One-way ticket to the UK and finding confidence in an IT role – an interview

Honey bee pollinating cornflowers (Centaurea Cyanus) – BeesWiki, Creative Commons

Matias (a pseudonym), a man in his 30s, shared his experiences of moving to the UK from a northern European country – with his then girlfriend – as a teenager, the sense of freedom and the challenges of overcoming trauma, dyslexia, anxiety and language difficulties in his efforts to pursue a career in IT and user experience.

Anxiety results out of psychological trauma. I used to go to psychologist and it was my daily practise with psychologist to record my sessions and I was always using mobile phone because it was quite useful to record them because then when you have one session with psychologist – lot of information get discussed and usually it’s quite hard to keep everything in your mind. Those records help me to remember all of them, so I can listen to records – come back to some stuff, make notes and sometimes I come back to one record, like, five times because all the times something new I can find. It’s quite interesting because brain basically not able to pick up everything at the same time – so, yeah, so recording will be nice.

Couple of years ago, is that thing (anxiety) became so serious and so strong that I wasn’t able to do anything – it was painful, basically. It was like strong pain, like, in this place where I’m sitting right now, I wasn’t able to sit – it’s my place where, you know, I’m working everyday. I’m working, like, remotely, but at that time I was working from office and it was lots of social – I will not call them ‘fight’ – but, you know, when people dislike some stuff, this is started to grow stronger and stronger and that’s what started to hit me a lot. And, it probably took me about a year to get into that panic attacks.

So, after panic attacks, I getting to my GP and they give me medication – it was Mirtazapine, and they said, you have to go to psychologist. Basically, I went to psychologist sessions and, didn’t give me any results, to be honest. But the thing is, I was always depressed, since my childhood. This was one of the problems that I wasn’t able to figure out why.

So, an anxiety – basically, I was in psychology a lot. I was try to fix it myself. Probably, I spent fifteen years, psychology, to figure out what’s wrong and what exactly making my depression. So depression kind of was a trigger to – and, anxiety too, was as well,….well, depression was a trigger to figure out what – to, to push me to start to investigate what the problem do I have – because I was afraid to go to psychologist. And, at that time, it cost money, you know, and it cost quite a lot and, I’m myself from [Northern European country]. The situation there quite difficult to UK – not the same as here. That time, I wasn’t able to get psychologist.

And, it was quite hard to find friends, actually. All the time I was try to find friends it was misunderstanding – all the time. So, I get the situation where nobody understand me, basically. I tried to express myself, tried to say something to people – I was all the time wrong.

So, then, I started to learn lots of psychology because I find out the problem inside me, basically. There some stuff – it’s not working well. And, interesting thing that that knowledge I was learn – I thought it will help me. So, and, it help me to solve some problems. My depression became a little bit lower because I figure out some stuff. But, then, there are some aspects that you are not able to go through on our own because our psyche.

So, basically, that knowledge didn’t help me that much because I wasn’t able to go through and figure out the trauma. So, after that, I tried lots of different methods. I tried to go into different psychology ways, hypnoses – everything. And then, I found one guy online I decided to try it. He start to help me with this but then, I was too positive about my treatment and all the time I thought, ‘yes, it’s all done’ and we disconnected with this guy. And he said, ‘it’s done? Then it’s done.’

And, then, I underestimate my abilities, basically, and, all of my knowledge I thought I know, actually didn’t bring me that much results. I start to go deeper and deeper into this anxiety, basically. I became very anxious – more and more. It was like – I don’t know how to describe this – it was like a swamp. You go at work and people doesn’t like you.

Basically, then later I figure out that this is my perception – I perceive that people doesn’t like. But then, you know, I lost – when panic attacks started, it’s interesting, because before, I used to like lots of things and panic attacks start to happen, I start to go into very deep thing that I devaluate my life. Suicidal thoughts start to happen. I was thinking, ‘well, there is no point to live, basically.’

But then, the knowledge I have from psychology help me to float and to go over this all difficult times – because I know, this is emotions, and emotions can be rapid and quick and sometimes hard but if you wait, they will go. It will be never for ever.

~

So, I start my way, I found another person – well, I start to go to hypnotherapy. Because I found out source – the source is in childhood. I knew source down there and I need to find out what exactly. In cognitive psychology they don’t usually do this because in psychology they try to avoid childhood experience. They touch on it a little bit but then they don’t go deeper because when you go deeper, you’ll be sucked in to that experience – into trauma, basically, and you not able to do anything.

I found a guy who do cognitive psychology but opposite. He bring me into trauma. And we start to work with trauma basically and step by step I start to go out of that. It was hard basically, to go through all of them and I don’t think I fixed all of them but I still work at this at the minute. Today, I will say, I don’t have that much anxiety when I tak to people. For example, I have slight anxiety when I see you but I will not say it’s quite hard – I’m not stressed, basically. I can see you there and I can kind of feel you but it’s not damaging my self-esteem, I will say. I feel alright.

So, this is because, we have two parts – we have emotional part and we have rational part. And, they together – if you rationalise your emotions – emotions go. If you not rationalise your emotion – if there is no rational part, emotion will go up. And, this is the play that I do. If I found emotion, I have to understand it. If I understand it properly and step by step, there is lots of them, lots of triggers, I go layer by layer and put them into my mind. And then when I rationalise them, my anxiety go. So, I don’t have to maintain later my anxiety because it almost not exist.

I was born in a rough area. There is people in the street who can stab you or hurt you a lot. It’s quite scary. You see group of people. I used to have very anxious about this all the time – changing the roads, try to go around – all of this. Because I wasn’t able to protect myself. But now, when I see those people, I don’t have anxiety at all, when I see them. There is thoughts that they might hurt me, a bit, then I said – I let them do it – if they do it. Because I cannot control it – let it go, so I basically, let it go. If it will happen, it will happen.

It was quite hard to get to this point because – the reason why I get anxious in these situations is, I was try to stop myself – try to protect myself and say, no way will they gonna hurt me. I was so afraid that they gonna hurt me. And this make me very anxious because this is a kind of block I make myself. So, I start to go this way that, people do whatever they have in their mind. I’m not able to control. What I able to control is, if I see they try to go at me with a knife, I will try to protect myself but if they will do it from behind me, there is no chance that I can do it, so I let this happen. At the beginning, it’s quite scary but step by step, I release – because mind keep this, this shouldn’t happen and it keep on. And I say, no, no, let it go and I step by step, let it go.

Usually, when you see those people, like, there is some triggers but what trigger do is trigger you into some picture in your mind and this picture show you something nasty that you would like to avoid and this triggers next thing. Like you say, no way that it gonna happen. You try to go away and this makes anxious, more and more and more. Because this picture not just project of your mind, this picture is based on trauma you used to have. So, brain thinks it will happen, this moment, but you just suggesting that this will happen, because some elements to what it used to be triggers you back to this situation. But, if you let this fear go, your brain will get new experience and step by step, you start to go more and more experience where you not getting attack. Your brain start to recognise this and then that’s how anxiety go at this moment.

That’s probably what I used to do. Because, I used to go on street. I was preparing myself – my brain will tell me there is a danger. I go and say, ‘I will let this danger happen.’ And, it’s probably took me five attempts to do it and it rewires after that, all of the situation.

It (the reading) helps me at some extent. It helps me to build knowledge about myself, basically. The knowledge about psychology helped me to find the right person. Lots of psychological techniques don’t work, I will say. I’m not saying it doesn’t work for everyone – it doesn’t work for me. The most important in this is experience. If you don’t have experience, you not able to rewire yourself. As general knowledge, what happened to you, is quite useful – it’s quite good to read psychological things, theory and understand this. That will make you – sometimes it will help you to build foundations that you can stand on.

~~

Most of it is social anxiety. I used to have fear of animals – this is gone as well. I used to afraid dogs a lot because it was based on my childhood trauma. Now, somehow, it’s gone. I don’t afraid dogs any more. This is what I find out recently. I just go next to dogs, I don’t feel anxious, next to them.

Most of my anxiety was around people, that they can attack me, basically. The source of this is tI will be abandoned. This was the most painful thing for me. It’s still at some, I don’t know, maybe there is 40% of that, that people will – if people will be unhappy, I will feel rejected or abandoned. This is will bring me back to my trauma. But, now I can get out of this quite quickly. It’s took me a couple of hours, or maybe a day sometimes, depends how strong conflict it was.

I will not say it affect my work that much – especially now, last year, Covid situation started, we start to work online, from home. Stop communicating with people. It became easier – but, I will say, it’s not directly affecting career – it’s affect this way, I’m not able to take a lead in a team – this is, basically, how it’s affecting it. Because you afraid of people judgment and how people will react. Leading positions are always about responsibility and other people to make discussions, decisions and, you know, fights, sometimes with them, to prove something. This is all affected because I am not able to do that much but now it’s little bit better. I’m probably, step by step, going to that direction, where I can be more leading projects and all of this stuff.

Lot’s of different types of jobs I used to do. My dream job was about computer graphics and 3D animation. That didn’t go that well. I built websites with my mate and in my city, we built online radio. He was the main guy who was representing our radio for the audience – I was afraid to represent because I have this massive fear to represent this. But I was like to have this attention from people, that they – not negative attention – positive attention, that I’ve done something that people using.

I build myself interface, design it and build interface. Me and my friend connect to Winamp, when I was around 16/17 years old; it was MP3 music player but you able to stream music and make proper radio using this Winamp plug-in and this what we made that time online. After that, I start to get some connections from Russian music television and I was working for Russian music television building banners and this is where everything started. Before, I was interested in computers. I was build computers myself and then it was get into computer graphics, like Photoshop and all that – animation.

Then, I came to UK. My job was at factory BMW factory, building jobs – all of the random stuff. Engineering job that I’ve done for almost two years in London. I was installing exhausts and I was kind of on lead position but it was hard as well because – well, it was quite friendly environment because it was all my friends. I start to build company with my mate – he built company and I help him.

But, then, I work for seven years in IT – yeah, it was BMW, then building works, then IT. At the BMW, I start to get panic attacks. I almost lost my life but at that time, I didn’t know what was happening. It was sixteen years ago. I start to get antidepressants, changed job and, you know, all panic attacks gone. At that time, I didn’t get it exactly why. I think, I was alone, without people and that’s what makes me anxious. I was without family, I was here, without friends and just working, home, working, home. It was quite depressing.

I changed job – start to do things more that I more enjoy – computer graphics, again, I start to work for small company, marketing company. Then, I met the guy who start to build his company. I move to him. We start to build his company, then, we get fight, split and start to go and I tried to come back to IT again and I come back to Oxford. In Oxford, I get to massive IT company, I start to learn user experience – I was surprise how close it is to psychology.

Basically, psychology is my passion because all the time something new – I like it – I like to go deep into things. I like to go digging down and see how everything work; I like to see how other people react with stuff and, for example, user experience – UX design – it’s very close to this because you investigating how people using your product, basically. What they do? Where is the problems? All of this stuff, I start to learn in this new place in Oxford.

Then, they start to blame me, that I’m like ‘idiot’ and I all the time get depressed after a year, working with people at work because I start to think everyone hate me, basically. And, I start to be less productive. And, this is what destroyed my job, basically, at the end.

I was changing jobs all the time and then, I remember that, at that place, where I study user experience, I was kind of in bad situation in my relationship with my manager, team leader. They said you’re crap, you done so many mistakes – well, of course, I can do lots of mistakes in code, because, I got dyslexia, I’m not able to see some stuff. With code, it’s quite easier because you’re using programmes that helps you to fix this code quite quickly but I still do lots of spelling mistakes and people come back to me, ‘look, lots of spelling mistakes.’ My boss said, look you’ve done lots of spelling mistakes, our client was unhappy. But, the funny part, I fixed all of them, because it was testers who test everything and it wasn’t that bad but they use it to drop my salary.

I was so angry with them. Because, you know, I was working for them very hard, I’ve done lots of projects for them and they all the time blame me and I figure out that they just using me. They figure out that if they blame me, I’ll work harder for them. And this how, basically, it is affecting the relationship of work. They blame me and I will do everything they will do to stop blame me. Quite common thing what people do at work, basically, they can put blame and they drop price that they pay you and you will work twice harder you used to work and you, you know, no energy, nothing,

Then, I left that job. I get new one. And, that new one, I start to work with another guy on psychological thing and I get into trauma, basically. I wasn’t able to get out of that and anxiety start to get more and more and more and I start to get into panic attacks and that’s basically how it was.

~~~

I got this moment the fear of that I will be on the street is stronger. This all the time pushing me to job and for that time, I forgot about any fear. I start to hope that new place will be better than previous one. This is what pushing me into new position and, usually, when I met people, they all friendly at the first day and, then, I will not say that I’m – I used to think that I am crap – doing stuff, my job doesn’t cost anything but, previous job, I learnt that I’m not that crap, actually. You know, tiny bit. This has helped me to get into new job, where I am at the minute and it’s much better job than I used to have. I was able to use all my knowledge. I found out that people need my knowledge in this place. That’s how I get there.

But, I don’t think my job now is bad. I feel that my trauma is kicking in in some places and people – some people – triggering this. And now, it’s not happening this way as used to happen, so I able to protect myself. If somebody attacking me, I can protect myself, basically. This is one of the main things and achievement that I wasn’t able to do before. I got feeling that if I will lost this job now, probably, I will able to find new one or, I will start to try to build my business. It’s quite hard to find job that will give me work that I usually like and probably, it’s not easier, but it’s better to provide product that I’m able to produce. It will just be time to find clients who need it. And, if I will find the right clients who need it, then, it will be great. I will all the time employed.

It used to be my dream to have a business. But, then, I ruin it, because, I find out, this is, more about the money, only. I’m looking now for something more enjoyable. That, maybe, it will not bring me much money but it will be able to use my skills I have and people will pay me for that skills. I don’t know how much but, maybe, it will be alright, enough to survive on this money, maybe, it will not be enough, I don’t know. Yeah, we can call it business, but this is probably my dream – I can use everything I know and knowledge and share with other people who need it.

In my back place (in [Northern European country]), I wasn’t happy with my life, at all. The pressure was from everywhere. I didn’t know where to hide. I was thinking to go and study at university – IT university. I wasn’t able to study at IT university because I have to make money – to pay money – a lot of money, for this university. I cost a lot.

I learn English for a year and it was a couple of friends who I said, ‘would you like to go to UK?’ Because, it was European Union, they just open borders. And, it was opportunity to make a little bit of cash. I thought it would be enough cash to come back to my country to pay for one year of university. And I thought, ‘ok, I will go.’ I said to all my friends, ‘let’s go to UK, let’s go together’ because I afraid to go to UK. I like the idea to go work for summer and come back.

Then, I bought ticket – I wasn’t alone, I was with my girlfriend, at that time. And, I said ‘let’s go – this is idea – let’s do it, let’s try and study English-’ I wasn’t planning to stay, to be honest, in UK. It was just a plan for three months, came here, learn English and make money.

When I came here – well, all my friends say our parents didn’t let us go – I was nineteen at that time. My girlfriend was seventeen – or eighteen – I can’t remember – we was eighteen. I bought ticket one-way. Because, I know I will get scared. It was challenging for me to go, that far, because, in [Northern European country], I was scared to even to city centre from my neighbourhood. I always need to go with someone.

I bought ticket for myself and for my girlfriend. I said, ‘let’s go one way.’ Oh, for her, it was two ways because she have to come back and finish her school. It was challenging. All my friends say no. And we – just me and her – stay together. I was so shy, I wasn’t able to speak to anyone. But, you see, my idea was driving me forward. I wasn’t able to say stop to myself. I was so curious about stuff.

We came to the UK and I didn’t recognise anyone – whatever people were able to tell me, I wasn’t able to understand. My girlfriend was little able to understand. We came to Oxford, basically, because, one of my friend, he work here for six months, and he said, ‘go to Oxford – it’s nice city,’ and I learn about the UK that in some places, it’s better not to show up because, it can be quite dangerous. Someone can kill you, basically. Someone can attack you because, well, because you foreign. I heard lots of stories from other people who already visit this place.

And, then, I think, Oxford – lots of students, maybe it will be nice and I can stay for three, four months and we’ll find a job. And, I kind of plan a year what I will do. I save some money – it was £700 – I save for a year. And, it was, for me and for my girlfriend, we came to Oxford, I thought I will find a job in two weeks time. I wasn’t able to find a job in two weeks time. I go to agencies and agencies say, ‘go back, learn English, come back again.’

I was surviving on this money but I met a guy who help me. My friend, from [Northern European country], called to this guy and said, ‘can you help my friend?’ And this guy said, ‘sure.’ And,.we, somehow, managed to communicate between each other. I can’t remember how. He help me – he show me – I met his friends and his friends give me some room where I was able to stay.

For three months, it was hard but it wasn’t that bad, actually. I don’t know why – I was felt freedom, to be honest. It was lots of release from the family that I used to be with. And, then, later on, I find out where is the problem from of all this. It was actually from relationship with me and my parents. That is where anxiety start to grow. It’s based on trauma, you usually get before puberty age. That’s what making anxiety, depression or anything else and that we have in our future life. Because, it’s just the results of that. But at that time, I didn’t know this. None of the psychology was explaining this. Just after many, many years, I find out.

So, it was hard and fun as well, at the same time. I was young, as well, and, stupid, maybe, at the same time. I didn’t feel – I didn’t think that many – I didn’t have that many thoughts about that I will fail or something. I was believe that I will try to do something and that was why I bought ticket one way. And, I start to learn English, basically, step by step. At some point, I start to speak a little bit.

~~~~

They (my family) don’t know about all of this stuff. This all stuff – it not exist for them. Because when I was, probably sixteen, or fifteen, I get into panic attacks and I ask my father to be next to me as I was afraid to be alone. I lost sleep for seven days – I didn’t know what’s happening to me. Out of nowhere, this serious fear hit me. And my father was next to me and he didn’t know what to do – nobody knows what to do. He stay and he just said, ‘I not able to help,’ and he just left. He thought I have to figure out myself but, not me, not him, didn’t know what is this. I was thinking I’m dying, basically, I don’t know what’s happening, something broken inside me.

To be honest, they never accept me and doesn’t matter what ever I will say, they will put me into – they will ignore that and they will start to push something, whatever they have in their mind and, it will be quite random. So, it’s one of the reasons why that easy it was to left my family, basically, because I never get any support from them, basically. I never felt secure in my family, so it’s quite normal for me to feel unsecure.

My father, he got similar fears, of abandoned, to be alone, basically, but he never show those fears but I – when I analyse him, I know he has those fears. None of them show those fears. There is different situation with my mother, she get anxious but this is not the same way as I do, it’s completely different anxiety – it’s different one. She get anxious about everything but she will always put this anxiety on me or anyone or any members of the family. If, for example, it used to be like that in childhood, that, my father late for, I don’t know, ten minutes, from work, she already anxious – it’s something happened. It’s like, what can be happened – ten minutes?

Step by step – this is experience I get, of anxiety from her but it’s not those moments she gets anxious , it’s more moments she was pushing me other stuff. It was much harder, it’s – she break, basically, couple of things – I don’t know how to explain that – it was moments I get broken, basically, by relationship between her and me. This is where anxiety start to grow, step by step.

I will say, I have a brother, younger brother – he always get fight. It’s not get any support, it was more fighting between each other. I will not say I was try to be bad to him but he was try to provoke, you know, to get out of this situation something, whatever he needs. I was all the time bad person, in front of him and in front of my parents

I broke up with my ex-girlfriend and it was not easy time. I just remember, it was sixteen years ago, we break up with my girlfriend – I decide to stay here in UK – I was alone at this time and it was lots of fears, what I’m going to do next. It was, work at the BMW, night shifts, all the time, twelve hours, six days a week. I get so tired and that’s how I get into anxiety. I start to become alone and all of this stuff, go deeper and deeper. But then, I met, different girlfriend and we stay together for many years now.

Returning to a retail job and feelings of social vulnerability after the UK pandemic lockdown – interview from England

Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum), Gerald Brazell, Flickr

A young woman living on the south coast of England shared some experiences of returning to working in a bookshop on April 12, 2021, as part of the phased re-opening of the country from a partial lockdown. She talks about difficulties with anxiety, depression, home life and early experiences.

Returning to work after 4 months in lock-down came as a shock. Everyone who had been shut away must have felt it, but when teamed with social anxiety and depression, it had an additional edge. However, perhaps surprisingly, the readjustment period was relatively quick. After only a couple of 9-5 days in the shop, it felt like I’d never been away, but not necessarily in a good way; not in the welcome-return-to-old-company sort of way. The joys of being back in public for me were weak at best, and the familiarity was that of an ache so persistent you come to forget its impact after a while. Its absence is alien. It becomes a painful part of you.

At first, it felt overwhelming to be faced with people again, and to have no choice but to deal with queries and issues as they arose, to look people in the eye, to attempt to effectively communicate, get the right tone and intonation, right expression, all through the barrier of a mask. Lock-down had acted as a cocoon, creating a situation in which you didn’t have to socialise or communicate, and you didn’t have to feel guilty or weird about not doing so. Suddenly, I had to be in public again, with no escape. No more enforced solitude. It was back to the reality of life with anxiety, and the tensions associated with this environment rapidly returned.

I had forgotten what it felt like to be talked down to. While tucked away inside, strangers really hadn’t had the opportunity to make me feel worthless for my position of status, and without even realising it, my self worth had risen through not being subjected to what is run-of-the-mill in customer service. It is considered part of the job to have customers angry about the benign, to be aggressive when you don’t have what they want, to treat you with casual contempt, to bark at you and demand things from you, a general rudeness that insidiously seeps into your everyday.

Social judgement was another sensation that had faded into obscurity over lockdown. How you presented yourself, what clothes you wore and how much they were worth, your posture and gait, your accent and your delivery, your vocabulary and projection. It had been so long since these elements came into play that, for a while, I forgot that mine were not ‘right’, and that peoples’ response to your mere existence could dehumanise so subtly yet so completely.

To be socially dismissed on sight was something I had come to forget the sensation of, and there was a strange resignation towards returning to such a dynamic. In this world, there are those who have the position and the authority to diminish others who exist on a different plain. They are the apex predators, and society offers no way of escaping this social hierarchy and no way of protecting yourself when you are the gazelle, your worth extending only as far as how you can serve them.

Of course, for the most part, people don’t intentionally set out to implicitly degrade or devalue, and for a lot of people these micro-expressions and aggressions are water off a ducks back. It is only when you read every movement of the brow, aversion of eyes, tightness of voice – a hypersensitivity that comes with anxiety – that they begin to choke a fragile sense of self like ivy on an oak. Society is not designed for us, people who drive through a storm with the windows open, no protective barrier between ourselves and the battering elements. We have no choice but to subdue the persistent onslaught that is everyday life with medication, both prescribed and self-prescribed. But this is no cause for complaint; as we are reminded everyday… that’s life.

~

I’ve found that looking after things other than yourself, be it plants or animals, can make it much easier to experience feelings of love, compassion and caring, which can so often get lost when focusing solely on yourself, when you don’t necessarily want to treat yourself with love. Self-care is something I’ve struggled with, often even feeling selfish to take time to look after myself mentally or physically. Plants and pets are dependent on you for their survival, to grow and thrive, and it is rewarding not only making other living things happy, but as they give a lot back.

Plants cheer up the environment, making it feel full of life when it might otherwise feel bleak or stale, but they also improve air quality (especially peace lilies, which remove toxins from the air). A lot of plants don’t need much tending to be happy, so they can be a great place to start if wanting to cultivate that ability to care for something outside of yourself. Also, seeing a beautiful plant wilt if you leave it without water for too long, and perk up once watered, is a great reminder of how little can really improve life in a major way. Gardening is great for mindfulness, being calming and grounding, but for those who don’t have an outside space like me, house plants are a perfect way to still connect with nature every now and then.

Animals rely on you to deal with all their needs, from feeding to grooming to walking, and they are the one thing that will push me to go outside or get up in the mornings when anxiety is really hitting, because their quality of life depends on me. Not only are they motivating to do the things I sometimes dread, but they offer a great deal of support. They are sensitive to your moods and will comfort you when you are low. They also cause me a lot of joy and are constantly making me smile; without the dogs, exercise, laughter, nurturing, and physical closeness would all be very difficult to make myself do.

I have always loved nature and animals. Somehow, they seem more significant than a lot of the things in this world. Animals are uncomplicated, and nature just gets on with it. They are the perfect reminded of what actually matters in life, when it’s flooded with anxiety and fear.

Arts and crafts have always been a good way to centre and soothe myself when I’m stressed. Crafts like knitting have actually been proven to reduce stress. The repetition and focus on the tactile activity at hand is perfect for people who have anxiety or are restless and need to find something to focus on. I also find it hard to just watch TV and relax, so having something to ‘do’ helps me to feel like I’m doing something productive.

Live music is one of the few events where I don’t experience high levels of anxiety in a public space, which is ironic considering it’s crowded and noisy which are two elements I typically avoid. It’s the fact that when you’re in the audience, no one is looking at you, and you’re not expected to talk or socialise; it’s all about watching the band and a shared appreciation of their music. The noise and immersion has actually become something I love, as it takes me out of my own mind for a couple of hours, and acts as a release from all the pent-up fear and stress.

Sometimes people will try and engage or get you to dance, but the mood always seems to be good humoured. It’s not something I would have considered as being good for those with social anxiety, but it has been a great help for me, and could be a good step towards facing intense situations without the expectation put on you to talk or perform.

~~

I suffered from Selective Mutism, so I was talkative around a very small family unit or close friends, but completely mute in any situation that was unfamiliar or threatening. I was then homeschooled between the ages of 11-16, so it’s difficult to say how much character developed over this time.

I do experience some of the effects of Selective Mutism. It is known as a children’s disorder, as people supposedly ‘grow out of it’. I think people just learn to adapt with it and ‘present’ as normal. Often, if I feel like I can’t make my voice heard, I will feel my throat tighten and I was emotionally shut down and zone out.

I would describe selective mutism as a physical manifestation of your anxious thoughts. The tension causes your throat to constrict to the point where you feel like you physically can’t speak. It’s debilitating, and completely shapes the way you experience the world, much like looking in through glass. People learn to tune you out and you become virtually invisible. Homeschooling was a last resort. I wouldn’t say it was hugely positive, but I don’t know where the alternative would have lead me.

AA, 2021

A teacher in Turkey on a healing journey from traumas – interview


A young Turkish teacher, living in Turkey, shared her experiences of social anxiety and health problems connected to traumas and her ways of managing and treating her symptoms, as well as her hopes for the future.

Watching movies with others helps in communication. I wonder how I would react if I was in his place I can not do without thinking. Watching movies or TV shows with ordinary events is boring to me. Because the world we are in is boring and there is no difference. Reading books draws me to other worlds. The world that I want to be or where I should be. While reading a book, I always imagine myself there. Both movies and books keep me mentally calm.

Taking care of animals and cleaning up makes me feel comfortable. Because I’m just focusing on it. And of course listening to music. Music is the biggest part of my life. While listening to music, I find myself living with the song. Dancing amuses me.

I have cats, chickens and cows. Taking care of them makes me happy. Because I know they are with me every moment. They love and embrace me. They can express their feelings just like us. I can notice when something happens to anyone, in the same way, if something happens to me, they can also notice it. I think this is my favourite form of communication. I don’t think of any problems in the fresh air, I just live in that moment. There is a lot of greenery where I am, I really like it. It always gives me peace.

I have friends with whom I am very sincere and I have along with them no problem getting. Because they know me well. My mood or it they immediately understand what I’m feeling at the moment and act accordingly. I’ve been with them I met in the environment and I realized that my blood was warming. There is such a different situation; If I am warmed to a person, I do not break my bond. At the moment I can decide if I get along with a person.

~

I had a big trauma and a few more traumas. After breaking up with my boyfriend, he started threatening me and I couldn’t eat for 2 weeks. Besides he tried to make me look bad to my family. I am having trouble sleeping and eating when I am stressed unconsciously. It was 5 or 6 years ago. Constant jealousy and pressure was beginning to wear me down. I started experiencing psychological disturbances. I said I couldn’t take it any longer and wanted to leave. But he kept telling me that I was sick and that I had to get better. After a while, I was completely disconnected from him. I really said it’s over now and I was happy. Then he started threatening me, wanting to denigrate me against the people around me. I was anxious and scared, but I got over it thanks to my friends whom I love and value, they are always with me.

I have friends that I feel close to if I have had a difficult situation. They are always supportive. I am grateful that they really exist. The online world is somewhat inadequate to help. Because they are not with me and I do not know if I can communicate in daily life. I wonder if there are people I can really trust. There are many times when I want to close everything and go.

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I wrote a story about drama and a little bit of love. I shared this story in the form of chapters in a facebook group. But then I could not continue due to my busy class schedule. The draft of my other story was ready, but I did not dare to write it again. In my school the lessons were heavy and I had to find a tool to write what was in my head, so I wrote a story. Since last year I have written a diary regularly, but I left it too. I started writing due to severe trauma and I felt bad while writing.

My first 2 years at university was empty. My 3rd and 4th years were more meaningful and happy. My 4th year was my favourite year. I socialized the most in my 4th year. That year, I realized the value of the friends I have now. Finding friends was difficult in my first year, but later, the more I stepped, the faster I made friends. Later, I found myself in positive communication with people. Of course it was not easy for me, but I succeeded.

There have been many times when I lost my hope. Thanks to the people who always supported me, I got through. But I said I would always have problems and I had to face it. I completely removed this person from my life and said that if I keep my calm, I will surely go. But I always kept my willpower and I kept telling myself that this problem would be over. Time is the best healer. Logic is always guiding.

I was constantly having problems and feeling pressure. I have no problem eating, but I am suffering from hair loss. I returned to my normal life again, but the effects of traumas still continue. When I went to the doctor, instead of listening to and understanding me, he preferred to just give medicine (antidepressant). After taking the medicine for a while, my brother said, quit this medicine, it will not help you. So I thought to myself, can only medicine be the solution for me? Of course, medicine was not going to solve anything. Because he was not talking to me, listening or guiding me. Then I decided at that moment, I quit. We are the most effective medicine ourselves and there is no more effective medicine. Listen to your inner voice, listen to your logic.

I think a lot about whether he (or they) will talk behind me or if I said something wrong. but then I came to the conclusion that this was a delusion. now I’m just thinking if we can really chat. I came to the conclusion that I should always dare. I adopted the idea that the person in front of me is a human and will not always have the same results.

~~~

It was a really tough work experience for me (working as a teacher two years ago). Here I had to deal with constant pressure and stress. I’ve experienced mobbing, acne, hair loss from stress. but the idea that I had to work did not go away. I was subjected to mobbing (internal psychological violence or pressure) by a higher person than me. He wanted me to act like him. He used to say I had to do things he didn’t want to do. I had health problems due to pressure. I continued this business thinking that these times would pass. But there was no improvement and I quit my job.

The better living conditions push me to work abroad. Especially people their understanding and respect impresses me. Staying attached to a place for as long as I can remember makes me uneasy. Because I’m a free-spirited person and being restricted makes me more angry. Continuous I cannot suppress the feeling of learning and exploring. Researching and learning new things are my favorite things. I would like to go to places with lots of greenery and fresh air. It attracts me to get lost in places I have not seen before and to observe it in a unique way. I’ve always been like this, but I couldn’t tell anyone about it. There are so many things I want to tell that I want to talk about myself constantly.

Gizem, April 2021

Affirmations to protect my sensitivity against hostile work and social interactions

Vincent Valentine, a software developer of British Pakistani background, writes about his approach to protecting himself against being hurt in the workplace and managing confrontation and his emotions. The piece was first published on his site, VincentTheMuslim.

Often in the workplace (and in life), we come across people who try to belittle us, dismiss us, insult us. People do this for many reasons – because they feel insecure or anxious, because making others feel “small” makes them feel “big”, and sometimes because they have simply misunderstood who we are. Either way, dealing with such behaviour can be very difficult if you are a sensitive person such as myself. It is not only because I am a sensitive person that I am affected – I also suffer from social anxiety, which comes from my childhood baggage to do with being called “weird” or “mentally weak”. Thus, words that insinuate I’m stupid, weird, or incompetent, words that intend to shut me down or are unnecessarily hostile, can be very hard for me to handle, regressing me back to my childhood self.

As you can imagine, constantly regressing to a traumatic period of my life is extremely painful, and repeating this process everytime someone slights me has got to the point of exhaustion. Naturally, I have had to come up with steps which help me to navigate society without being triggered by every insult, to allow me to function better amongst insensitive people, and to protect myself against those who purposefully try to trigger me.

I attempt to do the following before every social interaction where hostile behaviour might occur. This includes when meeting with friends, work colleagues, or family. It includes work meetings, family outings, dinners, gaming sessions – anything really where someone might “attack”, ridicule, or insult me.

  • Put up my emotional, mental, and spiritual “armour”
    Before every relevant interaction, I consciously prepare myself for the prospect of someone being “mean” to me. I’ve learnt that if hostile behaviour comes when I am not ready for it, it catches me completely off guard and I often end up spiraling. This makes it difficult to compose myself or respond to the behaviour in a reasonable manner, as well as causes me a lot of unnecessary pain. Therefore, I try not to feel too comfortable or relaxed when going into relevant settings, as this makes me extra vulnerable to the effect of the “low blows”. I then spend a lot of energy attemping to calm myself and regress to pretending I was not affected by the words, which later makes me feel worse because I denied myself my emotions and did not confront the behaviour. By mentally preparing myself for the possibility of hostile behaviour, I am then ready for it and can manage and respond to it in a calm honest manner.
  • I am normal, I am smart, I am strong
    I reaffirm to myself that I am smart, that I am “normal”, that I am (mentally) strong. I remember that if people attempt to insult me, or dismiss me, it’s because of their own insecurities and fears. It is a way for them to feel “big”, because somehow I have made them feel “small”. It is not personal to me, or a reflection on me, it is a flaw in them to reflect on and fix, and not one I should internalise based off their projections. Remember people are often just “lashing out” and trying to deal with their own pain – remember hurt people, hurt people.
  • Being rude, hostile, belittling, or demeaning is not okay
    I reaffirm that it is not okay for someone to be hostile, and I should call out such behaviour. Often when someone behaves in a “hostile” manner, my first reaction is to want to pretend they were not rude, and then be hostile back in the same way. Reading this out loud now, it sounds petty, it sounds childish, it sounds silly, but it is a common response to hostility as it gives the illusion of “strength”. However, ths often creates an environment where the “worst” person in the group / team sets how low the bar is, and people feel uncomfortable coming forward when they are upset by the behaviour for fear of appearing “weak”. It is just better to call out the behaviour directly, so to avoid playing silly games and reinforcing unhealthy cultures, and to deal with the problem at its core.
  • Having emotions is okay
    I reaffirm that it is okay to have feeling, to be hurt by the hostile behaviour of others. As mentioned above, the “go to” reaction when someone slights me is to pretend there was no slight, as though that gives me some sort of “strength”. However, all it leaves me with is unresolved feelings, with feelings of disappointment at myself for not having been honest about my feelings and not having stood up for myself. I always feel better when I am honest about how the other person’s behaviour made me feel, it allows me to maintain composure and tackle the problem at its core, whilst not getting caught up in a cycle of passive aggressive baviour.
  • If triggered, remain calm and don’t react with more hostility
    I reaffirm to remain calm if I am triggered. Sometimes we cannot help but be “triggered” – we are after all only human. The best thing to do in such situations is to confront the behaviour itself, or do nothing. Even to say “that wasn’t a nice thing you just said” can be an appropriate and powerful response – and if you cannot regain enough composure to do that then it is better to do nothing. The immediate reaction can be to want to respond to the hostility with more hostility but this will only escalate the situation, and escalating the situation will only resort to the burning of bridges, and – specifically in a professional environment – can even result in job loss. You do not want permanent reprucussions for emotions which – no matter how strong they feel at the time – are going to be temporary. It is better to reflect on the emotions and if required express them to your friends and loved ones (my wife is a common victim of this), as this will help you better understand yourself and better protect yourself for the next “incident”. If you cannot regain composure, or the hostile behaviour does not improve, it is okay to walk away from the situation – “leaving people on read” can be an appropriate response even in real life.

So that’s it. I hope you have found the above helpful, and it helps you navigate future tricky social situations.

~

To read more by this writer, check his WordPress website, VincentTheMuslim.