A North Yorkshire mum is looking forward to a brighter future after seeking help for crippling social anxiety which left her constantly worried and isolated.
Susie Smith, 34, contacted her GP after fearing that her struggles to talk to people or enjoy special events might have a lasting impact on the lives of her two young children.
Now, thanks to the support of her Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) team, she has not only taken centre stage as a bridesmaid – but also secured a new job.
“The anxiety crept up on me over the years, and then lockdown made it worse,” she said. “I struggled when talking to people, and then worried afterwards about what I had said.
“My youngest was quite shy and I worried my anxiety might be affecting her. In social situations I would blush, feel hot, my heart would race, my hands would be clammy and I’d feel as if I wasn’t fully present.
“I struggled with eye contact, fiddled with my hair and tried to shut down conversations as quickly as possible. But I wanted to be a positive role model for my children, which is why I sought help in the end.”
First steps to seek help
Susie, from York, found her GP “lovely and understanding” and, after opening up about her mental health, she was referred to the IAPT team based at Northallerton for therapy.
“I was really nervous about the first appointment and scared about opening up. I had such a big fear of not being understood. I kept thinking that if this didn’t work, what would I do?” she said.
“But my therapist, Frances, put me at ease from the get-go. I really felt like she understood me – which actually makes me feel quite emotional after feeling ‘weird’ for so long.
“I found it really easy to open up to her about the fears I’d never felt brave enough to fully talk to anyone about. IAPT really changed my life – and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.”
Susie’s treatment included finding tools and techniques to deal with situations she found difficult, such as attending mums and toddlers’ groups and daily chores like shopping.
The therapy also involved boosting Susie’s self-esteem by challenging the negative thoughts and triggers for social anxieties that were making her so unhappy.
Tools to tackle anxieties
“It’s all about retraining your brain and challenging the things you find hardest – like going to a shop and speaking to someone. It was difficult the first time, but it did get easier,” she said.
“If I was invited to a party, I would be given the task of talking to people. It was really daunting then, but now I don’t even think about – I even enjoy them, which I never thought would say.”
Susie, who describes herself as being “really shy” for most of her life, worked in a nursery after leaving college, before becoming a nanny – a job which left her quite socially isolated.
She went on to marry and have two daughters but found that she often sat alone when taking the children to parties or playgroups, due to her struggles with speaking to others.
“At one point I was asked to be a bridesmaid and found the idea so daunting. It was a difficult situation, as I’d never spoken to my friends about my social anxiety,” she said.
“It’s one of those things that you feel like no-one will understand. I talked to my husband and mum about my anxiety, but just couldn’t tell my friends. That felt quite isolating too.”
Changed my life
Susie remained determined to tackle her social anxiety and, following several months of work with IAPT, felt able to take on the role of bridesmaid – and “absolutely loved it”.
And she even managed to overcome her struggles with talking to people enough to secure a great new job – working in a nursery, where she talks to staff, parents and children all day.
“This is all thanks to IAPT. Before IAPT I wouldn’t have dared do anything. Frances, my therapist, has literally changed my life – I’ll never be able to thank her enough,” said Susie.
“I can even take part in the small talk at the school gates now. My husband is really pleased and supportive about everything – and also glad he doesn’t have to do all the kids parties now!
“I feel so much stronger, and a lot more confident. I can’t imagine how I would be feeling now without all these tools I’ve been given – I just know I’d be in a really bad place. Now, though, I can look forward to the future.”
Frances Bosomworth, a High Intensity Worker and Susie’s IAPT therapist, today encouraged people struggling with their mental health to seek professional help.
“It was such a pleasure to work with Susie and provide her with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy techniques that helped her to overcome anxiety and boost her self-esteem,” she said.
“Depression and anxiety can affect anyone at any time. I would strongly recommend anyone who is struggling with these feelings to make contact with their GP or self-refer to our service to see if we are able to provide you with an evidence based therapy that could make such a difference to your life.”
** Find out what mental health support is available to you at www.tewv.nhs.uk/services/mental-health-support
- Susie’s name has been changed for this article.