Yesterday was not a great day. My anxiety wasn’t a huge amount worse than usual, but I wanted to go outside. I normally don’t try unless I’m having a really good day. I decided to write down what happened over the three and a half hours that followed. This is a blow-by-blow account of what happens to me both inside my head and out when I am trying to something as simple as pop out to the shops.
I realise that I need to leave the house.
I want something from the shop, something for supper, so I need to go before I can eat.
I start to have shortness of breath as I think about the route, who might be around at this time of day, what clothes I should wear, will it rain, do I need a coat, which shoes will be okay, how long will it take, do I need to take my phone, card or cash with me, do I need a handbag, how long is it going to take, what if someone breaks into my house when I’m out, what if I see someone I know and have to speak to them, what if something happens to me while I’m in the shop, what if I’m mugged on the way home, how can I get away if I panic in the store, can I avoid going?
I go and look for other options, food being delivered or something I can have so that I don’t have to go out.
Still not thought about much other than if I can leave the house or not.
Hyper-aware of everyone outside. I try and see what the temperature is like and contemplate opening my curtains to see outside (normally they stay closed all of the time).
I plan a shopping list and try to talk myself into going.
I get changed into what I think I should wear to go outside.
I have to keep sitting down to stop myself from panicking and I can hardly catch my breath. I’ve got stomach cramps and feel nauseated.
I lock and double-check all of my doors and windows are closed. I choose which money, bags, keys to take with me.
My hands are shaking so I start dropping things and everything takes longer.
I think over and over the route, I walk through it all in my head. I prepare things to say to people if I meet anyone, try and find something to say so that people will not think I’m weird but won’t want conversation either.
I really am trying to get moving.
I tell a friend I am going outside, partly for support but also so I have an incentive to go and someone I can keep in contact with while I’m out of the house.
I go to the bathroom, thinking I am going to be sick. I double over with cramps but manage to keep going.
It would be so much easier not to do it, but I need to keep trying. I do this a couple of times a week and rarely get so far as I have so I make my mind up to go.
I check the doors again. Check my clothes. Look in the mirror. Check I have everything I need, two or three times.
I unlock the door, hurry out and lock it.
I am outside.
My heart is racing, I feel faint and dizzy. I try to look normal so that no one notices me.
I cross the road and walk as quickly as I can without attracting any attention.
I squeeze my hand into a fist, letting nails bite into my palms. One, two, three times. And again, and again.
There is almost no one around and I’m so relieved. I see a woman up ahead of me and start planning when to smile if she looks at me, what to say if she talks to me. I grab my phone and text my friend, desperate to be anywhere but where I am.
I feel sick.
There are still only a couple of people around.
There is a car behind me and I panic – what if I’m in the way crossing a road and he honks at me. I can’t cope with that. Or if he wants directions and I don’t know them.
I start walking faster and the cramps in my stomach get worse.
Again I run over everything I have with me to make sure I’ve not forgotten anything.
I send another text. My hands shake and it takes a few attempts to get the right words out.
Almost there. On the edge of hyperventilating and starting to sweat.
I twist the bag I bought over and over in my hands. I tap out a pattern on my phone and count it through to keep my mind on something.
I hold my breath.
There’s a security guard at the front of the store and I panic, worrying that he’ll see how scared I am and think I’m stealing or causing trouble.
I hurry, acting out the plan that I had in my head of how to walk through the store. Everything is where I expected.
I remember to look interested in the displays and things so that I look like the other shoppers.
I panic buy tofu.
Yep. Occasionally anxiety is funny.
I pick it up and start worrying because I only planned to get two things and now I’m buying three and I don’t have a basket and I can’t cope with dropping anything because it would draw attention and I’d be scared and so ashamed and I’d feel judged and never be able to go to the store again.
I only bought it because I had been thinking about tofu this week. Could have been any number of things really.
This is a bit harder, I have to make a choice.
A store attendant looks at me. I smile and look away quickly.
My shoulders tense and I freeze, waiting to see if that’s the end or if he’s going to say something.
I can feel the adrenaline rushing as I wonder whether to stay and get the next thing on my list or leave now before anything else happens.
He says nothing. I choose and walk to the checkout.
I stop at the first open self-service checkout. There are no manned checkouts open which is awful for me. I find it much easier to let someone else do it.
There is a woman paying in front of me so I put my things down and try to calm my breathing.
I worry about something going wrong at the checkout and having to call a member of staff over, I worry about overpaying and not being able to tell anyone. I’m scared they will think I’m a thief or an idiot, that I’m being judged.
I remember the last time I was in the store when I dropped some money and it rolled away and one of the scans didn’t go through and I start to feel like I’m going to cry.
The woman leaves and I go through the checkout.
It goes well. Everything scans. Nothing drops or breaks. I pay and pick up my receipt and shopping and walk out.
Fuck. I see someone I know. He’s talking to someone so I look away and go quicker.
Outside I see someone else I know and get my phone out to text my friend again.
I can barely walk through the pain of stomach cramps and the tension that’s in all of my muscles. I’m clenched so tight that I feel like I’m about the fall down.
I see no one, almost all of the way home.
I’m feeling tired and sick and in a lot of pain but I’m glad I went out.
It’s the first time in weeks I managed and I’m so relieved to be heading back home.
I keep texting my friend the whole way home.
I’m almost home when I hear a fight happening in one of the houses opposite mine.
I clench tighter. What if they know I can hear them, what if they think I’m eavesdropping, what if they can see me, what if they come out, what if they hurt me, what if they try and talk to me.
I cross the road without looking at anything but the ground. I can’t hear cars so I should be safe.
I get home.
I shut and lock the door and sit down against the door.
I text my friend.
I get up and put the food away.
I don’t want to eat now I feel too sick.
I crawl, on hands and knees upstairs to my room to sit and try to relax my body.
Not working. Can’t relax
I feel so ill. My cramps are probably familiar to women but less so to men! I feel nauseated and am curled into a ball.
My muscles all ache from being clenched so tight. I’m getting a headache from tight shoulders. Elbows and knees are shaky and my hands are red from pressing my nails into my palms.
The adrenaline has made me feel sick and shaky. The come down from the fight-or-flight part of anxiety which is so familiar.
My jaw is aching, I hadn’t realised that it had been clenched tight the whole time and even now I can’t relax it.
I decided that I would write down what happened to me in the last few hours and here we are.
Sitting in the dark because I haven’t got the strength to put the light on.
Time to make dinner.
I shake my limbs out to try and relax.
I still feel sick, my stomach is aching like I’ve done 100 sit-ups, my headache is full-on now and I’m so tired I can barely keep my eyes open. My eyes, sore from the tears I couldn’t stop.
I need to eat, even if I don’t now want to.
Time to get on with the things we get on with.
This was me popping out to the shop for two things.
Anxiety is cruel and can be a horrible weight, please be patient with those of us who have it because this is what an average day looks like if all you have to do is go to the local shop. The bigger things? So much harder.