A Night Out on the Town for Someone With Debilitating Social Anxiety
It’s 7 p.m. on a Saturday night, and my wife and I are “out on the town,” as the saying goes. In approximately an hour’s time, we’ll be watching a performance by the world-renowned act, the Blue Man Group, making their South African debut. When I told my best friend about our plans to buy tickets for the show, he quipped that I’ll fit right in because I’m always blue.
This was not untrue.
The show is being hosted at a casino in my hometown of Johannesburg, which also boasts a theatre, several shops and restaurants to cater for every palate, from Mediterranean to Asian. It’s an Italian-themed establishment and a popular destination for weekend thrill-seekers and those with some spare money to spend on the slot machines or at one of the fine dining eateries that line its (slightly tacky) corridors.
But I’m not there. I’m in a pit of wolves. Everyone wants to hurt me in some way. Hundreds, thousands of patrons squeeze past me as they make their way to the games arcade or to fill their lungs on the piazza. Their eyes are full of hate, spite and judgment, and their terrible glares remain fixed on me for what feels like a nightmarish eternity, until they are behind me and even then I can feel them quietly judging me. They hate me. They think I’m stupid. They want to hurt me. Despite my wife’s calm reassurances to the contrary, I am convinced these people have some sort of vendetta against me.
Before long I am a gibbering mess, mumbling incoherently and pressing my hands up against the side of my face like a shield against the terrible masses that so badly want to hurt me.
“Calm down, my love,” my wife placates, but I can’t hear her. It’s sensory overload. Colors, smells, and the noises, the horrible, horrible noises. Voices, the mock-cheerful chirping and “ka-ching” of the slot machines, incomprehensible music from the restaurants, the noises all melt together into a hellish cacophony that drowns out my wife’s soothing voice. Yes, hellish. I’m in hell. That must be it. Why else would I feel so… threatened? There are no friendly faces here, save for my wife’s. I see only vulpine snarls, eyes full of malice, carnivorous demons that want to tear me apart.
This is a typical night out for me. I have debilitating social anxiety, and the mere act of meeting someone for the first time, to me, is akin to walking on broken glass. Being submerged in a foaming maelstrom of unfamiliar faces is like, well, hell. There’s no reasoning with me. I can hear my heart thundering in my tightening chest, blood beating like thousands of angry fists against the walls of arteries, pleading for escape. I just want quiet. I just want safety. Please, don’t hurt me…
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Thinkstock photo by Grandfailure