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Social Anxiety Following a Stroke – Problems with Social Situations

Social Anxiety Following a Stroke – Problems with Social Situations

Anxiety, frustration, overwhelm, these days it doesn’t take much and supermarkets are my worst nightmare.

Moving back to the UK from a quiet corner of the Mediterrenean has been challenging in many respects. Reverse culture shock is a real thing to have to deal with although with time it becomes much easier and eventually things start to fall into place and you get ‘caught up’ with your country again.

One of the more noticable differences between rural Andalucia and the UK is the sheer amount of people. Coming from a quiet area where you might see half a dozen locals out shopping on a Saturday morning to battling for a parking space at Tesco’s is as different as it gets. For me though it’s when I step outside the car that things change quite considerably.

Social anxiety following a stroke

Social anxiety following a stroke is quite common [apparently]. I first began to notice being nervous in Spain in situations that involved lots of people, noise, being outside and the general hustle and bustle of public spaces. Being brought up as a kid with no brothers or sisters and a being bit introvert anyway means I like things quiet, my own company works for me just fine so a return to the UK has been a big shock.

Those instances in the Spanish supermarket where everyone is talking, barging around and seemingly wanting to be in the exact space you occupy no matter where you move to have increased ten fold. The supermarket is big, busy, full of noise, strong lighting, confusion and visual mayhem.

It’s not just the supermarket, being outside in general, at least in a public space where there are others leaves me anxious and feeling exposed which is one of the changes I have noticed the most. Meeting people I don’t know is also a biggie, nervousness sets in, a panic almost leaving me needing to get out of the situation there and then. On a good day I can hold it together, on a bad or when someone nudges me from behind with a trolley it’s almost a complete meltdown.

everyone is talking, barging around and seemingly wanting to be in the exact space you occupy no matter where you move to have increased ten fold

Previous to the stroke I’d have no issue going into somewhere and asking a question, paying for fuel or approaching a reception desk for example. Small seemingly insignificant things like this are almost impossible now and while I am slowly doing it because I know I need to it really can be a challenge which will ruin the day [or even days] before just milling through my head going over and over what might go wrong.

Busy situations like supermarkets

Supermarkets are ok – at 6.00am however it’s not just shopping that brings on a feeling of overwhelm, it can even happen in the house: your having a converstion, someone drops or clatters some cutlery and the dog starts barking. For me that’s it, everything stops, is has to stop as to carry on seems impossible. Like an overload that happens in an instant there is no warning, no build up, just instant BANG!

supermarket shopping and anxiety
Supermarket shopping and anxiety

I remember being in a coffee shop that I did not want to go to, the place was busy, the queue snaked around behind and to the side of me, the din was loud and a guy restocking the sandwiches kept dropping them on the floor which annoyed me intensly. Suddenly the coffee machine let rip and someone dropped a plate that seemed to spin on the floor for a million rotations before it was picked up.

That was it. Time to leave.

Things like this are going to test anyone but when your anxious, nervous and get overwhelmed easily it all of a sudden turns into a big deal. Noise also contributes, for some reason loud noises split my head whereas before loud noise didn’t really bother me at all. It’s a mixture of several different factors and they don’t have to be in the same order or quantity at any given moment either.

Frustration

*I was never told about social anxiety following a stroke or anything else for that matter so it’s all stuff my wife and I have had to discover as and when it came about [*I had a stroke while living in Spain]. I get frustrated for a number of reasons too, sometimes I cannot remember what things are called, I can forget what I am saying mid flow in a conversation and when it’s gone it’s usually gone for good even when reminded of what I was saying.

My short term memory is a real challenge, unless my wife was with me I would quite happily eat three meals a day and forget to have my pills with any of them even though I’ve had to do that now for nearly two years.

People do weird shit. There was a guy in the supermarket one morning shopping with two baskets one of which he held in his hand and the other he kicked along with his foot. It annoyed me intensly and this guy followed me down three aisles kicking this basket like something from the Walking Dead.

I stopped to pick something from the shelf and basket appeared in my peripheral vision. I could have quite easily picked up the basket and thrown it directly over eighteen aisles of food right into the clothing section. Frustration/lack of patience, yeah, that’s a thing too.

Panic

Panic is something I had never experienced until this clot decided to lodge itself somewhere in the right side of my brain. I say panic when the truth is it may just be total overwhelm, I don’t know, having to get myself out of a situation there and then without any thought of anything else sure feels like panic.

Social anxiety following a stroke
Supermarket shopping at Christmas – too busy

Maybe it stems from being left in the MRI machine in Spain and having to half kick myself out of it when the claustrophobia set in or perhaps its just a result of that tiny area of my head that was affected. Finding a quiet corner of the supermarket is not uncommon, a space to pull myself together, it only takes a brief moment but I need to do it.

Crowds? Forget it.

On the phone

Something I did not realise but social anxiety also includes speaking to people on the phone. I hate speaking to anyone on the phone and with the amount of things we’ve had to do to register being back in the UK as well as hospital appointments etc it’s been a real challenge sometimes.

It’s not as if you fear the worst either then realise you’ve been worrying about nothing, I tense up, have trouble keeping my breath regular and struggle to understand what is being said especially when the accent is foreign. Some of the appointments too like speaking to a mental health specialist make no sense to me over the phone, how can you guage someone and truly understand where they are coming from without seeing them face to face?

Face to face meetings are a challenge yes but for some reason a talk on the phone is even more so. It’s an odd one and did get picked up by the stroke specialist who reminded me that these things affect everyone in different ways.

Expectation of the worst

Ask my wife about the universe and she will talk to you for hours about it, the law of attraction and all that stuff. For me stuff just seems to happen. Dropping off my wife in the hospital car park I need to find somwehere to park, the sign says ‘SPACES’ but there are none so I decide to leave and try another car park down the road except I can’t.

I drive up to the barrier which does not open automatically like it just did for the two cars I’d just seen go through. I get out check the machine, check the ticket, get back in the car nudge forward – nothing. By this point there are half a dozen impatient drivers behind me waiting to get out too.

Meltdown. I can feel my face starting to pulse, my eyeballs are popping out my head.

So, I slam it in reverse, everyone has to move and I slip into the side and let people past, each one staring at me like I’m a stupid Spaniard [still had Spanish plates on at the time] as they drove past. Not one of them had an issue with the barrier which opened just fine. I sit there having some real WTF time until a van comes and the barrier does not open so I sit and watch transfixed on the van ahead. He reverses, lines up closer to the machine and the barrier opens.

Sensor. I try the same and get out straight away.

I do try not to expect the worst, some of that universe stuff does make sense and while I don’t subscribe to all of it I try to keep an open mind wherever I can. Moving country has not helped as there is way more to go wrong than there ever used to be, before we left you paid for parking with coins and the machine spat out a ticket, now parking machines look like the memory banks on the starship Enterprise. It’s fair to say we’re still finding our feet having only been back a short time.

Summed up

Social anxiety following a stroke is real and it can also creep up on you, who knows how the brain works but there is no set order in which these things can happen, nor any rules as to the severity or type of person either. In my own case I think it’s been a multitude of factors that may have ‘stoked the fire’ so to speak like moving from a quiet life to a busy one, bereavment as well as stroke.

Getting fixed is my aim but it’s one step at a time at the moment what with everything else going on. Until this broken ankle is mended I’m happier waiting in the car at Tesco’s.

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K90overland is Mac and Gayle, they lived in Andalucia for 19 years before moving back to the UK. Overlanding since 2019 the pair have built up a 'budget rig' and now enjoy a relaxed approach to discovering Scotland and the north of England.

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