A moment that changed me: I hugged a crying girl in a playground – and overcame my paralysing anxiety

I was longing to comfort a distraught child. And then I thought: why am I waiting for someone to give me permission?

I was terribly shy as a child; almost mute at school and even university. I couldn’t bear to be noticed and if I spoke people would notice me, so I spoke as little as possible. I learned to pretend to be less shy as I grew older but, even in my 30s, I was still horribly self-conscious. I’d often desperately want to say or do something but if that action would cause people to realise I existed, I would feel almost paralysed with anxiety, physically unable to speak or move.

It was a hot summer’s day about four years ago. I was with my partner and our toddler in a huge playground, a fantastic playground, the biggest we’d ever seen; there was even a miniature train you could ride on. We spotted some friends who just happened to be holidaying in the same place, which was a lovely surprise. It was sunny, there were loads of people: there was a fun, almost fairground atmosphere.

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