I need to stop trying to ‘fix’ people

I realised that when people talk to me about their problems, I end up trying to fix them. It comes from a good place, in that I just want to help them not feel sad anymore, but that might not be what they need. Maybe they just need someone to listen and witness how they feel.

Because it’s not like people don’t ever think about solving their own problems. It’s happened to me a lot in the past. I’ve had a family member tell me excitedly that they’d read an article in the paper about how CBT cures anxiety, and had I tried it? If only it were that easy! As much as the government wishes a short-term round of CBT was a wonder cure, for many of us it doesn’t really scratch the surface. But that’s another blog post altogether.

It makes me think about gender stereotypes too. Women are meant to be emotional and supposedly talk about their feelings just to share them. Whereas men only talk about things if there’s a problem to be solved. I don’t fit into that stereotype at all, I’m more of a strong silent woman!

It’s not to say I won’t ever give someone advice if they ask for it, but I’m going to try and make the effort to be more thoughtful in the future. Does the person just need someone to listen compassionately?

It’s not like I’m even talking to a great deal of people right now anyway! Lockdown is still trundling on and I don’t think I’ll be seeing much normality until at least April. I’m someone that copes pretty well on their own, but it’s even getting to me now. I need a new routine, or something different to happen! The UK has had one of the strictest lockdowns in the world and yet one of the worst death rates. I so wish the government had handled things differently. I won’t go on as it makes me feel angry!

I hope that wasn’t too much waffle, and that you’re all doing well.

The best advice I’ve been given about social anxiety and avoidance

Everything in life involves other people. It’s just how we are as humans – social connections are important. It’s why I think social anxiety is so cruel, by avoiding what you fear, you avoid the ability to live your life.

Despite this, I have managed to reach out to others, even if it’s just been in a mental health setting like a support group. It’s always seemed easier that way, as I felt I would be understood by others who have their own mental health difficulties.

I was thinking about the advice people have given me over the years and thought it would be good to share it here. It really helped to give me a different perspective.

Quietness can be a powerful presence

The first lot of advice came from the 18 months I spent in group therapy. I usually took a back seat within the group and found myself listening to other people’s stories and I would occasionally chip in with advice.

I voiced my frustration in the group one day and said: “Sometimes it feels like no one would notice if I didn’t even show up as I just sit here without saying anything. I almost feel like a ghost.”

They assured me that wasn’t the case, as when I did speak, they noticed and valued what I was saying as it was often thoughtful. One person said they wondered what was going through my mind. The therapist added: “You might feel like your quietness makes you invisible, but it can actually be quite a powerful presence that is noticed when you’re absent. When you do speak up, people notice.”

It stuck with me as it shows that there is value in being quiet. Of course, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work on expressing yourself, but it’s fine if you’re not a chatterbox too!

You either avoid, or you don’t

Next came from the social anxiety support group I used to go to. I was talking to one guy about avoidance, and how we used it as our main coping mechanism. I said that I often overanalyse myself and think about how small my life has become as I avoid so much.

He replied that it didn’t have to be so complicated. At the end of the day each time your fear is triggered, avoiding it is a choice. You either avoid something, or you don’t. If you’re sick of avoiding things, then you can choose not to. He then started laughing and said: “one day the earth will be swallowed up by the sun, so it won’t matter anyway!”

I guess you could argue it’s a simplistic way of thinking, but I kind of like it. When something crops up now, I’ll think: “well, are you going to avoid it or not?” The key is to not beat yourself up about it. There will be times when you feel like you need to avoid, it’s a coping mechanism, just try to balance it with facing things too.

Many people feel socially anxious

Finally, I’ve noticed that most people will have some understanding of social anxiety. I’ve mentioned it to quite a few different people, that I’m shy and socially anxious – they probably noticed it for themselves. What surprised me was that they can often relate. I’ve lost count of the times where people told me they feel like that too, and that’s from people who you would never guess!

Social anxiety disorder is obviously different from being a bit shy, but I found it reassuring that people could understand where I was coming from. And it helped me frame it in my mind: social anxiety is normal. It makes it easier for me to accept.

So there you have it, I hope you found my examples helpful or thought provoking. What’s the best advice someone ever gave you?

Loneliness at Christmas

I usually really enjoy the Christmas season, but sometimes it can amplify feelings of loneliness. My Mum loves watching those cheesy American Christmas movies where the main character falls in love, finds her happily ever after and is surrounded by friends and family. Which is quite the opposite to our own Christmas experience!

I try to make light of it and joke that I’m not bothered as I’m antisocial anyway, but it does make me feel sad that we don’t have much family left. Most of the relatives from my childhood have died. I know I’m not alone in this, and many people struggle to cope with loss at Christmas time.

Pandemic loneliness

The pandemic hasn’t helped matters either. “2.6 million UK adults reported they felt lonely “often” or “always” between 3 April and 3 May 2020, about the same proportion as pre-lockdown.” UK Office for National Statistics.

This reflects how I feel about loneliness. I can usually busy myself and get by okay, but it’s when things go wrong that I feel it the most and I wish I had more people to call on. These times of Covid have added a lot of stress to our already stressful lives.

I do try to count my blessings. I feel lucky to have a wonderful friend that I know I can rely on, and my Mum of course. Friends mean a lot to those of us without family, and I really want to make more effort with meeting new people in 2021. I thought this year was going to be ‘my year’ for socialising, but Covid has meant everything that I wanted to do is cancelled!

Socialising with mental illness is hard

Mental illness makes it tough connect with people and maintain relationships at the best of times. I have spoken to people online with social anxiety who are completely alone. My heart goes out to them, as we might traditionally think it’s the elderly who are most isolated, but many young people fall through the cracks in society too, and it doesn’t take much to end up in that situation.

So if you usually find Christmas Day a struggle, then try to plan ahead. Could you call a friend or family member for a chat? If you’re on your own could you look into volunteering? Or you could log on to Twitter and follow the hashtag – #joinin to chat to others also in need of a bit of company. It’s a lovely idea started by the UK comedian Sarah Millican.

Above all please be kind to yourself. The reality is, even people with family don’t always have happy lives. Drunken rows over the dinner table don’t feature in the soppy festive ads, funny that!

When someone tells you who they are – listen

After I split up with my ex, I realised that I had a problem with boundaries. I was only 17 when we got together, some people are quite worldly wise at that age, but I was not. He never treated me with much respect, or even made me feel particularly special. I remember asking him once, after I saw another girl dressed provocatively, do you wish I were her? And he said yes!

Then there was the cheating, I found conversations on his computer between him and other women we knew. When I confronted him, he’d always be in floods of tears and would come up with all kinds of excuses for his behaviour. I fell for it and even felt sorry for him… As I got older, I realised that was just who he was.

When someone tells you who they are, you should listen. He cheated on me and went behind my back many more times. I regret wasting so much time on him, but the relationship taught me that actions mean more than words.

And when you realise this, you start noticing it everywhere, people say all kinds of things, but their behaviour doesn’t always match up. Sometimes people have an image of themselves that just doesn’t reflect reality.

Beware people who tell you how great they are

In a similar example, I met a guy at a local group who I got on with. I told him I’d only joined the group to make some friends, I wasn’t looking for a relationship, which he seemed fine with. He told me a lot of things about himself. Such as how he wasn’t an angry or argumentative person – he didn’t have the energy for that.

A few weeks later he got into an argument with another group member who he felt was behaving inappropriately, when he could have just told the group leader what was happening. That was one red flag. He also told me that he respected my boundaries, but then kept trying to hug me and repeatedly sent me messages when I asked for some space. Past me might have given him the benefit of the doubt, but I put myself first and cut off contact with him. He showed me who he was, and I listened.

It’s important to know what you want out of your relationships with people. Figure out what your dealbreakers are and what’s important to you. If someone makes you feel uncomfortable you don’t have to put up with it, you don’t have to spend your precious time or energy on them, because you’re worth so much more than that.

Nice people don’t need to tell you how great and nice they are, because they just are!

Why you should never neglect yourself in a relationship

Relationships aren’t always easy. Deep down I knew that you should make time for yourself and nurture other relationships, but quite simply, I didn’t. I was with my ex for ten years and managed to sleepwalk through my life. I never thought I was neglecting myself, in fact it rarely occurred to me.

I spent so much time talking to him about his hobbies and achievements, that I didn’t cultivate my own. My anxiety consumed everything, so I thought maybe having jobs and achievements wasn’t an option for me, as that was something other people did. Having a stable relationship was one of my few ‘successes’ – a thought that now gives me the rage. We are conditioned to want to tick things off from the ‘life list’ by the time we reach a certain age, but it’s all meaningless as you have to walk your own path, not compare yourself to others.

This behaviour suited him down to the ground. He’d spend hours talking to me incessantly about his work, bouncing ideas off me, which at the time made me feel valued. Now I just want to shake my past self and scream: “What are you doing? What about what you want, what you’re interested in?!”

Now I can see in full technicolour how unhealthy our relationship was. I was as wrapped up in him as he was in himself. I spent ten years living with him in a new town, and only made one sort-of friend. But as an introvert I thought that was fine, and I used to sit and muse about how I never felt lonely. I didn’t consider what would happen if one day we were no longer together.

But then one day came and he cheated on me.

So I left him and it felt like a weight had been lifted. Sure, the anxiety was still there but I felt free. The oppressiveness of our relationship had left an empty space. And yes, I felt bereft as ten years is a very long time, but I channelled my energy into doing the things I enjoy. I’m studying and filling my head with the knowledge I crave. I’m writing – something that I used to find so difficult that I’d criticise every word I typed. The social connections are coming more slowly, as frankly social anxiety is a bitch. But I’ll get there.

I’m writing this post to gently remind you that it’s okay to put yourself first. It’s okay to think about what matters to you most and how you can make it happen. And to know what your personal boundaries are so people don’t walk all over you – it’s so, so important. It’s okay to shout from the rooftops, “hang on, what about me!” That doesn’t make you selfish – as you can’t pour from an empty cup.

Now I feel empowered. I’m happily single and focusing on me, and I will never sleepwalk through my life ever again.