I have spoken in this space before about what it’s like to deal with agoraphobia, and how I fight to keep it from keeping me from the things that I love. This weekend, I drove down to LA with a friend to catch a band playing in a bar, which is fairly standard for me. If you know me at all, you know I love music, and I love live music even more.
In fact, live music is one of the things that keeps me battling my phobia.
My anxiety level pre-gig is often in direct proportion to how much I love the band or artist, and affected by how well I know the venue. Of course a lot of little things go into that last part of the equation. Have I been to the venue before? Was it a good experience? Do I know where exits and hiding spots are? Do I know the staff? Do they have pictures online that give a good sense of the space? And on and on.
This weekend we were going to be at a brand new venue for me that I couldn’t get a lot of pictures for online. The ones I did find didn’t give me a lot of confidence that I was going to be able to handle it. The band was Louden Swain, fronted by actor Rob Benedict. I’ve seen them a few times. The friend I was traveling with is friends with the drummer.
Once I was sure that we were, in fact going, this is basically the way my head worked:
8am: I don’t really need to go. I mean, I have other things to do. We have time to cancel reservations
9am: Oh, hey, Louden Swain in my ears. I like that. Right! I can see them this weekend.
3pm: *looks up bar online* oo….I’m not so sure about that. Maybe I’ll talk to her about it. (I won’t but I think it anyway)
6pm: *makes packing list*
10am: Oh, shit I need to pack. All the packing, why haven’t I packed? Where is my Xanax? When did I need it last? Will I need it? *remembers bar website* oh, yes, yes,…need the Xanax, find the Xanax.
2pm: I can’t. *distracts from packing thoughts with work and tv and food*
10m: Holy fucking shit I didn’t pack.
5am: I shouldn’t go. I’m not going. People. Crowds. Judgy judgy people. Panic. *heart speeds up* Stop, focus, go to work.
8am: “What are you doing this weekend?” MUSIC! ALL THE MUSIC! LOVE THE MUSIC! converstaion ensues.
4pm: If I’m doing this I really need to pack the stuff. What should I wear? I don’t have anything to wear. No clothes. I can’t go.
6pm: Okay, I’m packed. Security blanket (my camera) is read to go.
7pm: What? Wait. No. No. *panic over doors* calm down. *panic over space* calm down *panic over people crowding me* *panic over back and knee pain* *panic over nothing at all*
10pm: Attempt to sleep while scenarios run through my head, including things like getting stabbed in the crowd and no one knowing, having the bouncer take my camera away, having my friend disappear, getting lost and unable to get out of the crowd, and on and on….
5am: *wake up from nightmare about being crushed by people* Try to convince cat it’s still sleepy time. Try to convince myself it’s still sleeping time.
6am: Give up and get up, repack everything. Drink coffee. Try to ignore the growing, gnawing fear by poking about online.
8am: Leave the house. Stop for gas. Nearly turn around and go home. Get back in the car and head to friend’s house.
9:30 am: Leave friend’s house and hit the round. Drown out screaming fear with conversation about ALL THE THINGS
4:30pm: Find the motel after missing it the first time. Spend considerable time with Friend is prepping telling self to calm the fuck down. Take Xanax. Prep myself while inside I’m SCREAMING that I’m going to die. Resist the urge to speed friend up. Tell the inner voice that we’ll get to the club plenty early. Reassure self that if we can’t handle it we don’t have to stay.
5pm: Leave hotel to go find food. Eat dinner at little burger joint. Swallow panic repeatedly. Swallow the desire to run, to leave too early. Stay calm, eat food. Conversate. Try not to look like a complete spaz. Think maybe possibly I’m pulling it off.
6:30ish pm: Arrive at the club. Get a glimpse inside. Wow, small. Wow, don’t see side door. Okay, stage is good. Okay…Okay…breathe, breathe….it’s not much different than Dante’s. You can do this. It’s okay. Holy fuck someone is between me and the door. Holy fuck, no, okay moving. Moving. Sorry friend. Must door. Okay, better.
7ish pm: Bouncer sets up, gives us chairs. Is friendly. We like Bouncer. Bouncer is our friend. Okay, calming down a little. Oh look, it’s boys we know. stand up, say hi. Remember why I do this. Smile, make talking happen. Get hugs. Go back to sitting.
7:15: Must look important, as various band members keep asking us questions when Bouncer isn’t there. Heart thundering, but panic in check.
7:45 ish: Band members stop to talk. Panic! New people I don’t know talking to me! Panic! Panic! Oh, wait, I know this. I can talk about music with you. Yes, music is good. We like music. Calming down now. Oh, friendly new band people GET my problem and talk intelligently about anxiety and agoraphobia and what it takes for me to do this stuff.
8 ish: Doors in a second, Bouncer is amazing. Anxiety shifts from the whole “what if” part of the problem into the “focus, concentrate, one step at a time, breathe, say hello, don’t freak out, she’s not touching you, you’re okay” part of the situation. Get to the stage. Calm down setting up camera and lenses. Go get drinks. It’s okay. Not too crowded. Can handle this.
Sometime after that: Lead singer of first band comes on stage, starts talking to everyone. Is clearly drunk. I’m okay, I’m okay….It’s okay. Breathe. Friend is right here. Friend is good. More people start coming in. I can FEEL them. they’re behind me. I know they are. Okay, Okay, band is starting. Pick up camera. Do the work of pictures. Panic recedes some.
Band is done, holy fuck, holy fuck. People. All the people. So close. Friend. Friend please help. Friend talks to folks directly behind and beside. Oh look, boys on the stage. Make faces at boys and toy with camera. Ignore the SCREAMING PANIC.
*ALARM ALARM ALARMALARMALARMALARM* Personal space invaded, someone yelling! Someone touching! React by pulling forward, someone moves with me… Stage pressed to stomach, person touching my back. FUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCK. See Rob laugh about the time I’m read to elbow into whatever soft tissue I can find, turn my head enough to realize that the person shoving me into full on panic attack is Richard Speight Jr. Manage to NOT punch him in the nuts.
*HOLD STAGE UNTIL HE GOES AWAY* Breathe, breathe, breathe. fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck I love you, go away. go away, go away….okay, okay, he’s gone. Okay. Drink, try to focus. TAKE MORE XANAX. No, it’s okay, I’m calm. I can function. Fuck! Who’s touching me now? Drunk woman making sure I’m okay. Telling me she understands. Will not stop touch my back and arm. STOP! GO AWAY! the music can start any time now boys, I am going to end up hiding if you don’t hurry up.
Form words “please stop touching me.” Drunk woman says okay. Breathe…I can do this. Breathe. Oh shit, she’s doing it again. Step away. Yes, take the Xanax. Make the words, “I really need to you stop touching me. It’s making it worse.”
Oh, music stuff. We like music. Lift the camera. Work, work, work. Rob’s smile is nice. Calming down, focus. This right here. This moment, when the music is coursing through me and the crowd disappears and it’s me and the music, the band and the camera….this is why. This is the reason I endure the rest of it.
There was a moment when Andrew, the lead singer of the band Virgil who had spoken with us outside, came by to make sure I was doing okay. Friend mostly handled it, because to look back at him might have set me off again, but I acknowledged him and was more grateful than I probably expressed. (You have a new fan for life, Andrew. Just so you know.)
When Louden Swain’s set was done, I really wanted to catch the next act, because those were the boys that stopped out front and talked to us, but my back and knee were very done with standing, so we went and found a place to sit down so we could rest, I’d be out of the crowd and we could catch their music.
I had a few moments of panic even then, but with far less obvious sparks. Friend went to talk to folks, sudden panic. Went to the bathroom, sudden panic. By that point it doesn’t have to make sense. It just is. And you just take each little flair as it comes, breathe through it if you can, or escape if you have to. When Virgil’s set was done, I was wrung out and really wasn’t sure I even had it in me to get out the front door with the crowd, but we managed, and headed back to our hotel.
It’s hard to explain how exhausted I am after a gig. It isn’t a physical exhaustion. Usually, physically I’m still hyped. Music moves me physically as well as emotionally and mentally. But mentally and emotionally, I’m wrung out. There are times I even end up sounding like I’m on drugs, I can make no sense, I can tell stories about stuff that never happened. I can fall asleep in the middle of a conversation.
It’s also hard to explain to anyone who doesn’t know me well enough to *see* it. I hide it very well. I have a “coping” face. Most people who saw me Saturday night didn’t see any of that. Even Friend, who knows me very well, doesn’t see it all. She reads my tiny facial clues well, and it’s fair to say that if she hadn’t recognized Richard at the same time I did, she would have jumped in as well. But by and large, it isn’t anything visible…and if it IS visible, I’m probably about one failed intake of air from a complete catatonic state.
Just in case you ever wanted to know what it’s like inside my head…
I posted this to my photography blog today. Thought I’d share it here too for folks who haven’t seen that blog.
Originally posted on A Long, Slow Stroll Around the World:
Somewhere back in late 2006 or early 2007 I had the good fortune to have someone send me a mix CD of music that would one day change my life. It didn’t hit right away, as I had put out a call for new music and had received a LOT of it. I worked my way through MP3s and CDs and even cassette tapes, picking out voices, sounds. And then I came to this one.
Out of the 12 or so songs on the CD, only one of them was destined to change everything. It was a simple, live recording of a man with a guitar, his voice a little rough but with a quality that told me it wasn’t always like that, the song different enough to grab my attention, lyrics that stayed with me even after just one listen. It was called, “Pinata Novia.”
I eventually found out…
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I was in the post office on my lunch break to send out some books. While standing in line because there was only one person working the counter, I overheard two men in business suits behind me griping about their morning BART commute.
These two men were late twenties, possibly early thirties, well dressed and well groomed. They looked like nice young men.
The taller of the two was complaining because he was made to feel guilty by other people on the car and relinquish his seat (the ones supposed to be reserved for handicapped and pregnant women) when three women got on. In his own words, the train was packed. He’d gotten on the train in Fremont, so he was lucky, he had his pick of seats. “I always sit by the door so I can get out before all the slow idiots can get in the way,” he said.
He went on to tell his buddy that these three fat chicks on crutches get on and all of a sudden everyone is telling him to get up and let them sit down. He wasn’t going to, he said, but people were getting angry. So, gave up the seat and went to stand by the door.
“They should have a rule like the do with bikes,” the buddy said. “You know, you can’t get on a crowded car if you have like a wheelchair or too much luggage or crutches and canes and shit.”
Now, by this point, I was a little perturbed. As a fat chick who is sometimes in need of a cane, and who can stand on the train, but it will mean back pain for days, and someone who has asked an able bodied young man to give up his seat for me, I was exactly the person they were talking about.
I probably would have let it go and not said anything, but then the tall one said, “I know. This one got off at my stop and couldn’t even walk right. Bitch blocked the whole escalator. Screamed like a crazy person when her crutches got hit by some hot chick’s suitcase.” And they both laughed.
By this point other people in line were acting uncomfortable. I knew I shouldn’t even open my mouth, but I was furious. I turned and very quietly said, “I hope that you never find yourself permanently injured and at the mercy of someone like you for the very small kindness of a seat on a train. I am willing to bet any one of those women on crutches would gladly give up their injury and stand so that your able, strong body could continue to exhibit the laziness of someone who has never had to really work. And while I’m at it, I hope that sugar-laden coffee and fat-soaked donut in your hand don’t settle around your waist to be joined by all the rest of bad food choices you’ve made in your life turning you into a fat asshole that young lazy assholes like you make fun of because of their own insecurity.”
They both stared at me for a second. The tall one called me fat bitch. I smiled. “Yes, I am fat and I can be a bitch. But I’m okay with that, and I don’t need or want your opinion of how I look.”
At which point, it was my turn to go to the counter and mail my packages. I doubt they’ll learn anything by my diatribe. But maybe….just maybe….
Words have power, they have meaning. Of course today they don’t seem to pack the same punch. We have become careless with our words, both in how we use them to communicate to the world around us and with how we use them internally.
I am most conscious of this fact when I am writing poetry, when I labor over every word, every syllable for meaning, for sound, for effect. More and more often however, I am aware of this failure in my daily conversations and interactions online.
The careless way we toss around negativity and disparaging comments on everything from our own appearance to the intelligence or beauty of another is appalling. In some cases, it’s even considered funny, and I’ll own up to the fact that with some of my best friends our biggest laughs come from putting each other down…but more and more recently, I’ve seen that no matter how funny it is, no matter how much we laugh, no matter how much we tell ourselves that the other person knows we’re joking…something sticks.
It gets in the cracks and sits. It festers. It grows. And most of the time we aren’t even aware of it.
I’m not a big fan of new year’s resolutions, but I think in the coming months I’m going to challenge myself to eliminate the frivolous use of powerful words…words like “hate” and “huge” and “disgust” and “fail”. They are all words that have a meaning and I need to go back to using them as they are meant, not as though they are just throw away words that don’t have the capacity to sting when they’re thrown carelessly at someone.
Which means it’s time to remove phrases like “I hate when that happens” over something little and “I fail at everything” when in reality I’ve only failed to accomplish one, usually very minor, thing.
Words have power. And we need to remember that. We need to respect that. And we need to respect each other. I challenge you to do the same, eliminate the frivolous use of powerful words in the coming year. Start with the word “hate”…don’t stop using it, just use it properly. You might be surprised to find you feel happier and you “hate” things less than you thought you did.
This has been an incredibly good year for me. Sure, I got laid off back in the spring, but it was maybe the best thing that could have happened at the time that it did. I got a month off, more or less on my old employer…and I found an amazing job that I love with people I adore doing things that I enjoy.
I traveled. A lot. There were trips to Los Angeles and Phoenix, to Dallas and England.
There was music. Oh, yes. There was music. Old favorites and new surprises. A taste of country and a little soul, some classic rock and some modern jazz. I got to meet some amazing musicians again this year, and got to know a few I’d met before just a little bit better.
There were friends. So many friends, some I’ve known for years, some I just feel like I’ve known for years…and some I’ve only just begun to get to know. This world has become such an incredibly small place, and yet is so vast and the distance so great that it can be overwhelming at times. If I could will any sci-fi contraption into existence, it would be a Star Trek transporter, or the beaming device that SG1 got from the Asgard…that way I could visit my friends whenever I wanted…and without the $1600 price tag for the airfare.
My health has been up and down…but a lot more up than down. I have a new doctor I adore and a new med plan that seems to be doing the trick.
Creatively, I’ve grown a lot as well. I’ve learned some new photography tricks. I’ve improved my crochet technique. I’ve stretched my writing muscles.
All in all, I have to say that 2013 has been a good year for me. I realize that hasn’t been true for everyone. I realize that some of you can’t wait for this year to end and hold tight to the notion that 2014 will be better.
Here’s the thing…2014 will be better…but not if all you do is hope for it. Better comes with a price. It comes with choices, with work, with intent. I have a little secret for you. Scoot a little closer and read carefully.
See, there will always be things outside of your control. There will be lay offs and accidents. There will be loss. There will be illness and disease and arguments with friends and family. But, these things do not completely define you, or the year they happen in. You do. Sure, it can be overwhelming. It can be too much. I know this.
However, I challenge you today to remember that magic isn’t magic. I challenge you to choose to make your life a better place.
How, you may ask?
It isn’t easy, but it starts with choice. Pick something that is within your control, something that is not currently making you happy. It can be something small. Choose to change it. Choose to make it something that makes you happy. I’m not saying that first choice has to be life altering. It isn’t about the size of the change…it’s about how the change makes you feel.
Once you’ve done that, live with it a while, let the happiness of that one thing expand. Let it guide you to the next thing that needs to change to make that happiness grow.
Sometimes those things are big and life altering. Sometimes they’re painful…and sometimes you may think that the pain is too much.
It takes time. It takes getting to know yourself well. I recommend sitting with yourself for a few minutes every night before you sleep or every morning when you wake to do a little inventory of what makes you happy and what contributes to your unhappiness. It takes planning sometimes. It takes work.
But I’m living proof of making it work. You’ve got a few days before this year ends, and I’m not a big fan of new year’s resolutions…but maybe this is the year you resolve to be happy. I can get behind that.
So it is, with hope in my heart and love filling my life to overflowing that I wish you and your family and friends a joyous holiday (whichever holiday you celebrate) and a new year filled with possibility.