I clutch the bar of the stroller and rock it back and forth, even though the baby is scampering about the room. The movement keeps my shaking hands hidden from view. I feel the tension in my shoulders and neck. The room begins to go out of focus. There is a roar in my ear. My heartbeat is picking up. My pores open in a flood of sweat. I need to get out of here. NOW.
One look across the room and my husband is at my side, herding me and the kids out the door into the sunlight. I take deep breaths of the fresh air and wipe the tears off my eyes. Slowly, steadily, we walk up the street and as we round the corner towards our house I feel my heart return to me. I walk into my living room, flooded with natural lighting and listen to the hum of the refrigerator and relax. Here, I am safe.
Most of the time I say I’m not so social. It’s hard to explain how the sound of three or more voices competing to be heard turns into hi-dub chatters in my ear. It’s hard to explain how different scents of perfume, food, and drink mix in my nostrils to create a sickening sensation in my stomach. It’s hard to explain the assault my eyes experience when fluorescent lighting meets marble floors and columns. And it’s impossible to explain how my heart drops when those sensations cause me to cower in the corner as you walk by and either pretend I’m not there, glance at me with discomfort, or worse, disdain.
My coping mechanism for the anxiety that is usually triggered by an overload on my senses is not to put myself in a position of unnecessary vulnerability. It works for me. I am happier staying at home, going to a less crowded park, only hosting small families and knowing when to say no. I live within my boundaries not because I’m afraid but because there are some challenges in life that are not meant to be overcome. Anxiety is a challenge that I work with and around. It’s hard for me to go to parties. I don’t go often. If I have to attend a function, I take along my knowledge of who I am, my ability to know when I’ve reached my limit and the security I feel from those who care to understand me.
So the next time you see me in the corner, sweat glistening off my forehead, panic in my eyes, try a little tenderness or a small smile as you walk on by.
But don’t you dare judge me.