My Journey To Free My Mind
Updated: Jan 3
I vividly remember an English class when I was 14 where random students were being asked to read a paragraph from a book. My heart was thumping, my head was spinning, my hands and legs felt weak as I desperately willed the teacher to choose anyone but me. This is my first memory of my social anxiety manifesting itself in my life. I wasn’t chosen to speak that day, but this was my first taste of things to come.
The years that followed were filled with all that comes with teenage life and my social anxiety hibernated during these years. I graduated with top marks in a course that was specifically geared towards the career I was about to embark on - Back Office Investment Banking.
My career in banking has been stop-start. I have been with 6 banks in 7 years. I’ve come to realise now that although I enjoy the work, the office environment is not compatible with my personality.
The office culture was a real eye-opener for me. The constant scrutiny, the hierarchy, the politics. As a socially anxious person, it caused me to be even more insecure and uncomfortable. I was constantly paranoid that if I sent out one wrong email or said one wrong thing on the phone, my colleagues would all know about it and be laughing at my expense.
This caused my mind to always be racing. Something as simple as introducing myself became a struggle. I recall being in a meeting with senior staff where we had to introduce ourselves and say a little about what our role was on the team. While I sat waiting for my turn, I experienced what felt like a mild heart attack with a feeling of pure terror rising internally. My mind was yelling at me to leave the room, but I felt paralysed. I managed to cobble together a few semi-coherent sentences. While others did not notice my internal struggle, on the inside I was a mess.
The floor would often be quiet and I was conscious of people being able to hear how I sounded. When faced with making or taking a call, I had a huge sense of dread and I was afraid of losing the ability to speak and losing control in front of my colleagues. Dialing the buttons, my heart would be thumping, there would be a pain in my chest, my thoughts became fuzzy and I honestly thought I was having a heart attack.
I began to realise the thought of using the phone in the office was causing me to have panic attacks.
Panic attacks are a dark and vicious cycle. Once you have one, you are living in fear of the next one.
The panic is followed by a huge feeling of shame. It’s an intangible, indescribable feeling, but it is real. The fear of a reoccurrence is debilitating. Negative thoughts were constantly swirling around my head.
I couldn’t sleep and I had trouble concentrating. My mind had a mind of its own.
When caught under this dark cloud of shame, our mind begins to see simple, every-day events as a panic-attack-in waiting that must be avoided. Meetings in work, phone calls, interviews, social events, presentations, even just conversations with people you might know well. Your life becomes smaller as you feel that you are capable of facing so little.
With my mind clouded by the office culture along with the threat of panic attacks, I found myself moving from bank to bank, looking for a fresh start.
I was convinced there was something seriously wrong with me and I tried to address my issues.
I participated in Public Speaking courses. The courses went well and at the time I thought this was something that I had put behind me.
I went to the doctor and was prescribed beta blockers. I began to feel myself become more dependent on them to do the simplest of things. I decided medication was not right for me.
I got fitted with a monitor for my heart and had an echocardiogram as I believed I had an underlying medical condition. The results were clear.
I attended some group therapy sessions but I found myself leaving these sessions in a lower mood than I started them in.
I did hypnotherapy and mind training sessions. This involved huge sums of money, but I found these to be of no benefit.
Finally, I engaged in 6 months of individual therapy but I didn’t find it to be what I was really looking for either.
I persevered and stumbled upon 2 things which I have stuck with to this day.
I was introduced to meditation in 2015. It helps me to see who I am and to accept myself and the world around me as is. It has taught me that I don’t need to “fix” myself. I can now accept the panic attacks, depression and anxiety. When I accept, it doesn’t occupy much of my mind. When I resist, analyse and try to overcome, it takes over.
Meditation has helped me to see how much my mind has clouded my whole life.
My unhappiness was rooted in trying to be someone I am not and trying to fit in. I was never being true to myself.
I am an introvert, I like my own company. I like walking through a forest on my own. I like reading and working on my own little projects. I don’t enjoy the social norms like going out drinking at the weekends, or binge-watching Netflix. I’m a little different, and that is ok.
Secondly, I found a group of like-minded people that wanted to create a space to support each other and work on our anxiety. There were no professionals involved, but through open communication, we all began to face our fears. Realising that there are other people out there who have similar experiences really helps. The support gave everyone in the group so much confidence and each week, we were able to work on our fears in a group of trusting, open people.
These groups had such a positive impact on me that I found it to be life changing.
I found this so beneficial as we could collectively remind ourselves of the many positive things in our lives, while also having the opportunity to reflect on some of the challenges we are facing in a group of like-minded people.
We could help ourselves to help each other.