be patient with them. Having been stuck in your comfort zone for so long, it is obviously going to be difficult to find the confidence again to show your face at social outings.
When you are surrounded by social media posts of supposedly happy people hanging out with their massive friendship groups, it is hard to look after yourself and say no to social situations that will harm your mental health more than benefit it. However, there is more to life than getting hammered in your local pub because that is the only way you feel comfortable talking to people. Start small with coffee shop dates, a little bit of shopping or watching a movie (outdoors for the moment!). These steps will help us to regain that self-assurance that we can socialise and have fun with our friends.
Be kind to yourself in these confusing times and stay safe.
Image courtesy of Wes Hicks