My name is Nat Hawley, I am 23 and now in full time employment, living independently in London after years of feeling scared to even leave my room.
I was born with autism and dyspraxia, in school I found out I was dyslexic and I have grown up in a challenging family environment. Despite these difficulties the hardest challenge some days has been opening my own front door. I suffer from social anxiety, and this is the first time I have talked about it openly to anyone.
Anxiety is different for everyone, but for me it's something that's with me all day, every week, always. It's like the feelings you have during a nightmare but I have them in normal life. I feel unexplainable panic, nervousness and discomfort. I worry about conversations, apprehensive to say anything in case I say something wrong. I worry about my peers' disapproval, afraid of negative feedback, of not fitting in and more.
I'm sure we all feel this way from time to time but with social anxiety, it is daily. It makes everyday tasks in life that extra struggle and, with having other disabilities too, at times it makes life feel impossible.
I struggled throughout education, not because of the work or the essays, sure they were hard but I could do them. The thing that made me want to quit each day was the social side; the parties, the group meetings and socials. I remember times when I wouldn't go into school as I didn't want to sit next to someone because it made me feel uneasy. I had some really good friends but a part of me always felt isolated.
The idea of meeting people who I know will see me again has scared me, to the point of feeling physically sick. Every time someone looks at me I freeze up and become robotic. The disabilities I try so hard to hide away become too overwhelming not to notice. I am not a disability, I am a person who happens to have a disability, but I know most people will not see me that way. I worry that if people knew about my autism they would discard me, judge me and not even give me a chance. I often feel like I am fighting a losing battle when I go out to be social - I try and smile but I'm scared of rejection so I only half try. I know I can make people feel uncomfortable and also anxious and they won't like me for that. I know I will always be like this but I know also I can change the way I see it, I hope.
I often wonder how many hours I have spend watching television box sets at home alone while people my age have been out at parties, joking, laughing and smiling without the need to pretend.
When it comes to the workplace, I find that very few people recognise the distress caused by social anxiety. I normally try to hide my anxiety from others, especially in a work or education environment. I have this fear that people will find out about my disabilities and view me differently or refuse to be around me. I think I know deep down that's not true, but it's hard to keep telling myself this day in and day out. This fear has kept me from leaving the four walls I call home.
Even when I'm around friends, I can feel overcome and have felt they are watching me and criticizing me. It hurts to be judged, but it hurts more to be judged by your friends, even if it's all in your head. It can be hard to feel that the reason you do not fit in is your own fault.
Though I consider my 'rough' years are behind me, my anxiety has never really left. I still feel the tightening of my lungs and stiffening of my muscles when I meet new people. I have to fight the need to break eye contact. When I get like this I can barely concentrate on anything else going on, I am just fixed on fighting myself to stay in control. I know feeling this way is crazy, but knowing that doesn't stop it from happening.
I am by no means 'fixed' but with the help of organizations like The Prince's Trust, I have come a long way. They helped me see myself as a person just like everyone else, a person who can do anything I put my mind to. I have found ways to deal with my anxiety and, though I know I will always be on a journey, I am hopeful for the future. Something I couldn't have said a few years ago. I honestly believe that if we support each other and are upfront about how things like anxiety can ruin lives, then we can combat these things together.
Wednesday sees the launch of The Prince's Trust Macquarie Youth Index which gauges the wellbeing of young people in the UK. Shockingly, it reveals that 35% of unemployed young people often feel too anxious to leave the house