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'I was terrified of my own voice:' GBBO's Kim-Joy on life with severe social anxiety

‘I feared rejection so much.’

KIM-JOY HEWLITT was undoubtedly one of this year’s more memorable Great British Bake-Off contestants.

The Great British Bake Off 2018 Book Signing - London Source: EMPICS Entertainment

And while she ultimately lost out to Rahul Mandal in the final of the long-running series, she won tens of thousands of new fans following weeks spent in the GBBO tent.

In a recent interview with The Guardian, the 27-year-old explained that she began baking in an effort to overcome severe social anxiety.

“If you make something, it makes people like you. It’s just about making people happy, I guess,” she said.

Casting her mind back to her childhood, Kim-Joy recalls relocating to the UK from Belgium at the age of nine, and struggling to integrate with her classmates.

I didn’t really speak when I was at school, I was pretty much mute. I would talk at home, and sometimes I whispered to people, but I was very careful about who could hear me talk; I didn’t want people to know that I could. I would say it was severe social anxiety.

Kim, who has completed a masters in psychology, acknowledged that while this behaviour is common among young children, it is seen less frequently among adolescents.

There’s selective mutism as well, but a lot of that is in really young children, and this was at secondary school. So I don’t know if I fit the criteria. But I don’t really believe in criteria anyway.

“I was always trying to break out of my shell because I knew that wasn’t really me. But who was I?” she continued.

Like many teenagers who struggled to integrate, Kim-Joy hoped that entry into third-level would bring an end to social anxiety, and signal a new chapter in her story.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case, and she continued to struggle in social situations.

I thought: ‘I’m just going to start being me.’ But when I got there, I really didn’t know how to talk to people, I’d not interacted that much. I would just say really weird things.

Kim sought solace in baking, and over time learned how to interact with others.

I started making friends by baking. And I’ve got a lot more normal as time’s gone on.

View this post on Instagram

I had an interview with the Guardian about baking, my work in mental health and the NHS, and my experience with severe social anxiety (which was probably closer to selective mutism) as a child. At home, I was a very stubborn and chatty kid. But from the age of 12 and throughout secondary school, I stopped talking outside of home. I had rules about who could hear me and who couldn’t. I was terrified of the sound of my own voice. I didn’t want people to know I could talk normally or that I had a personality, because I feared rejection so much. I felt that if I shared nothing, then I was safe. Anyone who said anything hurtful didn’t know the ‘real me’, so they could never hurt me. I spent my time analysing everyone and living in my imagination - where I day dreamed that I had magical powers and one day I would be strong and people would admire me. So to now having been on the Bake Off and just be the real me, and then to have people like you guys saying lovely things about me means the world. I have come a long way since then but still experience moments of social anxiety most days. Worrying that people don’t like me, and when they do like me, I worry about when I will disappoint them and they will stop liking me. Even though I know this makes no sense. But I think as time has gone on, I have gradually become more and more confident. Baking and helping other people with their mental health issues has definitely helped. It’s a big thing for me to talk about my experiences with social anxiety because I have worked in mental health, and there is an extra pressure to put on a face - that you haven’t experienced mental health problems, or that if you have then you are ‘totally fine’ now! But I think social anxiety is a life long journey for most people. And it’s definitely something that has made me who I am! It’s also anti bullying week right now, so I thought this also ties in with that 💖 I hope this is helpful for anyone who has gone through or is going through similar experiences 💖 . . . #baking #mentalhealth #mentalhealthawareness #gbbo #gbbo2018 #greatbritishbakingshow #greatbritishbakeoff #antibullyingweek #socialanxiety #selectivemutismawareness

A post shared by Kim-Joy (@kimjoyskitchen) on

Yesterday, Kim-Joy shared the interview with her followers on Instagram, and elaborated on her experience of social anxiety.

I had rules about who could hear me and who couldn’t. I was terrified of the sound of my own voice. I didn’t want people to know I could talk normally or that I had a personality, because I feared rejection so much.

Like she told The Guardian, Kim-Joy acknowledges the strides she has made, but admits that she rarely makes it though a day without experiencing moments of social anxiety.

I have come a long way since then but still experience moments of social anxiety most days. Worrying that people don’t like me, and when they do like me, I worry about when I will disappoint them and they will stop liking me. Even though I know this makes no sense.

“I think social anxiety is a life long journey for most people. And it’s definitely something that has made me who I am,” she concluded.

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About the author:

Niamh McClelland

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