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  • Writer's pictureSean Gilligan

Social Anxiety & Me


Last July I was diagnosed with a social anxiety disorder.

‘Sean Gilligan with a social anxiety disorder?’ (cue look of disbelief and deep confusion) – that was the usual reaction to the news. It has been a tough fight, but I believe I now have my anxiety under control. It has been a long road to this point.

The death of my dad, Brian Gilligan, was probably the catalyst to what was always there in one shape or another. You see, growing up, for me, was a massive struggle. I am gay and I was gay growing up too (YAASS)! But gay didn’t exist in my young life. I had no idea what it was until the age of about 9 when I found out ‘it’s boys who do it with boys.’ I still didn’t quite identify with it but I definitely knew, in comparison to most boys, I was different – and not in a good way.

I wanted to dance but the my parents had a different path in mind for me, so off I went to the Artane Boys Band. I gained a fantastic music knowledge, played Carnegie Hall when I was 11, and was leader of the trombone section at the age of 12. WOW SERIOUSLY IMPRESSIVE!!!  But what was the cost?

From the age of 10, I was grossly overweight. Eating was – and still is – my safety behaviour. It’s the thing I go to for temporary relief from the pain of anxiety or more commonly stress. With the older guys and adults, I was the funny guy who could sing and dance, to make up for the fact that I was generally too young to be out on the gigs or trips I found myself on. this act and performance was a distraction trick I learned – a type of Masquerade if you will – hide your face etc. (You know the lyrics).

I also found solace in my own black box theatre which was my safe haven. No one was around and it didn’t matter that I was fat there. I created endless scenes and shows. It was heaven.

My size and possibly my sexuality, were no doubt an issue in the both the band and school. They were boys organisations of the time and it was common place. It happened a lot but it was still really wrong. The bullying was horrific and by the time I was finishing primary school, my years of pleading with my parents to leave the band finally came to an end , and at the age of 13, I continued my education at the College of Music and let’s just say the rest is history.


I also began dancing again at age 15. I haven’t stopped and until I can no longer move, I simply won’t. It is my release and it, along with all forms of performance, will always be in my life.

So what was the root of my adult social anxiety? Well, there is no doubt that I made my own opinion about myself when I was growing up and unfortunately that stuck with me. That was until I met an amazing professional therapist last year, who I can’t name, but who helped me see the light essentially and realise that:

I am not a bad person – shit happens to good people.
I am different but it’s in a good way,                                                                            
Life is never black and white – it’s a million shades of grey
I deserve the best and I should not settle for mediocre in matters of the heart.


Now let’s call a spade a spade, I have chosen a life path that is far from stress free. I work in musical theatre – in Ireland. YES MUSICAL THEATRE IN IRELAND. I am completely nuts no doubt, but never mind that there is no regular professional industry for this here. also there is no real centre of employment. Scrap that actually there is none. So I have essentially created one for myself.

I once feared that this career choice came from the need to PROVE myself to others. I don’t anymore. I now have the power to see that previously when I would be nice to people who were treating me like shit, even be their friend, and help them when I knew they were stabbing me in the back, this was all part of SOCIAL ANXIETY. I also found it extremely difficult to express myself clearly and would burst with rage at myself.

We have all seen the videos online about anxiety. They are, sadly, an accurate depiction of what my daily life was like not so long ago. I know it’s hard for people to imagine what a challenge it is waking up and picking out what clothes you are going to wear – especially for someone like me. THIS WAS (and still sometimes is) MY REALITY.

Six months ago that last sentence would have had an UNFORTUNATELY in front of it. Not anymore.

I love who I am. I love what I have chosen to do with my life. Yes, creative arts is a risky decision as a career – especially for someone who suffers with anxiety – but it’s the one I’ve made. So I need to say thank you to my close friends who helped me along this rocky road but most importantly, thank you to the bullies, to those who couldn’t accept me for me, that told me I was fat, ugly, couldn’t dance, couldn’t sing or couldn’t do any of what I am doing now. Somewhere deep inside of me, there is a strength that will not go away. I fought all of that shit, and the anxiety it bred too, and I wouldn’t be as happy as I am today if it were not for you all.

Sure, I’m far from perfect at what I do – but who is!




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