Imagine this scenario: It’s evening. You work in a coffee shop, but thankfully you’re on a break. When you return from your break, you discover that your best friend is sitting in one of the booth seats with a friend of his from high school and that person’s fiancée. You also knew this guy from high school, but you never really liked him, and you’re pretty sure he never really liked you either, which was fine by you. It wasn’t that you particularly disliked this guy, exactly, but he wasn’t exactly kind in high school (what kid is?), so there’s no love lost between you. But the other young man is your best friend, and this is his best friend, so what do you do?
Well, if you’re me, you do your best to ignore them and push down the panic in your chest and throat until you get off from work, and you thank the gods for small favors since you know they’re going to have to leave before you get off work (because you’re closing the store) and so you won’t have to make small talk and at least you were on your break when they ordered their drinks, so not only did you not have to take their orders, but you also didn’t have to make the drinks they ordered. And you silently curse your best friend for innocently trying to include you in their conversation, especially while you’re working and when you weren’t expecting to have to be anything more than passingly genial for the rest of the night.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, I have issues with anxiety. Why in the name of all that is holy would I even care if my best friend, the person I trust most in the world and love more deeply than I have ever loved any man, brought his best friend to my workplace? It’s a freakin’ coffee shop, after all; what the hell, right? Well, yes; what the hell.
It’s called a trigger; some little, usually inconsequential thing that causes my chest to tighten, my vision to blur, and my pulse to become erratic. Sometimes I don’t even know what the trigger is; I just suddenly can’t breathe and I have to sit down or throw up (or both). I go into “fight or flight” mode, and everything moves to a singular point at a time and if I focus, I can manage not to freak out in public, but the longer I have to act like nothing’s wrong, the longer it will take me to recover afterward.
I don’t think I know what it was in this case. I just saw my friend sitting there, and I wasn’t expecting him. I was surprised, but it wasn’t a terrible thing, and I was surprised by that, too. But then I saw his friend, and I kind of stopped and frowned. And then I smiled and said hello and continued on with my work. But my stomach had already dropped out at that moment, and my first thought was “Why did they come here?” And then, when my friend tried to engage in conversation while I was working, I actually cursed. At least he laughed, so… no harm done? It was just… I can’t explain it.
I took more deep breaths then, until they left, than I have in a long time. My chest hurt, and it felt like my heart was falling out of my chest cavity. What was I even worried about? I don’t know. I had thoughts of my friend leaving me, of his friend laughing at me for working in a coffee shop, of the fiancée looking at me like I wasn’t worthy of… what? I knew from the moment I saw them that it was paranoia; my friend has never given me any reason to doubt him, despite my repeatedly giving him due cause. No one is perfect, of course, and my friend is no exception, but he’s the closest person I’ve ever known to be qualified for sainthood while still living. Which is somewhat ironic, actually, because he’s an atheist. But that’s neither here nor there.
So, they left, and as they were leaving, my friend said something like, “If I am in the state and able, I will make sure to come.” That’s when I knew that the guy and his fiancée were getting married.
My first thought then was “Oh, no. Not another marriage. What is it with people getting married all the time?” And I decided in that moment that there was no way I could ever attend my friend’s wedding, if and when that happens. It would hurt too much. It would have too many triggers. I don’t like weddings anyway, since they’re too tied up in the patriarchal hierarchy for me to be even close to comfortable condoning them (much less attending). (Actually, let’s not even get me started my problems with weddings and marriage.)
My coping mechanisms include deep breathing, hot showers, and making chamomile tea with honey. (Other, more destructive coping strategies include cutting and cutting myself off from all outside contact, both of which I managed to avoid despite my panicked state of mind.) When I got home, I almost immediately took a shower and washed my hair. I stood there under the spray until it started to turn cold, and then I got out, covered up from the neck down, and heated a kettle of water for tea.
I felt so vulnerable, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle seeing my friend after that. It felt like he was contaminated, and I knew I was ridiculous and paranoid for thinking that. It wasn’t a problem that he visited with his friend, or that he visited with his friend in a coffee shop, or even that he visited his friend in the coffee shop where I work. It’s a free country, after all, and it wasn’t like anyone was encroaching on any of my freedom or liberty, or anyone else’s. No, the real problem was that I had some problem with it when I really had no reason.
My heart was saying, “Forbid him from hanging out at your place of work!” (among other, darker things) and my mind was saying, “WTF are you talking about? It’s a fuckin’ coffee shop, for christ-sakes.” I knew it was irrational, but I was still feeling it. So my question now is: why? Do I simply have a jealous, possessive personality? Have I been hurt one too many times and now I’m just holding onto anything I can get, even if it may hurt me in the future? Am I so out of touch with “what adults do” that there’s no way I could ever really be one?
What the hell do adults do, anyway? Live on their own, get married, have children. I’m not doing any of those things, so what the hell even makes me an adult anyway? I’ve lived on my own, true, but I’m not now, and honestly, “getting back out there” isn’t even my first priority. I’m never getting married; I’m certainly never having kids. I don’t even like kids. I didn’t even like being a kid when I was one myself. Most adults I know also drink socially, and I don’t do that either.
Everything gets tangled in my head and suddenly, just because a friend (or not even a friend, just someone I know) brings in someone else I know or something unexpected happens, I’m hyperventilating and clutching my chest and I can’t think or breathe or do anything except try not to flip out right there on the spot.
I’m so angry about this; why the hell am I so fucked up? Why is this kind of thing a big deal for me when it doesn’t seem to be for everyone else? Why is it so hard for me to do the things that most people seem to have no trouble with? Why do I even care what the hell anyone else thinks, anyway? They don’t know me. I know me. My best friend knows me. And I like to think I know him. He’s honest and loyal; he’s never intentionally hurt me. This wasn’t a slight on his part. And his best friend I’ll probably never see again, if then. So who the hell cares one way or the other, even if the guy was laughing at me for working in a coffee shop?
I need to figure this out. I need to work on it, but every time I think about it, it becomes this huge black mass in my head overwhelming and suffocating me, and I just put it all away again, hoping it will just disappear on its own. Well, I’ve got a newsflash for myself: it’s not going away unless I deal with it.