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Getting Over 'Halloween-Phobia' When You Live With Anxiety

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Everybody loves Halloween, right?

Nope. So much nope.

A big trigger for me is when I can’t see someone’s face when they’re speaking to me, which is why it’s so hard for me to have phone conversations. (Sometimes even texting is hard!) Living with anxiety can feel like you’re prey. We are always 100 percent aware of everything going on around us. We have to be because anxiety can feel like always being in danger. You don’t know why you’re in danger or from what. All you know is you must always be on guard. Always.

Halloween revels in scariness. To be terrified is kinda the whole point of the holiday. Thanks, but daily life is terrifying enough for me. So why on earth would I enjoy parading around to houses covered in spider webs, where a scarecrow on the porch may or may not come alive or have the door opened by a zombie from “The Walking Dead” in full makeup. Also it’s dark. Everyone’s wearing a mask, and you have no clue who anyone is. Have fun!

Nope. Nope, nope, nope and nope.

When I was little enough, people felt bad about scaring me or my brother. So I could stay really close to my mom and dad, until I got to fifth grade. At my fifth grade Halloween party, we all got to change into our costumes. My tablemate had a dark robe on with a skeleton chest. He had a hood, but we weren’t allowed to pull them up or wear a mask. I thought I was safe.

He sat down (with me in my fairy costume), and I probably had my nose in a book when he said my name. When I looked up, he had on the mask from the painting “Scream,” and pressed a button to make fake blood run down his face. Apparently, he liked the look of abject terror on my face. Since I was a trusting and naive little child, he was able to do it three more times before I ran to my best friend and refused to look at anyone else for the rest of the day.

I avoided Halloween parties, trick or treating or anything to do with the holiday. I said I was “too old” to be doing that stuff anymore. Secretly, I felt like I was missing out.

When I was in eighth grade, I moved to a different school, but my best friend and I lived within walking distance. So we still saw each other regularly. In early October, she begged me to come with her to a Halloween party. All my friends from my old school would be there, and I really wanted to see them. But Halloween.

As a smart anxious child, I figured out all ways to hide my anxiety. I told my friend my mom wasn’t a fan of Halloween, and so I wasn’t even going to bother to ask. Since my best friend is also highly intelligent and knew I was full of sh*t, she asked her mom to ask my mom to let me come. My mom agreed and was overjoyed I was going out on Halloween.

It’s really hard to pull one over on my mom. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been able to fool her (and all of these events have gone as well as being a crane operator in a lightning storm). She bought my “too old for Halloween” excuse for approximately zero seconds.

I see my anxiety as the other personality living in my brain or a “brain buddy.” When October rolls around, Megan stops being part of the conversation and Anxiety takes over. Anxiety makes all the choices, whether I like them or not.

My mom told Anxiety she would stay at the party. That she would walk with us during trick or treating, even reminding Anxiety about the big bag of candy that comes at the end of the night. The final thing that allowed me to get back control over my anxiety was when my mom said she would bring my dog with her. I agreed to go to the party. Anxiety was not pleased.

Halloween night rolled around. I spend most of the day alternating between panic and excitement at seeing my friends again (whom I hadn’t seen since the summer), but it was mostly panic. Finally, my mom and I drove over to pick up my best friend and go to the party together. Upon arrival, I was relieved to see there were no masks or face paint on anyone (I think there may have been threats involved).

During trick or treating, my mom walked slightly behind with the rest of the mothers. Anxiety was OK with that because I positioned myself in between my two best friends and right in the middle of the pack. Although there were a few times I walked so close that one of them tripped on me, I survived the journey. We all cheerfully ignored the houses with billowing smoke machines and creepy porch ornaments.

When we got back to the house, a little after dusk, we all poured out all our candy and traded among ourselves so everyone got their favorite types and replaced all the broken and unwrapped ones with candy our hosts had purchased. We had moved on to the movie “Monster High” when my mom called up that it was time to go home. I was shocked at the time. Halloween was almost over, and Anxiety hadn’t crashed the party!

While a great experience, this party did not cure my Halloween-phobia. I still dread the appearance of decorations in stores everywhere, and the copious amounts of candy that fill every aisle. Yet, this one experience taught me that my anxiety doesn’t always have to crash the party. The Halloween party taught me scary things doesn’t mean I have to hand control over to Her.

So, despite the terror, I go anyways. I do Halloween parties. I hand out candy. I’ve even gone trick or treating with friends. I still walk close enough to my best friend that she sometimes trips on me, and I won’t go without one of my dogs with me, but I go. Despite the triggers that abound on this night of the year, I even have fun. Because I’ll be d*mned if I let one of my brain buddies take away walking around with friends, laughing and, of course, a huge bag of candy!

This post originally appeared on Not Your Neurotypicals.

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Image via Thinkstock.

Originally published: October 21, 2016
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