Karen’s Story

My social anxiety began in childhood, then as a young adult I developed depression, as well. I struggled with these two illnesses for a long time, but gradually I came to realize that there were some things that I could do to help myself.

My social anxiety began in about grade three. I remember one early episode when I was in a new class and we all had to say our names aloud. When it was my turn I forced myself to speak.  My heart was beating rapidly, my voice was trembling. The other children all looked at me. I was sure they could see that I was different, so I lowered my head in shame.

Communication continued to be difficult for me. Socially I never knew what to say. I would lose my words in my head. I wanted to communicate, but I would get so anxious. Then after a while I started avoiding these social situations whenever I could. They just hurt too much.

As young adult I developed depression. I felt like all the happiness had left my world. I remember sitting on a lounge chair and just crying. I was an adult I could do anything I wanted, but it all seemed pointless because I no longer found pleasure in anything I did.

My only escape was my reading and comfort eating. I would curl up with a good sci- fi or fantasy novel and eat packets of biscuits, bowls of ice cream and anything else I could find. Afterwards my stomach hurt and I would just go to sleep. The next morning I would hate myself for being such a pig.

So I went to my GP and told him that I couldn’t stop eating. He just laughed. He said I was depressed and wrote a script for some tri cyclic antidepressants.

After 2 years of relentless depression and uncontrollable eating I got desperate. I wanted help, but no one seemed to be able to help me.

I didn’t want to die, but I thought if I try and kill myself people will see how real my pain is. Then they will have to find me some real help. And so I did. I took a tablet overdose and ended up at the hospital getting my stomach pumped out.

The next day Mum and Dad asked me why I did it. My doctor asked me if I wanted to see a psychiatrist again. Nothing really changed. There was no new solution. I just hurt the people who loved me.

Over the years I saw therapists. I tried all the older types of antidepressants, but I stayed in that wasteland between reality and insanity.

Then the SSRI’s became available and for the first time in my life I felt what it was like to be free of depression. It was like someone turned the lights on in my world.

After 18 months of meaningful living, I felt ready to stop taking medication. So I stopped taking Zoloft and I took up swimming and walking regularly. I also attended a mental health support group, which helped greatly.

I went 10 years without antidepressants. I had a daughter, held down a part-time job, and attended university. But to be honest I was still mildly depressed. I was tired all the time, irritable, and anxious.

In this time, I followed my childhood dream and began studying mathematics and physics at university. At last my brain had some real problems to solve.

After a few years my concentration level decreased and I found it hard to concentrate in lectures. So I went to see my doctor.  I told him about my history of depression and he diagnosed me with dysthymia, which he described as persistent low level depression. He convinced me that my brain would work better if I took antidepressant medication.

I have now been taking Zoloft for 2 years. My brain does work better and my social anxiety has lessened. I still have ups and downs but I am so much more resilient.

Some things that I do now to help my social anxiety and depression are, being involved in Toastmasters, recognizing my stress level and attending  the Hand Up Depression & Anxiety support group.

Firstly, Toastmasters has been invaluable in helping my social anxiety. 18 months ago my psychologist suggested I join Toastmasters as a form of graduated exposure to my social fears. I was afraid at first, but now I look forward to going every week.

Sometimes my speeches are great other times they are not so great, but it does not matter because I’m facing my fears and growing in confidence. I’m also learning to accept that I don’t have to do things perfectly.

Another thing that helps is recognizing my stress level. I have come to realize that I am sensitive to stress. If I am doing too much my body gives me clues. I know that if I get headaches, urges to eat when I’m not hungry or feelings of exhaustion I know I’m doing too much.

And finally being a member of a depression and anxiety support group is invaluable. The group keeps me on track. The group encourages me to take control of my recovery, to set goals, to keep contact with others and to talk about things that are bothering me.

But best of all when I talk with people who experience depression and anxiety I no longer feel that I’m different anymore.