Anxiety at the Theater

I went to the theater on my own over the weekend. Seated next to me was a guy who was there on his own as well, and it felt like our anxiousness was bouncing off each other. Let’s dissect the whole event.

I was there early and was seated in the middle of a row of empty seats, reading. He came soon after and immediately the nervousness on both sides — mine and his — spiked (or so it seemed from my perspective). It could have been the general awkwardness of sitting right beside a stranger in a row of empty seats, much like the unspoken rule at men’s urinals. Since I was there first, I’d claimed that area as my personal space so it must have seemed like he was invading another’s privacy. It could also have been the awkwardness of having to interrupt someone reading and both of us shuffling about in the tight space for him to get to his seat.

When I’m anxious, I try as best as possible to control my body and limit my movements. Each movement is a conscious, calculated, and deliberate process in an effort to minimise twitching. Thus, I tend to come across as calm and confident — intimidating even — to the undiscerning eye. He had his nervous tics — at least, that was what it seemed like to me. He was fidgety and fiddled with his phone a number of times, carefully manoeuvring around to slip his phone in and out of his pocket without elbowing me on accident. The seats were narrow and packed closely together, so it was quite a tight squeeze, especially for him. He was tall and his knees were right up against the seats in front of us. Soon, the theater filled up. With our elbows tucked in, we waited for the lights to dim and the show to start.

The entire time during the show, it felt like we were both acutely aware of each other’s presence and movements. And because he was feeling tense, it made me even more tense, which in turn affected him, and it was just a constant ping-pong of tension between us. (Again, all this is purely from my perspective alone.) The seats weren’t very comfortable so everyone shifted about in their seats from time to time. He smelled of sadness, or perhaps that is what I associate with the faint lingering scent of alcohol, cigarettes, and cologne on someone. It was a weekend evening after all; he could have just come from dinner and drinks with friends.

During the intermission, I went to the washroom and came back to a row of empty seats once again. This time, when he shuffled back to his seat beside me, I took a quick glance at him. In that moment, he cast his eyes downwards, not making eye contact. I wondered if he felt inferior to me, and if he did, I was puzzled as to why since he’s the intimidating one physique-wise. He’s very tall, physically fit, good-looking, Caucasian, and had a deep voice. I wished I could tell him somehow that he needn’t feel that way. If only he knew the turmoil that was happening inside. But I couldn’t speak. Besides, what could I have said? I was very intrigued by him though and wanted to know more about him. He struck me as a model, or a dancer. A thought popped into my head. Maybe I could communicate with him by typing “What’s your story?” on my phone and showing it to him. In an idealistic scenario, there’d be a strong, instant connection and a deep understanding between us and we’d become the best of friends for the rest of our lives. But, of course, that’s unrealistic and all other possible outcomes raced through my mind.

What if he thought it was strange of me to “talk” to him this way? What if he responded verbally and expected me to speak as well?

Was it an odd question to ask, especially of a stranger? Would he perceive it as an invasion of his privacy? Would that make it even more awkward between us?

How would he react? Would I worsen his anxiety? Would he be offended and react angrily? If so, how could I escape after that?

What if I misinterpreted the entire situation? What if he wasn’t feeling anxious at all and was just a naturally restless person?

What if it was just transference? What if I were misattributing his behaviours to anxiety since that’s the case for me?

What if… What if… What if…

No, it wouldn’t have worked. I chucked that thought aside.

I decided to sit more comfortably when the show resumed. My tailbone was aching by then, and I suppose others’ were as well. I shifted about in my seat more often, trying to relieve the ache. At one point in time when he leaned forward, elbows on his knees, I took the opportunity to lean against his seat and rested an elbow on the armrest, being careful not to invade too much of his seat or else he’d bump into me when he leaned back. We remained like this for a while. Then came a really awkward exchange, or a lack of one, I suppose. He turned to me, muttered a quick “sorry” and leaned back in his seat, without bumping into me. It all happened so quickly and abruptly that I was taken by surprise and didn’t react — I didn’t know how to react. He felt awkward, and perhaps offended, that I blatantly ignored him — ignored his presence, his existence. In my peripheral vision, I see him looking down, as though in defeat. I felt so bad, but I still sat there like a statue trying to wrap my mind around what had just happened. He must have already been aware of where I was — my presence, how I was seated — in his peripheral vision when he was leaning forward. It explained why he apologised first, before he leaned back in his seat. The amount of tension building between us was almost unbearable. I didn’t know what to do — what I could do. By the time I was able to wrap my mind around it, the moment was long over and I didn’t think it’d be applicable anymore for me to do anything about it, even if I had known what to do or say. I shifted back into my seat feeling guilty and took my elbow off the armrest. At the end of the show, we left and went our separate ways.

It only occurred to me the next day that perhaps the best thing I could have done — and should have done — was to stop him at the end of the show, by lightly touching his arm, and typing “Are you feeling anxious as well? I have social anxiety. What about you?” on my phone and gesturing for him to respond by typing on my phone as well. If things went badly, we could have easily just gone our separate ways. If he was really feeling anxious as well, then the self-exposure, the intention to interact, the commonality of our internal states, and the mutual understanding would bring about a sense of comradeship, even if fleetingly. It would have been a personal moment between us as the crowd vacated the theater.

Alas, I’m left with daydreams of what could have been. I sometimes wonder if this is what I prefer — living vicariously through the could-have-been’s. It is like a cocoon that protects me from external harm, but also prevents me from experiencing life firsthand. And like a cocoon, this barrier, this barricade, isn’t indestructible. It has hardened and thickened over the years, and will continue to do so, but perhaps I’ve built the walls not just to shield me from harm but also to see who would bother making the effort of bringing them down or climbing over each one of them. This doesn’t give others nor myself much of a chance, so I’m left alone surrounded by walls that push people away and keep them out.

I wonder whether I’d be able to recognise him if I were to see him again. Not unless he dresses in exactly the same way, perhaps. I only had that split second of looking directly at him. Would he recognise me or even vaguely remember who I am? Even if he did, what would I do then? I’d make a fool of myself if I were to go up to a wrong person or if it was just all in my mind after all. Being of opposite genders also complicates things. What if he were to think I’m insinuating for something more? What if he responds by saying that he already has a partner? And so, the overanalysing and overthinking of every little detail continue…

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Nocturnal Panic Attack

I’m jolted awake at 3 in the morning. A panic attack erupted in the middle of sleep. Hot flashes. Sweating. Racing heartbeat. Racing thoughts.  

Stop. I need the sleep. I have a long day ahead.  

There’s no source of comfort. That is my doing. There’s no way for me to release this. The dread sets in. I don’t know how to end it — how else to end it all. 

Socialisation and Isolation

A double-edged sword — that is what socialisation is to me. I’m damned if I do, damned if I don’t. It feeds the cravings momentarily, but never satiates them, and does more harm than good. I see giving in to the hunger pangs as a lack of self-control, as my weakness. The cravings come and go; I relish the times when they lie dormant.

I live in isolation. Day after day, I’m in my cave, rarely venturing out. I don’t get stir-crazy; books and the Internet keep me entertained. I wish I could be content being a total recluse, but that’s not the way I’m wired. And, thus, the cycle continues.

I wonder why I still let myself communicate. It’s draining watching myself go round in loops. I should just stop talking altogether. I’d feel trapped, but I already feel trapped as it is.

Happiness is Ignorance

How can one be truly happy, with all that is going on in the world?

There’s so much hurt in the world and I cannot help all of humanity, all the animals, the earth. Someone once described me as “shell-shocked” years ago. I didn’t fully comprehend back then and only realised some time after that it was quite an apt description. They said it wasn’t my responsibility — to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders. I hold the same perspective as I did back then. The amount of hurt is so much greater than I am; I, alone, cannot put an end to it. The problems are so much bigger than I am; I cannot solve them singlehandedly. But banding together with others and contributing to help is at least an effort to try making the world a better place, although with small steps at a time. If I’m not making an effort to help, then I’m contributing to the hurt and am worthless.

The future is bleak. The issues seem insurmountable. I admire those who still stand to fight. I commend their strength. I’m not one of the strong ones. I’m weak; a disappointment. I want to erase all traces of my existence on this planet. I don’t want to be a part of any of this.

Words

Words are difficult.
I cannot produce them eloquently.
I have so much inside me that I wish I could express.
It takes great effort and time to verbalise what I’d like to say.
It takes exceptional effort and extended lengths of time to carve out what I want to write.
And yet, it never comes out right.
It isn’t up to my standards.
It isn’t adequate.
It doesn’t accurately convey what I had in mind.
But I try.
Here, at least, where it’s safer.
It’s what’s keeping my sanity.
It’s the only thing.
Out in the world, there is none that I trust.
None I’m close to.
What little interaction I have only leaves me feeling emptier.
And more alone.

The Mind: A Golden Orb

img_5466[A still from this mesmerising video.]

To exist solely in the mind, that is what I wish for.
To be free of the body, that is what I long for.
Imagine living in a realm unshackled by physicality,
Travelling through time and space as an entity.

I’ve always viewed my body as separate from my mind. When I visualise how my mind would look like as its own entity, I see a cluster of electrical sparks — a golden orb — soaring through space and time.

How great it would be to live unconstrained by the physical body. To not be defined by corporeal characteristics. To live in the cerebral realm. To communicate via thoughts and feelings.

No longer would there be a need for the daily upkeep of the body. For the wasted hours spent on hygiene. On mindless sustenance. On unreplenished sleep. On the trivialities of grooming the external facade.

The same monotony every day, and for what? It’s merely a life of wading through the daily motions of mediocrity.

The body is not a vessel but a cage that confines my mind.

IMG_5205

Releasing the Floodgates of Anxiety

Keep calm. Try to slip under the radar. Mask the anxiety. Don’t let the others pick up on it. Don’t get found out.

Talk. Laugh. Smile. Agree. Emote.

What do I do with my hands? Fiddle with something. A couple of them notice. Play it off. I try to take a sip of my drink, but my muscles twitch. One eyes me closely. I can’t do that right now. Stir the drink instead. Pretend like nothing’s happened. Ignore the peering eyes. Suppress the building tension and anxiety. Pretend I don’t notice them noticing my anxiety.

My face feels hot. Breathe. I will my body not to blush. My cheeks get hotter. I worry they’ll notice how red I’m turning. They exchange glances. What does that mean? Do they know something I don’t? Are they communicating something about me? Look off into the distance. It’s getting too much to handle. I see them watching me in my peripheral vision. Don’t mess up even more. Feign ignorance. Pretend you’re okay. Don’t glance in their direction or the anxiety will erupt and overflow. Let them perceive what they want. Look away. I still feel them watching me. Push it to the back of my mind. There are too many things overwhelming me right now. Judgemental eyes looming all around me. Loud chatter. Bright lights. Laughter. Strangers. Unfamiliar environment. Don’t think about it. Any of it. Focus on something menial. Anything. My muscles tense. My jaws clench. My body defies me. It twitches. Trembles. Scarlet blooms on my cheeks and chest. My ears are engulfed in flames.

Someone’s speaking to me. I can’t catch what they’re saying. It’s all a blur. Act like you’re present. Act like you’re normal. Act like you understand. It seems they’re waiting for an answer. Did they ask me a question? What did they ask? Quick, think fast. Smile and nod. They frown quizzically. That was probably not the appropriate answer. I don’t know what to do, so I look away. Do they think I’m rude? Do they think I’m dismissive? Do they think I’m stupid and obnoxious? Do they know that I’m anxious? Do they understand anxiety?

When I’m back home at last, into the cave of safety and solitude, I crawl. A peaceful place to rest and get away from the triggers and the overwhelming stimuli.

But the anxiety engulfs me still.

My heartbeat races for h o u r s. I’m exhausted but can’t get to sleep. Each time I doze off, my body jerks me back awake. I’m so incredibly drained and tired. I plead with my body to allow me rest. Please, just let me get some sleep! My body refuses to listen. It punishes and mocks me.

I jump at the slightest sounds. Hot flashes come and go. I hate feeling this way. It’s lasting for so long. My mind ruminates and races through anxious thoughts. Play, rewind, play in slow motion, analyse every little detail, spot the judgements, the rejections. The cycle goes on and on and doesn’t cease. I try to distract my mind by reading or watching videos, but I can’t concentrate. The incessant thoughts continue intruding my mind.

I don’t know what to do. I feel like I’m going out of my mind and am about to burst with anxiety. Maybe it was a little too much for me all at once. I regret it now. I thought I’d try challenging myself to overcome some of the anxieties, but it’s amplifying it instead. It’s getting too much to handle. I’d feel like a disappointment if I backed out. I’m stuck and going around in circles. It’s such a fine line knowing when it’s just the anxiety taking control and when it’s all too much too soon.

My days and nights are wasted on feeling anxious. Anxiety is such a pain.

~~~

“Multiple attacks of different intensities may occur over several hours, which might feel as if one panic attack is rolling into the next, like waves.”  [link]

Limited symptom (panic) attacks are what I experience. Other symptoms I have are trembling, sweating, and numbing or tingling sensations in my limbs or face. At its worst, I was experiencing the attacks for 12+ hours every day for a week or two. The section above is my personal experience with social anxiety.