Diagnosing my social anxiety disorder

Sarah21st January 202110 min

Social anxiety is an anxiety disorder, check out this brief overview here: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/social-anxiety/

I always thought my symptoms of social anxiety were just my personality. I wished to be different and wondered why I wasn’t like my friends, but always determined that’s just who I was and I would have to accept it. I noticed some symptoms in school and sixth-form, but when I moved out of my family home for uni and was forced to be independent, it triggered me to get a diagnosis. I’ll talk about some of my symptoms and how it affected my life in other blog posts, but it was predominantly a belief/ fear that I was always being judged negatively, inability to go places by myself or having anxiety attacks when I did.

The first time I heard of social anxiety, I was around 17 and a friend’s boyfriend was diagnosed with it. The diagnosis baffled me at the time as I knew him as a friendly and somewhat confident lad and thought social anxiety must be where you’re super nervous, quiet and awkward all the time? I can’t remember if I googled it and it didn’t come back up in my thoughts again until a few years later.

Skip forward a few years and I was crying in bed, feeling really fed up with myself and how my behaviour and beliefs were holding me back. I was in my third year of uni and it had already caused me to miss out on opportunities - I really wanted to make the most of my final year. I don’t remember what made me think of it, but I googled social anxiety looking for answers. I scrolled through the NHS website and resonated with lots of the symptoms. I felt some kind of relief that actually, just maybe, this wasn’t my personality and it was something that I could work on and change. When I told some people I think I might have social anxiety, they didn’t know anything about it and just asked ‘what are you nervous about?’. I couldn’t explain, as it’s more than just feeling nervous about something. It felt dismissive, like I’d found the box I fit in and was being told that still wasn’t my box? I discussed it with one of my best friends (who had some knowledge on anxiety) and she reassured me that I should discuss my self-diagnosis with a Doctor.

I built up the courage to visit a Doctor to discuss my self-diagnosis of social anxiety (bearing in mind that visiting the doctors/ waiting rooms were a trigger for my anxiety in the first place). I was holding back tears the entire time. What if they think I’m just being dramatic? I nervously explained how I was feeling and the doctor agreed this could be the diagnosis. They prescribed me a low dose of some anxiety medicine and gave me a list of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) practitioners to call. I told him I find phone calls really hard (another symptom of my anxiety) and was there no way he could make the referral, or a friend could call on my behalf? ‘No’ he said, it has to be me. Followed by something along the lines of ‘give it a week and then try’ (eyeroll). I think that opens up a whole new conversation about how Doctors deal with mental health problems, but that’s not for discussion today. I was choked up and had actual tears in my eyes at this point. Just as I felt I was getting somewhere, it felt like I was back at square one if I wasn’t able to access the support that could help me (I’ll write a seperate post on treatment). I took the prescription and list of therapists and left with mixed feelings. 

I was glad I finally had a diagnosis. Labels can be unhelpful for some people and others will find them useful. For me, I liked being able to put a label on what I was feeling and almost separate myself from my mental health problem - I am not social anxiety, I just have social anxiety. I felt some hope that I wouldn’t feel this way forever and proud of myself for making the first step to getting treatment. On the other hand there was still nerves and ambiguity over my treatment journey. 

Getting a diagnosis was a scary part of the journey, but I felt better after doing it and it’s something that benefited me in the long run - if I can do it, you can too! You could take someone with you if it makes you feel more comfortable, even if they stay in the waiting room or travel there with you and leave. 

I also want to add, phoning a therapist is not the only way to get support, as my doctor had told me, so please don’t let that put you off getting help if you need it. You can look online to Find NHS psychological therapies services (IAPT), including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) services in your local area (who sometimes take self-referrals and sometimes need a GP referral) or get support from registered mental health charities and organisations without needing a GP’s diagnosis.  

‘The first step to getting anywhere is deciding you’re no longer willing to stay where you are’.

Sarah from Anxious Extrovert x

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