Self-doubt and social anxiety ruled Sheena’s world, until her children became her motivation to push past the fear and step into the next phase of her life
Throughout my childhood, I always felt a sense of loneliness and insecurity. Changing cities and then school a few times, I struggled to make good friends and I never felt like I fitted in. I wasn’t outgoing, confident, or social – and always felt like I wasn’t enough. What added to this was people’s constant comments to stand straighter, to talk slower, and to smile more.
These weren’t one-off comments, they were constantly coming from the people around me, and it gave me long-lasting social anxiety. I made sure I didn’t win anything to avoid walking in front of people in assemblies, it made me fear talking in public, it made me fear being in social settings as I was always afraid of judgement – it even made me fear catching the bus to avoid people watching me find a seat. The only thing that kept me going was my passion for studying.
At 18, after a devastating break-up with a boyfriend, I was diagnosed with depression in my first year at university. I was at my lowest point, and not only nearly quit my degree but my life as well. I didn’t want to carry on, I felt like a failure, and I was starting to become very critical of myself.
Coming from an Indian background, it was really hard to open up about my situation and what I was going through. I felt like I was letting my parents down, as it was uncommon for situations like mine to be heard of then.
Online support forums and social media wasn’t something I was part of back then, so this period was extremely lonely. I almost felt like there must be something wrong with me. I couldn’t see anyone around me going through what I was, and certainly no one in my culture.
I was studying to become an optometrist but I failed two of my end-year-exams. Before, studying was what had kept me going, so I felt like I had nothing left to give. During the summer break, I retook my exams and luckily passed to continue into my second year. I managed to get my degree and qualified as an optometrist, however, the anxiety still followed me around.
I married when I was 23, and moved to a new location. This triggered my loneliness and insecurity, as I hardly knew anyone and had to start again. I would be sitting in my locked room, crying endlessly as my husband sat on the other side of the door, trying to help me. I tried to fill the void by booking holidays, dinner dates, and spa days. Even though these made me happy, it was all temporary and I would return to feeling anxious and insecure.
I searched for various therapies, constantly trying to find people to help me shift my mindset and get me to a better place. I used life coaches, counsellors, hypnotherapists, CBT, and it helped to a certain degree. During this period my interest in coaching grew, and I trained to become a life coach and NLP practitioner. My aim was to help other people who may be going through what I was, but my business didn’t start because my own recovery was still in progress.
"I practised gratitude, and every day I was a little kinder and more patient with myself"
When I had children at 29, I came to a new crossroads. Motherhood completely overwhelmed me, and my anxiety spiralled. I found everything a struggle. I found it hard to take my kids out for a walk because I was nervous of people judging me. I found playgroups hard as I saw other mums getting on so easily and confidently. I was a nervous driver as it was but the pressure to go to baby swimming, baby yoga, and everything else I saw others doing, almost tipped me to the edge. I was a snappy mum, frustrated, low in mood and energy, and this led to each day ending in guilt and tears.
I knew something had to change. I needed to be an inspiration to my girls, the best mother to them, and strong for myself. I stopped looking at the outside world to fill my needs, stopped looking for temporary fixes and solutions, and started to read and listen to speakers who motivated and inspired me. One of the first books that I read was all to do with meditation, so that’s where I began. I also started to look at my nutrition, and what exercise I was doing. Everything is connected with the mind and body, so I had to learn to fuel both. I made my inner world and inner focus a constant practice.
I started to step out of my comfort zone, even if it was just having a coffee on my own in public. I practised gratitude, and every day I was a little kinder and more patient with myself. I started doing things for myself, instead of what I thought the world expected of me. If I wanted an extra rest day, I took it, if I wanted to take the kids for a coffee and cake (a big deal for me in a public space) I took my time, gave it a go, and practised being mindful of our time together. I felt proud of small achievements like taking the kids to the library, or a play date. Things that were no big deal for some, were a huge deal for me. But these were my achievements and milestones, and I was going to feel proud of my steps. Everyone is on a journey, and this was mine.
I continued to train in various therapies including mindfulness, mediation, and rapid transformation therapy. My company, Inspiring Success, has grown successfully, I also run a plant-based healthy treats business and promote healthy eating through this, and more recently became a published author of the book Perfectly Imperfect Mum.
It was motherhood that truly inspired and motivated me to change. Being a mother is overwhelming, challenging, and stressful, but it’s also rewarding, beautiful, and brings so much joy. I know if my mindset wasn’t strong enough, I would have missed the beautiful moments, and I wouldn’t have been able to provide and be there for them fully – I would be surviving not thriving.
At times, I truly cannot believe how far I’ve come – from sitting on the floor crying daily, not wanting to exist, to running two businesses, being an optometrist, regular public speaker, embracing motherhood, and becoming an author where my book has been featured in national publications.
As a person, I feel so much happier. I still have moments where I am anxious or uncertain but I am much more aware and mindful of those times, and can recover more easily. Finding my inner peace, inner belief, and inner calm helped me embrace my perfectly imperfect self.
Rachel Coffey | BA MA NLP Mstr says:
In this world impacted by Covid-19 and social media, the pressure can feel overwhelming at times. However, Sheena recognised something incredibly important: change comes from within.
There isn’t one way to move forward, there are many paths. Having the strength to make the decision to change, and allowing ourselves to be proud of our achievements is a great way to begin the journey to the life you truly deserve.
For more information and support on anxiety and self-criticism, visit counselling-directory.org.uk