Another breakthrough. After weeks and months of not going out to enjoy myself – well, being unable to, straitjacketed by my mind to not go – last night I attended a social event on my own. For the first time in goodness knows how long.
Of course, I’ve managed to get out and be sociable when it comes to everyday things like job searching, shopping, and even the odd walk in the park. Organised events, however, have been a different kettle of fish until now. Social agoraphobia is what Lesley called it. I just described it as not wanting to go.
This was different though. A meeting of like minded people from the world of literary and poetic licence were in attendance a short walk from me, in that park I so loved walking though when Lesley was getting to grips with my depression. Even if I said nothing to anyone the whole night, they were at least appreciating the same things I was. Kindred spirits without even having to utter a single word.
Of course, as the time came nearer, the social anxiety grew and grew. My mind began the familiar route of looking for reasons not to go. There were none. The event was free. The weather was mild. It didn’t start too early or end too late. There was nothing unmissable on tv or anywhere else. Joy. The negative side of me had drawn a blank.
To make sure I went, I unplugged everything from home, including internet access. I know my inertia of doing simple household tasks would mean I’d sit and get frustrated with myself for a couple of hours before bothering to re-plug everything – and then tell myself off for getting into that state. So the choice was either go or stay at home feeling rotten about everything. My mind, knowing the game was up, acquiesced. I was on my way.
The wander through leafy lanes and into the dusky park was uneventfully nice but I could feel that knot well up inside of me. Still my subconscious was looking for excuses not to go. On one side of the venue were people taking part in some sort of training exercise. Fleetingly, I thought I’d had the wrong place and wondered about returning home.
Then logic got a good hold of me. Don’t be stupid. Try the other side. Which I did, up an unlit pathway. When I arrived, there was clearly something going on, but the tall, black door was firmly closed. I stood outside. At that point there was no way I was going to knock. Hang around for a few minutes, while my anxiety grew, then simply leave if nobody came out. At least I tried to fight my mind, even if in defeat tonight.
Except that right behind me were a couple. Who of course knocked on the door, to be greeted with a warm welcome. I gratefully stepped inside with them, not giving my subconscious the chance to back out now. I was in. A small step into the porch but a massive stride forward in overcoming a mind that’s had me in such a tight social grip.
Of course, the first thing I did was look for a seat, away from the main hubbub of activity, remaining in the background, unnoticed. Just how I like it, uncomfortably comfortable in that situation. I found a group of three of four unclaimed chairs as far away as the main group of tables and bar it was to get. I sat quietly.
For all of a few seconds. A voice from the Emerald Isle began talking with me, asking if I was going to give a reading. At that point I noticed the mic a few feet in front of me. Oops. Is this where everyone’s going to line up to speak to entire gathering? What a mistake to make. Hello edginess my old friend.
As I tried to keep my anxiety at bay, I was engaged more and more in conversation with who had welcomed me. Maybe it was karma, as some sort of reward for walking through that door, but she knew what I was going through even at that moment. She took my mind off things with conversation about herself, her poetry, even about the world at large.
When the time came for everyone to give their readings, I was there and in a different place mentally, less anxious, more chilled. There were a variety of readings from sci-fi books, anecdotes about Turkish hospitality, right through to feminist poetry. One woman in particular, Rachel, touched my soul with the power of her words. If there’s any justice, Rachel’s voice will one day be heard above the billions for at least one shining moment.
In the end, although I still felt tense to a small extent all the way through, I was so glad I turned up. Not only for defeating my mind, and another step to getting better. But to listen for an evening to the words coming from the hearts and souls of people’s beings. Wonderful.
I left quickly after the last reading, back into the mild autumnal evening, not wanting anxiety to build up and spoil what I’d done. Turning up and staying may not sound the height of achievement. Yet, to me, waking up my social side, before September ended, is a million miles from that February afternoon, when it seemed for all the world I’d be better off dead. There’s still a way to go, of course.
But I’m well and truly on my way.