When I was younger I was bullied constantly because I didn't follow the crowd and didn't fit in with the "social norms". I was extremely awkward, quiet and shy. Because of this I hated leaving my house. I hated trying new things and I became extremely isolated. I rarely talked to anybody outside my family except when I was in school.
My brother is a huge extrovert and he was involved in a lot of youth groups. My Mam was extremely worried about me and wanted me to make friends so she made me go with my brother one night.
I was absolutely terrified because I hated being around groups of people and I suffered hugely with anxiety. I would shake and my heart would begin to pound. I am a huge over-thinker and I always analysed everything I said. However, everybody in the youth group was extremely friendly and they were all interested in what I had to say. It took me a few months to go back but then I began to go every week.
The youth workers always made sure I was listened to as I found it extremely difficult to make my voice heard as I was so shy. They always let me know I could talk to them whenever I needed to. It is such a different experience compared to school even though you're still among people your own age. Personally school has always been a huge challenge for me because I found it so difficult to make friends. The teachers noticed but they never really made me feel like I could talk to them or like they cared about stuff other than my grades.
However, in the youth groups I have been involved in they always showed us that they care about issues we face too and that if we need any support they are happy to help.
I noticed my confidence slowly begin to build and I began to stop doubting myself. I finally felt wanted and included among people my own age. It took me ages though to speak about things I was passionate about because of the way I had been treated in the past. I made a really good group of friends who are always there for me and are like family! I began to feel happy. I started signing up and applying to different things and I also began to join other events such as Young Voices.
In April 2017 I got a amazing opportunity to speak along with 5 other people at a Tusla conference in Athlone about what it's like to live with anxiety. It was a huge goal for me and it is one of the most amazing things I have ever done. We talked about what not to say to somebody with anxiety and how to help people living with anxiety. If I had not stepped outside of my comfort zone I would never have been able to do something like that.
I would strongly urge anybody who wants to meet new people and make new friends to join a youth group. It might just change your life!