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"You're not ready to go to the ballet."

It helped the other day when I talked through my fear of going to Best Buy, so I'm going to try it again for today's outing.

A little background:

I have panic disorder and I regularly avoid situations in which I feel trapped. Any type of theater or audience situation - from a movie theater to a classroom to live theater - triggers that sensation for me, and I've been at varying degrees of anticipatory panic for about a week, ever since my mother-in-law bought me a ticket to see the ballet with her and my niece without asking me first.

I feel very petty, self-absorbed and ungrateful to be upset that she wanted to include me (especially after I found out the tickets are $40 each), but my brain keeps saying, "This is too big an event for the stage of recovery you're currently in. You are going to panic, this is going to be bad, and you are not going to get through this."

Every time I have that thought, a wave of panic washes over me and my bowels begin to cramp at the idea of being in that theater. I start to think of every little step that has to occur in order to get through the ballet and every point at which it would be easy to panic or be trapped, and it begins to feel insurmountable: 

  • I have to drive there and I don't know what traffic will be like.
  • I'm not familiar with the parking situation or how easy it will be to get my car back on the road when I'm ready to leave.
  • I don't know where the restrooms are or how many stalls are available.
  • I don't know where our seats are, how close to the aisle and exits I'll be, or how hot the auditorium will be.
  • I don't know the exact run time of the play.
  • These things always begin a little late, so I'll have to wait in the lobby, and then again at my seat.
  • Intermission always takes too long and I'll have to wait again then, plus the bathroom lines will be long.
  • Everyone will leave at the same time, creating traffic jams.

Even thinking about all of those things right now is making me feel sick and I probably shouldn't have listed them all out like that, especially so close to the event (I need to leave the house in two hours).

So right now, I'm thinking, "This is enough time to bow out and excuse myself from the event. It's still rude to not show up and it's a waste of my mother-in-law's money since I haven't given her enough lead time to find someone to give my ticket to, but maybe she can take one of the younger nieces who will enjoy the ballet more than my nervous ass will. Maybe in a few months, I'll be recovered enough to do something like this."

I woke up with a stomach ache and general anxiety this morning. I ate a bowl of cereal because I could tell that I was going to have nausea as a result of low blood sugar problems if I tried to starve myself, and I also know that not eating makes me feel worse, not safer. I also had a cup of coffee because I'm pretty dependent on caffeine, but only one because I didn't want to get shaky, have to go to the bathroom repeatedly, or feel sick on account of the coffee. 

I've gone to the bathroom twice so far, which is a trigger for the anxious thought, "See? You are sick and if you go to the ballet, you're going to have diarrhea."

I'm also feeling warm, but that's an anxiety symptom and it could also have to do with the fact that I'm still wearing my robe, which is too warm to sit around in all day. And I'm experiencing intermittent periods of dizziness, which is absolutely an anxiety symptom and nothing more - I've been tested for vertigo and any other conditions that might make me dizzy and been cleared by a doctor. I'm just not breathing well because I'm anxious.

Furthermore, I'm feeling a little hungry again (how could I be sick while I'm hungry?) and all my symptoms magically go away if I distract myself with television, setting up my planner for next week, or briefly telling myself that I can cop out of going to the ballet. If I were really sick, my symptoms wouldn't go away every time I stopped thinking about the ballet.

So here's my game plan:

  1. I'm going to take a shower and get dressed up because resisting the urge to be a slob always makes me feel more in control.
  2. I'm going to use my car time to dictate a couple thousand words of my current novel - and I'm going to be grateful for the distraction from work that the ballet provides because if it weren't for that, I'd be trudging through my rough draft all day.
  3. I'm going to bring a pair of headphones in my purse so I can sneakily listen to calming music or an audiobook if I really need to during the play, and I'm also going to bring my fidget cube to use as a distraction.
  4. My mantra for the day is, "It's just a temporary panic, and panic isn't dangerous," which I will repeat as necessary to keep myself from fighting the anxiety - I'll call on my meditation knowledge to let it wash over me rather than dam up behind me, and I'll practice staying present in the moment.
  5. When it's over, I'm going to reward myself with a trip to Kohl's to buy a purse that my new Chromebook fits into so I can carry it with me always.

A few other things I like to remind myself of, which may or may not be in line with Carbonell's methods but which seem to help:

  • If I stayed at home, I definitely wouldn't get sick so there's no reason to expect sickness in this situation, either.
  • The whole event, round trip, will be about three hours, and the ballet will be roughly the length of a movie - I sit through two hours' worth of Netflix every single night and nothing bad ever happens, so this will be more of the same.
  • I'm driving separately so if I genuinely need to leave, I can.
  • If I were to actually get sick, I'd feel the same at home as I would in the theater so it doesn't matter where I vomit.
  • If my symptoms mean I have a cold or flu, again, I'd feel the same at home as I would having a cold or flu at the theater, and I never vomit from those problems so I may as well stay put - people go out when they're sick all the time and it's okay.

I still feel strongly in favor of cancelling, but I'm determined to do this because I know the way I feel has nothing to do with real illness and everything to do with anxiety. If I cancel today, it'll only be kicking this problem further down the road and making it harder to deal with later. Half the time when I get this worked up, I don't even end up having a panic attack, and the other half of the time, I do have a panic attack but I survive because there's nothing dangerous about a panic attack.

So I'm setting my intention right now. I need to leave the house at 1:30pm and I will return to my house again by 4:30pm. Even if I don't make it to the theater, I will force myself to be away from home during those hours, so I might as well go and hold up my end of a promise I made.

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I experienced almost no anxiety during the entire ballet, and did my best to allow what anxiety I did encounter to simply be rather than trying to fight it. The whole thing went without incident, although I did get a headache around intermission - probably because of all the tension I was holding and the fact that I hadn't eaten lunch. The headache itself didn't bother me and I'm proud of myself for casually doing something I genuinely did not think I was ready for.

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