When Anxiety Gets the Best of You
Last night Rob and I were supposed to go to a show--my favorite band was playing with one of his favorite bands and we bought the tickets months ago. I've always had trouble in crowded places, and music venues in particular get my anxiety raging; but for the most part I can stand near the back, close to a door, and more or less enjoy the show. This particular show was outdoors and I thought for sure that the open space would provide a perfect situation for me to listen to music without obsessively trying to locate the emergency exits.
But then the biggest mass shooting in United States history took place last Sunday; and as the date of the concert approached, I could feel with more and more certainty that I wasn't going to be able to walk into that amphitheater and take my seat. I'm a little embarrassed to be using the tragedy in Orlando as an excuse, because as a white, straight, female I can't even begin to imagine the discrimination and fear that the LGBT community faces every single day. I am privileged and I know it, and my safety has never been threatened for the sake of who I am. But as gun violence becomes more and more of a problem in our nation I can't help but feel that eventually we might all end up being one of the unlucky people who find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. That used to be a dark and deeply illogical sentiment, but is it still? Or is it starting to become rational? This is where my anxiety usually gets the best of me--in the space between logic and unreasonableness, and soon enough I can no longer tell what's what.
When I was a teenager I cancelled a trip to Costa Rica the day before I was supposed to leave, because I couldn't stop imagining the plane going down. It must have been my first panic attack--I couldn't breathe, couldn't speak, couldn't even begin to explain the thoughts going through my head. My parents were simultaneously scared and furious, and to be honest, so was I. Over the years I've gotten better at dismissing things that don't make sense, but every now and again one will stick. The thought of a shooter in a crowded space. Ender, stranded at home if something were to happen to me and Rob. My brother getting hurt on a rock climbing trip, far away from cell service. They are terrible thoughts and they make me sick.
I started seeing a therapist recently and she told me that it sounded like I had good coping mechanisms to deal with my anxiety, and while I think she's mostly right, I also think that a lot of the time I want to prove myself so badly that I don't have the patience to turn those coping mechanisms on. My coping mechanisms include Valium and self care--potato chips and Netflix on the couch, wrapped up in a blanket instead of whatever it is I should really be doing. So saying no to a show--especially one put on by two bands you've already seen live--would normally be the thing I need to do, but I kept going back and forth for hours until I found myself oddly sitting on the floor of our kitchen, feeling the cold tile beneath my legs and staring blankly at the stove.
The truth was that I hated myself a little bit in that moment. Rob, wonderfully supportive as usual, held me close and said multiple times "This isn't a good time to pick a battle," and he was right because my anxiety has been through the roof these past few weeks, and the sad news out of Orlando last weekend really devastated me. But I felt like I was letting him down, and I knew I was letting myself down. And there was the even larger, much more disappointing feeling that in this situation, I was letting terror win. When your fears, as irrational as they might be, get bad enough that they interfere with your daily plans, it's incredibly disheartening.
But somehow, we have to learn to take care of ourselves in these situations. To forgive ourselves for our fears and our failures, even if it takes time. As much as I love to talk about deep breaths and letting go and giving yourself a break in the face of uneasiness, sometimes you just can't shake it.
But we can try again tomorrow.