Cocktails For Two, and Anxiety Make Three

My husband writes for the Local Weekly and is tasked to go review cocktails at fancy restaurants. And he wants me to come. It sounds horrible; going to some hipster eatery, where I will have to look at people, talk to people, and let those people look at and talk to me. Unbearable.

I have Social Anxiety. It’s tiring. There are so many rules about where I can go. The grocery store is a safe place. So are some coffee houses. The dog park is okay. Everywhere else is dicey. Enemy territory. A Thing To Avoid At All Cost.

Anxiety is not interested in being displaced by healthy habits. It hangs on even as I learn to manage all my other mood disorders. It rarely blows up into a full-fledged panic attack anymore; instead it strikes with small, daily sabotages. Like now. I want to go hide in a computer game, or binge watch “Justified” all night. I want to do anything that will numb and distract, anything that is NOT going downtown with my husband for drinks.

But, then:

“One of the drinks is a cocktail for two. Don’t make me drink a cocktail for two all by myself.”

Sigh. It feels like utter shit how many times I tell this man “no”. I need to just say yes. Say yes, and fake it until I make it. So I agree to go, “-as long as we are in and out as fast as possible.”

Restaurant No. 1, 5 p.m.

I open the door and it’s exactly what I feared. Wood pallets and exposed plumbing. Tools as art and distressed farm tables. Bearded twentysomethings in plaid serving “Small Bites” with locally sourced vegetables. People that just know they belong. Knots form in my gut. My head buzzes and my face flushes with heat. When I pull my chair out to sit, it screeches across the floor and a girl at the bar scowls. I feel like I’m going to faint.

The physical symptoms of Anxiety are overwhelming. My body reacts like it is in danger, so my pituitary starts dumping all kinds of hormones and endorphins into my system, telling me to run. Which means I must learn to NOT trust my gut instincts.

“Be open. Be curious,” I tell myself. It is the latest of many sayings I collect to combat the distress signals. The goal is to cajole myself into tolerating the situation. If I can still my brain for one moment, all those endorphins will flip the switch. Anxiety, excitement- same thing. I wait, and it happens: everyone around me are no longer scary judging machines. They’re just people. And who cares what people think?

“Thank you for talking me into this.” I smile at my husband. The waiter brings us two Nitro Coffees, and we sip. It tastes like beer and espresso and silly fun.

Restaurant No. 2, 6 p.m.

“I don’t want to go in. You should just take me home.” I’m trying to bargain with him. We drove past the restaurant and it’s packed. Long, family styled tables crowded with college students and baby boomers. I’m pretty sure hell looks similar. We park and walk toward the door.

“No way we get a table,” I point out.

“Let’s sit at the bar.” He is obviously ignoring my stress signals. Once this tactic would have caused me to attack until he relented and took me home. This time, I just drag my feet like a toddler toward the bar, hoping that escape will present itself.

Once seated, we order and my heart stops its gallop. Anxiety is anticipatory, and if I can get to the situation, I can usually convince myself that I will survive it. Anxiety is also self- absorbed, self– indulgent. An incessant spotlight on itself. I need to engage outward, outside of myself when I am like this, in order to feel better. So I relax. Look around. Smile. Then the bartender tells us they are out of their signature cocktail. I shoot out of my seat, gratified. It’s like Christmas. We can leave!!!

I pat my husband’s shoulder. “Too bad, you’ll have to come back tomorrow. Alone.”

“There’s still one more place,” he reminds me.

Oh yeah.

Restaurant No. 3, 8 p.m.

10 minutes have passed, and I still can’t get out of the car. 10 more go by. I’m frozen to my seat. We pass the time pleasantly, both of us willing to act like what’s happening is normal. I guess it is normal for us. It’s important not to escalate it. So we talk. We wait it out.

I had one of my many collected sayings custom-made into a bracelet that I wear to help manage anxiety. It’s an effective way to remind me of the things easy to forget  when I am spinning in the middle of an anxious whirlwind. After almost an hour of sitting in the foggy car, I finally think to read it:

“Avoiding unhappiness is not the path to happiness.”

It’s true- and I know it’s true- even if the odd wires in my brain want to protect me from every bit of discomfort. I picture a turtle, safe in its shell. Not getting anywhere. Is that really who I want to be?

“Let’s go!” I say before I can talk myself out of it.

Inside, it’s fancy and full of warm hues. Couples are having late dinners while singles chat at the bar. The requisite bearded twentysomething brings us a cocktail for two: The Smoking Jacket. We toast, and sip. The drink is delicious. And I feel proud, sitting there, enjoying myself amongst all the strangers- who are just people amongst strangers, themselves.

“How many of these moments have I missed?” I wonder aloud.

I think maybe that it doesn’t matter. I think maybe it’s time for a new bracelet. It will say something simple, cliché, and unfeigned…. something like:

“Forget the past; save the future!”

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25 thoughts on “Cocktails For Two, and Anxiety Make Three

  1. I felt tense just reading that. I get it. I’m don’t have that level of anxiety, but I get it. I used to always bring a book with me to places and used it like a Shield of Solitude. That was so long ago, I had forgotten that.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. it’s just 3rd of december and i think i’ve found the most inspiring post of the month (if not the year). i struggle with anxiety in the form of panic attacks so this is really encouraging to me. thank you for sharing ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Kudos for the courage! I like the bracelet detail and wish I had one for myself. I went through an awful phase of agoraphobia years ago and it took all my energy just to go to the store. Would love to see a little more of the nervous tics that evolve out of anxiety. What did you and your husband talk about when you were in the car? This says so much: “There are so many rules about where I can go. The grocery store is a safe place. So are some coffee houses. The dog park is okay. ” Those inexplicable rules — I can so relate to that. Nicely done.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Meg. You can use Etsy to make one for yourself. I’m still getting used to writing with a word count restriction; figuring out what details to leave in or cut out. I’m suddenly spending SO much time editing. It’s good for me. Having you tell me what you feel is missing is very helpful.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. “Anxiety is not interested in being displaced by healthy habits.” So true. Anxiety and panic attacks can be debilitating. I left the mall right after arriving once because I couldn’t handle it. Thankfully my full blown panic attacks seemed to have been postpartum and were short-lived, but I can relate to your post. It sounds like by the end of the night you were enjoying yourself. Baby steps. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Postpartum is an interesting subject- have you written anything about it? I did find what was enjoyable about going out that night. But it was funny/frustrating that each restaurant was a reset and I was having to start over each time. This must be SO irritating to my husband. I’m glad he’s patient.

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  5. I can so relate to this. “Anxiety is anticipatory.” Yes! I love your cheesy quotes that you use to give you a boost. My anxiety is less social and more general, so my quotes sound like: “Worrying does not empty tomorrow of its troubles, it empties today of its strength.”

    Liked by 1 person

  6. “Long, family styled tables crowded with college students and baby boomers. I’m pretty sure hell looks similar.” I laughed a little when I read this, but only because I know this feeling so well. Thanks for your courage in talking about social anxiety. I really identified with the struggle between knowing that the people around are just people but having intense difficulty letting that impact the emotions, the constant battle between logic and mood.

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  7. I can relate to this. It’s frustrating how we can understand intellectually that it doesn’t make sense to be nervous or afraid, yet that doesn’t stop the feeling. If I’m anxious about something, I tell myself that I’ll feel even worse if I avoid doing it.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you for sharing this story. It resonates in countless ways with me, and it’s so encouraging to read the story and the comments to see such evidence that if nothing else, people with social anxiety shouldn’t feel alone aren’t alone. Your writing provided a nice balance of the reality along with relatable humor. I loved, “I’m pretty sure hell looks similar,” and I wholeheartedly believe in the safety of the regular grocery store. Well done.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thank you for sharing this. I too have had anxiety complete with panic attacks that make me feel like I am dying. I love the bracelet idea! So glad you managed to push through this experience to discover that going out with your husband for drinks was not such a bad idea after all. Yay you!! =)

    Liked by 1 person

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