(Why yes, I have done that on more than one occasion, source)
Once upon a time I stood in an auditorium and helped to present a new protocol for my hospital network. I fielded questions in the room and later outside in the foyer over bad hospital coffee and dry biscuits. Questions relating to the implementation process were interspersed seamlessly with meaningless small talk. In the months prior, I had sat in a room full of senior staff and held my own. Always saying my piece without fear. Well, until after. In the moment I was good. A switch would go off in my brain and I would be in full work mode. Afterwards I'd beat myself up for stupid remarks and things I should have said. But somehow in that moment I had the gift. What my father would call, an ability to "baffle them with bullshit," though in truth some of my bullshit also had substance. Prior there was stress too. Panic that what I was doing wasn't good enough. What was I doing? I wasn't senior enough to be doing this. Imposter Syndrome is the term bandied around now and I had it in spades. In reality I knew my stuff. But that little voice in my head was a total Mean Girl. Work mode vs personal mode, night and day.
That anxiety and lack of confidence continues to plague me. Though those old instances were like a half-arsed trial run. Someone playing at anxiety. Or maybe I was trotting the boards playing at confidence. (I now have "Act, Gary. Act." stuck in my head.) Either way since becoming ill my anxiety has hit some quite spectacular levels. Losing the limited confidence and skills that I once had has been hard. I hate social situations. I hate interacting with people. More than hate, it scares me sick.
Last year I made a decision to put myself out there and both seek out and take any opportunities offered. Having said that, the Mean Girl has never let up. Telling me I had no chance. No one would want me. I was a complete idiot to even think I could. And my hair looked stupid. As exciting as a yes email was, it was also a shock, followed by pee my pants fear. My long suffering family can give you many tales of me prostrate on the ground fighting off rising panic as certain events came closer. I'd wind myself up with anxiety. I say "I'd" as if it was a past issue. But it's not. Not even close.
I'd rather dig my eyes out with a rusty spoon than make small talk with people. I call my family members "buffers." They are my safety zone in a social situation and without them I can feel the panic rise. It seems ridiculous writing it out. I'm a 41 year old woman who'd rather spend the rest of her life in a cave than have to speak to people, or worse yet, meet new people. Swim with sharks? Sure, why not. A dinner with others? Watch me flee as fast as my stumbling lurching legs can take me.
I run through all the stupid things I'll say or do, long before I get somewhere. And in the moment, the panic that suffuses my body means that the words that come out are often harried and odd. Add in that I often have trouble speaking at the best of times, between the dysnomia and dyspraxia I am very self conscious when I'm out and about. I'd rather sit quietly in a corner pretending to sip a drink than interact. Thank goodness for a temperamental body that means I am often physically unable to go places. Go, Dysautonomia Go.
Being ill I have also lost the social currency that is a job. What's the first question you get asked when you meet people? "What do you do?" Ugh. Already I am screwed. I tried to say I write the other day and my lack of confidence just made me look like a fool. And "I'm home thanks to illness," doesn't have quite the same ring to it. Writing from the safety from my bedroom in my pjs I can be confidence central. Out in the real world I melt like ice cream on a Summer footpath. A very panicky and insecure ice cream.
And yet a part of me keeps fighting.
Yesterday I took the plunge and bought the second last ticket for a local International Women's Day event. A. SINGLE. TICKET. I'll pause to let that sink in. Excuse me while I hyperventilate for a bit.
That's right. I completely lost my mind and booked the ticket before I could think. I blame the pain meds I took for the knives slicing into my abdomen. There's an anti-drug message for you. Now it is dawning on me that tonight I will be alone.
In the next town.
In a room full of strangers.
In my chair.
I can already feel the bile rising in the back of my throat as the enormity of what I have done becomes clear.
So tonight I'll be watching a film about yodelling lesbian twins from New Zealand, and listening to Clementine Ford speak. All while swallowing down fear vomit and clenching my cheeks to stop anxiety bowels from making a break for it.
Wish me luck.
Next week I am going to a blogging event that requires networking. OMFG. NETWORKING. If you're in Melbourne for that, I'll be the woman in the wheelchair hyperventilating or feigning death in the corner.
Tell me. Have you taken any leaps into gaping maws of death of late?
As I descend into a spiral of panic as tonight draws closer, I am turning to Madonna.
You're a superstar, yes, that's what you are, you know it.
Repeat ad infinitum
Here's hoping I don't unconsciously start doing the hand movements as I mumble this mantra tonight.