It’s a mad scramble to make sure everyone is ready to go. Shoes? Socks? Do we need jackets? Where is my daughter? Keys? Got phones? Now where is my son? No honey those shoes don’t match each other, let alone your outfit. NO! You can’t have cheese puffs before going to get your picture made. Hurry up we’re late! Oh, baby I need the keys. I left something inside. Finally we’re all in the car. Seat belts? Check. Kids? Check. Are we finally ready? Check. Let’s roll.
I quickly pop open a Zofran and put the tasty little dissolving tablet of medicinal wonder under my tongue. It won’t stop me from hating the fact we’re going somewhere but it will at least stop my stomach from hurting. Already, hours before the fiasco of just trying to get going on time, my head had already been buzzing with thoughts. From “It’s going to be so crowded and hot.” to “Man I hope we don’t see anyone we know.” and the ever-present “Okay brain, can we just cut the bullshit and enjoy this just once?” That’s how it is. Every. Damn. Time.
When you live with social anxiety, or generalized anxiety, doing anything can become a monumental task to prepare for mentally and emotionally. It goes with anything from attending my daughter’s dance recitals, to going to my son’s sporting events, and end of the school year awards ceremonies. Hours, even days before hand, my heart starts beating faster. My head becomes cloudy, and by the time the day arrives, I’m nauseous, confused, and exhausted. And for what? For no reason at all except my brain hates being around a bunch of people.
This used to be no sweat for me. Except for speaking alone in front of large groups, I had no problem socializing, meeting new people, talking to anyone and everyone. Going into such situations was like going to Disney in my mind. A wonderful land of mingling with society at large, exploring the minds of humanity, and leaving with a host of new Facebook friends and contacts stored in my phone. I was the guy that started a new job fearless. It didn’t matter if I knew someone there or not. I could go anywhere and be around anyone with a smile that wasn’t faked, an energy that didn’t come from a caffeine tablet. That was the Johnny T that everyone met and came to know.
Somewhere along the way, within the last few years, something broke. Something in my mind just snapped. Now I hate it. And when I say hate, I mean that in the strongest since of the word. I H.A.T.E (Have Anxiety Towards Everything) social events. I hate going shopping at the mall. I hate going to the gas station, I hate going to the fair. And I hate going to my kids events. For someone who truly, deep down, loves these things, it’s a shitty way of living. To enjoy something so much that, regardless of what you try, you loathe. Something that probably only meds will change at this point.
And it sucks for my kids. I don’t know if they have been able to tell yet or not, but it won’t be long before they can. They will know that I’m forcing myself to be enjoying these things. That I am fighting with myself to even get out of the house and be there. That I don’t remember a lot about it but I can tell them how many steps from the nearest exit I was, or how many people I purposefully avoided. They will know the times I haven’t been there have been simply because my brain just couldn’t handle it. And man does that really suck for them when they figure this out.
I have no intention of being the absent dad. The one that just asks how everything went. My intentions are to be there for each event. To cheer loudly, to boast about how beautiful my daughter looks in her dance outfit, or how awesome my son looks out there on the soccer field. I want to be the one who takes a million unnecessary photos just to capture the one perfect moment in the entire day. And I don’t want to fight myself to be this person. It is who I really am. Or at least it used to be.
I still wait for the day my brain decides to “un-break” and go back to normal. Or the day I man up and see the counselor again and consider medication for it (among other things). I can’t wait to go to the recital, shake hands with other dads, comment on the other parent’s children and their performance. I can’t wait to go to sports events and do the same. Hell, I might even start volunteering for both if I ever get past this. I want to get to a point where seeing my kids do the things they love doesn’t require me feeling like the world is closing in and wishing I was having dental work with no Novocaine instead.
Taken my Zofran? Check. Scoped out the nearest escape route? Check. Hunkered down to avoid being seen? Check. The next few minutes I will try to enjoy my kids and their activities. Okay, brain, it’s time to cut the shit. Just give me this one moment.
This one time without H.A.T.E.