You know how self-help people really love telling their clients to “do one thing that scares you every day”? Well, today I did many things that scared me. The first one, leaving the house. The second one, going to a networking meeting down the city centre. The third one, talking to a business coach about what could I do to approach potential customers
because it scares me shitless. The next one, having conversations with fellow networkers and telling them my plan with a straight face. Then it was time to do some errands at the shops. Then, taking the bus to the charity shop I do volunteering work for. Then, having lunch in public at the cafeteria in front of the shop. Then, working at the till for four hours, establishing constant contact with people, including a new co-worker, and a boss I don’t want to let down. It was a bad day, so every single of these actions felt like running naked in a church or carrying a TNT jacket at Ground Zero. It was all scary. It was all dangerous. It was all lethal.
Many times I went to the outdoor shed to take gasps of fresh air. Wanted to sob my heart out in secret, but no tears could come out. Wanted to scream, but my throat was wide shut. And my limbs were disintegrating. Like marzipan.
But silently, between trying to keep a brave face and straighten the pose while being a twig about to break – and making a few mistakes at the till-, I realised something rather common and rather intense.
I was not the only one.
It was one of those afternoons old people came and talked to you like they knew you from ages. They opened their heart wide. One of them, talked about her son in the Army, and about how his bosses don’t let her speak to him. Overcame by a literally crippling anxiety that aches on her knees and such a bipolar she can’t travel alone, but still talking. Is her son dead and she lives off the memories? No idea. She just came to talk.
And the other lady who gets in and out of the shop, buying nothing, talking to no one, looking at different things each time to make herself appear as normal as possible.
And all those men heavily breathing, browsing CDs of bands they’d never heard of, just to hang around. And that man who got some jeans two sizes too small, went into the fitting room, growled for ten minutes, and came out to buy the jeans to make it look like he didn’t grab them just as an excuse to have a private cry in the fitting room.
And that stunning, stunning, stunning woman, talking on the phone with her partner, asking them if they knew anyone who was pregnant because she wanted to buy pregnant figurines; or if anyone was having a birthday, and ended up getting a broken Mr. Incredible for a ridiculously high price, just because she wanted to buy something. Anything.
And the endlessly long faces. The shy greetings, the “are you alright”s. That one customer that said “thank you for letting me browse over your shop” right before leaving. Being grateful for being allowed to do something everybody else does.
All of them, were having one of those days. One of those weeks, months, years, hours. One of those lives. And each one of them, dared to themselves to get in the shop and be the Johnny Knoxvilles of social anxiety; pushing themselves to the limit just by stepping into a shop and coming out in one piece.
This is just endless gibberish in the midst of quasi-epiphany. In no way I’m forcing you to get out of your comfort zone if you don’t want to. In no way I’m telling you those who do something scary each day, big and small, are superior to those who don’t. You are not broken if you don’t get out of bed, don’t take the bus, don’t go to a meeting, don’t attend a shop, don’t step into a crowded place; and there is no guarantee that doing those things will “mend you”.
All I’m saying is that, for the first time in centuries, I felt like I’m truly not alone. Like we’re all out in a battle against our demons; and sometimes we win, sometimes we lose, but we are together in our individual battles nevertheless.
I am not alone.
You are not alone.
We are not alone.