I feel anxious in crowded environments. I structure my life in a way that minimizes my exposure to crowds. Today I decide that I wanted to throw myself head first into my fear and go to Trader Joe’s in the early afternoon. I’m not sure why. I think it’s my way of doing something I deem healthy during an internally volatile time in my life.
The parking lot is overflowing with cars. As soon as I enter it my heart begins to race and I look for escape routes. People are honking at one another and my heart rate continues to rise. Then suddenly, while at a stand-still, I imagine that the majority of these folk are blowing off steam in a society takes them away from their primitive selves. Even the “healthy” live unnaturally contained lives. Where does all that energy go? Well, apparently some of it gets released in TJ’s parking lots. I decide to join the honking brigade. I notice a person inconsiderately having a conversation despite the three cars waiting for them and I lay into the horn: “Fuck you, mortality!” “Fuck you trauma!” I imagine the others are saying things like: “Being a mom can suck!” or “I hate my goddam job!” The anxiety lessens. Through some divine miracle I find a parking spot. The joy I feel at playing my game dissipates as I get out of the car and approach the store.
It’s wall-to-wall people. Fuck. My heart races again. I tell myself to focus on my goals: confront my fear of crowds and buy some much needed groceries. A minute into my shopping a middle-aged Asian woman bumps into me. She apologizes and smiles at me warmly. I smile back and reassure her that it’s okay. I want to tell her that if anything her bump woke me up and put me at ease but realize I’ll sound bonkers.
I arrive at the pre-prepared food area (I spend far too much money on that area). After grabbing some chicken fajitas I tell myself that I’m going to hold my head up and use good posture; that I’m going to pretend to be comfortable and confident. I notice as I roll my cart down the aisles how people defer a little bit more when I do this–they notice that I’m a large man and respond to that.
As I approach the dairy section of the store I clock how bright and colorful it is. I soften my focus and imagine that I’m approaching a large and absurdly bright abstract painting. I grab my almond milk, make a 180 and proceed down the snack aisle. I fantasize about grabbing a bags of chips when someone taps me on the shoulder and greets me with an exuberant “Hi!” It’s an employee and former client. They hug me and I hug them back. I enjoy the sweetness and sincerity of the short hug. I find it hard to follow the content of what they share with me (it’s always a little anxiety provoking for me to run into clients) but I can follow well enough to appreciate that they are walking a line between openness and discretion. We say our farewells and I realize I’m almost done with my shopping.
I round the corner into the frozen foods aisle and run into a former work acquaintance. Goddammit! I realize that though I felt anxious when running into my former client, I also felt a lot of warmth and appreciation. But running into this person just deflates me. Not because we have a complicated past, but because I know that pointless small talk is about to ensue and that questions will be asked that nobody really wants the answers to. I also know I’m going to have to lie.
This might be a good time for an angry digression. Don’t assume that I have a large and close-knit family. Don’t assume that I have a partner. Don’t assume that I have dozens of friends. Don’t assume that I am “celebrating” the holidays. If you’re not already an intimate and you ask me something like “So what are you doing for New Year’s Eve?” or “Are you visiting family for Christmas?” it puts me in a tough position. First, I don’t want to be vulnerable. I don’t know you well enough. And I certainly don’t want your pity or judgment. So I’m not going to fucking tell you that my plans are to heat up some chicken fajitas and brown rice and watch Netflix. I’m not going to tell you that I struggle during the holidays and that this holiday has been especially challenging. So I’m going to lie to you. In the past I would use these as opportunities to be provocative–to tell creative lies that would amuse me and push the other person away. As I grow older I find being a provocateur rather exhausting.
“What do you have going on for New Years?”
“Oh, just hanging out with a couple of friends.”
“Keeping it mellow?”
“Yeah, just keeping things mellow.”
Tedious. My friends are gone or have partners. My dad lives in a cold and haunted house. I don’t have the money to take exotic vacations. I’m single. Look, I know that people mean well. And I don’t actually resent this person in any way. But I get to be annoyed and angry and it feels good to rant angrily in contexts that do no harm to others. Besides, I feel a little life force in my anger and I’m going to enjoy that.
Wow, I suddenly feel exhausted and just want to end this post. I don’t want to apologize for my “boring” posts anymore. I don’t want to feel the pressure to be creative. I don’t want to write fantastical stories about a life that I don’t actually live. I don’t even want to edit. I’m going through a challenging period in my life it’s the little things that feel like victories: facing a fear; leaving the apartment; enjoying a stranger’s smile; taking care of myself by getting groceries; running into someone I tended to and loved; feeling; enjoying anger. I’m not going to have any exciting or drunken tales about New Year’s Eve. I’m not going to have any cozy loving ones about sitting with my spouse in front of the fire place and watching the ball drop. This is my life as it currently stands and to survive it requires me to find meaning, beauty, feeling and depth in the mundane.