Several years ago, it became hard to go into public places without using the “buddy system.” I’m not exactly sure why this happened but I believe it stemmed from years of infertility and the self-hatred that grew during that time. By doubting my body’s ability to do something as simple as procreating, I became fearful of every tick and click inside. The fear took over like an avalanche. One day, I stood in line at Old Navy and started to hyperventilate– my palms were wet, the world moved in slow motion, and the exit was all I wanted. The feeling consumed me and avoidance behavior became my warm fuzzy blanket.
I allowed this to be “okay” for almost a decade. During this time there were several elections that I wanted to vote in. The last time I voted in-person was when Barack Obama first took office. Four years later, there were important issues I wanted to vote on as well as the presidential candidates. When the day arrived, I psyched myself up to go but when push came to shove, I couldn’t go through with it. The trouble with social anxiety and voting places are the long lines, one way in and one way out, and I swear the temperature is always overly warm. I didn’t even make it to the parking lot. I missed casting my vote because avoidance behavior was so normal, breaking the mold out of nowhere was impossible.
When the Trump/Clinton election arrived, the political environment was on fire and leaked into everyday conversation on social media and in person. Feeling guilty for not casting my vote previously, I told myself I would vote no matter what it took. I had not started therapy at this time but was aware that my condition was not getting better. I’m ashamed to say that while I did vote, I cast an absentee ballot and voted through the mail. At the time it felt good. I had accomplished what I set out to do. I voted, even if no one handed me a sticker. The truth is, while one goal was met, another was not. I was losing the war against social anxiety.
The absentee ballot is what it took to get angry. The fire had been burning before but not like this. I let it simmer for another year before I sought out therapy again. I say again because I had tried in the past with no success. I felt my options were limited; therapy seemed to be what held me accountable for making progress.
Finding the right therapist is not easy. It is not easy. It’s like searching for a new best friend; it doesn’t happen overnight, it takes time. With luck and determination, I found Amy with her “no shame zone” which allowed me to open up and dig deep. I don’t always agree with her, but I do listen. I can’t ignore the progress I have made while working with her. It’s a partnership I am thankful for and I have no plans to stop seeing her.
I earned the “I Voted” sticker this past Election Day. Yes, of course, I waited until the booths were almost closed; all day my stomach knotted, and I couldn’t stop thinking about the lines of people I would encounter. I live in a small town, so the idea of hundreds of people lining up around the building is a pretty ridiculous– chalk it up to anxiety and over- thinking. Driving two miles to the local high school took less time than I had hoped. The parking lot was full of people and cars in motion which heightened my nerves. I sucked in two deep breaths and heaved myself out of the car. Inside there were no lines, just friendly people taking my information and showing how the ballot worked. I was prepared with a copy of the ballot which I filled out at home in case I forgot something. Stressful situations can make me forget even the most ingrained memories. I filled everything out and fed the machine my vote. On the way out, a very sweet lady gave me my sticker.
It’s stupid how free I felt; tears pricked my eyes and I walked out of there with a grin I couldn’t erase. I did it. I exercised my right as an American citizen to vote. I took another step toward healing and overcoming anxiety. Some steps are so small they are hardly noticeable. Then there are bigger steps like facing one of my triggers head on and walking away stronger. I am climbing a mountain with my bare hands and making progress. I can do this and I know there is so much more I am capable of.
Photo credit: Selfie. That’s me with my badge of honor. Fingers to Sky!