Trigger Warning! A Night Out with Severe Anxiety

This is an anonymous guest post

This blog post is written by someone with Severe Anxiety. It describes what it feels like to go out when you have anxiety. Please take care of yourself if you feel this article might affect you badly. Be sure to have someone to talk to. We have a wonderfully supportive community on Facebook, however we cannot take the place of professional help. It is our hope that by sharing this person’s experience that we can help others understand the demands of Severe Anxiety. Thank you to the writer for sharing this.

This piece is shared as part of the Disabled Pagans Voices Project. The project is aimed at giving disabled pagans a voice for their experiences and their creativity. Just click on the category for more.

What am I doing here?

Why did I agree to come?

No, I’m alright. It’s just a pub. They said it was a quiet place. There won’t be too many people.

What if someone touches me?

What if they’re all drunk?

What if they’re all stoned?

What if they breathe near me?

“We can go home, if you want to.” His voice cuts through the slime in my brain. It’s not a fog. It’s thick, sticky and slows everything it touches. My thoughts, my feelings, my fears, my desires; everything is heavier, it’s all just too much.

I look into his eyes. Those deep green eyes with chestnut brown flecks, speckled with gold. He takes my hand and squeezes slightly. I look at his hand. Steady and warm, full of strength. He gives his strength to me through that hand, the one I hold so often. He’s right. We can go home.

But do I really want to go home? Do I want to miss out again? See the pictures of the fun that I could have been a part of? Hear people tell me again that I missed a good night? No! I don’t want to hear about it. I want to be that person who says “Sorry we missed you last night. Maybe we’ll catch you next time?” I want to be the one telling the jokes, getting a round in, laughing at my friend’s anecdotes.

I smile into the face that is watching me, waiting patiently to see what I would do. Not caring that I may have wasted his time by having him drive me to a place that I may not even work up the courage to face. I’ve done this to him so many times. Wasting his time, frustrating him with my indecision, worrying him with my panics. This time I would try harder. I squeeze his hand and smile before turning to open my door.

As usual, I cautiously take small breaths. Trying to get a sense of how the air smells. Does it smell clean? Are there any triggers in the air? Not yet. In fact, it’s quite a clear night. I feel better. At least outside is clear and trigger free.

He comes around the car and holds my hand. I snuggle close to him and let my body relax a little, knowing that the shaking will stop soon if I can just avoid any triggers. A few people are stood by the door smoking, a cloud is hovering just above their heads, swirling in the light from the windows. I instinctively cover my face with the scarf I always have around my neck and try to make it look as though I’m just… I don’t know… Snuggling my scarf? I know I look ridiculous but it’s this or… The alternative.

I avert my eyes and turn my head as we walk past the group, holding my breath as well as hiding my nose and mouth in the scarf. I don’t know if it’s my imagination but I can feel their eyes on me. Feel their judgement. Hear their thoughts.
“What’s with the ugly bitch?!
“Why’s she covering her face? Probably doesn’t want to make us sick.”
“What a freak.”

I rush through the door, skirting the frame and door itself, held open for me so I don’t have to touch it. I stand in the dim room and let my eyes scan the people. They were right, it is quiet. It’s a big room and looks quite tidy. I do my usual checks, bottom to top, my eyes darting so fast I just know people are staring at me, thinking I’m having a fit. I ignore what I’m sure are judgemental stares and begin.

Floor – carpeted, well vacuumed, no visible stains from this angle.
Bar – smart bartender, no obvious puddles, not too strong a smell as I slowly lower my scarf.
Seats – a little too low, leather and wood so easily cleaned, sturdy looking, not too scratched or chipped and those that are there aren’t dark with muck so obviously well maintained.
Tables – usual pub coasters, look a little grubby and well used with the edges frayed so obviously touched by lots of people, none of them seem soggy from here.
Benches – silly, fuzzy fabric that’s typical of pubs, a little higher than the chairs so less likely to hurt getting up and down, not too grubby looking.
People – quiet but talkative, not sat too close together aside from groups in each corner.

I spot my group, they smile at me but don’t pressure me to sit with them. I look at my partner and let go of him, signalling that I’m ok to be left so he can go to the bar. I walk slowly to the group, breathing as shallowly as I can. They don’t watch me but two of them move up so I can sit on the bench beside them. I’m grateful that they’re taking my anxieties into consideration but at the same time I feel like I’m making them do silly things just to please me and I feel sad and like I wish I hadn’t come.

What if they’re only pretending to have fun, only pretending they want me here so they don’t seem nasty when really they think I’m a nuisance and want me to leave. I almost turn around leave but there he is, coming up behind me, exuding his strength, carrying a drink for himself. He knows better than to ask me if I want one.

We sit, me on the outside so I have him on one side and empty space on the other so I don’t feel closed in. I don’t touch anything as I sit, quickly making a mental assessment of how many layers are between my skin and the fuzzy bench fabric. They ask me how I am and I think I was being silly by wanting to leave. I enjoy their conversation and other than a few jumps when the door across the room opens and closes, I’m not too anxious.

Well… Unless you count the fidgeting with my rings while my hands hide up my sleeves so I don’t accidentally touch something. The eyes darting everywhere, the light layer of sweat I can feel on the back of my neck, the shallow breathing that is now making me feel slightly sick, the stuttering and stammering and the talking far too fast because I’m so nervous.

Other than that, I’m fine.

We spend an hour talking, I manage to make eye contact twice with one person and once with another and they’re so welcoming and open that I’m glad I made the effort but now I’m starting to get very tired. Being so anxious is exhausting.

Now I’m starting to think about what will happen when I leave. When I no longer have anything to focus on. When I’m finally too tired to fight anymore.

We leave and I see one of my friends physically stop herself from giving me a hug. I feel sad and almost try to hug her but I’m just not strong enough. I trust her but she’s been in this pub all night and I don’t know what she’s touched or where she was before she was here or when the last time she washed her hands was… I just daren’t so smile instead and she smiles back. I know she’s trying to look happy but I see how sad she is. I know she wants to ask me to stay. Instead she says she’ll call me, knowing full well that I mostly won’t feel up to talking. She’ll call anyway just because she knows I like to hear her voice. Her partner puts her arm around her and smiles at me too. She knows how sad this makes us both. We used to be so close. I couldn’t have even come tonight if she wasn’t there as a safeguard. Someone who knows what I can and can’t do.

He holds out his hand and I cling to him with both of mine. I know his hands are dirty from touching things in the pub but I need his hand right now. My hands are still inside my sleeves but I cling to him anyway. I don’t look back as I walk away, knowing I’ll just cry because I know I won’t be able to manage this again for a while. I know I’ll be in bed all day tomorrow recovering from the panic attack I can feel coming on.

I hold my breath again as we leave the pub even though there’s no cloud of smoke and this time I don’t bother testing the air. I strain my lungs as I hold my breath from the door to the car. He open the door for me and puts on my seatbelt, knowing that right now all I can do is sit stiffly and wage an internal battle of wills. Me against myself.

He puts some classical music on the stereo knowing it will sooth me if I can zone into it. He doesn’t know if I can hear it but he doesn’t ask any questions because he knows I’ll speak if I can. I sit and look out of the window as we drive home. I mentally check my whole body, resisting the urge to check my pulse and my brain and heart seem to pound. My skin seems to burn like ice. I’m not even sure how that’s possible but it does. My ears feel like they’re being stabbed, my skin crawls, my hands shake, my brain feels like it’s trying to come out of my skull. I start to shake and I know I can’t stop it but my body naturally tries to stiffen against it, causing spasms that wrack my already tired body with a pain that I know will last for days. My eyes start to close and I wonder if I’m going to faint. I wonder if I care. I know fainting isn’t good for me but I also know that if I just faint, I won’t have to think, I won’t have to feel… I’ll be cocooned in a sweet oblivion that I wished I was brave enough to make last forever.

My breathing speeds up as I realise where my thoughts are going. I don’t want to be here again. Why didn’t I just stay at home? Why didn’t I just keep hiding? I didn’t contribute. No one wanted me there anyway. They were just being nice. All this was for nothing. I’m nothing. I’m not even here anymore. All that’s left is a shell where I used to be. Panic fills the shell. A wasteland of panic, anxiety, self loathing and a pathetic excuse for a self trapped in a cage and prodded by slimy demons telling her she’ll never be good enough.

It’s all too much. I can’t do this anymore.

We pull up to our house and I see the familiar sight with a feeling of dread. Will my children be asleep? If not, will I be able to get to the bathroom and bed before they see me this way? The last thing I want is for them to turn out like me. I can’t let them see me like this.

I make a run for it. I don’t greet my oldest, the last one awake. My sister follows me upstairs and makes sure the other children are asleep so they don’t see me and she locks us in the bathroom and sits on the toilet to watch me clean myself. I know she’s there. We don’t speak. She doesn’t say it, she never says it but I know. I know she’s in there to make sure I don’t hurt myself. I turn on the taps and start to lather. I used to use seven soaps in a sequence but now I only use one repeatedly. I don’t let myself feel victory. I just need to clean.

The water burns me but I lather, rinse, repeat. Lather, rinse, repeat. Lather, rinse, repeat. Lather, rinse, repeat. I still don’t feel clean enough but I almost cry out at how hot the water is and my sister turns off the tap and unlocks the door. I strip naked and put on my night dress. I turn the tap back on and wash one more time as she watches me.

I see my bed and hope that I’ll fall straight to sleep. My sister watches me get in bed then goes down to my husband, knowing I can’t talk right now but satisfied that she’s not needed. I lay in bed and listen to the nothing screaming in my ears. I curl into a ball, my fingers at my throat to feel my pulse. I can feel the scream building inside me as the icy burns lap at my skin. I breathe. Four in, four out. Four in, four out. Four in, four out. Over and over and over until I feel my pulse slow.

The panic subsides and I wrap myself tighter, ignoring my ears, ignoring my brain, ignoring the pain in my limbs. All I am is my mind. The thoughts going around and around and around.

This wasn’t worth it.
They’re never going to ask you again.
Everything you said was stupid.
You pretend that you’re holding it together but they all know you’re a fraud.
He didn’t want to take you.
You’re ruining his life.
They’d all be better off without you.
You’d be better off without you.
There’s only one way out of this.
It’ll all go away.
Why do you even bother?
You’re pathetic.
You were the ugliest one there.
They all thought you were stupid.
Why are you such a freak?
Just get over yourself.
Drama Queen.
Ugly bitch.
Attention seeker.

Round and round and round and round… Until the darkness starts to slip over me and my last thought is a prayer to the Gods, any god… That I won’t dream tonight… Or that I just won’t wake up.

Please talk to someone if you have been affected by this post. You can talk to the Samaritans in various ways here.

 

Meet Jenny Luddington

Don’t be fooled by these jerks that I got.

I’m still, I’m still Jenny from the block.

Well Jenny from South East and I’m your Disability Liaison. The jerks to which I refer are my myoclonic seizures. I was diagnosed with temporal lobe epilepsy when I was 17 and had a bit of tough time getting my tonic clonic and absence seizures under control but did manage in my mid 20’s after a couple of years I asked to try to be weaned of meds and all went well for about a decade. Had a breakthrough seizure in 2012 and suddenly started having myoclonic seizures, which I didn’t know where even a thing, they’re brief muscle contractions, I throw things and fall over. Again I have gained control of T/C’s but the jerks not so much!

I’ve been walking a Pagan path since my mid 20’s I was solitary and then joined a (w)icca learning circle, which pretty spectacularly imploded. I vowed off ever playing with others. Alas, I do like a bit of ritual and I’ve a soft spot for a sabbatical chant. Initially I joined the Dover Moot, but alas lots of people moved away. I then joined the Kent Goddess Group (a women’s ceremonial group) and my personal practice was becoming more Hellenic Recon.

Eventually some of the Dover Moot people who had moved away moved to Folkestone (hooray). We founded Folkestone Pagan Circle and I have helped to facilitate a Pop-Up Temple, Open Beach Rituals, Moot and Red Tent. I have recently stood down as chair and was looking for a new challenge.

This was around the time of the first Pagan Disability Team Online Festival. Nature, abhorring vacuums as she does, I thought ‘That’s a marvellous idea’. I was called to contact the lovely Debi and offer my services to Disability Liaison for the South East. Debi said ‘There isn’t one, would you like the job?’

When Goddess calls who are we to refuse?!?

So why volunteer? What do I want to bring to this role? For me I think one of the hardest things about living with a disability or chronic illness is isolation. Not everyone wants to go to a Moot or be involved in group ceremony and it’s awesome to be a solitary practitioner. However, it is nice to have the choice, whether that is helping groups to think about making events and venues accessible or using technology to bring the Sabats to you. What I hope to do is include you too. I want you to feel a little more connected to your Pagan community. Please share your ideas on how we can make that happen.

Jenny

Jenny Luddington is the Deputy Disabilities Manager and the District Liaison for South East region.

Remembering Petra Lucas

This post is now a memorial to our dear friend and team member Petra Lucas who very sadly died young in January 2017

I’m Petra. I’m one of the Deputy Disabilities Managers. My job is basically to keep up with the goings on in the Disabilities Team and work with the lovely Debi Gregory and Beth Murray to keep us going in the right direction.

So far that has seen me appear live on camera to co-host an Online Festival and talk to people who have been hugely influential in my own path and get them to speak at our Online Festivals. I also leaped out of my comfort zone and gave a talk at Pagan Pride with Beth Murray. I work with Beth Murray to get the Disabled Pagans Voices Project out to you, the people . And now, I am delving back into the blogsphere to manage this blog on behalf of the team.

Petra is speaking here as part of our online festival for Lughnasadh 2016, introducing herself as East Midlands District Liaison and Deputy Disabilities Manager.

That was the scariest 10 minutes ever! But I’m glad I did it.

I’ve been knowingly Pagan for something like 15 years. However, I grew up in a rural family with Granny’s Way of Doing Things. You did things a certain way because Granny had told you to and it felt natural to always mix cake clockwise or to salt the lintels of a new home. I thought everyone swept the area out before starting a new project or refused to let May Blossom in the house before May. It was only when I met a group of friends that were Pagan that I realised that other people didn’t!! I was suddenly being taught all these interesting things… that were totally normal to me. I now know my devoutly Christian Granny had a few secrets but it was good to have a name for the life I led.

My path has always been decidedly Celtic. I loved the Welsh tales growing up and was drawn to modern stories that drew from Welsh legend. Alan Garner, Jenny Nimmo and Susan Cooper sang to my soul and still do. I often reread those books and I look forward to sharing them with my kids. In recent years, I have found myself walking through the woods on the path of the Druid. As is my nature, I read around and have now realised I am a Hedge Druid. I prefer the woods to the maze of buildings but I still love my city home.

My family is very important to me. I love my kids – even when I want to pitch them out of a window. They are a light in my life and they bring me joy. My son is 5 and we are in process of getting a diagnosis for him for Sensory Processing Disorder. My daughter has just turned 1 years old and she is a lively, curious creature like her brother and fierce like her mother. She gets her stubbornness from her father, honest.

My husband of 15 years is my partner in life. He has been with me through my discovery of my path. He walks beside me asking me questions and applying his scientific mind to my world. We agree to disagree sometimes but we both view the world as an amazing place to be in. We work together to raise our kids to see the beauty out there and to trust their own minds about the people they encounter. We know bad things happen in the world but we believe if we can raise resilient, thoughtful children then even the bad things can be dealt with.

My experience of disability is that of parent, wife and patient. My husband suffers from clinical depression; my son has learning disabilities and I have Fibromyalgia. We all have our challenges and we do what we can to help each other. My husband is the main carer for the kids – he cooks, cleans and launders for us all. I take care of the emotional and organisational side of family life. In our family, like my path, balance and service is key.

It’s this belief that got me where I am today, sitting here and talking to you. I heard about an Online Pagan Festival and spent an excited week taking part in the brain child of Debi and Kate Large (Editor of the Pagan Dawn). At the end of that week, I knew I needed to be part of the process. I wanted to help. I knew stuff that could help and I had to reach out to Debi.

That was the start of a great friendship and a fabulous working relationship. The Team has grown and each person adds a new dimension to the team. We all get on well and chat often. When I tentatively asked way back at Beltane if I could help out locally, I did not expect to be whole heartedly welcomed into such a generous spirited group. I have gained so many friends and met so many people thanks to my role first as District Liaison and then as Deputy Manager that I feel blessed that Debi said yes!

When I’m not online, I can be usually be found with yarn nearby or my artist’s pens. I love crafts! They give me breathing room and space to be me. I love to see the pretty things that my hands can create. I love that I can take a simple piece of yarn or a black line and make something with meaning and love. I give away a lot of crafts because I want to share the love and time with others. If something I have made can make someone smile on a sad day, then I think I’ve done my job.

Now as I set out on a new adventure on behalf of the Team and the lively PF Facebook Group for Pagans with Disabilities, I am excited and humbled by the stories I hear and the assistance that is offered. I am truly honoured to be trusted to speak with you all and to share my stories with you.

Thanks for listening to me and I hope to get to know you all in the comments.