It’s funny how the simplest thing can become a massive issue when you suffer from anxiety. I’m able to plan and execute major life changes, switch jobs, move countries, mud wrestle the Queen, but on an off day, ask me to leave the safe confines of my work building and cross the park to a cafe I’ve been to a hundred times and *BAM* panic wells up inside me like the evil pink blob in the bath on Ghostbusters II.
Anxiety doesn’t like change. It gets all pissing when you challenge the status quo and alter your daily routine. A perfect example is my yearly struggle to make it to our work Christmas breakfast. Last year I got as far as a grotty petrol station toilet off the motorway 10 minutes from my house, the previous year I suffered a total melt down while trying to give a colleague a ride back to work. This year, I managed to make it there, relatively on time and celebrated with my colleagues, but not without issue.
To an outsider it would seem totally ridiculous to say “I’m having trouble leaving this building, walking, literally 2 minutes across the park, to another building I have been to a hundred times”. To me it seems completely illogical, even when I am in the midst of these thoughts. Knowing how ridiculous your panic is in light of your present reality (not in a real life war zone, very unlikely I will die/be killed/suffer massive wounds from walking across a small stretch of grass etc.) is a huge part of the problem with social anxiety and panic. I always say jokingly to people that I’m not scared of anything ‘real’, just the made-up stuff in my head; I have a high pain tolerance, I’m not afraid of spiders or heights or driving really fast, but ask me to come in early and leave my safe space to attend a social event and I may be afflicted with some major issues.
My point is that anxiety is not logical. Saying ‘Oh well it’s only a minutes walk’ or ‘Nothing bad will happen, you’ll be fine!’ doesn’t help anyone with anxiety. We are more painfully aware of the minutiae of the activity than you are. Believe me, we know just how easy it should be. I get that from the outside there is nothing to worry about, that logically if I could do it yesterday then I should be just as able today. But anxiety feeds on those logical assumptions. Your body can trick you. It will lie to you and make it feel like those 200 metres are tantamount to a marathon, run on an empty stomach in ill-fitting shoes. My body tells me I need the toilet and even if I have just been 10 seconds ago, it will tell me, with all the physical symptoms and triggers that I will not make it across those hundred or so steps without my bladder bursting/needing to spew/feeling like my colon will implode (visceral I know, but the details of the panic that runs inside my head are highly detailed and almost always of a physical control nature).
Having a mental illness is not the same as learning a computer program, practice doesn’t always make perfect, memory isn’t always truthful and muscle memory is often on your anxieties side rather than your brain’s.