Hello! Who are you?
Hi. I am Alison Angold, I live just outside of London in the UK. I work part-time as a teacher, for beauty therapy and teaching children and young adults that cannot be in mainstream education, for various reasons.
I have been married for almost 20 years, have 2 teenage boys and a cocker spaniel dog, called Winnie!
Despite my struggles with life, I consider myself happy. I consider myself very lucky to have a supportive, and motivating husband, and I love the job that I do. I have times, still, when I feel sad about myself, but they are becoming less and less frequent, as I have slowly learned to accept myself as I am.
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What is your struggle and when did it start?
I have social anxiety, plus a fear of large groups, crowded places, and unknown people and places. While I am a confident person within my work setting, social situations worry me. I find it hard to do ‘small talk’ - in fact, I find this exhausting - and I think that is the problem. I know how to talk to people, and I know what I should be saying and asking, but after a while find it very tiring, and quite simply cannot be bothered!
I believe that I have always had some sort of social anxiety, although it has got worse as I have got older. I recently discovered that I have ASD which definitely helps in understanding why I have this struggle - among others!
Over the years, going out with people I am less familiar with, has become more difficult. My fear of crowded places and claustrophobia added to this and I just started finding everything more difficult.
There was a period of time when I found it very difficult to go out socially for fear of having a panic or anxiety attack. In addition, I always worried what others would think of me if I left earlier, or had obvious panic or anxiety.
How did this struggle make you feel at your worst moments?
There was a period of time when I felt really worthless with the issues surrounding my social anxiety and panic. I felt miserable if I had to say no to a social event, thinking that I wouldn't cope well. There is an expectation to love parties, gatherings, and socializing and I couldn't understand why that couldn't be me.
There were also times that I would venture out and something would lead to me being panicky and I would go home, again feeling miserable that everyone was still out having a good time.
My close friends were aware of how I felt and were very understanding, but it was when larger gatherings would occur, that were the hardest.
I think I really felt the worse of my struggles when my children were in primary school - meeting lots of new mums, there being lots of social gatherings, and various different groups of mums. Very much like in my school days, there was the popular group of mums, who organized everything and always looked like they were having the best times.
Even though I didn't have the desire to be in the core of that group, I was on the periphery and was jealous that I couldn't be like them, jealous of my close friends that got invited into the group, and very aware of how different I was, and how hard I found everything.
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Was there a moment when you started to turn things around?
I tried various therapies over the years but nothing really worked.
What really helped to turn things around, was acceptance that I was different, and slowly learning to not care what other people thought of me. This in itself didn't ‘cure’ me but it was a revelation to me.
As I have got older, there are still lots of social events going on but I don't feel the need to be part of everything.
I feel able to pick and choose a lot more of what I attend and where I go. I have accepted that even if I go out for an hour, it is better than sitting at home, feeling upset at myself that I haven't at least tried to go out.
Adapting my life to suit my anxiety has also helped; driving myself so that I am in control of when I leave for example.
If I go out with the thought that I can leave at any time - I don’t care what people think, it makes it much easier to endure, as I haven't placed any pressure on myself.
I also believe that most people around me - those that I see on a (semi) regular basis, have now realized that I find things hard, so aren’t surprised when I don't go, or leave early, etc…
I would say that I have made a 50% improvement in my anxiety struggles, and would say that this is 100% of my own doing; making choices that suit me, and not worrying about what everyone thinks.
What steps did you take to overcome your struggle?
Acceptance is an enormous part of dealing with a sort of struggle or anxiety. Fighting against it can be exhausting, frustrating, and upsetting.
Wondering why you are different and why you can’t do or struggle with certain aspects of life, is an uphill battle. We have to accept that we are different. Decide how you are different and deal with that. How are you different from others? What do you struggle with? Are there any adaptations you can make to make things easier - even if it is not considered the norm?
For example, I don’t drink alcohol as that makes my anxiety worse. This also means that I can drive myself and be in control of when I arrive, and when I leave - not having to rely on anyone else. I know that people think that it's odd that I don’t drink - another thing I have to worry about and explain myself - but if it makes me feel better about everything and allows me to do some things, then I try not to let it worry me.
What really helped as well, is to let people know how I feel, and what my anxieties are. This means that no one is surprised if I leave a party early or don’t go. I also ensure that I try to see my close friends - those I feel most comfortable with - regularly, in a venue of my choice. This makes me still feel in touch with a social aspect, rather than not going anywhere or seeing anyone.
Have you shared any of this with people around you in real life?
My husband and some close friends are aware of how I feel and how I am - at this stage I like people to know so that they have an understanding. I feel more comfortable if people are aware so that nothing seems weird.
A few years ago I would have felt embarrassed talking about it to people, but with age, this has become easier. I don't specifically tell people, but I think people that I spend time with more often, have started to realize how I am.
There is no one that I wouldn't want to talk this about, although I am aware that some find it uncomfortable and don't understand.
If you could give a single piece of advice to someone else that struggles, what would that be?
Accept and understand that you deal with things in a different way. Trying to be like everyone else and then failing is even harder on us.
Try to talk to people about your struggles, at least some close friends that you see often, so they can support and understand.
Don't worry about what other people think of you. Everyone is different and I am certain everyone has something that they worry about themselves. We may worry that people think us weird for leaving a party early and not drinking, but we may think that it's odd that someone gets blind drunk and stays out till 3 am at the age of 40!
You wouldn’t judge someone for being a bit different or dealing with things in another way, so don’t automatically think that people are judging you.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, YouTube channels, or other resources for you?
Admittedly no specific books etc, but what I have found has helped is to have activities to occupy me at home. Having other interests ensures that if I am struggling, I can keep busy, doing things I enjoy and being creative.
Where can we go to learn more about you?
My website doesn't advertise my struggles, but it is something I created to use my creativity for good - it fills in my time, while I am home - choosing not to go out - and ensures that I always have an activity to occupy me. I’d love you to take a look.
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