Trigger Warning! A Night Out with Severe Anxiety

This is an anonymous guest post

This blog post is written by someone with Severe Anxiety. It describes what it feels like to go out when you have anxiety. Please take care of yourself if you feel this article might affect you badly. Be sure to have someone to talk to. We have a wonderfully supportive community on Facebook, however we cannot take the place of professional help. It is our hope that by sharing this person’s experience that we can help others understand the demands of Severe Anxiety. Thank you to the writer for sharing this.

This piece is shared as part of the Disabled Pagans Voices Project. The project is aimed at giving disabled pagans a voice for their experiences and their creativity. Just click on the category for more.

What am I doing here?

Why did I agree to come?

No, I’m alright. It’s just a pub. They said it was a quiet place. There won’t be too many people.

What if someone touches me?

What if they’re all drunk?

What if they’re all stoned?

What if they breathe near me?

“We can go home, if you want to.” His voice cuts through the slime in my brain. It’s not a fog. It’s thick, sticky and slows everything it touches. My thoughts, my feelings, my fears, my desires; everything is heavier, it’s all just too much.

I look into his eyes. Those deep green eyes with chestnut brown flecks, speckled with gold. He takes my hand and squeezes slightly. I look at his hand. Steady and warm, full of strength. He gives his strength to me through that hand, the one I hold so often. He’s right. We can go home.

But do I really want to go home? Do I want to miss out again? See the pictures of the fun that I could have been a part of? Hear people tell me again that I missed a good night? No! I don’t want to hear about it. I want to be that person who says “Sorry we missed you last night. Maybe we’ll catch you next time?” I want to be the one telling the jokes, getting a round in, laughing at my friend’s anecdotes.

I smile into the face that is watching me, waiting patiently to see what I would do. Not caring that I may have wasted his time by having him drive me to a place that I may not even work up the courage to face. I’ve done this to him so many times. Wasting his time, frustrating him with my indecision, worrying him with my panics. This time I would try harder. I squeeze his hand and smile before turning to open my door.

As usual, I cautiously take small breaths. Trying to get a sense of how the air smells. Does it smell clean? Are there any triggers in the air? Not yet. In fact, it’s quite a clear night. I feel better. At least outside is clear and trigger free.

He comes around the car and holds my hand. I snuggle close to him and let my body relax a little, knowing that the shaking will stop soon if I can just avoid any triggers. A few people are stood by the door smoking, a cloud is hovering just above their heads, swirling in the light from the windows. I instinctively cover my face with the scarf I always have around my neck and try to make it look as though I’m just… I don’t know… Snuggling my scarf? I know I look ridiculous but it’s this or… The alternative.

I avert my eyes and turn my head as we walk past the group, holding my breath as well as hiding my nose and mouth in the scarf. I don’t know if it’s my imagination but I can feel their eyes on me. Feel their judgement. Hear their thoughts.
“What’s with the ugly bitch?!
“Why’s she covering her face? Probably doesn’t want to make us sick.”
“What a freak.”

I rush through the door, skirting the frame and door itself, held open for me so I don’t have to touch it. I stand in the dim room and let my eyes scan the people. They were right, it is quiet. It’s a big room and looks quite tidy. I do my usual checks, bottom to top, my eyes darting so fast I just know people are staring at me, thinking I’m having a fit. I ignore what I’m sure are judgemental stares and begin.

Floor – carpeted, well vacuumed, no visible stains from this angle.
Bar – smart bartender, no obvious puddles, not too strong a smell as I slowly lower my scarf.
Seats – a little too low, leather and wood so easily cleaned, sturdy looking, not too scratched or chipped and those that are there aren’t dark with muck so obviously well maintained.
Tables – usual pub coasters, look a little grubby and well used with the edges frayed so obviously touched by lots of people, none of them seem soggy from here.
Benches – silly, fuzzy fabric that’s typical of pubs, a little higher than the chairs so less likely to hurt getting up and down, not too grubby looking.
People – quiet but talkative, not sat too close together aside from groups in each corner.

I spot my group, they smile at me but don’t pressure me to sit with them. I look at my partner and let go of him, signalling that I’m ok to be left so he can go to the bar. I walk slowly to the group, breathing as shallowly as I can. They don’t watch me but two of them move up so I can sit on the bench beside them. I’m grateful that they’re taking my anxieties into consideration but at the same time I feel like I’m making them do silly things just to please me and I feel sad and like I wish I hadn’t come.

What if they’re only pretending to have fun, only pretending they want me here so they don’t seem nasty when really they think I’m a nuisance and want me to leave. I almost turn around leave but there he is, coming up behind me, exuding his strength, carrying a drink for himself. He knows better than to ask me if I want one.

We sit, me on the outside so I have him on one side and empty space on the other so I don’t feel closed in. I don’t touch anything as I sit, quickly making a mental assessment of how many layers are between my skin and the fuzzy bench fabric. They ask me how I am and I think I was being silly by wanting to leave. I enjoy their conversation and other than a few jumps when the door across the room opens and closes, I’m not too anxious.

Well… Unless you count the fidgeting with my rings while my hands hide up my sleeves so I don’t accidentally touch something. The eyes darting everywhere, the light layer of sweat I can feel on the back of my neck, the shallow breathing that is now making me feel slightly sick, the stuttering and stammering and the talking far too fast because I’m so nervous.

Other than that, I’m fine.

We spend an hour talking, I manage to make eye contact twice with one person and once with another and they’re so welcoming and open that I’m glad I made the effort but now I’m starting to get very tired. Being so anxious is exhausting.

Now I’m starting to think about what will happen when I leave. When I no longer have anything to focus on. When I’m finally too tired to fight anymore.

We leave and I see one of my friends physically stop herself from giving me a hug. I feel sad and almost try to hug her but I’m just not strong enough. I trust her but she’s been in this pub all night and I don’t know what she’s touched or where she was before she was here or when the last time she washed her hands was… I just daren’t so smile instead and she smiles back. I know she’s trying to look happy but I see how sad she is. I know she wants to ask me to stay. Instead she says she’ll call me, knowing full well that I mostly won’t feel up to talking. She’ll call anyway just because she knows I like to hear her voice. Her partner puts her arm around her and smiles at me too. She knows how sad this makes us both. We used to be so close. I couldn’t have even come tonight if she wasn’t there as a safeguard. Someone who knows what I can and can’t do.

He holds out his hand and I cling to him with both of mine. I know his hands are dirty from touching things in the pub but I need his hand right now. My hands are still inside my sleeves but I cling to him anyway. I don’t look back as I walk away, knowing I’ll just cry because I know I won’t be able to manage this again for a while. I know I’ll be in bed all day tomorrow recovering from the panic attack I can feel coming on.

I hold my breath again as we leave the pub even though there’s no cloud of smoke and this time I don’t bother testing the air. I strain my lungs as I hold my breath from the door to the car. He open the door for me and puts on my seatbelt, knowing that right now all I can do is sit stiffly and wage an internal battle of wills. Me against myself.

He puts some classical music on the stereo knowing it will sooth me if I can zone into it. He doesn’t know if I can hear it but he doesn’t ask any questions because he knows I’ll speak if I can. I sit and look out of the window as we drive home. I mentally check my whole body, resisting the urge to check my pulse and my brain and heart seem to pound. My skin seems to burn like ice. I’m not even sure how that’s possible but it does. My ears feel like they’re being stabbed, my skin crawls, my hands shake, my brain feels like it’s trying to come out of my skull. I start to shake and I know I can’t stop it but my body naturally tries to stiffen against it, causing spasms that wrack my already tired body with a pain that I know will last for days. My eyes start to close and I wonder if I’m going to faint. I wonder if I care. I know fainting isn’t good for me but I also know that if I just faint, I won’t have to think, I won’t have to feel… I’ll be cocooned in a sweet oblivion that I wished I was brave enough to make last forever.

My breathing speeds up as I realise where my thoughts are going. I don’t want to be here again. Why didn’t I just stay at home? Why didn’t I just keep hiding? I didn’t contribute. No one wanted me there anyway. They were just being nice. All this was for nothing. I’m nothing. I’m not even here anymore. All that’s left is a shell where I used to be. Panic fills the shell. A wasteland of panic, anxiety, self loathing and a pathetic excuse for a self trapped in a cage and prodded by slimy demons telling her she’ll never be good enough.

It’s all too much. I can’t do this anymore.

We pull up to our house and I see the familiar sight with a feeling of dread. Will my children be asleep? If not, will I be able to get to the bathroom and bed before they see me this way? The last thing I want is for them to turn out like me. I can’t let them see me like this.

I make a run for it. I don’t greet my oldest, the last one awake. My sister follows me upstairs and makes sure the other children are asleep so they don’t see me and she locks us in the bathroom and sits on the toilet to watch me clean myself. I know she’s there. We don’t speak. She doesn’t say it, she never says it but I know. I know she’s in there to make sure I don’t hurt myself. I turn on the taps and start to lather. I used to use seven soaps in a sequence but now I only use one repeatedly. I don’t let myself feel victory. I just need to clean.

The water burns me but I lather, rinse, repeat. Lather, rinse, repeat. Lather, rinse, repeat. Lather, rinse, repeat. I still don’t feel clean enough but I almost cry out at how hot the water is and my sister turns off the tap and unlocks the door. I strip naked and put on my night dress. I turn the tap back on and wash one more time as she watches me.

I see my bed and hope that I’ll fall straight to sleep. My sister watches me get in bed then goes down to my husband, knowing I can’t talk right now but satisfied that she’s not needed. I lay in bed and listen to the nothing screaming in my ears. I curl into a ball, my fingers at my throat to feel my pulse. I can feel the scream building inside me as the icy burns lap at my skin. I breathe. Four in, four out. Four in, four out. Four in, four out. Over and over and over until I feel my pulse slow.

The panic subsides and I wrap myself tighter, ignoring my ears, ignoring my brain, ignoring the pain in my limbs. All I am is my mind. The thoughts going around and around and around.

This wasn’t worth it.
They’re never going to ask you again.
Everything you said was stupid.
You pretend that you’re holding it together but they all know you’re a fraud.
He didn’t want to take you.
You’re ruining his life.
They’d all be better off without you.
You’d be better off without you.
There’s only one way out of this.
It’ll all go away.
Why do you even bother?
You’re pathetic.
You were the ugliest one there.
They all thought you were stupid.
Why are you such a freak?
Just get over yourself.
Drama Queen.
Ugly bitch.
Attention seeker.

Round and round and round and round… Until the darkness starts to slip over me and my last thought is a prayer to the Gods, any god… That I won’t dream tonight… Or that I just won’t wake up.

Please talk to someone if you have been affected by this post. You can talk to the Samaritans in various ways here.

This post originally appeared on our first site, in 2016