a peek inside my head
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…