REAL STORIES | Living with Social Anxiety
Charlie Big Potatoes – Desperate to be Liked
So it’s Mental Health Awareness Month. Well actually, it’s Mental Health Awareness Month across the pond in the US – in the UK we observed it for one week in May only.
Mental Health Week in the UK has been and gone with nowhere near as much publicity as needed in my opinion – the world seems to be engulfed in the drama of politics and war; less so in the mental health problems that effect so many of us – and let’s face it – a lot of us as are suffering in some way.
I’ve touched on my experiences with mental health problems before and I want to open up once again about some of the crosses I bare.
I’ve been thinking about this post for a few weeks. How to approach it. How to put my thoughts and experiences down on paper on Mental Health Week. I’ve struggled. Mental Health Week has been and gone. But the truth is I’m in a really good place right now. I actually feel like I’m through the worst and I’m turning a corner after two years of postnatal depression and anxiety disorder.
Yes I’m still popping happy pills, but for the first time in nearly two years I can have a few drinks with the mums from school and not wake up the next morning under a heavy black cloud of anxiety.
I’m not worrying about what the hell I said. How I acted – if I’m being judged because of my very political views when I’ve had a few, which half the time aren’t my views at all. But in the moment, those views make me the big ‘I AM’… or so I stupidly think at the time.
Waking up with knots in my stomach… was my leary, over-opinionated attitude toward a subject matter under the influence of far too much Prosecco totally out of order? Did I swear far too much? Why did I feel it necessary to pretend to be passionate about a subject that I don’t know that much about in order to be ‘liked’? Do they think I’m a twat? They must do. Why did I feel the need to brag about situations that these ladies really didn’t need to know about? I’m a twat. I hate myself and I’m never drinking again. Yeah right.
Of course when I’m in the moment, sat around someone’s kitchen table on a Friday evening with my 4th big glass of white wine in hand, knocking it back dangerously quickly, with every one of those new mummy friends hanging onto my every word, all laughing at my crude jokes and tiresome boasting, I am, as my husband calls me ‘Charlie F**king Big Potatoes’. It’s not a term of endearment from Mr T; far from it. It’s a cautious warning – be careful.
“You don’t need to prove anything.”
“Stop trying to be something that you are not.”
“You’re not everybody’s cup of tea, no one is, stop trying to be”
I’m an anxious, desperate-to-be-liked, restless, neurotic individual, terrified of anyone who might see through the smokescreen and actually might think that I’m just an attention seeking, self-consumed twat. I suppose to a certain extent I am. If these traits are the characteristics of someone who is desperate to be liked then, yes, that’s me. Truth is, my lack of confidence and anxiety feeds off the response and reactions of others.
Who leaves the playground on a Monday morning over-analyzing why *Jack’s mum didn’t raise her head and smile but instead kept it down and marched past right you without so much as a glance when last week you got a “hi?”.
On many occasions I’ve found myself sat behind the wheel of my car on the way home from school drop-off. My mind wandering off into some downbeat oblivion of anxiety and those horrible knots tightening in my stomach once again. Not being able to quite remember what I might have said to *jack’s mum on Saturday night when I was pissed as a fart and bumped into her in the local, but aware that at the time I was probably trying in some way to impress her. When I should really be concentrating on the road, I’m concentrating on my raised heartbeat and the sweat on my brow; the consequence of weekend drinking, being a gobby knobhead and an anxiety disorder.
The playground is a cruel place for any mum with a complex. And let’s face it, in this day and age we all have one. Especially if, like me, you live in an affluent Yorkshire village where the educated and middle-class choose to live. You are from the other side – the ghetto that is Bradford. Straight away you have an inferiority complex. Even though I did live in London for 17 years and have my own business, and yes of course I drop this into the conversation as often as possible in hope that it makes me sound like I’m better than I actually am.
I find myself talking if different accents depending on who I’m speaking to. I have this laughable, pretentious, trying-terribly-hard accent that I put on when I’m chatting to mums in the playground of the middle-class primary school my son attends.
And I have this broad Yorkshire, slightly-rough caterwaul that is made up of far too many expletives when I’m mixing with some of my long-time school friends – I don’t think I’m better than them, quite the opposite, once again I’m trying desperately to be liked and like a chameleon, I find myself adjusting my character based on who I’m in the company of, and this is the ultimate indicator of someone who is the polar opposite of confident, but the blue print of insecure and anxious, who actually feels like they don’t belong.
Turning the corner
I’ve since moved back to Yorkshire from London, where I was pretty much anonymous with no children so the school playground and all that comes with it wasn’t even on my radar. All I had to impress was my husband and a few of our very similar friends. That was easy. I was confident, cool and didn’t give a soggy shit really.
After 17 years in the smoke, we moved back up North. It was a huge culture shock. I threw myself into Yorkshire village life. Worked in solitude from home, which doesn’t help at all. I desperately wanted to make friends and be liked. My ‘don’t give a fuck’ attitude was overpowered by post-natal depression and a desperation to be liked by those that I thought I had something in common with. It turned out that I didn’t. Actually, those that I do have something in common with, who I have the most respect for, who I really enjoy the company of, and who are now my best friends are the ladies that I once looked at in the playground, and possibly thought that their thoughts towards me might have been bordering on the disapproving side.
But I know now it’s me who disapproves of me. My problems, my issues. No one else’s.
Of course this crazy, anxious person that I am has resulted in some people (old friends and new) just not being able to cope with my complexities. I’m a very loyal person and I expect loyalty and respect to be reciprocated and sometimes it’s not.
The most positive thing to come out of my anxiety is that I know exactly who I can rely on. Who is there for me when I’m in a negative frame of mind or when I’m being overbearing. When I’m being a drama queen and when I’m over-analysing everything and everyone around me and when I just need a bit of reassurance that all is OK only a few have risen to the occasion.
Those few are more often than not, people just like me. Over-confident, loud and straight-talking on the surface. Battling with their own demons below it.
I have just one true friend who has been there though all the drama that life has dealt me. Life has also dealt her enough drama and upset and let’s face it, the cards you are dealt create the foundations of who you are and the paths that are ahead of you. It’s the paths you choose that go on to define you as person.
I look at me and my best friend Adele who I met at the tender age of 12, and I know that we are the lucky ones. We’ve had our fair share of shit, but not once have we let it impact on our ability to be great wives, mums, friends and career woman. Quite the opposite. We have thrived. We are complex characters but we are strong individuals. Reliant on no one but ourselves. Determined to succeed and prove to those who had no confidence in us, that we can be the very best we can be.
I’ve recently made a very conscious effort to choose my friends wisely and not to be so judgmental towards those I thought I might not have anything in common with. I’m trying not to be liked for the sake of being liked, but to be more selective with who I allow into my close circle, so that in turn I can be confident that I will not be judged negatively when I am being a twat, and let’s face it, when I’ve had a skin full, it’s on the cards…
Judging is human nature, we all do it… I think the key is to be conscious of being judgmental and then ask yourself why you feel how you do towards someone who you know nothing about. Is it because of what someone else has told you? Make your own judgments. Get to know people. Don’t assume, like I have many times, that *Jack’s mum is ignoring you and it’s all about you – she might well be battling with her own demons at that very moment.
We have no idea what any of us are going through until we take the time to listen. Whatever demons you are dealing with, remember to ask if the other person is OK. If they are a true friend then that question will be reciprocated and you will not be judged, you’ll support each other together. No matter what cards are on the table.
This post is dedicated to Adele. I love you. x
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I’m a primary school teacher and I’m a mum to a beautiful, bright and bubbly six-year-old. I witness the ups and downs of wellbeing in children every day. Every parent faces the same dilemma – how to ensure the wellbeing of our children – particularly from a mental health perspective in a world that is more pressured than ever in more ways than one.
A year to the day and myself, my husband and our two children were midway through our 10th Wedding Anniversary trip of a lifetime to Sri Lanka and now this incredibly beautiful and captivating little country is in mourning.
Emma Stirk is a Business Success Coach and Legal strategist for small businesses, she left her corporate career as a high flying solicitor to set up her own business and has never looked back! Emma is passionate about empowering women to identify their purpose and goals, plan and strategise their next career or business move and create a positive, strong and confident mindset with high performance strategies to increase productivity and efficiency so you can work less, achieve more, and make burnout and overwhelm a thing of the past!
Jo Swann has 15 solid years of experience in Public Relations and runs award-winning Leeds-based PR Company – Chocolate PR after working in media, marketing and PR agencies. She has worked with companies of all sizes including the likes of Whistles, NSPCC, Marriot Hotels, Yo! Sushi to name just a few and won many awards along the way but her mission now is to help small businesses, and particularly female entrepreneurs harness the power of PR.