For those of you new to this blog, I am challenging myself to scary social situations in an effort to make my social anxiety easier to bear. To read the intro blog go here.
Well, I’ve been dreading the event for over a week now. A note about the workbook, I read the opening chapters, but stopped where it gets to the exercises. I wanted this first outing to be a sort of “control”. No exercises, just me and my anxiety. I’m documenting it, and then I’ll do the same outing (with a different movie) in a few months and see how it goes. That’s probably not the way you’re supposed to do it, but I’m curious as to whether or not I’ll notice a change.
Anyway, today turned out to be a bit chaotic and busy, so I was saved from staring at the clock and freaking out. As it was, I left later than I expected, and was worried about being late. Why would I worry about being late? No idea. No one was expecting me. There are usually enough previews that I wouldn’t miss any of the film. I just had it in my head that I would leave at a certain time, and when I missed that I started to worry. For no good reason.
As I pulled away from the curb, my stomach tied itself into knots. Halfway there I started having trouble breathing. When this happens, it feels like a band is tightening around my chest, and I can’t really take a full breath. As I pulled into the parking garage, my heart started fluttering.
Social anxiety is INCREDIBLY physically uncomfortable. I never noticed just how uncomfortable until I started paying attention. Tonight I realized…it’s pretty miserable. How did I get so used to this? How have I gone through most of my life feeling this physically uncomfortable in every unfamiliar situation? How did I get to the point where I just stopped noticing?
I drove around and around and around the parking garage, thinking of all the people that were NOT in those cars, but were in the Galleria where the theatre is. I parked. Left my precious phone in the car, as Dr. Andrea told me to. It was just me, my “Harry is My Homeboy” t-shirt and a giant purse filled with contraband candy.
I avoided the parking garage elevator. Trapped in a box with strangers? Thanks, I’ll take the stairs. At this particular theatre, you have to walk all the way through the galleria area, and past MANY restaurants with outdoor patios, then up two escalators past shops to get to the theatre from the garage.
At this point, I remembered that my ex-boyfriend loves this particular Galleria, and his roommate manages a restaurant across the street. I suddenly got paranoid that I would run into him. And he would see I was alone and assume I hadn’t made a single friend in the three years since we broke up. So I came up with an explanation for why I was alone, just in case.
Just so you all know. I didn’t run into my ex-boyfriend. BECAUSE THAT WOULD BE RIDICULOUS.
This is the kind of crap that goes through my mind in these situations. I get so worried about the most ridiculous things, and then come up with a coping strategy, should that improbable thing happen, and comfort myself. As soon as I decided I could tell him a little lie about why I was alone, I immediately felt better about possibly running into him.
When walking through crowds I put my shoulders back and stare straight ahead. When I moved to New York, my mom advised me to always “walk with purpose” so as to be less of a target for potential muggers, murderers and Scientologists. I still do that. I sort of feel like I’m projecting a bubble around myself. An “I’m very busy and in a hurry, please don’t bother me” barrier.
The funny thing about having to write all this down, is that I’m really understanding a lot more about how I’m perceived. I’ve always been so shocked when people say I seem intimidating or unapproachable. But I just described exactly why I give that impression. Defensive body language. It’s also a clear indication of why people are so shocked that I have anxiety. I purposely carry myself in a way that suggests purpose and confidence. When, on the inside, I can’t breathe and feel like I could be having a mild heart attack.
I avoided eye contact for the most part, and was happy not to notice anyone looking in my direction. I saw a few folks in cloaks and House scarves, but generally it was a non-nerd situation. I immediately got concerned that my t-shirt was giving away my nerdiness. “That guy in the designer sunglasses just looked at my shirt. He KNOWS. He knows I’m a nerd and I’m by myself, because I have no friends because I’m too nerdy.”
Then I immediately switched gears and thought “Why would anyone spend hundreds of dollars on a pair of sunglasses?” I couldn’t help myself. But, honestly, I don’t understand that.
Sunglass Guy forgotten, I hit the escalators. A guy in front of me stopped mid-conversation to read my shirt out loud. He didn’t make eye contact. He didn’t say anything TO me…he just read my shirt, nodded and continued his conversation. I find that completely bizarre, but am THRILLED I didn’t have to talk to him.
The lobby of the theatre wasn’t too crowded. I got my tickets and turned a corner to find a MOB. DEAR GOD A GIANT MOB. A GIANT MOB OF PEOPLE. I freaked and ran into the bathroom. I literally went into a stall and stood there. I ran and hid in a bathroom stall. What is wrong with me? I’m 31 years old!! But that mob took me by surprise, and on instinct I ran. Like a bunny rabbit.
I really wanted to just hide in there for the duration. Just hide in the bathroom until closing when everyone was gone. Honestly, those of you reading this, I would not have followed through on this if it weren’t for you. I wanted to not go, to turn the car around, to leave the theatre so many times, but I kept going because of you. So thanks.
I left the bathroom, got lost looking for parking validation, asked the same employee the same question about five minutes apart….basically I lost all sense of direction and comprehension. The “buzzing” I described in the first blog was in full force. It’s not really a sound, more like cotton on the brain. No concentration, no retention of information, just aimless wandering looking for escape. The frazzled employee finally got me directed to the validation, and then I joined a stream of people heading into the theatre. I was surrounded by groups and couples, all chatting to each other.
“They know I’m alone. I’m the only one by myself.” Then I enter the theatre, where it’s almost full. This particular theatre has assigned seating. I stood in the aisle trying to decide between the lesser of two evils: Wander around trying to find my seat based on aisle numbers that are hard to read OR walk up to an usher and ask for help. I decided to talk to the usher, only I misread my ticket and told her the wrong seat number, which caused some confusion and further lead me to feel like I was going to pass out and die right there in the middle of the theatre.
Seated. On the aisle. Clutching my purse full of candy. The people behind me were in a big group and all talking. “Do they wonder why I’m by myself? Do they think it’s because I don’t have any friends?” Worse than that, a couple passed by that they knew so they were all “Hey! HI! Wow, what’s new? Blah blah blah.” Good god. Who were these people and why are they so popular?
I was hoping the four empty seats next to me would belong to a group that I could sort of pretend in my head I was a part of. Thus ending the anxiety that the loud, and clearly popular, people behind would know I was alone. Unfortunately, a family sat next to me.
But then the movie started! I have to say, it was kind of neat to be in a big crowd once the film started. I literally haven’t been in a crowded movie theatre in years. We applauded and cheered certain parts, laughed together. It was kind of fun. I was really self-conscious about taking out the Diet Coke and candy I brought…until the girl three chairs down from me pulled out her Cheesecake Factory leftovers. After that, a Hershey bar and Diet Coke is no big deal.
The movie was wonderful. Absolutely wonderful.
Then it ended. I sat in my chair for a moment considering what to do. The Popular People behind me were watching the credits. I really wanted to get away from them, but that involved immersing myself in the crowd leaving the theatre. I decided the crowd was better. “Once more into the breach, dear friends.” I was actually doing fine, feeling good. The leftover awesomeness of the movie in my mind.
Then there was a bottleneck situation and the crowd just stopped. Suddenly, PEOPLE WERE IN MY BUBBLE. Stomach back in knots, my heart in my throat, trouble breathing… The crowd pretty well stayed crushed and close until I hit the parking garage stairs. The shiny laziness of the elevators finally gave me a reprieve. It was all I could do not to run to my car. To be fair, I walked REALLY fast.
I can’t tell you how much I love my car. I just sat in it for a minute, feeling exhausted. Completely exhausted. I stressed about this night for over a week, and then the actual stress of the experience was so much MORE because I was purposely paying attention to it. It kind of makes it worse. But not in a bad way, if that makes sense. It feels worse, because I’m forcing myself to experience it all and make a mental note of it to write down later. BUT, I’m also noticing the ridiculousness of it. I don’t know what that will mean, but it’s significant to me.
Right now, home with my dog and my computer…I feel great. I feel SUCH a sense of accomplishment. Guys, I did it! I went to an opening weekend movie by myself on a Friday night. I feel good. Great actually. I feel like I did battle and came out unscathed. Maybe I can actually do this after all.
My next blog is going to talk about SDCC. While SDCC is a haven for us awkward and nerdy, it is a HUGE event. Crowds, parties, and for the first time ever in San Diego, I’m doing meet and greets. The sole purpose of those is to talk to strangers. And I want to do it. I want to meet people who love Awkward Embraces, who read my blog, and whom I’ve been talking to online for months now. But it’s still an intimidating prospect. As is the thought of standing in line and braving Ballroom 20 for the Game of Thrones panel. ACK! But I will do it, and I will blog about it!! I will talk to strangers, I will go to fancy parties, I will brave the crowds and I will let you all know how it goes!
As always, thank you so much for reading and supporting me. Feel free to comment below, or e-mail me at Jessica@thelxl.com!