Crowds + No Eggs = Panic (Apparently)

I don’t understand my mind at the best of times but there’s still the odd occasion when it manages to surprise me.

Last weekend I went to a car show with my other half. We got there early so we managed to walk around and look at all the stalls before it got too busy, which was definitely a good idea because as the time crept up to midday it started to get crowded. There were people everywhere; you had to swerve in and out of on-comers at the same time as avoiding those who were trying to elbow their way through and overtake you to get away from the mass of bodies. Strangers were way too close in my personal-space-o’meter but there was no way to avoid the squash. You couldn’t even see any of the car stands or stalls in the show at this point because you had to concentrate so much on where you were walking to ensure that you wouldn’t end up bumping into small children or treading on some poor person’s feet. At one point I actually walked into a camera that was hanging around a man’s neck. He didn’t seem very impressed with my apology but in my defence the camera was sticking out because it was way too big; the big camera man should invest in a phone camera which is more compact and more practical for squashed-people-ness…

Some cameras are just too big for car shows
Some cameras are just too big for car shows

I’m going off-topic. Basically, the car show was crowded and busy and noisy. Which I normally hate, or at least worry about, but I felt fine (or at least I thought I did). Anyhow, we decided to go and find somewhere to get lunch because it was only going to get busier. If you’re going to be treading on people’s feet you might as well be doing it on a full stomach.

So we headed off out of the show, getting the back of our hands stamped with a little smiley face on the way out so that we could get back in again later, and found a bar that served food nearby which was a lot quieter. After finding a table and deciding what we both wanted to eat I asked who was going up to the bar to place the order. Unfortunately I had our joint account card so it seemed it was down to me to go and order the food.

I don’t mind ordering. Honestly I don’t. But if I had the choice I’d avoid it – I’m not quite over the whole speaking to people thing. I still panic a little bit when I’m in an unknown environment and have to speak to someone; it’s just an automatic reaction now but one which (most of the time) I can ignore. I don’t know why I panicked at that bar more than I normally would but my first thought was that I’d forget what to order. It wasn’t that difficult because there were only five things to remember; Texas burger, Eggs Benedict, two drinks and the table number. But when I’m anxious my brain has a habit of disposing of any kind of useful information that I might need. So I made it as easy as possible for myself; I decided to have the same drink as Richard (two teas) and I even wrote the table number on my hand. So all I had to ask for was two teas, Eggs Benedict and a Texas burger. Pretty simple, I could do that…

I went up to the bar and stood in what seemed to be the queue (it’s difficult to tell where the queue is in bars because people don’t actually queue, they just stand around the bar in a position where they’re most likely to be noticed). There were a couple of guys at the bar drinking beer and I felt a bit silly asking for cups of tea so I’ll order the food first, I thought. So when my turn in the ‘queue’ came I asked for a Texas burger (one thing at a time).

“Sorry, we only serve breakfast until 12” was the reply I got from the lady behind the counter. My first thought was that she meant it’s gone 12 o’clock so I couldn’t order any breakfast, but I wasn’t ordering breakfast. I thought maybe she’d misheard me so I asked again (a bit louder) for a burger, because I was pretty sure it didn’t come under ‘breakfast food’. Again, she said that they only serve breakfast until 12.

“…So could I order a burger?” This time she actually laughed at me and repeated again what she’d already told me for a third time.  Unfortunately, it seems that my brain was concentrating so much on trying to remember what to order that it wasn’t prepared to do any actual thinking. That’s when the panic started. I hate people judging me but she must have thought I was a right idiot. I finally understood that the waitress was trying to tell me that only breakfast was served until 12, and no other food until then. I checked my watch and it was 10 minutes to 12. I felt embarrassed and I just wanted to run away, or to become invisible and crawl under a table and for no one to see me. But I was an adult and I couldn’t do that.

Cats are good at hiding. Maybe I could become a cat.
Cats are good at hiding. Maybe I could become a cat

So, with a slightly shaky voice, I asked for two teas instead. While the amused and slightly perplexed waitress was getting the teas I thought through what to do about the food. Maybe I’d order myself a breakfast, then when I go back to the table I can tell Richard and he can order his own if he wanted anything. He was too far away to run back to check with anyway. The waitress came back with the teas and I asked for Eggs Benedict. To which her reply was “Sorry, we haven’t got any eggs left. Is there anything else you’d like?”

At that point my nervousness turned into annoyance. Why refuse to serve anything non-breakfast, only 10 minutes away from the cut-off point, when you haven’t even got any eggs left? Surely most breakfast food on the menu includes eggs? I felt like sarcastically asking if they could manage a bowl of coco-pops, or were they were out of milk too? But I didn’t, I just weakly shook my head and told her that just the teas would do.

I managed to pay for the teas but then came the next conundrum; they didn’t come with milk. I had a quick glance around at the bar but I couldn’t see where I was supposed to get the milk from. I couldn’t ask the waitress because I already felt overly idiotic so I just gave up and took the two un-milked teas back to our table, where I mumbled to Richard about what had happened and that I couldn’t find the milk. He set off and brought back some milk in a glass for our teas (how do normal people do this stuff so easily?).

I sat there with my now milky tea getting more and more worked up about it all. Why do I find things so difficult? I can’t even manage something as simple as two cups of tea and it’s really not that hard. My heart was beating too quickly and I realised that my hands were shaking; I felt like I used to when I was back at school and that hasn’t happened in a very long time. It scared me even thinking about how I used to feel most days at school. There would be something little that would set me off and I’d feel so pathetic that I’d want to run away and hide and not have to face anyone ever again. When that panicky feeling returns now, over ten years later, it reminds me of how horrible it used to be. It also reminds me of how far I’ve come, but most importantly it reminds me of how much I don’t want to go back to feeling that way every single day.

It’s difficult to explain the intensity of it. It wasn’t just because I didn’t have any milk in my tea (although that was pretty upsetting because I hate strong tea). It’s just that I felt so out of control of my own feelings. I tried to carry on as normal as possible but if anyone had looked at me and asked me how I was feeling at that moment I wouldn’t have been able to reply without bursting into tears. Is that classed as a panic attack? Or am I just delusional? I don’t know. Unless you can somehow transport your feelings onto someone else to confirm, how can you really tell? All I know is that when it happens, I want to escape. As soon as possible.

Back at the table with my cup of tea I turned my chair around so that I was facing the window with my back to everyone, and tried not to cry in public. I breathed in and out and I talked and I carried on. And then I looked down at my hand and saw that the little stamped smiley face had somehow been rubbed out. How ironic.

 

My smiley face turned into a red blob
My smiley face turned into a red blob

 

To be honest, I don’t really know why I’m posting this. I almost deleted it. But it’s here now, so oh well.

 

Categories: Uncategorized

7 Comments

  1. It’s a wonderful thing to discover there are people out there who experience the such crises. Not to be alone!

    Last night I experienced similar mental and physical reactions to Rosie- but in my dreams! I woke up breathless and tearful because I was being asked to prove my age at a theme park (to get the ‘old person tickets’ ) by stating where my mother lived. And I couldn’t find an answer. And the woman behind the counter became quite sharp with me. And the crowd pressed in on me. And my partner- who never finds a problem with taking over in real life- remained silent. And so it continued…

    Mind shut down as I struggled to figure out mum died 17 years ago. It came to me as I awoke.

    I think that’s the thing that has caused me my greatest problems over the course of my life- mind shut down. But in strange circumstances, like when I’m expected by polite convention to make flattering comments about a host/ess’s dinner. A strangled gurgle comes out. Even if the food was top rate. And the room goes silent and everyone stares.

    Or the inability to return a ‘How are you?’ question from a neighbour or person at the checkout. I curse myself afterwards. But repeat the behaviour on the next occasion, presuming that other people who do reply know them well.

    Or maybe that’s just being a Brit!

    • Your dream sounds awful 🙁 I used to have a lot of dreams about loosing my teeth in various different horrible ways which apparently according to dream-meaning-experts is linked to a lack of confidence. But I can definitely relate about mind shut down. I called up to book my car MOT this morning and had to think for a while when they asked me what my phone number was. I can return the ‘how are you?’ question but then conversation comes to a halt because I never know what to say after that! Others seem to do it so easily without even thinking. Maybe that’s the problem – there’s too much over-thinking going on in my head..

  2. Hello, thank you for sharing your experiences. I’m trying hard to understand this as my 6 year old daughter has sm. I’ll probably never fully understand without going through it myself, but I want to try. Is it like an overwhelming fear of what people think of you? I mean if you could somehow not have cared about what the barmaid thought of you, would that have taken the anxiety away and would you have then been able to ask for milk? Sorry if I sound ignorant and if that’s a stupid question, as I say, I’m just trying so hard to understand how my daughter feels. Thank you, Louise

    • Hi Louise. Not a silly question at all, I’ll try and answer it as best I can! When it’s actually happening I’m not aware of any thoughts going through my head, it’s just more of an automatic feeling of panic so I want to get it over with as soon as possible and disappear so that I can start to feel better. As I’ve got older I guess I’ve grown to associate people and talking with that feeling of panic, so that even in a situation where there’s nothing to worry about I would still worry. I suppose if I had known the barmaid and she had known that I wasn’t a complete idiot I might have felt less panicked. Often I feel like people are judging me, and they have better things to do than wait for me to try and speak. The bar staff were busy and I was taking up their time. That sounds stupid but I don’t really know why I can’t talk sometimes so trying to explain it is difficult 🙂

      • Thats such a valuable insight, thank you. So it’s very much subconscious, like the sub conscious mind going into a freeze/panic, and of course we have no control over that, at least not ‘in the moment’. That certainly sounds like what my daughter experiences. I’m sure you have tried hypnotherapy but I wonder if addressing the sub conscious in that way would help? Like imaging (on a very deep level) that you are calmly, confidently speaking to someone and knowing what to say? Then when the mind becomes familiar with that calm, confident feeling of speaking to someone, time and time again, and it becomes so habitual, it might be more likely to happen in daily life. You’ve probably had years of people suggesting ‘try this’ and ‘try that’ lol sorry. It’s still quite new to us though so I can’t help but search for the magic cure

        • Yes I’d agree with it being subconscious, it’s like my mind goes blank and I don’t realise what’s happening until it’s too late. I’m always open to ideas! I’ve never tried hypnotherapy, I’m not sure if I’d be brave enough but it might be something to look into 🙂

          • I may be worth a try then!! It certainly makes sense to me. I learned Buddhist meditation a few years ago which has changed my subconscious beyond recognition! (Used to get so anxious, angry, hypersensitive etc) now I’m so laid back with things and rarely feel anxious. I was thinking hypnotherapy would address the subconscious in a similar way? I think you have to be very careful to choose an experienced professional though, as I’m sure you can do a weekend course and become a hypnotherapist, it’s not a very regulated industry. If you ever try it out I’d be so interested to hear about it.