If you told me 13 years ago, that I’d be grateful for having had a social anxiety disorder most of my life, I’d probably want to kick you in the shin. Social anxiety has been the biggest part of my life, it consumed me through my teenage years and taunted me as an adult. For a long time, I felt as if I’d missed out on an important chunk of my life and I desperately wanted the experiences that everyone around me had.
It’s easy to hate your mental illness, I did for years. I just wanted it gone and the fact that it lingered for so long, tore me up inside.
The last couple of years have been a whirlwind and I have now reached a point where I can manage my social anxiety. It’s still there, I don’t believe it will truly ever go away since I’ve had it for 20+ years but I can manage it much better, enough to live a “normal” life (whatever the fuck normal is). Having reached this point, I’ve been able to reflect properly on my life with social anxiety and see myself in a clearer view. This reflection has taught me that my experience with social anxiety is not something I feel hurt about and I certainly don’t see it as being unfair, in fact it has made me grateful.
“What did it make you grateful for though?” I hear you shouting with amazement
Well, let me tell you, as a I stroke my imaginary long white beard to convince you that I’m old and wise now…
1. Being grateful for things that other people would consider mundane
So I get on a bus for a journey that lasts 10 minutes, or answer a phone call without hyperventilating and it’s a huge fucking deal. Things that I used to struggle doing because of my social anxiety that I’ve learnt how to be comfortable with, like having a conversation, going to the shop by myself and going to the checkout by myself, getting on public transport or answering the door to a parcel… they are all things I’m grateful for every time I’m able to do them. I’m grateful for super mundane things that most people complain about having to do just because I am ABLE to do them, because I remember what it’s like to not even be able to leave the house at all.
2. Feeling like a winner
Any time you go into something that terrifies you and you get through it anyway, it’s a massive achievement. I always get to feel a sense of achievement whenever I leave my front door because every social interaction, every place I enter, every person I’m able to even walk past is something that takes a lot for me to be able to do.
3. Knowing who I am
Whatever confidence I do have, is completely real. It’s something that I’ve earned over time and it’s stuck with me now and as I’ve grown in confidence and peeled back the layers of my social anxiety, my true personality has been revealed to me. All these years that I thought I was quiet and timid but the reality of the matter is, I’m a loud potty-mouthed extrovert who loves a good party and acts like a tit. I have loved learning who I really am and becoming my true self has been an incredible journey.
4. I’ve learnt to be empathetic towards others
Having a mental illness teaches you empathy and compassion because you realise people can suffer in different ways and without it being obvious. You also know what it’s like to struggle so often it makes you more aware of other people’s pain. I’m definitely grateful for that. I’d hate to be someone who doesn’t appreciate other people’s suffering.
Another plus, is that having social anxiety has made me a super good people photographer because I photograph a lot of people who are super camera shy and get anxiety in front of a camera – they’re always telling me I helped them relax and made that process much easier for them. It’s because I can put myself in their shoes, I know how that shit feels.
5. Knowing my strength
Social anxiety made me feel pathetic and weak and I often told myself that I was rubbish at everything, it was a constant battle between me and my head. The truth is, I was strong. I left the house at times I thought I couldn’t face it. I went into situations that made my heart palpitate, hands sweat, body tremble and stomach nauseated. I wasn’t weak at all. I faced my biggest fears on a daily basis, I still do really.
That’s what I’m most grateful for, learning my own strength, because now if someone asks me to do something or an opportunity arises, I know that even if it’s scary as fuck, I CAN and WILL do it!
What does social anxiety make you grateful for? What has your mental illness taught you?