You look nervous. For thirty years, Old Paula heard these three debilitating words at least once a day. Except the days when she hid indoors; on those days, she only thought them. Loudly. And honest and insightful though they were, bloody helpful, they were not.

As a sufferer of social anxiety, the very thing trying to help me was causing me the problem. You.

I know, you're lovely, I get that. But back then, it didn't seem to matter. In fact, your loveliness only multiplied my harassment by a factor of excruciating. You see, it wasn't really you that I was scared of; not your gentle face or your sympathetic tone, but your judgement, your opinion of this absolute wreck that stood - nay, trembled - before you. And the kinder you were, the more that mattered. The correlation of a crazy person. 

Somehow though, social anxiety makes sense to more people than you would imagine. Those norms that we live by, the bonds that keep society on track are, for some, suffocating. For me, the condition grew from shyness and a fixation on appropriate behaviour that just wouldn't bend, into a crushing panic that would steal my willingness to engage in group situations, my ability to eat in public, and eventually my motivation to connect with others altogether. Nervous tension would gradually worry away at the corners of my world, drawing me inwards until life was lived only at arm's length.

Nowadays, my nerves are in remission. I push at their boundaries daily, daring them to stop me. And so far, they haven't. But maybe the wind changed during those decades of stress and caused my face to stick or maybe it's just the big eyes / gormless mug combination, because within five minutes of arriving on the hillside to try paragliding last weekend, twice I had heard again my unwanted catchphrase. 

You look nervous.

Ridiculous though it sounds, I was never really afraid of much: not pain or heights, or the rapid lack thereof. No lions or tigers or bears would cause me to oh my. But let another human person watch me eat an apple, and see me crumble into pieces that kings' horses and men would struggle to reconstruct. Trust me, the inconsistency baffles me stupid.  

So when I was hooking myself up to a somewhat underwhelming - but very pretty -contraption of fabric and tangled string that was to support my very life in the South Lanarkshire skies, I really wasn't nervous, in spite of how my coupon might have appeared. I was joining Cloudbusters, a well-established school of paragliding stalwarts, taking instruction from men who looked both sane and uninjured, and learning a skill that thousands of folk have survived over sixty years of history. The odds were fair. The temperature, however, was not.

Two sets of thermals, a t-shirt, jeans, jumper and jacket weren't quite enough layers to trap what little heat this honorary ectotherm produces, and after ten minutes of trudging across boggy ground, unpacking and setting up, instructor Peter Shields could suffer my shivering no longer and wrapped me in a flight suit - basically a professional onesie. Cosy times.

The day began - as all interesting days do - with paperwork, but quicker than you can say, 'how do I steer this thing?' we five beginners were halfway up a hill, strapped into harnesses and running into a headwind. We were taught how to lay out the 'wing', how to untangle the myriad of lines that hold it together, and how to fall properly in case of an emergency landing, a skill which I'll take into my clumsy life with pride. There were a few knocks, a couple of calamities, and one incidence of a sheep skull weighting down a parachute but, for the most part, there was just genuine excitement bouncing around that yielding stretch of land.

And then we were off, dragging our wings - and, at times, our tails - behind us. The ground training was imperative to teach us the basics while we didn't have falling from a height to contend with, but, as Peter explained, would have to be a little different for me than the other trainees - four men of average build. The wind, he confided, was fairly strong, so much so that he would have to keep hold of my harness throughout or the likelihood was that I'd be in the air before the air knew what to do with me. His suspicions were confirmed when, on my first run out, my feet lost purchase almost instantly, I yanked the brakes towards my knees and sailed over the top of my instructor to land, unceremoniously, on my incompetent grass. Luckily, I had been taught to fall with style so when I was hammering into the mud with all the grace of a bat in a blender, I could at least imagine what it should have looked like. My brain can hold calm or instruction, but both at the same time, no chance.

In the early stages of learning to paraglide, there seems to be a lot of waiting about, and, after climbing back up the slope with a poorly bundled parachute over my shoulder for the third time, I was more than a little glad of that. Safety is, of course, the main concern, meaning strictly only one student per instructor can be in the air at any time. For the rest, it's watch and learn time - and that can be more interesting still. With club members continuously launching from the heights of the hill and fellow novices taking their turn to fly the nest, there's always something to entertain the eye. Running, catching the breeze, wings inflating, a little lift and then…

It's my turn again.

With each attempt, with each fledgling flight, my confidence grew, a great deal more quickly than did my ability. It's not easy, fighting forwards as the universe in all its gusty glory draws you ever back. But when it works, and the wing finds its way above your head, and the pressure of your shoe soles on the surface of the Earth releases, it's intoxicating. And in that brief moment, you finally realise that aching arms and tired legs aren't energy spent; they're payment - if scant - for that ultimate lift. And almost at once, your hand is in your pocket, ready to give again.

Some things in life are just worth the extra shoe leather, the uphill struggle, because when you reach the other side, and you're flying high on a rise of your own making, all that effort is at once repaid.

So maybe I do still look nervous today, maybe my face betrays those years of nervous battles, but I guess that's just the cost of moving on. Every time I tackle a new adventure or eat fruit with an audience, without feeling that crippling fear descend, I feel at last my debt to social anxiety is all but paid.

And having a scared face once in a while is definitely worth that.

Huge thanks to all at Cloudbusters Paragliding: