You don’t have to see the whole staircase. Just take the first step. – MLK Jr.
Anxiety is a tricky bugger. I happen to have the social variety wrapped in something that’s somehow even more powerful than that “irrational fear of social situations.” Baseline, on a scale of 1-10, is about a six. Without daily anxiety medication, it’s been wavering lower, at about a five. (Although I do better without daily medication, some people’s lives drastically improve with their usage. I advocate for doing what’s best for you.)
Although everyone’s experience is different, I think at the basis of each person’s fight is a desire. Many times, we want to do the things we fear. I would like a diverse group of friends to watch Handmaid’s Tale with and, each week, we’d throw a red & white themed party. We’d get together to watch Marvel movies, the National College Football Championship, or those ridiculously cheesy romantic movie marathons on Hallmark.
My first step on the staircase is so small, I volleyed between whether or not I wanted to count it as a post, but then how helpful would that be? My aim is to share my experiences so celebrating only giant bounds and leaps would be counterproductive.
So, you’re wondering, “How small is this step?”
Well, I walked to the bank. SunTrust Bank, to be exact. To make a deposit.
I’ve read, from several different sources, that anxiety can heighten an individual’s response to pain and other stimuli. For some people, like myself, just the act of being outside in a public space can be overwhelming. It’s like that naked dream everyone supposedly has where your Pillsbury doughboy rolls are on display.
When the wind blows, you feel it rustle through even the finest hairs on your arms, alerting you to your unwalled environment. Shade trees come too few and far between leaving you subject to the sun’s wrath, like a pair of wet socks sitting in front of a heater.
Still, throughout all that, I walked.
I walked until I looked around and realized nothing was familiar. This is usually the point where panic starts to set in–there’s nothing nearby to help ground you.
As you walk farther away from whatever had grounded you–your apartment, your house, your car–there’s nearly a physical pull at the back of your knees, begging you to turn around.
It was at this point I smelled burning coals and grilled meat. Now, honestly speaking, I’m not the biggest meat eater, but I’ve been trying to incorporate more into my diet for persnickety health reasons and deficiencies. Regardless, because burning coal is something I smelled quite often growing up, that small jolt to the old olfactory was enough to settle some of the noise in my head.
When that noise settled, I was able to better evaluate my surroundings, even feed a little bit of that “amateur home renovator” who lives inside me. The one who knows what ranch style and Victorian homes are, and who binges Alexandra Gater on YouTube.
I eventually made it to the bank. By the time I made it, I was too wound up to even think about conversing with a bank teller, but the ATM wouldn’t take my check. So, inside I went, and I ended up having a pleasant conversation with a man from Guyana. It was intermittent, kind of like a dripping faucet, and had just enough starts and stops to help me make it through.
The walk back came with way less stress. I couldn’t tell you if it’s because I felt accomplished having done what I’d set out to do, or if it’s because on the walk back to my car, I had an anchor. I had something familiar, a home base. Reprieve.
As I neared home base knowing Jackie Robinson was at the plate, and it was going to be smooth sailing once my car came into view, I thought about the pros and cons of the walk. But then, I did away with that. When you live with anxiety, cons beat pros with baseball bats. They mace them. They give them wrong directions and then snicker about it.
I decided, instead, to reflect on what I took away from the experience:
- I remained on alert, partially due to the anxiety. The other part is a safety reflex I have, especially as a short, unassuming woman.
- Vehicle sounds aren’t white noise. It’s even worse when they’re passing you at 50mph.
- Tampa should return to considering some redevelopment to encourage walking and public transport. Besides two other women, I was the only person on the street.
- The entire time I was in the bank, my boyshorts were above my jeans, and there was a slit in the back of my tank top so they were on full display. The…entire…time.
- All in all, I’m proud of having accomplished even something so small, but it was tiring, and I’m not looking forward to the next Amateur Tampa excursion.
But I can do it. And so can you.
Until next time,