You wake up that morning with a pit of dread in your stomach as you remember OH SH** TODAY IS THAT THING I HAVE TO GO TO. You remind yourself that it’s not an execution, but something fun and fabulous which you will enjoy. But the dread lingers. As the day progresses, various excuses about why you can’t go / shouldn’t go start to tip-toe through your mind.
Sinuous whispers like, IS THAT RAIN? LOOKS LIKE THERE COULD BE A STORM COMING. CAN’T GO OUT. YOU MIGHT CRASH THE CAR. OR GET STUCK IN A FLOOD ZONE.
Or, BELLA NEEDS ME HOME TONIGHT. SHE’LL BE LONELY OR SAD OR FORGET TO TAKE HER IRON PILLS OR SHE’LL GO TO BED REALLY LATE. I SHOULD BE A GOOD MOTHER AND STAY HOME.
Or, I NEED TO MAKE A THREE COURSE DINNER FOR MY FAMILY. SO THEY WONT STARVE. I DON’T HAVE TIME TO GO ANYWHERE.
Or, MY THROAT FEELS SCRATCHY. I COULD BE GETTING SICK. BETTER NOT GO. I MIGHT INFECT PEOPLE WITH MY GERMS. STAYING HOME IS THE REPONSIBLE CHOICE.
If you manage to push through the excuses, you finally get to the point where it’s time to get ready for that outing. Then you have to deal with a new barrage of obstacles.
I HAVE NOTHING TO WEAR. NOTHING FITS. EVERYTHING LOOKS UGLY. MY TOP IS IN THE WASH. THE ONLY DRESS THAT WOULD SUIT THIS EVENT NEEDS IRONING AND THE IRON ISN’T WORKING PROPERLY. MY HAIR NEEDS WASHING. OMIGOSH LOOK AT MY EYEBROWS?! I CANT GO ANYWHERE WITH THESE EYEBROWS. THE DOG CHEWED MY FAVORITE SHOES. IT’S HOPELESS, I’M NOT PREPARED TO GO ANYWHERE. I SHOULD STAY HOME. IT’S GETTING REALLY DARK OUT THERE AND I WON’T BE ABLE TO SEE THE ROAD PROPERLY AND I’LL BE ANXIOUS AND MIGHT HAVE A CAR ACCIDENT.
You push through. Because you remember that at one point you really did want to go to this event and there’s people who you really do want to see and spending time with them is a good thing, a fun thing, a not-scary thing. I WANT TO DO THIS. I WANT TO GO.
Then it’s the moment of truth, the event starts at 6.30pm and it’s now 6.25. If you’re going to go to it, then you really have to leave. But by now, you are exhausted. Mentally and physically. Because dammit, you’ve had to deal with so many obstacles just to get to this point. So the final reason why you should stay home is usually the most convincing, and the real-est. I’M TOO TIRED TO GO. I JUST WANT TO TAKE ALL THESE #OUTSIDE CLOTHES OFF, PUT ON MY #STAYHOME CLOTHES, AND GO TO BED.
If you’re anything like me, then you can list many times that this has happened, where you have ended up doing exactly that. Not going. And when you make that choice to stay home, it’s like a stone burden is rolled away from of your shoulders. And you’re incredibly relieved that you don’t have to go anywhere, drive the car on dark roads, see people, talk to people, make words that make sense, engage in conversation where you don’t sound stupid, wear outside clothes that are uncomfortable because you’re not used to wearing outside clothes, and being anything other than what you are – a hermit introvert with anxiety. I love it when I choose to stay home.
But sometimes, I force myself out the door and into the car. Sometimes, I make it through all the obstacles, and past all the demons wanting me to stay home. I go to that event, I talk to people I like, I listen to awesome convos, I smile and laugh, I enjoy being there. It’s uplifting and relaxing. And I am always glad that I chose to go. Thankful for the company and the friendship and the new experiences. So when the next time comes for me to leave the cave, that’s what I try to hold on to. IT WILL BE WORTH IT DAMMIT. JUST GO.
Last night was one of those times. I wanted to go to bookclub and I actually made it through all the usual obstacles. I was tired and muttering I DON’T WANT TO GO when I finally got in the car and drove up to Vailima. But yes, I had done it! Overcome the angst and anxiety and I was on my way. Hi-five me!
But here’s where it gets messy. Here’s where I tell you why I deserve a gold medal at the Anxiety-Introvert Olympics dammit. Or at least some sugar cinnamon cake donuts.
Because I also am Directionally Challenged, which means I have extreme difficulty distinguishing right from left and following a sequence of directions, or retracing a path. It’s an actual thing and its caused me a lot of stress and strife throughout my life! My family alternately laughs at me and gets frustrated with me about this because it means I often get lost. Even when I’m going places I’ve been before. I get lost and then I get super anxious and then I cry and freak out and then I need help getting home.
Bookclub was being held at a house on the Australian Diplomatic Mission compound. I have been there multiple times before, but not recently. Not in the last few years. But the compound has imposing double gates with security guards and lighting, and it’s on the main road. It should be impossible for anyone with eyes to miss.
But I am not ‘anyone with eyes’. I am me.
I drive real slow up the road, earnestly looking out for familiar landmarks. The road is narrow and twisty, and there’s big ditches on the side. I know the cars behind me are annoyed at how slow I am going and that makes me anxious. I wear glasses for short-sightedness so I’m also nervous about my crappy vision, and I’m peering into the shadowy darkness, waiting for the big gates of the Australian compound to magically appear. Gripping tightly to the steering wheel. Pushing down on that little voice in my head that whispers, this is dangerous. You should have stayed home!
I drive. And drive. And drive some more. And still I don’t see the compound. I doubt my memories of its location. Clearly, I remembered wrong how far it was up the hill. It must be further. So I keep going. I pass Mynas Store. The NZ High Commission. The turn off to Banks Street. The Shrine of the Three Hearts. Still no Australian compound.
Dread builds inside. What if it moved to a new location and nobody told me? What if I’m in the totally wrong place? What if it’s not even on this mountain? The #badThoughts start.
You’re lost. You’re alone. It’s nighttime. What if you get a flat tire? What if your car breaks down? What if you end up in a ditch? Yeah you have a cellphone but what if you have no credit? What if there’s no cell service and you can’t call for help? What if you have to walk back to town and you get attacked, by a killer or an evil dog or a zombie? What if you drive right off a cliffside and end up in a ravine and nobody knows you’re down there and you’re trapped in the smushed car and it takes several days for you to die a slow miserable death from blood loss and dehydration?! And all because I wanted to go to bookclub?!
OMG WTF AM I DOING UP HERE?! I KNEW THIS WAS A BAD IDEA. I SHOULD HAVE LISTENED TO ALL THOSE REASONS FOR STAYING HOME!!
You think I’m kidding here. But I’m not. This is a true to life recitation of my thought pattern as my anxiety builds to straightup panic. Adrenaline is pumping and I’m trying really hard to be calm.
Then I see the Bahai Temple. It’s a beautiful building but seeing it is a kick in the chest because then I know for sure that I’m not going the right way to find the Australian Compound. I’ve gone way too far up the mountain. If I keep going then I’ll end up on the other side of the bloody island AND HAVE TO SPEND THE NIGHT IN THE DESOLATE BUSHES SOMEWHERE ALL ALONE, AND PROBABLY NEVER EVER FIND MY WAY HOME AGAIN AAAAAAAAAARGH!
I pull over. I take deep breaths. I do one of my anxiety counting exercises. (But first I make sure the car doors are locked so the killers/zombies/rabid dogs cant get me.) I get calm. Then I call Darren and he tells me to turn around and where to go to find the Australian Compound.
And in that moment people, all I want to do is go home. I’ve had enough of being outside. Of going to bookclub. (Even though I haven’t even gotten to bookclub yet.) I’m faced with a decision. Do I go home now, because hey I’m late for bookclub anyway…and I really tried so I get points for effort…and maybe this is a sign from the Introvert Anxiety Gods somewhere that I’m not supposed to go to bookclub?
A few years ago, I would have quit and gone home. But not this time. I AM STRONG BRAVE AND DETERMINED TRAVELLER. HEAR ME ROAR. I turn the car around and go back down the mountain, slowly.
And I drive right past the Australian Compound. Again.
Only this time, I do see it as I creep past. Aha! There it is! So I turn the car around. AGAIN.
And finally, finally, make it to bookclub.
Was it worth it? Yes. The conversation was scintillating, the book we discussed is really good (The Rain Heron, by Robbie Arnott. I recommend it.), the food was lovely (Laura makes a divine apple crumble!), the company was energizing and fun. Thank you Apia Bookclub folks for a great evening.
I am glad that I persisted. But I really really do think I earned that gold medal.