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I’ve always been an anxious child—swimming lessons consisted of me sitting on the side crying until it was time to go home. Secondary school was fine, other than the obvious reasons to be anxious: Exams, sports day, etc.
University, however, has been a completely different kettle of fish. I’m a motivated person, and I love my course. But some days I find that I just can’t face being in a silent room, surrounded by people that are better at doing what I love than I am.
When my friends started uni (most of them started a year before me) they threw birthday parties and had us all come to their new city to celebrate. Sounds great! I love my friends and I loved alcohol. After two birthday trips, it quickly became apparent that I was uncomfortable drinking in a large group, with people I barely knew. My only safety net was my boyfriend, and when he wasn’t there I felt like I would cry the whole time. I dreaded the weeks leading up to birthday visits—not knowing if I would be sleeping in a bed, on a sofa or on the floor made my stomach sink, staying out later than 1 AM made me feel sick, but also spending over £70 on a train ticket to get there only to go home before 1 AM felt pointless. So I stopped going. I love seeing my friends, but I barely saw them on these nights out, and soon after I began uni myself I stopped drinking anyway.
I stopped drinking because it made me more prone to panic attacks, especially when paired with groups of people I don’t know. I’ve always been a shy person, and unfortunately that still hasn’t changed since I’ve been at uni. However, many of my friends would complain when I didn’t show up, even though everyone knew I wouldn’t. When I explained to them that it was due to my anxiety around these situations, they said it was fine and they understood, only to be complaining again at the next party. I quickly began to realise that people who don’t suffer from anxiety, intense nerves or claustrophobia in crowds will never understand how it feels.
I started to just take their comments on the chin. Most of them stopped talking to me completely, yet still complained when I didn’t visit them. (Never forget that friendship works both ways—I’m not going to come to your birthday party if you never reply to my messages.) But I am still close with a few. To say they don’t understand at all is unfair. When I need them, they are there for me, but I still have to explain the inner workings of my anxious mind every time I decline an invitation, which is not only a veeeeery long conversation, it’s also very embarrassing to have to explain over and over. I don’t want to be this way, but unfortunately anxiety doesn’t just disappear when someone says “you’ll enjoy it once you get here.”
I will always love my friends, and I’ll always miss the ones that I’ve lost. I just wish there were more ways for people to be educated on these issues so I didn’t feel like I’d committed a crime every time I say no to a party. It’s nothing personal, of course I want to see my friends, but I’d rather see them over dinner than over a bottle of vodka.