In a world where we are now all connected by social media, with people appearing to be natural extroverts where they freely share their thoughts, views, experiences, and what they ate for breakfast, it's hard to admit to being a natural introvert.
Most of my friends who have seen me with a couple of drinks down me would say I am most definitely an extrovert (especially after tequila... don't give me tequila), however, in my natural state I can be pretty shy and have always worried what others have thought of me, which stems from being overweight throughout most of my life. This has meant me becoming one of anxiety's victims. It can happen to anyone, anxiety doesn't care if you're fit, funny, happy, rich or gorgeous - it can always strike.
Like many others, the thought of being in certain social situations can lead me to needing a drink or two to 'relax me' and make me feel more confident. Social anxiety is one of the most common anxiety disorders and many, like myself, will use alcohol to dull the symptoms. Now I have taken control of my weight and feel more secure within myself, I am less needy of a glass of wine but I still get those horrendous anxious, nervous feelings in the lead up to a social event that will see me reach for the bottle.
I recently visited my friend in Paris, a city I love very much and have come to feel very at home in. I walk around the streets of the city, which are filled with chic, effortless women, feeling confident not vulnerable. I remember visiting the city when I was younger, feeling insecure and overweight, and had a completely different experience. I will never forget one woman looking me up and down with complete distain. Thinking back, rather than my size that disgusted her, I think it was the hideous white woolly poncho and skater skirt I was wearing. I don't blame her; I would have done the same. That poncho was God awful but I thought it hid my multitude of sins but instead it made me look like a marshmallow being melted over a bonfire.
My social anxiety, however, can make a comeback at any point no matter how happy or healthy I am feeling. I attended a very cool house party at a trendy apartment filled with very beautiful Parisians, many who I knew, and I felt self-conscious even though I was wearing a stunning new vintage dress I found in the market.
Me before the party in Paris having a glass of cava
My friend went off to catch up with friends and I found myself on the dance floor feeling like a bit of a sad fag hag. My friend came to see if I was okay and I just started crying a few tears right there on the dance floor because I hated myself for feeling that way still. I knew I had no reason to feel anxious but those feelings consume you and can feel pretty debilitating. My way of dealing with it that night was to drink vodka and I ended up having a wonderful time, I think. But that surely isn't the answer?
I believe the 'binge drinking' epidemic that we constantly hear about is mostly down to the UK's younger generation struggling with self-esteem and needing a confidence boost when out with friends and meeting girls and boys.
The French have a very different relationship with alcohol. They would see their parents enjoy a glass of wine with dinner rather than necking a whole bottle in one sitting. It wasn't seen as a forbidden fruit that you would sneak out with you to take to the park. The French, I believe, also have an inner confidence us Brits don't have. Maybe it comes back to our stiff upper lip that we loosen by having a pint or three.
Since losing so much weight over the last three years (eight stone and counting), I have realised how it's not only the fat you need to get rid of but also the insecurities too. Last week I was on holiday in Portugal where I used to live and work ten years ago. Back then I was six sizes bigger and so very insecure about how others perceived me. I caught up with lots of good friends whilst I was there, some of whom hadn't seen me for over a year and were all so encouraging and proud.
My before and after photo that I hope inspires others!
I had recently posted a before and after photo on Facebook and they said they couldn't really remember me being that overweight, instead they only ever saw me as their fun and bubbly friend Lizzie. After years of worrying about what others thought, it was so cathartic to hear that.
I am practising yoga, meditation and mindfulness with a hope that my mind will become more balanced. A good workout at my gym also helps to banish any of those lurking demons too.
And as for booze, there is nothing wrong in having a good time but I am learning to be more aware of when and why I reach for a drink.
I am learning slowly but surely.