I was diagnosed with an extreme social phobia when I was 18 due to undiagnosed Aspergers Syndrome. Following a break down I spent 12 years avoiding people, even going as far to hide under a bed for 3 hours when someone knocked at my door. I'm now starting my own sunglasses company.

This is my website: http://www.wearbrave.com This is my story: https://wearbrave.wordpress.com/2015/02/13/hello-world/ This is my feature on The Prince's Trust website for winning an award: http://www.princes-trust.org.uk/about_the_trust/in_your_region/north_of_england/north_east/news/2014/1408_north_east_cs/young_ambassador_award.aspx This is me meeting Prince Charles when my t-shirts went on sale http://www.princes-trust.org.uk/about_the_trust/celebrate_success/celebrate_success_2013-14/celebrate_success_10_years/emma_reilly.aspx Full pics of my new sunglasses range: http://www.facebook.com/braveandthebold

Comments: 72 • Responses: 31  • Date: 

Boringbear15 karma

Actual serious question. How do people make a living selling sunglasses?

Fitting into your description above, does it help to be an extroverted salesman?

westie8118 karma

Well the sunglasses industry is worth a great deal. I believe its about $3.5 billion worldwide. They are a great fashion accessory, as well as a necessity for good eye health during sunnier times.

Does it help to be an extroverted salesperson? Some of the best sales people I have met are not extroverts at all. It helps to be confident in your product. It also helps to be able to communicate effectively. Yes you do need to go outside of your comfort zone to some level, but I'm no extrovert and I've managed fine :)

jman42204 karma

Are you aware of Luxottica's empire?

westie815 karma

Very much so. I am also very aware of how much people are paying purely for brand inflation, which is why mine will be affordable whilst still retaining a high quality.

jman42204 karma

Awesome, man. I just learned about them a couple months ago and it totally blew my mind. I hope you do well enough for them to be nervous about ya, can't wait to see the product.

westie815 karma

Thank you :) I am more nervous than anyone right now!

jimizacx10 karma

What did the fear feel like?

westie8121 karma

It was instant panic. My whole body fell apart and I couldn't hold on to a single thought except 'run away as fast as you can'. It was very intense and very exhausting. It honestly felt like I was dying.

gingerjuice8 karma

What was it specifically that made you want to return to society? Is the sunglasses business a combination answer to making money and interacting with people?

westie8122 karma

Apart from getting to a point where I felt so low about myself being on benefits, my sisters partner was diagnosed with terminal Cancer. It made me realise that I was alive but scared of living. The sunglasses had actually been something I'd always wanted to do. I designed fashion products as a hobby (never thinking I could do anything with them). I wore boring black sunglasses a lot to avoid eye contact with people. Plus because everyone wears black shades, everyone just blends in. But then when I started getting outside I decided I didn't want to hide any more. So I started sketching really bold designs. Seeing as employment was not really an option, I decided to take the leap and start a business of my own

gingerjuice3 karma

I think it sounds great. The best of luck to you.

westie814 karma

Thank you very much :)

Buutchlol3 karma

Damn man, Im actually really happy for you. Good luck! :)

westie814 karma

Thank you so much :)

me_suds6 karma

did the fact sunglasses let you hide your eyes from other people have anything to do with you choosing that business?

Why the down vvotes I thought it might and genuinely wanted to know

westie815 karma

Sunglasses let me avoid eye contact so it was very much an emotional support when I wore them. I felt very invisible wearing a pair of black shades. So because I loved design and wanted to create fashion accessories, I began sketching sunglasses on a beach one day. I decided I didn't want to hide any more and I used the surrounding colours as my palette. Having them bright and summery and eye-catching was like saying 'look at me, I'm proud of who I am'.

curryeater2594 karma

How did you do everyday tasks like buying food as a recluse? Also did you talk to family?

westie814 karma

I lived with my parents so my mum did everything for me. She did all the shopping, sorted all of my appointments out and handled all of my bills. I couldn't use a phone at all so she was my saviour!

We were always very close as a family and I did talk to them. But I was very emotionally shut down. I wasn't open with them and really only talked when I had to. I spent much of my time in my room with headphones on.

Now I never shut up and we spend a lot of time together talking and having fun as a family :)

ConBroCaliSwag4 karma

If you don't mind answering: How would you say that your Asbergers Syndrome made your experience of this world different from someone without Asbergers, aside from the whole social phobia thing? Also props for starting this! I'm jealous...

westie817 karma

I have a lot of the classic Aspergers traits which have obviously affected my experience of the world. For example I find facial expressions quite difficult to read, I tend to take things quite literally (so sarcasm can go over my head a bit). I am also hyper sensitive to sound and touch. For example I hear all sounds at once and struggle to filter or concentrate on things. So in a room with lots of people talking I can't focus on just one conversation, I hear everything (including ambient noises like the fridge humming, the clock ticking and footsteps walking back and forth). I tend to walk around listening to music because it drowns all other sounds out.

I find it difficult to get to know people, even though I want to! I can take over a conversation about myself and my interests (I have been told many times!). Its not all bad though. I have adapted and I'm always working on improving myself.

Buutchlol2 karma

I hear everything (including ambient noises like the fridge humming, the clock ticking and footsteps walking back and forth). I tend to walk around listening to music because it drowns all other sounds out.

I can take over a conversation about myself and my interests

Both of these fit in perfectly for me. Im not saying I have aspbergers, not at all. But I find myself doing this quite a lot.

westie814 karma

I think its very common to have traits of Autistic Spectrum Disorder without actually being on the spectrum itself

peterryan12343 karma

Do you enjoy life better now while you learn to live with your fear and not let it take such powerful control of your being? Do you think your condition has made you a stronger person?

westie817 karma

I love my life now. Its an amazing feeling to combat a phobia and realise everything your mind was telling you was actually not true at all. I love experiencing new things now. It feels like I'm making up for lost time.

I am certainly a stronger person. I go out and get what I want now. If someone stands in my way then I go do it any way. Its better to try and fail than to not try at all.

JoinedReddit4KelsAma3 karma

How did you actually over come your phobia? Do you know why you were so scared? Was it from an earlier experience/memory?

I'm trying to get past some stuff myself right now... I know exactly what is the cause... but I can't seem to get past some beliefs that have me stuck. Any advice? It's really frustrating and upsetting.

And congrats on your business! I hope you make MILLIONS! MWAH HAHAHAHAHA! (read in Scrooge McDuck voice)

westie815 karma

One of my earliest memories was a day when I had just started school so I would be 4 years old. I was placed at a little indoor sand play pit with three other children. I remember thinking how out of place I felt. The other children seemed to really confuse me and I was frightened by their unpredictable behaviour. I know now that I was on the autistic spectrum (i was diagnosed only three years ago). I believe because I didn't know how to communicate effectively or talk to other children I must have developed some severe anxiety around it. When I got to about 14 and a little bit more aware of how different I was I think it took hold as a really bad phobia.

I saw many, many doctors and to be honest, most said I would grow out of it (which was obviously a load of rubbish!). In the end I took matters into my own hands. What was a big turning point for me was my parents got me a puppy (a west highland white terrier called Harry). Having him forced me outside on small walks and I had to engage with people who would come over to see him. I realised pretty early on that doing something over and over actually ate away at the phobia itself. I started out doing really small things... like saying hello to another dog walker as we passed each other. I can't tell you how stressed that made me feel, but when you do it every day and you see that what you though might happen actually doesn't, it starts to change the way you think.

My advice is to make a list of changes you want to make and put it in an order of what is the easiest to try first. Do that every day until it becomes second nature. It will be very tough in the beginning because it feels like you are going against your very nature. But it will start to make an impact on your thought process. Then when you feel like you have beaten that, move on to the next step. Also reward yourself when you do something. I liked to watch films so I would buy a new DVD when I felt like I had made a step.

Good luck to you and thank you :)

JoinedReddit4KelsAma1 karma

Thank you for your answer.

I have gone to many doctors also... also a lot of rubbish!

I am so happy for you!

westie811 karma

Sometimes doctors don't know best. You can do it, even if you think you can't.

Thank you and good luck :)

Painting_ur_momsface2 karma

Do you have any glasses designed specifically for painting?

westie813 karma

Do you mean for other people to paint?

Stantree2 karma

Have you heard of the recent update regarding Asperger's? "...official release of the DSM-5, Asperger's was considered related to but distinct from autism. DSM-5 contains a new disorder that replaces both the old autistic disorder and Asperger's: It is called autism spectrum disorder."

If so, has this affected how you feel, or are treated? If not, how do you feel regarding this information?

westie816 karma

Hi, I have yes. My diagnosis came just before they began calling it ASD. In fact I use both terms. It just seems to be more people understand more what Aspergers means than saying Autistic Spectrum Disorder.

Whatever its called, I don't think it makes much difference to me. When I got the diagnosis (about three years ago now) it was more like a 'aha... so that is why I am the way I am'. I spent so many years trying to be like everybody else (having friends, going out to clubs, going on dates etc) that I finally took a step back and thought 'I'm actually ok just the way I am'. It just put a lot of things into place and I finally felt like I wasn't broken or that I had to go find some miracle cure.

Stantree1 karma

That's a very mature way of handling it. My younger brother (Also diagnosed with ASD) took it a bit... differently. Which is why I was asking.

All the best to ya mate.

westie811 karma

I guess everyone processes it differently. Very much part of the condition too I guess. Thank you :)

pawow2 karma

What exactly were you afraid might happen being around people? Were you afraid of simply talking to people, or were you afraid they would do something to harm you?

westie813 karma

I was afraid they would talk to me and because my social skills were so poor (I now know I have Aspergers) I wouldn't be able to answer them. I would stress that I would come over as a bit of an idiot and they would think I was strange. I was bullied at school because I hardly spoke, so I guess maybe there was a part of me that believed I would be ridiculed again.

I was never afraid of being harmed by anyone. When you don't know how to read a person, or understand when they are being sarcastic (or angry or bored etc), or know how to create and continue a conversation, they become incredibly stressful (and scary) to be around.

Fjoergyn_D2 karma

Did you start meditating? Would you consider your former self a hermit?

Godspeed for you and your business, mate.

westie813 karma

I never considered myself a hermit in the traditional sense of the word. Although I avoided any form of social contact, I still very much longed for it. I was incredibly lonely and tried many times to get out and meet people. But the panic always took over and I would retreat.

I have tried meditation but it was not something that helped me during an actual panic. Much of the time I had to let it take over before I could pull myself back with breathing techniques. I do still like to take myself off somewhere (usually the beach) to try and clear my head of everything and regain some inner calm.

And thanks for your comments. I very much appreciate it :)

crosspollination1 karma

Serious question: Does the phobia include family members? Did you feel the fear regardless of the person you were encountering?

westie814 karma

Luckily I have always been very close to my immediate family. I never felt safer than when I was with them, especially my younger sister who looked out for me a lot. I think it did effect my relationship with them to an extent looking back. I think I wasn't very open when I talked to them. I would spend much of my time alone in my room listening to music or drawing. I never liked other family coming over. I would get very anxious about it (but most of my family live away so we see them maybe once or twice a year).

Outside of my family I had school friends (about 3- 4 of them). I only ever saw them in school and I very much kept myself like a closed book. I lost touch with everyone when I left sadly (although we message on Facebook now from time to time).

Some people were always worse than others. I hated teenagers, older children and drunk people the most. I think because their behaviour was the most unpredictable. Even now they are the group I find the most nerve-wracking to be around.

somegaychick2 karma

Drunk people are terrible to be around, youre not alone on that one! I don't drink, so being around drunk people is just overwhelming and trying to make sure they're not about to do something crazy is so stressful.

westie812 karma

I don't drink either and it does make it worse I think.

Zazi261 karma

Can you rename your brand "Too Cool for Crowds" ?

westie812 karma

I like it! The name I chose was because I wanted to design stuff (not just sunglasses) which changed things up a bit.

SpinningDespina1 karma

No offence, but your glasses look like the exact same design that is very prevalent, at least in my country(the Ray Ban Wayfarers style design with the little silver ovals in the top corners). What exactly did you design? The colour scheme? There are affordable versions of this style at every pharmacy and retail store around here(not sure of global popularity).
I don't mean to be rude or anything, but I don't really see how this is an innovative or unique business, aside from the story behind it.

westie811 karma

Actually you are correct that Wayfarer are a very popular style, probably one of my favourites. There are also very cheap versions available to buy at many stores. What you will probably find though is they are made from a cheap plastic (great for fashion, but not for outdoor use) with very flimsy parts. I have lots of them myself. There was even a report here in the UK where they tested them and found that some actually have no protection for your eyes.

Then you have the designer sets (Ray Bans, Oakleys etc) who are actually owned by the same company: Luxottica. In fact they own or operate 80% of the worlds sunglasses brands. There is much controversy surrounding them because they control sunglasses pricing and have cornered the consumer into buying them at super high prices.

So yes, I am going with the Wayfarer style because its timeless (like the jeans or the t-shirt). But my glasses are actually manufactured at a really high quality. I've worked a lot with my manufacturer to create a high quality lens and frame which is designed for people who love the outdoors and need something which will stand the test of time. They won't be at Ray Bans prices however.

This is just the start for me. In fact I have something truly unique wish I want to produce over the next year. But sometimes business isn't always about being 'unique'. Its about making something people want, in a way that's better than your competitors.

ZizZizZiz1 karma

What would you be feeling when you shoved yourself under a bed? Did you ever get yourself stuck?

What caused your breakdown?

westie817 karma

I always went there during the worst panic attacks. I think it was because I felt very emotionally exposed, so finding a tiny space to crawl into made me feel secure. It was actually quite easy to get under (in the beginning) because my bed is fairly tall and I had laminated floors so I slid under. When the panic attacks were at their height I would shake so violently that being wedged actually kept my body in check.

I was eventually put on medication to try and help the panic attacks. They made me gain weight so it did get harder. I never really got stuck but I hurt myself a few times getting out. My dog would come under too which was always nice.

My breakdown was triggered by leaving school and starting University. I think the sudden change in routine, environment and seeing these thousands of new faces was just too much for me to cope. I think my mind just snapped and the panic attacks went from about 4 per day to sometimes 20.

ZizZizZiz1 karma

That's pretty intense, good thing you got help when you did.

westie813 karma

I am so pleased I beat it. I couldn't have gone through that much longer than I did.

ShaunessyJSullivan1 karma

Do you think that sunglasses protect you from other people looking at you because your shades hide what you are actually looking at? Or do you hope that other people don't look at you because you are wearing sunglasses?

westie814 karma

During the phobia it was because they meant I could avoid eye contact on the street. They were an emotional support. I felt very invisible in glasses that everyone else wore.

Now I wear them because I get migraines, but I also love really fun colours which match the places that I love (the beach). I guess I feel alive for the first time and I wanted to express that sense of freedom and fun in the products I designed.

ShaunessyJSullivan-6 karma

I think it is an elaborate ploy to get people to buy your glasses.

I was a pussy now I have these awesome glasses to sell you...Look how strong I have become.... Ok dude, whatever.

westie815 karma

Everyone is entitled to their opinion. I think if I was making a ploy I would have done a cooler story than that though! You are more than welcome to come have a coffee with me one day.

Any if anyone wonders why I talk about it publicly: Its not to sell glasses. I volunteer for a Charity that helped me find my feet by giving me a business start-up loan and I talk to raise awareness of both that Charity and also to hopefully reach out to others that need some hope. I reached out to some when I needed it and it really helped.

nickdaisy1 karma

What made you see the light?

westie815 karma

I guess I always so the light. I wanted to be better so bad! I tried all sorts of things from medication (which made me sick) to CBT and group therapy (which was hell).

In a way it was partly social media that helped me really focus. I was re-connecting with people from school and I could see them getting married, getting really great jobs and doing all kinds of wonderful things. I wanted that for myself.

The really big tipping point came when my sisters long-term boyfriend was diagnosed with termincal Cancer. He was only 2 years older than myself and it really lit a fire under me to try and make my life count.

Krisson801 karma

what did you feel when someone opened the door after knocking on the door while you where under the bed?

westie813 karma

Well luckily no one came in. I would be home alone as my parents were at work. Usually it would be someone like a door-to-door sales person or the window cleaner looking for payment. When the panic took hold I would think crazy things, like they could see my hiding in the house and they would be standing waiting for me to come out. Hence why I stayed under for a long time.

Cali420nia_Luke0 karma

Did you think that people were going to hurt you? Could you explain your phobia in a little more detail?

westie813 karma

I never thought anyone would hurt me. What I was scared of was that they would talk to me and I would have to talk back. The thing about Aspergers (which I know now) is that conversational skills don't come naturally. I had to do a lot of work on how to start and carry on a conversation. So during that time I would not have a clue what to say. Nor would I understand them. Facial expressions really confused me (I couldn't distinguish if someone was feeling happy or bored). If I don't know the person it can be some time before I 'figure them out'.

If I saw someone walking towards me, in reality we could just be two strangers passing on the street. But in my mind there could be a slight chance of them stopping to ask me a question. I would literally go through every single scenario and try to come up with an answer. By that time the panic would take over and I would divert to another direction (or hide). On the odd occasion where someone would talk to me, I would then get very obsessed with how the situation had gone. I would replay the incident over and over in my mind. I would analyse every little detail and would always come out with the conclusion that I'd just made the biggest fool of myself and would never put myself in that situation again.

Nokirofrorrickstead0 karma

Did you have the fear all your life or was there some trigger that made you afraid of people?

westie813 karma

I had anxiety all of my life. In fact my mum had to remove me from nursery (age 3) because I wouldn't interact with the other children and instead I followed the teacher around. I believe because of my Aspergers, I just didn't know how to talk to others and that made me anxious. When I hit my teens I became more aware of how different I was. Everyone was making their groups of friends and going out and I just couldn't do it. I think that's when the phobia really took hold.