This is me in a crowd. Notice I am calm and not freaking out.
Don’t be fooled by the champagne. It’s just a prop. I wish I drank, but alcohol and lyme don’t get along.
At any rate, I’m a little behind on my blog. I didn’t have time over the holidays, and then I started the new year with Influenza, so I am just getting back in the saddle.
We have a little catching up to do, so let’s go back to mid-December.
We were invited to a holiday party. There were going to be over 200 people there, I wouldn’t know most of them, and I wouldn’t know when I was going to eat, what I was going to eat or how it was going to be prepared.
Miracle one: I went.
Miracle two: I had a great time.
This type of event was standard fare for me prior to the lyme/raging anxiety chapter of my life. But post-illness, evenings like this became impossible. Too many stars had to align in order for me to participate. Namely:
- I would need to have enough physical energy, which was never a given (still isn’t, frankly).
- My emotional demons would have to be in check, which they rarely were. Simply being around other people became threatening, jarring and intolerable to me. You could never understand unless it happened to you.
- My stomach would have to be feeling well enough to eat food I didn’t prepare. A shaky GI tract needs to be handled with extreme care, which makes eating out quite anxiety-producing, particularly if you don’t have a lot of control over the situation.
I can’t tell you how many times I said no to going out. The physical and emotional price I paid to get out the door just wasn’t worth it.
But that was then.
Now, I am healing, and more things are becoming possible for me (see previous post for detail). When we received the invitation to the party, I said yes without hesitation, surprising both myself and my husband (who is a saint). I wasn’t anxious when I said yes, however, I was sort of waiting for it to creep up on me.
But it never did. I was slightly nervous, but never anxious. Instead of focusing on what could go wrong, I decided to focus on everything that would be fun – being with my husband, dressing up, dancing, taking part in the holiday spirit.
For the dinner portion of the evening, we were seated with 10 people, of whom, I knew three – my husband, and the couple that invited us. Normally, this would be a nightmare scenario for me. It would be hard enough just to be in the room with that many people, but to have to make conversation with strangers on top of that was asking way too much.
But I did it. I socialized, and talked and ate. Just like a normal person.
So often when I’m in a situation like this, I’m completely in my head trying to calm the chaos happening in there. But this night, I was not in my head. I was in the room. What a glorious feeling that was. I was fully present to the sounds, smells, laughter and joy. You see, when anxiety is screaming, it’s the loudest voice in the room, and nothing else stands a chance. But my anxiety was quiet, making room for a whole lot of other joyful noises.
The feeling was indescribable. I felt like myself again. I felt free. I was out and socializing without a care in the world. Just like I used to back in the day. Back when my digestion and my brain and my body worked the way God intended.
Of the many things lyme has stolen from me, my ability to be carefree tops the list. I miss it like you can’t believe. At some point over the last eight years, my mind went into a mode of hyper-vigilance, marked by a radar that is always scanning the horizon for trouble. That damn radar exhausts and frustrates me. Especially since most of the “danger” it registers is not real. But anxiety doesn’t care about that. There’s nothing logical or rational about anxiety. Trying to appeal to anxiety with reason is about as effective as speaking French to somebody who only speaks Chinese.
That was a hard lesson to learn. It seems so obvious to tell yourself the 14 reasons you don’t need to be afraid to be in a room with friendly people who have no intentions of harming you in any way. But the obvious answer never gave me the intended results.
Over time I have learned to avoid what I call “taking the bait”. Anxiety is trying to goad me into a conversation that will go nowhere good. So, I simply stopped engaging. Or, more accurately – I try not to engage. It’s very easy to get lured into taking the bait, and I often still do out of habit. But I have learned to recognize when I’m going down that road, and that’s where the aforementioned re-direction comes in. It takes a lot of practice, though, and sometimes I have to re-direct over and over and over.
Said another way, this is a process, and I’m still very much in the thick of it. There is no overnight cure, and I have to work hard every day. It takes an incredible amount of mental energy to keep my brain from going to unhelpful places. But it’s what I must do if I want to get back “out there.” Out in the world where the fully functioning people are. Out in the places I used to travel with ease. Staying at home and isolating is still the easiest choice for me. But I’m trying to make conscious efforts to engage in the harder choices. It’s not easy to do the hard thing (duh), but I’m going to keep trying.
In the scenario of the tortoise and the hare, I am the tortoise. I don’t remember the story exactly, but I’m pretty sure the tortoise ended up getting there. Slowly. I’m pretty sure I will do the same. But in due time.