Friday, September 5, 2014

Anxiety: A Story

Today, I needed to go to the shops and purchase a bus ticket, because my current one was going to run out. I was 98.7% sure that the shop I was heading to sold bus tickets. In fact, the idea that they wouldn’t sell bus tickets is almost absurd, especially as I’d looked up on the transport website at some point and seen that they are listed as a ticket retailer.

Walking into the shop, I looked around for a sign to reassure me that they did, indeed, sell tickets, but there wasn’t one anywhere I could see. Panic began to set in. I went to grab a water bottle first, as that was my other goal of this shop visit, and tried to decide what I would do about the situation. Here is where most people would ask the probably very nice woman behind the counter if the shop sold tickets or not, and of course I thought of that. It’s not that I didn’t realise that not only was that the fastest and most direct solution to my problem, but also that it would likely result in me purchasing the ticket I needed, because the chance they sold them was extremely high. We are talking 1.3% here.

But to someone with anxiety, it doesn’t matter how large or small that gap is between not being sure and being 100% absolutely certain you know what is going on, because 1.3% or 64% chance you are wrong is still a chance. Any chance something will not go exactly as you planned or predicted is enough of a crack for your anxiety to get in there and begin the rapid descent into dizzying panic. You go from walking into a shop fairly confidently to "Quick, run through all possible scenarios as to how this shop visit will now turn out" in the matter of mere seconds.

I decided to wander the aisles towards the back of the small store while my brain began its routine calculation of outcomes.

Some days, I am able to push the ridiculous amount of panic out of my mind long enough to force myself to do the easiest and most obvious solution, despite the fact that it's also the one that involves the most amount of variables and therefore causes me the most amount of stress. On those days, I have enough sense to realise that this is the most likely way to reach my goal and the chance of something going wrong that I haven't accounted for is so small that it is nigh on impossible. On those days, I leave shops happy and proud of myself for doing a thing my brain was screaming at me not to do.

Other days, the panic is just more than I'm able to handle and the thought of making myself do something with even the tiniest chance of an unpredictable result makes my brain freeze up and my heart pound and I go into "deer in headlights" mode. (Recently, I've learned that my "deer in headlights" mode is a form of disassociation, where I detach myself from my sense of reality because I'm finding it too overwhelming. Well. No wonder accomplishing things sometimes is just plain difficult!) On these days, I will wander aimlessly, pretending to intently study the products on the shelves, while in fact I am using all of my brain power to problem solve for a resolution to my situation that I'm able to handle at that given moment. Those days are the ones I generally leave shops angry and disappointed at myself, sometimes with and sometimes without the thing I intended to get.

Well, today was a spectacular failure in terms of coping with my anxiety. After a small amount of wandering, I decided that I didn't want to put back the water bottle and leave the shop to regroup and possibly purchase the ticket elsewhere (also scary for embarrassment reasons). I also didn't have cash, so I couldn't simply purchase the water bottle on its own with EFTPOS (that's a debit/credit card machine to you non-Australians), as there was a $10 minimum. So, the only solution I could stand the thought of was to find more things to buy and hope I worked up the nerve to ask the shop assistant about tickets when I went up to the counter.

No, I didn't work up the nerve as I'd hoped. I did, however, leave the shop after purchasing the water bottle and two large blocks of chocolate to ensure I was safely getting over $10 worth of items.

And I hated myself immediately upon stepping outside. But I did learn that crippling anxiety can sometimes have the positive side effect of leaving a shop with a LOT of chocolate.

(I did manage to get a bus ticket much later in the day after taking care of other things I needed to do, and getting cash out of an ATM and then braving a newsagent ALSO without signs. But newsagents not selling bus tickets would be even more absurd than my local shop not selling them. An awkward but painless interaction with a lady who was very trusting of my concession status ensued, and I felt dumb afterwards, BUT I had a bus ticket. Success at last.)

No comments:

Post a Comment