Last weekend we had to venture into the city to pick up a few items that we can’t get anywhere else. We’d put it off as long as we could in the interest of my mental health, but we just couldn’t wait any longer. Holiday crowds make everything worse of course, but i think about these things before i even enter the store. I prepare myself. I tell myself things i already know, but it seems helpful to do it, so i do.
“H,” i say, “H, there’s gonna be a lotta people there today. They’re shopping for gifts. They’re looking for deals. They’re in their own little world and they don’t know you and they’re not thinking about you and they won’t. even. notice you.”
See right there? That’s why i talk it out with myself and say the obvious things. Because that last little part just popped out – and i hadn’t consciously thought of that. That last bit is a true thing and an important thing to me. I know right away that it helps. It’ll help me be less anxious and i’ll be more focused on my task and less nervous about my performance. Because it is a performance for me sometimes.
I worry about whether my crazy is showing.
Do i appear nervous?
Am i sweating?
Do my eyes betray me? Like, are they darting around as if i’m walking through the bad part of town, or maybe i just look like a deer caught in the headlights?
And if i have to talk to somebody it gets more worrisome still.
Am i saying normal stuff?
Am i talking more than i should?
Omg, am i chattering away saying inane and/or personal things?
My voice is going higher and higher, isn’t it?
Why am i laughing?
I’m laughing at nothing, that’s not funny, no one else is laughing and i’m making everyone around me uncomfortable aren’t i?
It’s not all anxiety-driven. Over the last few years it’s also because i’m taking a long, hard look at what i think and why i think it, with one purpose being to take control of my brain as much as i can. As someone who lives with serious and often debilitating mental illness, i cannot have any decent quality of life if i live it unconsciously. Happiness, functionality and usefulness lies in knowing and managing my brain.
So last Sunday i go over what i’m facing once more, just before i enter the store. I’ve got my list, which i always have when i go shopping, because it gives me a sense of security, and if anxiety begins to become a problem, it can help me maintain my composure by keeping me focused, plus get me out of there with the things i went in there for in the first place. A successful shopping trip in spite of anxiety issues makes it that much easier to deal with the next time it happens – which it most likely will.
Once in i move fast. I walk as quickly as i can, and i dart in and out of the flow of people, kind of like one of those jerkwad drivers on the road, but hopefully minus the jerkwad quality. I signal when i turn, i.e. “Excuse me, sir,” and “Pardon me ma’am,” and i don’t lay on the horn, i.e. sigh loudly or roll my eyes, if i get stuck behind a bunch of slowpokes. Heh.
I know the store very well, and so i go to the right aisles for the things i need and avoid the aisles that have nothing that’s on my list. My husband knows i need to do things this way, and never minds if i zip ahead and he briefly loses sight of me. He’s easygoing and supportive. (Yes, i know how fortunate i am.) I’m done in 15 minutes. When it’s our turn with the cashier, i leave to use the restroom. It’s a great way to avoid unnecessary people contact for me. I never have money, debit, or credit (What, are you crazy, too?!) on me unless i’m on my own and i have to, so i don’t need to be involved.
I come out drying my hands, expecting to be G-ing TFO immediately.
Our membership is due for renewal.
Frickety frackety frell.
I’m going to do my best to describe what happened next, but please understand that i’ve tried before, and i’m never quite satisfied with my attempts. So there you go.
My mom was always complimented on how well behaved i was. And you’d best believe that’s a true statement. If it was possible, you could ask any person in the service industry who’s ever provided me a service and i’ll bet not a single, solitary one of them would ever tell you that i had ever been anything but respectful, grateful, and exceedingly polite. I was raised to be that way. When i was a child it was never in question, any kind of disobedience resulted in punishment, and those punishments regularly crossed the line into abuse. As an adult though, it’s just my nature. I AM a respectful and polite person who genuinely appreciates the person who’s providing me a service.
So my husband is handling the renewal, when the friendly cashier goes that extra mile and makes conversation with my husband’s wife. Which is me. So, all the old programming kicks in, immediately superseding any inclination i may have had to give a short reply and then excuse myself. I don’t even have a chance to consider alternatives – i just shift into automatic and i’m off. I’m being friendly, jovial even. I’m making her smile and she’s laughing and i’m smiling and suddenly it happens…
As i mentioned, it’s hard to describe but the closest i’ve been able to come is to liken it to a scene from the movie Poltergeist. (I’m referring to the 1982 original, not the heinous 2015 remake. By the way, how is that even a remake?) After the medium Tangina declares the house “clean”, it isn’t long before the mother Diane realises that isn’t the case at all. Her children are quickly locked behind their bedroom door and she fights the poltergeists to get to them. Finally arriving back at the bedroom door, a terrifying beast corporealises and roars at her to keep away, and then the hallway elongates to an impossible length, setting her at one end and her imprisoned children at the other.
Try to imagine what it might be like, to be Jobeth Williams’ character when the hallway lengthens. To see the door within the reach of your hand, when abruptly you are somehow transported or sucked backward to some point much farther away from the door than where you’d started. You experience a sense of vertigo and are almost queasy, and the things around you do seem somehow surreal, nightmarish even.
This is the closest i’ve been able to come to describe the sort of dissociation that i call “sliding”.
The situation with the lady in charge of renewing our membership caused me to slide:
- i’ve been vulnerable since my recent life-changing event,
- i don’t want to be around people,
- i’m hypervigilant and oversensitive,
- my fibro is bad, so my pain level is high and i’m not sleeping properly,
- my mental illness has been triggered hard so my sense of reality isn’t reliable.
I hear voices talking, but i can’t make out what they’re saying. They’re muffled, like they’re coming from the next room or something. Or maybe like a radio station a couple of numbers off. Yeah, maybe more like that, because the voices are getting clearer, as if dialing closer to the exact frequency from which the station is broadcasting. And as i begin to understand the words, the fog around me seeps away and i realise the words are coming out of my mouth, and i’m in a public place, having a friendly conversation with a complete stranger.
The smiles and light chuckling that follows gives me a moment to say to my husband, “I’m going to go get some air.” He knows right away what i mean, thank goodness, and so i go wait for him by the door. I watch the people walking to and from their vehicles in the parking lot, and i use the glass between us and my back to those inside the store as protection, both literally and figuratively.
They don’t know me.
No one noticed a thing.
No one is looking at me.
No one here knows me except the one person i’ve allowed.
I’m okay and he’ll take me home and all will be well.
My goal is to dissociate as little as possible. I know why i slid, and it’s understandable and there was no damage done and it’s okay.
Next time when i prepare myself to shop, i will remind myself of this time; to be prepared for things to happen that i haven’t anticipated and am therefore unprepared.
Well, i got a small snorfle outta myself relaying this incident to you.
I guess i’m doing all right.
Love and Peace to All,