Self-care isn’t always about manicures, bubble baths and healthy food. Sometimes it is forcing yourself to get out of bed, take a shower and participate in life again. – Meredith Marple

So I want to talk a little about social anxiety, social introversion and the importance of those little acts of self-preservation.

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For as long as I know I have had a certain battery life when it comes to being social. I can very easily stay at home, close my curtains and watch endless episodes of Netflix for my whole life but I recognise that it is not okay for me to do that. It damages my friendships and it damages my self-esteem and mood even more than making myself go out and be social and face the big social anxiety monster.

But, it exhausts me. The mental and emotional effort it takes for me to attend social events can sometimes knock me out for the following days.

Knowing and recognising this about myself has been a bit of a journey but, now that I do know, I have started to learn how to look after myself and monitor my social battery and the resulting anxiety that accompanies a large amount of socialising or the aftermath of a busy time.

Without a doubt we live in an anxious world. We are bombarded with countless disasters in the news, constant ads, crazy expectations – it comes as no surprise that worldwide diagnosis of anxiety is at an all-time high. As someone who has come through PTSD, social anxiety and the resultant depressive episodes are something I have learned strategies to deal with and strategies to cope with.

Feelings of fear have a purpose, they are designed to help us survive scary situations we might encounter. Historically, they made us quicker to respond to the threat of being eaten alive; forcing us to run, hide or for those who are a bit more courageous, throw a stone… the ‘fight-or-flight’ response which causes the heart to speed up, hyperventilation, and an increased blood flow to the muscles.

Social anxiety takes that fear and attaches it to social situations. This often results in finding yourself worrying about other people’s reactions, extreme nervousness and anxiousness, insecurity when taking part in social situations, sometimes paranoia and avoiding social situations altogether.

Since recognising that what is going on with me is actually social anxiety, I have found ways of looking after myself. The first thing being – tell people about it! My friends are familiar with my ‘closed curtain days’. Hiding or suppressing anxiety actually produces more anxiety and I have found that telling people that I am struggling has often helped me to be able to process my feelings a lot more. The media often leads people to believe that mental illness is a weakness, which makes people less likely to admit to themselves and others what they are going through. We all have mental health and it is reported that up to 1 in 3 of us, will at some point experience a mental health issue. It’s okay and important to talk about it.

Self-care isn’t always about manicures, bubble baths and healthy food. Sometimes it is forcing yourself to get out of bed, take a shower and participate in life again. – Meredith Marple

As much as avoiding social situations will make me feel better for a moment – it’s only a short term solution. Sometimes facing my fear and forcing myself to participate again is part of the process. You see, anxiety has a way of grabbing your attention and turning it inward upon yourself, making you not only self-critical but forgetting that there is a whole world out there. It’s easy to forget that no one is perfect when we live in a world that aspires to achieve perfection. It’s also easy to forget that not everyone will like us nor does everyone need to. It’s also often forgotten that it’s okay to make mistakes as it makes us human.

Yes, my closed curtain days are important – it’s like resetting the battery. But being there with people and in the moment is so important too. Even with the mammoth effort it takes for me to do so.

So if I cancel plans, please do not take it to heart. There is always the possibility that I have used up my quota of social battery for this week and needed to recharge. Let me recharge, check in on me, and I’ll be back as soon as I can. I’m trying.  I promise.

 

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“Almost everything that is great has been done by youth” – Benjamin Disraeli

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This image is sealed on my heart and my mind. Emma Gonzalez, survivor of the Parkland school shooting, at the podium of the March for our Lives in Washington. She took to the podium for 6 minutes and 20 seconds. After speaking briefly, naming each victim of the shooting that took place in February, she fell silent. Purposefully silent. A silence filled with rage, focus, remembrance, passion. As the tears fell down her cheeks, the rally also fell silent, punctuated only by occasional chants of ‘Never Again’ and supportive cheers. There is power in words, but there was even more power in the courage of that young woman, standing in front of a world audience in silent defiance. In a silence that was louder than all the chants and the cheers that had been heard over the day. Her phone alarm beeped and she spoke once more, stating that 6 minutes and 20 seconds had passed – all the time it took for 17 people to be killed in a rampage by one young man with an assault weapon, ending her speech with these words: “Fight for your lives before it is someone else’s job.”

The moment was powerful. Remarkable, even. A powerful call to action to all the law-makers who have not acted – who have blood on their hands – said with over 4 minutes of silence. There have been many great orators of our time, but none, I would wager, who would have been as brave as to stand in silence for 4 minutes in front of a huge crowd. In future years,  I feel like we will look back at what Emma did yesterday with just as much awe.

As the New York Times said of the marches: ” They made music. They made a scene. They celebrated the political power of noise itself. But it was the silences that were the most striking: silences that were strategic and symbolic. The young—the very young—women who spoke on Saturday made the silence awkward. They made it shameful. They made it powerful. They made it, above all, speech.”

The Parkland shootings have galvanised a nation of young gun control activists in ways that are far greater than previous years. With the history of gun violence that exists in the USA, it is shocking that this has not happened before, but sometimes there comes a time where there is enough momentum for change to feel like a real possibility.

Martin Luther King, Jr said, “One of the great liabilities of history is that all too many people fail to remain awake through great periods of social change. Every society has its protectors of status quo and its fraternities of the indifferent who are notorious for sleeping through revolutions. Today, our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change.”

This revolution is youth organised, youth led, and is a powerful show of just how incredibly smart Generation Z are. These are the young people who have grown up in full knowledge of social media. These are the young people who have grown up with the omnipresent internet, cable news and open media. They have seen the repeated devastation that comes from lawmakers not acting. They know enough is enough. They know how to make their voices heard. They know how to keep their message being broadcast. Doubt them if you dare.

They are unstoppable. They are incredible.

On loving fiercely…

“A mother’s love for her child is like nothing else in the world. It knows no law, no pity, it dates all things and crushes down remorselessly all that stands in its path.”

―Agatha Christie, “The Last Séance”

On UK Mother’s Day last weekend, I posted a photo collage of my beautiful Mama on Facebook with this caption:  29025929_10155383164987285_1739070496427314569_nHow lucky I am to have been raised by this incredible woman. Every good thing in me comes from her: my strength, my courage, my humour, my determination, my fiestyness, and the way I love. She gave me wings to fly and is the roots of my tree to return to. Thank you, Mum, for loving us so fiercely and unconditionally.

It got me thinking about fierce love. Love that comes from someone who: unconditionally wants what is best for you; believes in you completely and without limits; has stood by you through rough times; fights for you, even when you have no idea that you need to be fought for; knows the worst of you and still waits for you with open arms; puts you first always; sacrifices for you; lets you be who you want to be without hampering you; gives you complete honesty enveloped in love.

In my Mama’s case, carried me in her womb for 9 months, fed me for hours on end when my cleft palate would not allow food to go down my throat, waited outside an operating theatre for long hours while I, as an 18 month old baby, underwent major reconstructive surgery to repair my non-existent palate, nursed me through recovery, sat through years of speech therapy with me, advocated for me in school when I was having hearing issues and falling behind, fought to give me and my sisters every opportunity that we could have in school, when I wanted to spread my wings – she let me and gave me a safe and secure place to come home to, and when I finally shared with her what had happened on one of the worst nights of my life, she responded only with love. Fierce love. Unending love.

I am thankful – so thankful – to have been brought up by a mother who continues to love so fiercely.

“Mothers, I believe, intoxicate us. We idolize them and take them for granted. We hate them and blame them and exalt them more thoroughly than anyone else in our lives. We sift through the evidence of their love, reassure ourselves of their affection and its biological genesis. We can steal and lie and leave and they will love us.”

―Megan Mayhew Bergman, Birds of a Lesser Paradise: Stories