Apologies for no blog last week!
Things are very busy at the moment with show rehearsals and I just didn't get around to posting.
This week's guest blog is from Gareth Cadogan, speaking not from personal experience, but from an observers perspective.
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Gareth Cadogan is a 24 year old male living and working in Birmingham. Though he does not suffer from social anxiety himself, he has a number of close friends who do and has observed the condition in them.
Social anxiety is defined as a disorder in which a person has an excessive and unreasonable fear of social situations. And while I may not have personal experience of anxiety, I have lived with it. I have a friend who lives with me. A friend who was afraid for a long time.
I first met my friend in early 2014. He was a shy man who didn’t talk much which seemed strange to me as it would only have taken a change of clothes and a leather jacket and he would not have been out of place at a biker rally. I had fully expected him to be loud, over-the-top and imagined he would become the centre of attention in any room he stepped in to.
If there was ever evidence that you can’t judge a book by the cover, then I’ve known him personally. Indeed, my friend turned out to be the opposite of what I had imagined. He only spoke when spoken to and, even then, he had such a soft voice that it was sometimes a struggle to hear him. We had just met then so I didn’t think much of it. He seemed a nice enough guy and that was good enough as far as I was concerned.
We began hanging out more and more and my friends became his friends. We learned more about his life. He lived with his parents and siblings in a house that seemed too small to contain them. It was a good and loving home but, all the same, I thought it would do him good to get out of there and live in a place of his own. Our friends agreed. At the time I was looking for a new housemate and so I asked my friend to come live with me. He agreed.
It was while we lived together that I learned that the root of his shyness ran deep. On the estate where he lived there were apparently a group of kids who would bully and pick on him mercilessly. This treatment had made him fearful of groups and strangers. He had created a shell around himself so that he could hide from the world. I have experienced some bullying in my life but I would never pretend that what I experienced was on the same level.
That is not to say my friend was a total recluse. He visited friends and still came drinking with us when we went to the pub. But he still preferred his own company.
Even while we lived together, he spent most of his time in his room. He only really came out for food, to go shopping or to hang out with the rest of us from time to time. Though he had gotten out on his own, he still seemed afraid of the world, but he himself said that he was better than he had been. That was apparent to all of us.
In the time he had been with us, he had grown more confident. He voiced opinions of his own without just going along with what the group said. He showed anger, something that came as a real surprise to me the first time I saw it. To see this man who I had always known to be so placid show emotion was more than a little shocking.
I am not a socially anxious person. I like my alone time but other people don’t worry or frighten me. I’m perfectly comfortable having a conversation with a stranger. Because of this I cannot say what it is like to be afraid of social scenarios but I have seen someone overcome his fears of social scenarios.
It seems a cruel irony that the best way to defeat social anxiety is to do the very thing that scares you most. You have to push out of your comfort zone. Out of the cocoon you have formed for yourself and re-join the world. But that is only half of it. I’d like to think that I the others helped my friend become stronger. I believe that you need people around you to help you stand on your feet when you are at your lowest. But you also need a real reason to want to get out and leave the safe zone you make for yourself.
My friend is now in Brazil, visiting a girl he met online (one of the few cases where she turned out not to be a catfish). I’ve heard from him once since he left when he wished me a happy birthday, so I can only assume he’s having a good time.
To see my friend as he is today, when I remember how he was, is truly humbling. He may not see it in himself but I think all of us around him can see how much happier he is. I don’t think a year ago he would have dared fly to Brazil yet he is there now because he took the risk.
Living with social anxiety in the house can sometimes be trying, as you want so much for them to feel happy in life and safe to be in the world. But all you can do is be there for them when they need it, providing comfort and reassurance as best you can. Because no one wants to be uncomfortable in their own skin or afraid all the time of what might be. They are doing their best for us so it’s only right that we do the same.