Why Anxiety Sufferers Are Misunderstood As Rude

During my course of CBT a couple of years ago, my therapist warned me that I probably come across as rude to other people whilst I am fighting off my anxiety in a social situation. In fact, she said that it’s likely I put people off and make them wary of me because they will view me as cold and distant. To a certain extent I can understand what she was saying, however I also maintain that people with anxiety should not be blamed for the way they appear during social interactions.

People who do not have experience of social anxiety can often misunderstand the internal workings of anxiety sufferers. For example, I fidget quite often during conversations and constantly try to avoid eye contact, so others can perceive me to be disinterested and aloof when really I am just battling to keep control over my mind as anxiety increasingly eats away at me. At other times, I have difficulty vocalising what I want to say; the words may be begging to be said at the front of my mind but they feel like they get stuck in my throat. As I panic more and more, I am unable to speak, my throat constricts further and the waiting words get squeezed so much that there is no hope of me getting them out in the air. Whilst all this is going on for me internally, the person awaiting my response in conversation may misunderstand me and think that I have nothing to say or believe that I have abandoned the interaction. Again, this situation ends-up in me being viewed as rude when really I am trying desperately hard to stay in the social situation whilst all my impulses scream at me to run away immediately.

I cannot blame other people for wrongly perceiving me as rude or distant because I display all of the normal signs of being exactly those characteristics. People judge each other on first impressions and keep those judgements in their minds for a very long time. The problem is that when I meet someone for the first time, my anxiety symptoms are often at their most extreme and pronounced. As a result, I come across as the most rude I can possibly be and, after that, I am condemned to glares across the lecture hall for the rest of the academic year all because of the disastrous first interaction I had with someone.

It’s difficult to conclude this post. If general society was more aware of the effects anxiety can have on the whole of people’s lives, then maybe these misunderstandings could be avoided and the pressure on sufferers to act okay when they are not could be eased. However, everyone has some measure of insecurities during social interactions, so we cannot pile all of the blame on people who become offended when they see the person they are talking to start to shuffle and look away into the distance.

I would love to know everyone’s thoughts about this topic and what people think can be done to ease the pressure on anxious people when they are in social situations.

Here is a link for information about anxiety and panic attacks if anyone wants to read-up on this further:

Mind – Anxiety and Panic Attacks

CONTACT ME:

Twitter – @RyanBInNature

Instagram – @awalkwithnature00

Lessons High Schools Could Learn From Hogwarts

Yesterday was one of those days when I was reminded how lovely a place social media has the potential to be. It was 1st September and #backtoHogwarts was everywhere on Twitter and Instagram, as people took magical photos to mark the departure of the Hogwarts Express from Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Station. The joyful atmosphere surrounding that hashtag got me thinking about how muggles always dread going back to school and I imagined an alternate world where every student actually faced the oncoming academic year with the same enthusiasm as Hogwarts’ students. I came to the conclusion that there are many lessons which High Schools could learn from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to make the education system a more enjoyable experience for everyone involved. Whilst, Hogwarts is not without it’s faults (the fate of multiple Defence Against the Dark Arts teachers was at the very least unsavoury), it was considered a second (or first in some cases) home by its students rather than a place of misery and boredom which many High School attendees regard their schools as being.

Without further ado, here are just some of the lessons High Schools would do well to learn from Hogwarts:

1. Never underestimate pupils

For many, High School can be a time of confidence-crushing experiences, in which teachers impart on you the impression that success will always remain out of reach during your life. People who do not excel during classes are often told that they are destined for failure whilst they are at a startlingly tender age and have not had time to let their talents bloom yet. I’ve known someone very close to me who was told in primary school that he would not be able to progress through the school system and would have to be withdrawn to a specialist school to have even a slim chance of reaching his GCSEs. However, he is now completing the third year of his University degree. High Schools could learn a great deal from the stories of Hogwarts’ students such as Neville Longbottom. Neville was constantly undermined and chastised by his teachers for his anxious and forgetful demeanour, so his talents went vastly overlooked for many years as teachers did not invest time in developing his self-confidence. Yet, it was Neville who destroyed the last Horcrux and was able to wield the Sword of Gryffindor which only choses the most noble witches and wizards to be of use to. If there is anything to glean from Neville’s school years, it is that pupils should not be underestimated simply because there talents are not easy to spot from a distance, those who flourish slowly are infinitely valuable too.

 

2. Everyone needs a Hagrid during their school years

Although his cooking was perhaps not up to much and his unwavering trust in all magical creatures sometimes put his pupils in less than comfortable situations, Hagrid was often a crucial shoulder to cry on, especially for Harry, Ron and Hermione. I could think of no-one better to lead the first years from the Hogwarts Express across the Great Lake with his guiding light showing them all the way. Hagrid’s kind and open heart endeared him to his students (except for certain Slytherin cohorts) and by being such a generous soul, he showed his pupils that they should not believe in all the stereotypes they are fed due to his being an unconventional giant. His passion for his subject shone through in every lesson he conducted whilst he strived extremely hard to make every lesson enjoyable for his students, his heart always being in the right place. With the restrictions in school funding in the muggle world, pupils often do not get all the pastoral care they deserve. High School can be a confusing and isolating experience for too many pupils and a Hagrid-like figure could make all the difference in making their experience more bearable. School is not only about academics and peoples’ final grades, an emphasis too should be placed on the learning of core values which will help shape students into adults who are equipped for the world ahead of them and who have had confidence instilled in them by understanding figures like Hagrid.

3. Food is important too!

I believe that Ron would be especially passionate about this point considering his undying passion for Hogwarts’ feasts in the Great Hall as well as any sugary treats he could get his hands on. Whilst I do not expect High Schools to lay on extravagant feasts for students, food is an extremely important fuel to facilitate learning during the school day. Joking aside, too many pupils have to go to school each day on an empty stomach because their families’ could not afford to feed them breakfast and that reality is heartbreaking. When food is scarce at home, pupils often struggle to concentrate and take information in during lessons, rendering them at a distinct disadvantage to other pupils whose families are able to afford sufficient nutrition. Poverty creates a chasm of inequality in every level of schooling, so schools need to have the funding made available to them so that they are able to give pupils at least a good breakfast and hot lunch, in order for them to get anything out of the school day, something which the Hogwarts house elves who worked in the kitchen would agree with wholeheartedly!

4. A feeling of belonging makes all of the difference

If a student feels like they have a real place at school, their academic efforts and contribution to the establishment can increase hugely. Partially due to the house system, the vast majority of Hogwarts students felt a sense of belonging inside that magical, grand castle. Pupils worked hard for their house because they wanted their house to succeed at the end of the year and also because their house became another family to them. For me personally, I never felt comfortable being at school during all those years I was at different establishments. I was on edge constantly during the school day waiting for the next taunt to be flung at me from one of my classmates or worrying about who I would be able to hang-out with at lunch. Feeling like the odd-one-out made me resent school and, as a result, I never contributed during classes because I was always worried about the reaction of  my peers. Essentially, I never found a place for myself at school. However, at Hogwarts, the feeling of belonging students had was something for them to fall back on during hard times. Even if the library was your safe place, as in the case of Hermione, there was always a space for pupils to slot into at Hogwarts which stopped them from feeling completely adrift.

5. Get yourself a Professor McGonagall

You would never want to get on the wrong side of her and she dealt-out her fair share of tough love but Professor McGonagall was a pivotal figure in her students’ lives. Minerva McGonagall had the ability to chastise a pupil for their wrongdoings perfected beyond that of most other teachers, however she also had the ability to sit a student down, offer them a biscuit and give them some crucial words of wisdom. She was an extraordinary teacher who treated her pupils with a very real sense of love and protection. Overworked teachers and underfunded High Schools mean that students are not able to be given the sort of Professor McGonagall-esque treatment that they deserve. Teachers do not have the time and schools do not have the resources to stretch every pupils and make sure that everyone reaches or exceeds their potential whilst also making them feel cared for like Professor McGonagall did. 

I hope you enjoyed these little Hogwarts-inspired pointers and please drop any more that you can think of in the comments if you have ideas on how to make school more enjoyable and preferably more like Hogwarts! Thank you for reading and, as always, feel free to reach out to me on social media if you wish…

TWITTER: @IssieLouH

INSTAGRAM: @awalkwithnature00

5 Things You Need To Know Before Moving Into Uni Halls

There are some universal features of University halls which, for some reason, nobody ever tells you or prepares you for before you move-in. Taking the leap into University managed accommodation is a culture shock for everyone and the surprising initiation ritual of finding out all of the weird quirks about halls only adds to the weird novelty of the situation. So, without further ado, here are five things you need to know before moving into uni halls in order to prepare you for the sublimely ridiculous experience of actually inhabiting these weird micro-cultures of society:

1. Dorm-room showers are the tiniest spaces you could ever possibly squeeze into

Fair enough, space is at a premium in University rooms but whoever designs the dorms has mastered the art of creating the smallest space possible for the showers. They are the most geometrically efficient they can possibly be whilst also giving the minimum manoeuvring room so you can just about shuffle around and slip your way out again. The amount of times I have hit my elbow on the handle of the shower door because of the minuscule room in my shower cubicle is ridiculous.

2. University bedroom carpets will never ever be made to look clean

They must use some strange type of material for the flooring of uni bedrooms because no matter how ferociously you attempt to hoover your floor, there will always be dirt and debris ingrained in the very fibre of the carpet. It’s almost like the flooring has the unique ability to just hold onto any amount of dirt it comes across for the sole purpose of frustrating the Henry the Hoover (which is standard issue in every University flat) and making you look bad in front of your parents when they accuse you of never vacuuming because they do not believe the effort you went to in vein for their arrival.

3. University kitchen floors are forever destined to feel a little bit sticky

Again, this is a mystery to me. The first day when I moved into my Uni flat and the cleaners had just finished wiping and mopping the whole place, the kitchen floor already felt slightly sticky. To be fair, I didn’t go into my kitchen very frequently because the sight of the state my flatmates left it in sent my anxiety through the roof. However, when I did use the kitchen, it was noticeable that none of us would go in there without shoes on to try and keep the sticky floor at the largest distance from our feet as possible.

4. The block fire alarm will go off at a crazy hour

It is inevitable that someone in your block of flats will return home drunk from a night out and try to cook themselves sausages or some other random meal with all the ineptitude of a toddler maxed-out on smarties. They will, no doubt, rev their oven up to some ridiculous temperature in their bleary-eyed state and forego the simple act of opening a kitchen window. Therefore, the fire alarm will pierce through your sleeping state at 3am in the morning at least a few times during the year (usually when you have a 9am lecture in the morning) and you will have the pleasure of standing outside in the cold feeling extremely awkward in your pyjamas and seeing other strangers from your block of flats in all their bunny-slippers and bed-headed glory!

5. Internet at Universities is notoriously bad for some inexplicable reason

Considering that Universities are supposed to be hubs of education and learning, their wifi networks are atrocious and will continually frustrate you throughout your time there. I have visited multiple University campuses (for reasons less to do with my own interest and more to do with trailing after my brothers on endless open days and picking them up at the end of semesters) and every campus has the same tedious wifi problem where the buffering circle of death attempts to load and re-load whilst you waste your life staring at the screen, hoping against hope that you might connect to the internet within the next hour.

 

If you have any questions about uni life (which are probably a bit more serious than what I have outlined above!) feel free to talk to me on twitter and I will try to offer whatever wisdom I can as a current Uni student myself. My twitter: IssieLouH

 

Unexpected Ways Poetry Made My Life Better

TRIGGER WARNING: I DO BRIEFLY TOUCH ON EXPERIENCING SUICIDAL THOUGHTS

The word ‘prom’ conjures images of a glamorous night of celebration shared between a peer group who have shared the stress of schoolwork, teen drama and exams together. Long dresses which glide along the floor, folds of expensive material and dates’ arms slung around each other come to mind. Perhaps this is simply the rose-tinted image I have gathered from endless cliched American high school movies where the bullied girl turns-up to prom looking every inch the movie star whilst the ‘mean girls’ suffer the worst night of their lives. I wouldn’t know what a real-life prom looks like because I have never been to one. Not even my own one. Anxiety made sure that I stayed away. I could not bare the thought of going and having to endure an evening with my bullies.

Secondary school and especially the last year of GCSEs was really difficult for me. By year 11, I was depressed and plagued by suicidal thoughts. School felt like a prison where every negative thought I had was heightened to unbearable levels and my fear of failure was magnified, even encouraged, by teachers who wanted good grades on their record. I was swamped with self-doubt and tortured myself with imagined scenarios with my disappointed parents which I was convinced would occur if I did not get the results which were expected of me.

Alongside the pain of academic expectation was my growing sense of anxiety. My mum had to drop me off directly outside the door to my school and pick me up from the same location at the same time everyday because I was so anxious about being outside rather than within the safe confines of my own home. The voices of my bullies ricocheted around my head all day everyday whilst I was at school and snide looks in the locker-room was all it took for my self-confidence to take another battering.

Regular meetings with the school therapist were my only saving grace. Whilst talking out loud to her was a struggle (as I explained in my previous post ‘What Is Wrong With My Voice?’) she encouraged me to express my feelings in the form of poetry. The words began to pour out of me and became a significant source of communication between me, my counsellor and my head of house. Whilst my peers teased me for how quiet I was and how little I spoke, this very fact became my strength in regards to my creativity. Though I have never been loud or outspoken, this has never meant that I have had nothing to say. In fact, it almost felt like I saved-up all of my thoughts and insight for my poetry which allowed me to explore the depths of my mind like nothing else could.

Poetry slowly allowed me to gain some confidence. Writing poetry gave me a sense of achievement and the encouragement of my counsellor and head of house made me believe in the words I was writing. Poetry restored within me a sense of identity which had been dwindling away from me for years. I found my own unique voice which I was not frightened to use, unlike my verbal, spoken voice.

In many ways, I see poetry as both my therapy and my passion. This may seem unusual because therapy is frequently portrayed as something which is impossible to enjoy, a chore or a source of heartache. However, whilst poetry can bring many hurtful feelings to the fore of my mind, the creativity which is intertwined with the act of writing makes it not only bearable but beautiful.

Panicking About Money?

It is the summer holidays and I have weeks of time to spare before I go back to University at the end of September. However, that is not always how it feels. The rush to save money before the next academic year kicks-in is stressful and has led me to worry about what I am going to do after Uni.

I have applied to an endless list of jobs, the majority of whom have not replied to me even to do the courtesy of rejecting my application. I now have a part-time job which offers me 12 hours of work a week which I feel really lucky to have because I know how desperate other people in my position are to get any job, no matter how little hours are offered to them. I remain frustrated though.

It feels like I did everything I could to stay afloat during school and college; I maintained good grades even when my mental health was failing and I struggled to leave the house. Now I am at University, studying for a degree which is challenging me academically, yet I am still an unappealing prospect to employers. It feels like so many people have A-Levels and have been to University that now having a good academic record is not impressive anymore, it is simply just expected.

My CV looks bare because throughout my years of school and college, I was struggling with my mental health. It was achievement enough for me to even attend classes let alone take on extracurriculars. However, to employers I look like someone who has not tried to engage enough and does not have any interests because they can’t see the fact that I went through copious sessions of counselling to try and enable me to get through school and inch towards being able to join clubs and societies. To them I am a statistic rather than a person.

In the end, I have had to look at what I really want from life. Do I want to prioritise money over my mental health and happiness? No. Do I want to allow an employers’ view of me to dictate my self-worth and confidence? No. Do I want to let myself dwell in my own self-pity? No, I have seen before where this can lead me and it is somewhere I do not want to return to. 

Essentially, I am learning that things often do not work out how we envision them. You may visualise your ideal situation and put all of your energies into achieving that state of mind and being only to find yourself unable to get there. I am learning to accept that this is ok. When these things happen and you don’t get to where you want to be, often this is for a reason and you can learn so much more from the unexpected results you alight upon in comparison to the place you imagined you would be in. I would not have learnt the power of acceptance if things had worked out the way I originally wanted them to. I have built-up my emotional strength as the tides of disappointment and rejection have arrived at my feet. I have learnt that I should not give other people, especially people I have never met, the power to define your own self-worth.

If you are struggling with something similar or feel like you have ‘failed’ at something recently, here are some helpful resources on how to deal with your experiences:

Five Ways To Make Peace With Failure – Forbes

How To Deal With Stress – Mind

How To Increase Your Self-Esteem – Mind

I’M MOVING ON…

Recently, I had become weighed down by the routine and responsibilities of life. This sounds like the most stereotypical millennial thing to say but why should that stop me? It’s true. The transition into University life has been difficult; the constant pressing down of academia on any and all of my spare time and the looming dread of deadlines and exams have been a burden. At Uni there is a constant pressure to be many people all at the same time; the ambitious person with a five-year plan, the social butterfly, the student who juggles five extra-curriculars, the party animal and the person who can survive on four hours sleep a night and powers themselves on a constant stream of the bitterest black coffee. Why do we do this to ourselves? Honestly, I have no idea. We are so caught-up in trying to copy everyone else that we forget how to be ourselves and do what we came here to do; to develop as a person.

Cynicism seems to be the most popular currency at Uni. I know that the world can be a very dark place but constantly working to seek out and analyse those dark spaces can be exhausting. I feel like in my first term I forgot to give myself a relief from all the critical arguments and debates which I felt that I had to constantly keep pace with in my classes. My course demanded that I immerse myself completely in other people’s pain or become just generally distrustful of everyone and everything in the world. That was not sustainable or healthy.

Now I have made it my mission to remind myself to actually breathe. To not weigh myself down so heavily with the cynicism of academic theory and the pressure to be a hundred people all at once. For me, I do this by looking around me and seeing what is actually happening, taking in the moment rather than constantly burying myself in articles which are telling me that the world as we know it is coming to an end or that we are falling into our inevitable doom as a species. Instead, I am focusing on issues that I am passionate about and that I can have an actual effect on, especially the environment. Living a more sustainable and eco-friendly life makes me feel productive and like I am giving energy back into the world rather than parasitically sucking it out. I am organising things that I can look forward to and enjoy, rather than scheduling work experience placements to bulk-out my CV.

I am so privileged that I can take a breath and think about what is best for me and my health. I am not having to constantly struggle to provide a living for myself or work a 9-5 job and I should take advantage of that because who knows what my life will be like in the future and what it will demand of me? For now at least, positive choices are ones which work towards bettering my mental health rather than my grades. If that means taking a path which I was not initially planning on, then so be it…

STRIKE!

The breakthrough moment in my first year of Uni has been my lecturers striking.

Every one of my tutors are on strike at the moment and they will be for quite a long time to come. Whilst everyone else has been raging about it, whatever their opinion on the industrial action itself, I have had something close to an epiphany! For the first time in this whole academic year I have been proactive in my own studying, I have taken the initiative and decided to do all of the suggested reading because finally I feel like this degree is my responsibility, it is up to me whether I am going to be bothered or not to make a go of this.

Previously when I have been at Uni, I have done the bare minimum of work, just enough to scrape past and have a vague understanding of the syllabus. And it has been miserable. I have hated being the half-arsed student in the corner of the seminar room who is pretending to be aloof and above the whole situation when really the depression inside me was eating me up from the inside out. Finally I have instigated an actual interest in the work I am doing. I purposely start each day with the intention of finding something positive in the work I am doing, making the best of things even when a certain week’s topic may not be to my liking.

This is all down to the strike. Being left on my own to teach myself everything has been a revelation. Without the stress of having to go to seminars and the anxiety about sitting in a lecture hall, I have been able to breathe freely again and engage with my education because I choose to, not because otherwise I might be asked a question in my seminar and be completely stumped for the answer.

There has been a lot of anger and frustration surrounding this strike. Many students, whilst supporting the industrial action, have been annoyed that they are missing out on an educational experience that they have paid dearly for. However, for me, this strike has been my saving grace and I only hope that I can keep-up the momentum…

 

DIARY #2 – SELF DOUBT

Today, I find myself staring at my blank computer screen, the brilliant white of a draft blog post staring blatantly back at me. And I feel intimidated. What I am looking at doesn’t seem to be a computer screen anymore, it’s taken on it’s own lease of life, masquerading as the many faces of people I dearly wish will never find this indescribably small corner of the internet that I inhabit. All of these faces leer at me, telling me that my writing isn’t good enough, that everything I say is cliched and that I should be embarrassed to spend my time pouring out these immature words. So, I feel afraid to write and my hands keep hovering hesitantly over my keyboard, frozen in a panic about whether or not they can trust my mind to give them good enough words to type out.

I’ll be honest, most of these faces take the appearance of people who have taught me over the years. People who have seemed to me to be impossibly clever, even scarily so as I remember their Oxbridge certificates taking pride of place on their walls, almost as if to prove my own inadequacy to me. Their faces contort into amused sneers in my mind’s eye as they look at me with the knowledge that what I write is absolute drivel that could never impress anyone. The way they look at me feels paralysing.

I don’t whether the force of their intimidation in my head is so strong because I got my first semester University results on Friday. The crude grading of my supposed intelligence and understanding has always felt frightening to me, as if the sum of my parts is presented on that results page in a disappointingly low percentage which classifies me as simply average. Whatever the mark, results are always a distinct bash to my confidence because it reminds me of how my future is in the hands of other people who are undoubtedly intellectually superior to me and probably marked my papers thinking how basic my work was. The most I can do is stick a figurative middle finger up at these pretend critiques which my mind has twisted out of the faint shadows of people I either used to know or barely know at all and continue to write in spite of the faces which drift across my consciousness.

DIARY ENTRY #1 – APATHY…

A feeling of emptiness rules my life.

After going back to Uni, I’ve let the long train journeys that pass me back and forth as I switch between the careful gaze of my parents and the complete anonymity of University life, pass me slowly by. As these two hour long journeys drag painfully across my vision, they serve as a reminder that I am never heading towards where I want to be. Regardless of my destination, I never feel at home, I never feel satisfied. I trawl through life with a dissatisfied scowl on my face, bitter and resentful at how I have ended-up in this trap, resembling a pendulum swinging from one end of the country to the other. Yet, I have no idea how to resolve the situation…what is the cure, the solution that I am waiting for?

When I sit staring at the four walls of my room, I simply feel a gaping hollowness inside. This sounds dramatic and cliched but I have never felt anything so desperate and crushing before. It feels like my chest is constantly in danger of ripping open and the guttural scream that I suppress inside of me will finally unleash it’s wild frustration. The problem is, I don’t know how I will ever put myself back together if I let these emotions tear out of me.

BACK TO FEAR…

I’m back at Uni and it feels like a completely alien space to me. After a six week break for Christmas and the exam period, it started to feel like that first semester had just been a bad dream, something that I had now woken-up from. I let myself fantasise about a different life, one where I didn’t feel trapped in a course which I mistakenly chose on a whim when I was mentally unwell. I thought about the possibilities of feeling ‘normal’, not like the outcast I have made myself at Uni. My creativity began to flow through my veins again and the unexpected pleasure of poetry popped back into my life again after years of absence.

Yet, I then found myself in my dad’s freezing cold car making the journey back to that dreaded place. Back to my room in halls where I had holed myself up a couple of months previously and torn my body apart. The walls of my room hold the memories of depression naps in the middle of the day in which I fell into impossibly deep sleeps because I felt so exhausted with the effort of getting up, washing myself and eating. Now, I have to face these memories again, shrink myself back down to the size I was when I was drained and hopeless wishing for a way out of education finally and desperate for a way to feel adequate again – not the sum of my grades and tutors’ comments.

Onwards I go into this new semester, scared of what is lurking around the corner for me and hoping that one day the sunlight will filter into my room and rather than feel ashamed of it’s touch, I will feel hopeful instead.