Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Today's Anxiety Attack: A Stalemate With The Demons

In previous posts I have talked about the demons I must always fight, OCD and Social Anxiety, and how insidiously spiteful they are.  Forever they watch for the slightest little chink in my armor, or that one part of a moment when I let my guard down every so slightly, and they immediately seize upon the most miniscule opportunities to immobilize and imprison me, to make the world with which I can interact just that much smaller, or to at the very least snatch away a little bit of joy.  Sometimes I win; sometimes the demons win.  Today, a rare third option materialized: we split the difference.

At the end of May, The Go-Go's are kicking off a reunion/farewell tour.  Yeah, that's right, The Go-Go's: Belinda, Charlotte, Jane, Kathy and Gina.  "We Got The Beat" and "Our Lips Are Sealed" and "Vacation."  I was always a huge Go-Go's fan, but I never did get to see them live.  As luck would have it, they are starting the tour in Hershey, PA, just over half an hour from where I am sitting at the moment!  Well, I'm not missing my last chance to say I saw The Go-Go's live when they're practically going to be in my backyard!

Through a series of emails, I invited a friend to come to the show with me, and she and I began making plans.  As I started researching ticket prices, I mentioned that The Go-Go's website was reporting that some of the shows on the tour would also feature The B-52's, but sadly Hershey was not one of those shows.  She came back with a list of the cities where The B-52's were definitely announced.   I joked that the closest was Boston, MA, and "golly, it's only a six and a half-hour drive!"

Little did I suspect she'd actually reply with an offer to go to the Boston show.  Her proposition was that if I would finally agree to get my learner's permit and start learning to drive, she would consider the Boston road trip.  I wouldn't even have to drive on the road trip itself!  She has long been after me to learn to drive, so I took this as a little needling, and said I would get the Hershey tickets tomorrow when they go on sale.
In the meantime, however, she had talked with some other friends who were potentially into the idea of a road trip to Boston, so she wanted me to hold off buying the Hershey tickets until the road trip idea was either confirmed or sacked.  The tickets aren't cheap, and doing both shows would be out of the question.

And then it hit.

The first blow came from the OCD demon.  He usually is the one to strike first.  I could immediately feel my brow knitting in consternation, and my frustration level rising.  No! No! No! This is not what I had planned.  I had planned to go to the Hershey show.  I had invited my friend to the Hershey show.   My OCD, mild as it may be in the grand scheme of things, becomes the screaming child in the restaurant who the parents can't quiet down when plans are suddenly changed on me.  Spontaneity is not a luxury I am overly familiar with.  I need to know what the plan is, and I need to stick to the plan.  I usually do have a "Plan B" and "Plan C," but in this case those alternates were other people I might invite if this friend couldn't make it.  I was utterly unprepared for the idea of changing which show to go to.  That was already decided.  My guard was down, just for that moment, and OCD seized on it: "That's the wrong show.  You're supposed to be going to the Hershey show.  Now everything is ruined.  You don't get to enjoy this!"

Then, the Social Anxiety demon joined the attack.  One of the things this demon has taken from me over the years is the ability to travel freely, especially to places I've never been.  The last real travel excursion I took was a trip to upstate New York to visit another friend who had moved there.  That was in 1996.  Since then, even when I take vacation time from work, I don't go anywhere.  Now, there are some trips that I have made regularly enough over the years that have become immune to this demon's salvos: Spending a few days in Johnstown, PA, where my employer's production division is, for example, or traveling to New Jersey or Baltimore to see a band in the usual haunts.  In each of those cases, though, returning home in the same day is not only possible, it has been done.  Boston and back in the same day is not possible, and anytime I find myself more than a cabride's distance away from home for any length of time, the panic starts to overcome me.

"You can't be away from home that long! What if something happens? What if there is a fire? What if someone breaks into your home while you're gone?  What if you get stranded wherever you're going? What if you get hopelessly lost?"  It's a great example of the thought spirals I've described before wherein there is the rational side of me that is watching this all take place, recognizes what's happening, realizes the insanity and illogic, but is utterly unable to stop it, while the irrational side of me believes and amplifies every thought that goes through my head.  "Plus, you'd be traveling with a bunch of people, some of whom you don't even know!  They're not going to like you; they're going to laugh at you; you're going to be the butt of all the jokes!  You don't get to enjoy this!"

Understand, this all hits me in a split-second's time.  These attacks are not storms that gradually roll in like my bouts of depression; these are sudden explosions that appear seemingly out of the blue.  There is no time to prepare.  I can only respond.  And so I sat there, staring at the email on my screen, feeling that god-awful feeling of my stomach lurching into my throat, feeling the unpleasant tingle of adrenalin rushing through every avenue it can find within my body, feeling my heart pound like it will surely burst from my chest, feeling my breaths grow quicker and more shallow.  And I sat there hating that I was I going through it yet again, over something so innocuous as a possible road trip to Boston with a friend to see a band that I've always wanted to see.  How can my brain be so broken?

The next response I usually have, after the anger at myself, is the embarrassment.  In this case, it came in the form of, "OK, how do I get out of the Boston idea without letting her know that I have fallen to pieces over the past five minutes like a fool?"  This is where the excuses start formulating.  A quick check of the calendar showed me that the Boston show is on a Thursday night- AHA! There's my out!  I dashed off another email to her, this one saying that a weeknight is not good for me for travel because of work.  Of course, she reminded me that I have vacation time I can use.  DAMN!  So, I came clean, and admitted to the anxiety attack I was having.

I forget sometimes that I have a wonderful network of very supportive friends, especially those who have known me for many years and who have seen me at my worst as well as at my best.  After 14 years, this friend has seen me at the farthest ends of either side of that spectrum, and yet remains my friend (though that has no doubt been very trying at times!).  So when I told her of the anxiety, and that I would really be more comfortable with the Hershey show, she simply replied, "No problem. Hershey it is."  And when I then apologized for being so damned goofy about things, her words back to me were, "Never apologize for being yourself.  You're great."   There was no judgment, there was no unsolicited advice on how to handle anxieties, there was no "Oh there, there you poor thing;" there was just a friend being a friend.  It was the perfect tonic.

So this time, instead of the usual all-or-nothing battle I wage with my demons, we can call it something of a draw. Yes, the demons won a little bit - they took the experience of a road trip to Boston away from me.  But I won a little bit, too.  I'm still going to see The Go-Go's, just as I had originally planned, so they didn't take that away, and I was reminded by a good friend that, for as much as these demons try to convince me differently, I'm really pretty OK.


Related posts:

Table For One
Fighting The Demons Again
Enhanced by Zemanta