When I was younger I was painfully, mortifyingly shy.
I can remember being in first school and wetting myself on a regular basis, not because I didn’t know I needed to go to the toilet, but because I was petrified of asking my teacher if I could go to the toilet.
I remember being in middle school and asking to take my 11+ exam because I just couldn’t cope with having moved from a tiny village school with 30 pupils to this one with over 400. It didn’t occur to me that my new school would have another 400 more on top.
At secondary school there would inevitably come times when I was expected to stand in front of the class and talk or give a presentation or whatever. I remember hiding behind my long hair (literally; my face was hidden). I talked quickly with my head down and made a run for my desk as soon as I was able.
When I was a teenager I would go into town and see people in the street, and walk into a shop or cross the street to avoid them. These were not people I didn’t want to talk to; they were often friends, people I would have loved to talk to but I couldn’t bear the thought of opening my mouth. Actually, that probably went on right into my twenties.
When I was 23, I got my first set of fake hair. I had red, black and brown braids down to my elbows. After that I got full head of fake dread locks. I realised that even with this hair pulled back into a ponytail, I could still hide behind it. It gave me a persona, an altar ego, confidence. I kept my fake hair for several years.
And then… something changed.
Last night, I stood up in front of a room full of people, most of whom I’d never met before, and gave a talk about Twitter. I spoke fluently and confidently, and even though my heart was pounding, I did a good job of it. Everyone told me I’d done really well, and all of the people I spoke to told me they’d learned something from my talk.
Every Sunday, I do a bit on Wave 105 called “5 Things You Need to Know This Week.” I record my own podcast weekly. I go to networking events and shake hands, introduce myself, make conversation with people I’ve never met before.
What changed? When did I go from being someone who’s literally scared to speak to people, even her friends, to someone who happily chats to strangers?
I have a theory. I think having a massive breakdown is what made the difference. They say scar tissue is stronger, and four years ago my mind smashed into thousands of pieces. Patching them back together was hard work, and it took a long time – but look what happened when I did. When you come back from something like that, you’re never going to be the same again. But going through something like that can change you for the better.
Before my breakdown, I had no confidence. I hid behind whatever I could find. I careened from bad relationship to bad relationship because I didn’t think I could do any better. I was scared of everything.
Now, it’s not that I’m not scared – but I have a stronger inner voice that tells me when I need to pull on my big girl pants and get on with it. It tells me I can do better than what’s on offer right now, thank you very much, and it tells me I absolutely can get up in front of a group of strangers and tell them what I know.
Having survived a breakdown, an abusive relationship, a troubled pregnancy, a premature birth, being a single parent to a teeny tiny baby almost from day one, I feel somewhat invincible. Scar tissue is stronger, and so am I. Nietzsche was right.
At the start of this year, I told a few people that I would quite like to do a bit of public speaking. I think my story is fairly interesting, and perhaps even a bit inspirational. I never thought I would actually be able to get up in front of a group of people and talk though (despite having done it on national TV not so long ago). It was something of a pipe dream. Now I feel like I really want to give it a go!
I am definitely not the person I once was. I’m a hundred times better!