So, I think I had a small victory yesterday. You see, yesterday was the Information Night for CCMP’s production of Oklahoma!, a show that I would really like to do. The last time I had been at an Info night for a show was last year for Jekyll & Hyde, but that was before I wrote my blog, and before a lot of other things happened.
When you have anxiety, there are certain situations which can make you have physical and very emotional reactions. For some people, it might be attending a party or event where they do not know anyone, or introducing themselves to someone. It could be getting in a car, or talking about certain things. It could be having to cook a meal for someone else. Literally anything could cause someone with anxiety to have an “episode” (for lack of a better word), and, for me, it was seeing people that know me, and either have read my blog post or simply know about my hospitalization. It was seeing people who know both my wife and me, and know about our impending divorce. I didn’t know how people would react. Would they shun me, or be cold to me? Would they welcome me with open arms? What did they think of me now, and what might they have heard? I’m not sure I can sufficiently express how overwhelming this can be. Your heart races, you get butterflies in your stomach, you may even begin to feel nauseous. Every fibre of your being wants to get out of the situation. Your head is full of every negative thought and scenario that could possibly arise from the situation, even the ridiculous ones. You feel as if you are surrounded by people who are all staring at you, waiting for you to make a fool of yourself, or simply judging you. Their eyes constantly on you as they whisper to others about you. It seems ridiculous, right? But that is how anxiety works. You know logically that you are “being silly”, but your brain just beats the logical part of you into submission.
To make matters worse, the day before the Information Night, I had reached out to someone for some help, someone who I thought might shed a little light on things for me. Someone who knew both my wife and me, and was involved in the theatre community. Only, instead of offering any kind words or advice, or simply saying if there was any need for me to worry, he jumped down my throat and accused me of something rather terrible. He even accused me of trying to recruit him to help me in some imagined campaign against my estranged wife. It wasn’t what I had expected from him, and made me quite upset. And worried. Worried because if he, someone who should know that I would never do such a thing even though we weren’t exceptionally close, thought these things of me, what were other people thinking? What had they heard? Had he blabbed these thoughts to others he knows that are also involved in the theatre? Had he made this assumption on his own or had he been told by someone and simply believed it? And, after his angry diatribe, my response was curt, though measured, and he responded again with a comment about how he and his wife “don’t deserve your anger”.
With that in my head, and knowing that several of my wife’s close friends were going to be there, I was more than a little trepidatious. When I arrived, I was warmly greeted by a couple of people who were walking in at the same time as me, and their warm and friendly greeting was very comforting, but there were still a number of people to see. I approached people who were already there rather….let’s say gingerly. I was suddenly acutely aware of everybody’s eyes. I could feel them following me. Of course, they weren’t really, but my anxiety had me convinced that they were. As people were saying “Hello”, I waited nervously for them to turn to me, because I couldn’t approach them as I had always done in the past, because what if they now disliked or hated me? And as each of them in turn warmly greeted me, my emotions bubbled to the top, and as someone asked me, “How are you doing?”, I suddenly got choked up and couldn’t answer. “Hanging in there?”, she asked, and I meekly smiled and nodded, with tears welling up in my eyes. “Get it together”, I told myself. I took a few deep breaths and tried to chat with people, forcing myself to smile and try to joke. Yet every time someone asked me that question, I had that same reaction. Even talking to someone about how long it had been since I did a show, I was on the edge of breaking down.
As the room filled up, there were many people that I didn’t know, and many people I did. Among those were at least three good friends of my wife’s, one of whom didn’t know me, but I was sure had heard at least something about me. The “presentation”, as it were, began, and I found myself rather unsettled. I focussed on my breathing and was able to pull myself together so that I considered myself to look somewhat “normal”.
The presentation wasn’t long and soon everybody was lining up to sign up for audition slots. One of my wife’s friends quickly scooted over to me, tapped my shoulder and said a very warm and genuine “hello” before apologizing that she had to leave in a hurry. I was surprised, but pleased at that as it was a conversation that I had with her that had caused some friction between my wife and myself (with a demand that I stop talking to her friends, meaning I had no contact with this person since – several months). It made me feel better, and I told myself, “That’s the worst part over”. I got in line to sign up for an audition slot and noticed the other 2 ladies mentioned earlier. They were not together, but I found myself still wondering if the lady who knew me would be friendly to me or not, and simply could not bring myself to go up to her. To avoid the situation, I simply walked to the back of the line to create some distance. Silly, but I actually did it without even realizing until I was there. Still, I couldn’t simply approach this person, so I hoped she would approach me. She never did, and I was left wondering if she is still friends with me or if she sees me in the same light as the person I had spoken to the day before sees me.
At the end, just prior to leaving, I made some small talk with some other people before leaving. As I sat in the van and turned the key in the ignition, I heaved a huge sigh of relief. I had managed to get through it without making a complete fool of myself. Yes, there had been some tough situations, some difficult moments, but I had done it. I had gone to the Information Night and been around all these people who knew all of these things about which I was so sensitive. I was disappointed somewhat that I had come so close to breaking down, but I hadn’t actually broken down. I had faced the moment and gotten through it, as difficult as it was.
That, to me, is actually a pretty big victory.