When Peter Andre appeared on Thursday's This Morning to open up about his social anxiety a lot of people were shocked. The TV personality is known for being a loud and bubbly guy who'll talk to anyone- so how could he be so anxious that he can't leave the house?
People with anxiety are often portrayed as being quiet shy mouses who don't like to attract attention and keep themselves to themselves. But in real life, as with most things, anxiety doesn't just affect one type of person. It can get to outgoing extroverts just as much as introverts.
I'm known for being a bit of a loud mouth; I have a lot of opinions, I forget to use my indoor voice most of the time and I have a horrendous cackling laugh. When I'm with an equally as vulgar group of friends, screaming about life it's hard not to draw attention. I'm the friend who comes up with plans, always agrees to another drink and can hold my own at a packed bar.
I also have at times crippling anxiety.
My anxiety rears its ugly head when I have to travel alone, go to unfamiliar places, meet new people or speak aloud in public. These are all thanks to past experiences of abuse and bullying and my brain internalising it all to make me feel stupid and unwanted.
So although I love exploring and travelling I struggle to do it alone. If I'm going somewhere that I haven't planned I like to know every single minute detail- which as you can imagine is really fun for friends planning birthday surprises or partners who want to take me out. When I travel I tell someone where I'm going, when I'm expecting to reach them by and message incessantly until I get there. My phone is a massive distraction and defence mechanism, but the battery is also terrible so that causes more panic than anything else.
The anxiety trigger which is most at odds with my outgoing personality is my fear of public speaking. I love having all the attention on me in big groups and captivating everyone with my terrible stories, but the minute you stick a microphone on me I panic. As everyone quietens down to focus solely on me I clam up and can hear what they're all thinking:
"who let this idiot speak?"
"oh god shut up, nobody cares"
"what a stupid bitch"
And the truth is, people probably aren't thinking that (or they might be, and they might've also been whilst I was talking in the pub) but it doesn't matter. Those thoughts consume me whenever I have to present, I panic and think I'm blustering through my whole speech. When I finally get out of there I feel like passing out and no matter how much people try to correct me I'll think I've done awfully.
This week I appeared on BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour in defence of Trigger Warnings online. It's something I'm very passionate about and knew that I had a strong argument. Despite the fact I knew I hated speaking publicly (and this still counts, apparently, in my head) I was looking forward to the debate. I arrived at the tiny cupboard studio at BBC Newcastle feeling a bit nervous but okay. Then the show started. Despite my notes literally being in front of me I couldn't remember a single one of my points, I felt like I gave half answers and sounded utterly stupid. I left the studio physically crying and shaking, convinced that all the listeners were going to call me a stupid bitch and that all my friends would laugh at me.
What actually happened was my friends congratulated me, told me I was fantastic and strangers online told me I made some brilliantly relevant points, I was reassured that I sounded calm and measured. I listened again later and I too almost believed that. Despite not being able to remember words I bluffed my way through a debate and presented my points well.
Which only proves my point, not all people with anxiety look like constant gibbering wrecks. Some of us are giggling, sweary gobs on sticks who will stand up for what we believe in then go cry in the toilets.
Mental health doesn't have a constant look, but if it did it would definitely be putting on a brave face.