I am mentally ill. I have depression and more seriously Social Anxiety Disorder/Social Phobia. This basically is shyness taken to the nth degree. I can't use the phone, even to talk to friends, I am almost phycially unable to strangersl and often feel horribly uncomfortable talking to friends and sometimes even family. If you're aquainted with me you'll probably have seen me standing quietly, hiding behind other people, or trying awkwardly to talk to you. If I know I will have to interact with a stranger I can't sleep and spend the time leading up to it a quaking, crying mess. I feel nauseous and panicy. I can't cope with crowds and suffer from panic attacks. I can't even send an email to someone I don't know without feeling extreme anxiety. I have horrible problems going places I haven't been before. I'm absolutely terrified of people judging me. In my head I'm sure everyone dislikes me or only tolerates me and thinks I'm stupid and weird and irritating and ugly and boring. Some people are surprised to hear about my problems because apparently sometimes I come across as 'normal' and frankly that astounds me. Usually I'm sure I come across as a complete mess, every word I say has been gone over in my head again and again to make sure it sounds alright and I feel I come across as an inane twit. Anytime I leave my house it's a case out out-of-the-frying-pan-into-the-fire with anxiety. For instance today I had to get a bus. I waited for it worrying about having to hail it and having to interact with the driver. Then when I was on I spent a good chunk of time praying noone would sit next to me. Then someone did sit next to me and I felt sick and worried about how they were judging me. Then I had to get off and panicked about having to press the call request button and have to get the woman next to me to let me by. And then I worry about people watching me as I get off.
I'm well aware of how incredibly stupid this sounds. It's completely paranoid and pretty nonsensical but there's no way I can help it. I feel like all eyes are on me, waiting for me to screw up in some way real or imagined and then everyone will judge me and hate me. I spend the majority of the time I leave the house feeling sick.
So I don't leave the house much. And I don't answer the door unless there's no way I can get out of it. And then I tremble and quake and feel unsafe in my own house because someone has invaded the one place I can (usually feel comfortable).
The only way for me to get rid of these feelings is to get very, very drunk.
I've had this problem basically all my life, but it got a lot worse as I approached my twenties so I eventually was forced to go to the doctor and get help. This in itself is horribly traumatic. And unfortunately there's only 2 options for treatment I have been offered. 1. Drugs and 2. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. I've tried both and neither has helped.
I was on medication for about 2 years. It actually did get rid of most of the symptons of my depression but didn't help at all with my social anxiety. And about a year ago I stopped taking my tablets. Why? Because I ran out of them. I couldn't get a repeat prescription because I lost my surgerys log on details and couldn't use the internet service, so I would have had to go to my doctor. And I haven't been in over a year because my GP sent me for a sort of psychiatric evaluation with the most horrible, unsympathetic doctor who made me feel so bad that I am terrified to go back to the doctors even though my GP was always really lovely and understanding.
And Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. God I could go on about this forever. I know it works well for some people but for me, it genuinely made my phobia worse. Why? Because the way it works is basically to try and prove that the problem is all in your head. For instance, say you're afraid of snakes, with CBT they'd start by talking about snakes, you'd feel worried but realise it was irrational and get comfortable talking about snakes. Then they'd show you a photo, then when you were comfortable with that they move onto films of snakes and so on until you realise the problem was all in your head and snakes won't harm you. And it's the same basic theory when applied to Social Phobia. I was talked to about my ideas and feelings and told they weren't true, then I was made to do tasks, like calling a friend on the phone, or complimenting a school mate or approaching a stranger and asking the time. The idea is that as you get used to doing these things you feel more comfortable doing them.
So why did it make me worse? Because I was never ever comfortable doing the tasks. I always felt I was being forced into them. Doing them was absolutely excruciating and while I would have to grit my teeth and do it my whole body was screaming at me not to. As a result while I did feel a sense of relief when the task was over, it wasn't because I had come to no harm, it was because it was over and that just compounded my feelings that interacting with people was scary and painful.
Also I am well aware that the problem is in my head, there's no point trying to prove that to me. but I cannot help what I feel. Knowing it's irrational doesn't help at all.
So after my CBT I became even more of a recluse than ever.
I did go to art college but didn't socialise at all. I sat in my studio painting on my own and listened to music and spent basically the whole 3 years there alone. I couldn't attend crits or seminars and couldn't use the library and while I forced myself to attend tutorials I was so self concious that I generally just sat silently and listened instead of having a dialogue with my tutor. Once in a while people would invite me out but I always came up with an excuse because I was too frightened.
Because of my problems I cannot work properly. I do have a job working for my sister doing admin (I don't have to interact with anyone apart form my sister and brother in law and don't have to travel at rush hour) but it is only about 3 hours every fortnight. Ignoring the fact that the only thing I am qualified in is fine art, I cannot imagine any job I could possibly do. I usually shake and cry and hyperventilate if I am forced to interact with someone I don't know, imagine me in an interview! And as for trying to make a living with my artwork... well it's just not possible. It's insanely difficult for anyone to make it in the art world, and possibly even more important than actual talent is the ability to talk yourself up and blag your way into exhibitions and comissions. I can't socialise with other artists, I can't make connections, I can't approach galleries, I can't contact publishers. And to top it off my stupid college never actually taught me how I'm supposed to do any of this!
So since leaving art school I've been on Employment Support Allowance.
But I had to go for a medical assessment recently. Despite the fact that I was crying, hyperventilating, shaking, rocking back and forth and barely able to answer questions in any coherent way I failed it.
I've been told that I scored 0 points and have 'no problems meeting and mixing with new people or going to new places'. I had no idea how the test worked before I went into it, but have since found out that, while the person asks detailed questions and you answer in the same detailed way, only a 'yes' or 'no' answer goes on the form. So when they asked 'can you leave the house on your own?' and I truthfully answered 'yes but only if I am very familiar with the area, have been brought there by someone repeated times previously and know I will not have to interact with anyone' it was just taken down as a 'yes'. You have to score over 15 points but a lot of the questions were completely irrelevant to my problem, so there was no reason for me to be asked them. There were actually very few questions relevant to social anxiety.
So I now have basically no income (I make about £40 a month working for my sister, this isn't even enough to pay for my mobile bill and pet insurance). Luckilly I still live with my Mum, but I have paid her rent for the last few years and now cannot afford to.
Now that I've failed the lovely people have told me my options. 1. Go on job seekers allowance. 2. Working Tax Credits. 1. Is not an option for me at all. Not only am I unable to work, but I would also be unable to even just go and sign on. And for 2 you have to work over 16 hours and also be disabled. I work less than 3 hours a week and don't even know as I count as disabled anymore seeing as they've said I have no problems.
An advisor woman I have had previously told me that if I failed I can appeal. I thank God that I know her as the letter doesn't mention it at all (which is pretty despicable if you ask me). Unfortunately I'm still not really comfortable with her so I can't really get in touch for help and I really can't do it without help.
Since finding out I was failed I've been in constant tears and was barely able to get out of bed this morning. It's not just the money. I feel I'm being called a liar and a benefit cheat. Lots of people don't understand my illness or dismiss it as mere shyness that I should just get over and this is just confirming those thoughts. And not only that, but for a long time I have felt guilty and worthless because I can't contribute anything to society. Now I feel even worse because I can't even pay my rent or afford basic necessities. My life is completely and utterly pointless.
I honestly have no idea what to do. I need to appeal obviously but the process is just so horrible sounding. Appealing means eventually I will have to go before a tribunal. I don't even have words to describe how terrifying that is. I have no idea how I could cope with that. I can't use the phone so I can't even get in touch with anyone to help and I don't even know who to contact anyway. It's hard not to feel like my life is over. I can't work, I can't get any money to live on, I'm surviving off the charity of loved ones and I can't see anything changing anytime soon. If I fail all my appeals what on earth can I do? Thank God I have lovely supportive friends and family, but I feel so guilty and such a burden.