Opinion: Living and working with social anxiety disorder #timetotalk

Time to talk dayI have a severe social anxiety disorder.

There. I’ve said it. In seven words I have broken one of our last taboos: I’ve spoken of mental illness.

Today across England people are coming together to talk about mental illness and help overcome the stigma that many people still face in the twenty-first century. Time to Change are hoping to inspire one million conversations about mental health within 24 hours.

I’ve written and re-written this post three times because I’m not sure what to talk about. Because there is so much to talk about! Do I talk about my social anxiety disorder and how it affects me on a daily basis? Do I talk about the stigma I face for having a mental illness? Or do I talk about how it felt to talk to someone about having a mental illness for the first time?

As today is Time to Talk day, I’ll go with the latter.

It is July 2013. I have been suffering from severe social anxiety disorder for more than fifteen years, but I have only recently been diagnosed.

To provide the background, my job involves making sales visits and talking to strangers on exhibition stands – not a great choice for someone with my disorder. My anxiety would rise in preparation for these events, and the elation I would have when I came out the other side meant I was riding an emotional rollercoaster. I was taking annual leave just to recover from the sheer exhaustion this caused me.

I took the decision to tell my boss.

We went for a walk down by the river. I remember taking a deep breath before opening up for the first time in my life and then just waiting for the response.

“You don’t show it” she said (and this is a very common response I get), “how can we help you?”

Just being able to sit down with someone and talk through my problems was such a relief. I never expected to have such a positive reaction from my boss. I have to admit that losing my job was more prominent in my mind, but that might just be a sign of my anxiety.

I think I’m quite lucky to have her as a boss – I wish everyone would be able to respond as supportively as she did.

We worked out a plan of action. I would be allowed to work from home following an exhibition so that I could rest instead of wasting four hours per day commuting. We agreed that the exhibition team should be constructed differently, so that I was better supported.

It is not all positive though. I still feel unable to talk to my family about my social anxiety disorder. I am worried about their reaction. I am worried they will blame themselves. I am worried they will tell me to ‘pull myself together’.

I grew up feeling isolated; feeling alone, like no one knew what I was going through. I don’t want anyone to experience what I’ve been through, which is why I’ve set up BattleAnx, where you can follow my story about my battle with anxiety.

* The author's name has been changed to protect their identity

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Eddie Sammon 6th Feb '14 - 9:30pm

    I’m proud of the Lib Dems for this campaign.

    Neal, I’ll try to read your BattleAnx website. It seems so many of us have really struggled with mental health. My low point was suffering a panic attack nearly two years ago after getting rid of most of my customers, because they were miss-selling financial products.

    I’ve brought part of my problems onto myself through selfishness, but clearly not all of it.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 6th Feb '14 - 11:09pm

    Thanks for sharing this, John. Great that you have a good employer who values you and is prepared to be flexible to help you.

  • Stuart Mitchell 8th Feb '14 - 2:02pm

    Thank you John and Russ for the stories and links. I’ve suffered from this pretty severely my entire life, but I’m startled to realise that until a few months ago I had never even heard the term, nor even known that I had some sort of recognised condition; I always just accepted that this was the way I was and that was all there was to it. Even at times when it severely impacted on my life (such as when it caused me to drop out of a good university) it never occurred to me that I had a problem that somebody might have been able to help me with had I spoken to someone. I just took it as an inevitable result of being who I was.

    It shouldn’t be like that – people, especially young people, who are struggling to achieve their potential because of this or other conditions should know that they are not alone and there ought to be help for them. Lib Dem Voice have done a superb job with this series of posts – well done.

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