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Angie's Story

This page created 20 July 2007
By Angie

When I was a child I was very shy and quiet. I felt threatened at the prospect of being in the company of and meeting new people. While I was growing up, my family never stayed in one city for more than 3-4 years. Consequently, I never stayed in the same school for more than a few years and I hated always having to leave a school in which I had made friends and having to start a new school. Starting at a new school for most children is scary, for me it was torturous. It meant a new environment, new faces, and new ‘threats’. It took me ages to finally settle in and make a few friends.

All through primary school my teachers described me as quiet and keeping to myself, which was not entirely true. I had my small group of friends who I felt comfortable around and whose company I enjoyed very much. In fact as I became older I became a little less shy and started to open up a little. But when high school started, things changed, as they do for almost every child.

Unfortunately, since my parents had just moved the family to Melbourne, they were not aware that the school where they enrolled my brother and me was not a very good school. Back then, that particular school was not ‘multicultural’ as a lot of schools nowadays are. My brother and I were among the few students there who looked ‘different’ in that we had dark features, and whose names were ‘unusual’. I was constantly teased and bullied for the 2 ½ years that I was at that school. I don’t think a day went by without at least one student saying something unkind to me. High school girls do have a tendency to be quite mean to each other, but throughout high school I was teased and bullied mainly by boys.

Those 2 ½ years were some of the most painful and loneliest times of my life. I dreaded waking up in the morning and going to school, and of course I never told my parents because I didn’t want to worry them. I didn’t have any friends, not because I didn’t try to make friends, but because it seemed that no one even wanted to get to know me. I was a very kind and generous person, but I simply could not understand why so many students did not like me and why I was treated like an alien. Thankfully my Dad got a new job in Bendigo and we left that horrid school!

I was actually happy to have a ‘fresh’ start at the new school in Bendigo, a catholic school of 1000 students, supposedly one of the best schools in the area. Bendigo being a country town, the school population wasn’t very multicultural and once again I was teased and bullied for the 1 ½ years we were there simply because I looked ‘different’. But at this school I tried to stick up for myself, I had simply had enough at the other school. I became very defensive and verbally aggressive toward anyone who teased or picked on me. I felt I had to keep my guard up and could not relax from the moment I arrived at school until the moment I left. I did not trust anyone and did not talk to anyone in my class. I came to view people in my age group and people in general as insensitive and cruel. However, several months after I had arrived at this school, I managed to find some girls in my year level that I could trust and I became friends with them.

By the start of year 9 at this school, I noticed that I had become extremely concerned about what other students thought of me. I dreaded walking through the big courtyard from one side of the school to the other as it felt like I had to walk through a gauntlet of sneering students. I felt like every eye was on me and that I was constantly being judged, made fun of and laughed at. This was not limited to the schoolyard. I had also gradually become fearful of going out anywhere, whether it be with my friends or my family. I did not want to be around people, I was so afraid and convinced they would judge me and be mean to me. In hindsight, the worst aspect of social anxiety for me was the strong incessant feeling of being ‘watched’, of your every move being scrutinised.

I was immensely grateful when my parents finally realised that this school was no good either and enrolled my brother and me at a private school for the last three remaining years of our secondary education. Unlike the previous school, our class sizes weren’t very large, which I really appreciated! When I first started at this school I felt completely out of place. Once again, the majority of the students were from an Anglo background, and since it was a private school I thought they must all be ‘posh’ and ‘spoilt brats’. From the very first day at this school, I planned to just keep to myself and study hard. For a long time I avoided getting too close to people because I felt people were unpredictable and I just could not see the good in people. Of course I avoided all male students like the plague! I felt extremely uncomfortable around the boys in my class and found it difficult to concentrate. Gradually I realised the students at this school were actually quite nice and I was not teased or bothered by anyone, except occasionally by the two or three year 10 boys in my class who thought they were the next best thing to sliced bread! Years 11 and 12 were much better. For the first time in many years I actually started enjoying going to school and I didn’t feel like a ‘freak’. I finally felt like I belonged and in fact some of the students looked up to me because I was a ‘square’. By year 12, since our class sizes were small, I had gotten to know almost everyone and had even made one or two good friends. Year 12 was the most enjoyable of my high school years and I ended up inviting almost everyone to my 18 th birthday party, which shocked me at the time!

After year 12, I was accepted at Monash University, Clayton. Going from a small school and small city like Bendigo to Monash, which seemed like a mini city, was daunting to say the least. I had never really noticed how my social anxiety affected my life until I started university. In fact, I didn’t even know I had this disorder called ‘Social Anxiety’ until I was 19 years old. One day my parents sat me down and pleaded with me to go and see a psychologist. I refused and instead started doing my own research about this ‘thing’ called social anxiety. Gradually I started to realise just how much social anxiety was affecting my life. During the two years I was at Monash I was extremely socially anxious. Because it was such a big university and there were so many students, I couldn’t walk anywhere or do anything without feeling like I was being watched and judged. I felt like my every move was monitored. I especially found it difficult because there were so many guys everywhere and avoiding them was a challenging task! I had never been depressed before, but in my second semester of my first year of university I became very depressed and I failed most of my subjects. I was so ashamed of myself; I had always been a good student and had achieved a very good score at the end of year 12. I had lost my motivation to study and I couldn’t understand why. I transferred to RMIT to study psychology, but for the next seven years I was depressed on and off, and I also developed Generalised Anxiety Disorder. I didn’t have any friends, didn’t go out, did very poorly at uni, and didn’t have a job.

Since I was 19, I have seen five different psychologists, none of whom I felt could help me. About two years ago I decided that if I was to ‘get better’ and improve my life, it was up to me, I had to help myself. And I am still in the process of ‘treating’ myself, of improving how I think, react, and behave around people and in a range of social situations. Ironically, I now love to be in the company of others, I love meeting new people and getting to know them. I believe that because I grew up isolated and lonely, I feel I have a strong craving to be around people now and interact with them. That’s not to say I don’t get anxious. I still get very anxious in many situations and around many people. I am still extremely anxious around most males, especially those around my age, I find it very difficult to make eye contact with certain people, and I still feel ‘threatened’ by certain people. But I’ve reached a point where I simply cannot waste anymore of my life than I already have. I know that if I don’t find a way to overcome my social anxiety, it will continue to affect every aspect of my life.

I have now had a part-time job for 2 years, and I am studying part-time at university and will be finishing my psychology degree at the end of the year, with the aim of doing further study. I don’t have many friends, but I have two or three good friends who are dear to me, and I can now go out to a lot of different places and actually have a great time, even though I may still be a little anxious. Getting a job, as daunting as it was for me, was one of the best things I could have ever done to help overcome my social anxiety. Working in customer service where you have the opportunity to interact with a range of people day after day has helped me learn a lot about people and realise they are not as judgemental and unkind as I once thought.

In hindsight, having Social Anxiety Disorder and how it affects my life does have its good points. As a result of having social anxiety, I have chosen to study psychology and become a clinical psychologist in order to understand this disorder better as well as anxiety disorders in general, and to help people who suffer from Social Anxiety Disorder and the other anxiety disorders. As a result of having social anxiety, I have learnt the value of people and relationships, I have learnt to not judge people before I get to know who they really are, and I have learnt that there’s more to a human being than what you see in their appearance.

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