COVID-19 & My Social Anxiety

I was working the early morning shift on September 11, 2001. I was there when two planes crashed into the World Trade Center and for the next 16 hours.

When news happens, the entire station goes into breaking news mode. We are geared to push through tiredness, hunger and even our anxiety with the goal of getting information, news and data to the people who need it. To the people who want it.

However, with the bigger news, there is an event. The long days become a bit shorter as the information, updates become a bit less frequent. The topics shift to the stories of those impacted and to recovery.

It doesn’t remain at this heightened sense of urgency.

Coronavirus hovered in the peripheral of the news for a bit before stepping into the spotlight. It has captured the world’s awareness and has added a bit of urgency to all of our lives.

It has been a major factor in my life since early March. At least a month. I haven’t had a huge event and it hasn’t transitioned. In fact, our little community is hearing the rumble before the storm. We haven’t had any cases (other than travel-related) and there has been no community spread.

But that doesn’t alleviate the anxiety but rather increases it within me.

I feel like my body’s already over-reactive alert system has been in overdrive. I am overly concerned with physical distancing or even casual run-ins while on my daily walk. My nerves are tight when I have to go into a grocery store or put on my mask to drop off my recycling.

I have always suffered from social anxiety or the fear of doing something wrong or embarrassing in public and the fear of spreading a virus that I don’t have but maybe don’t know it is taking that anxiety to a whole new level.

Add to that is the fact that the information and data coming from health officials was changing daily for the first couple of weeks. The list of don’t grew as new information was processed. What worked one day was not allowed the next. The information we get today will change how we interacted yesterday and will be outdated by tomorrow.

You would think I would be a puddle on the floor.

However, there is one thing that gives me a sense of calm. There is one thing that makes it easier for me to go about my essential tasks and trips to the grocery store.

“We are all doing the best we can.” It’s a lesson I learned from author Brene Brown in her book “Rising Strong.”

By believing we are all doing the best we can, and that includes me, it means I don’t have to know everything right now. It means that things will change and I will make decisions and choices based upon this new information. It means that I trust myself to be able to make good choices.

Anxiety is only alleviated by action. By making the hard decisions and living with the choices. By stepping up and doing the best we can.

I can do this. We can do this. Together . . . . and six feet apart. Wash your hands.

Where Are They Now – Games I Play With My Anxiety

It was the night before our first farmers’ market and I couldn’t sleep. I laid there in bed, Random Kitty tucked into my armpit. His snores taunting me as my mind refused to stop its restless prattle and get a good night’s sleep.

What if we don’t sell any coffee?
What if we sell it all?
What if people don’t like it?
Do we have everything?
Did I pack the kettles?

The questions weren’t meant to be answered but to keep my heart rate up, stomach in knots and sleep in the far distance. That’s when I shifted gears and started asking the important questions in a game I like to call, Where Are They Now According to Weegee.

Is Ferris Bueller married to Sloan?
Do they have kids?
Did they marry and get a divorce?
Is he a stay at home computer programmer?
Do his kids ditch school?
Is Cameron Frye a multi-millionaire? Or a recluse with a cold?

I ask myself random questions regarding how life has turned out for lead characters in popular 80s & 90s movies. In this case, it was Ferris Bueller’s Day Off I pondered in the dark.

“Are you sleeping?” My husband asked. I got the feeling he was suffering from the same next day performance jitters I was just going through.

“Not yet,” I responded. “But I soon will be. I just need to figure out if Ferris Bueller is a computer programmer or a principal in current time.”

Turns out, my husband and I, by shifting our ruminating thoughts from what can’t be figureoutable to things we can make up or envision, our minds grow tired. It wasn’t long before both of us were out for the night and snoring with the cat.

One of the things to remember is that we control our thoughts. We have the ability to redirect them or change them. We can dwell in anxiety or change the pattern.

Potato Patoto Potota Pootat

Who doesn`t love potato? Not the vegetable (although I am a fan) but the word. Turns out, my anxious mind has found three benefits to the simple word.

Growing up, music played a huge role in my life. We always had the radio blasting in the house, the garage, our rooms and the car. It was this comforting white noise that became the soundtrack of my life.

In college, one of my roommates was a cello player. While classical music can be heard playing at all hours in our apartment, she also had a love for funky folk music. One particularly CD my roommate had, there was a song that would cement itself in my head.

Potato.

An ode to the tuber set to the Mexican Hat Dance song. For the chorus, she repeated the word Potato over and over with different stresses on three syllable word.

Now, I have forgotten the words to the actual song — but not the playful mash up of the word “potato.” I can be found working down the street singing my own version of the chorus; one where I mashup the word potato to suit my mood.

“Potato, patoto, potota, pootat.”

This chorus has had three benefits for me since I first heard “Potatoes” twenty years ago:

Feed My Mental Hamster
We’ve all experienced the obsessive thoughts of our internal hamster. The one that likes to overthink, over analyze and over criticize every little thing we’ve done in the past. When it has nothing to rehash from recent events, it pulls one of its favourites from it’s magical little hat and it is off on a tangent.

When that happens to me, when my mind starts obsessing over what I could have done better, differently or how I am not measuring up to me, I feed my hamster mind “Potato.”

“Potato, patoto, potota, pootat.” Nothing puts the brakes on ruminating like focusing on the different ways you can reorder the word “potato.”

Entice My Creative Muse
I find that my muse and I are on opposite sites of the work habit. When I am ready for bed or sleeping, that is when she is ready to get to work. Most ideas vanish into thin air by the time I rise in the morning. When I am ready to compose, she wants to watch episodes of true crime on Investigative Discovery. I often have to go and drag her, kicking and screaming, to the laptop — which only confirms that I am out to get her due to her viewing habits.

But a bit of mashed potato and she walks willingly over. The playful reworking of the word entices my muse and she forgets about Forensic Files and is ready to get to work.

Add a Bit of Mash to My Life
Bills. Painting decks. Planning vegan meals. Cleaning bathrooms. Life can be dull sometimes. Almost routine. Some people call it adulting. Some call it busyness. My creative side has a hard time with the seriousness of life sometimes. I want to paint with abandon, wear 1920s flapper dresses to the grocery store or . . . sing “Potato” while scrubbing the guest suite bathroom. It makes me smile and it makes the chores and have-tos a bit more interesting.

For me, a “potato” a day keeps my anxious mind happy, my muse engaged and entices my inner toddler to participate in the day to day.

“Potato, patoto, potota, pootat.”

_________________

Hat tips to:

Kelly G., my college roomie, for sharing her love for funky folky music. And putting up with my bad singing and horrible memory for lyrics.

Cheryl Wheeler and her “Potato” song for inspiring my own obsession with the word. I managed to find a YouTube video of the song.¬†https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i69Rz4yb3cA

Apparently she also did one about Pop-Tarts and Spam on a cruise ship: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-WYkt4tlrGk

Guess What I Can Do? – When I Discovered Storytelling

What were you going to be when you grew up? A nurse? Firefighter? Doctor? Policeman?

When I was eight, I knew what I wanted to be — a travel agent. At that age, I wasn’t a hundred percent sure a travel agent did. However, it had the word travel in it. Couldn’t be that bad, right?

I remember using my Rainbow Bright faux phone to call the head office to ask about travel packages for my client to meet Jessica Fletcher in Cabot Cove for a book signing.

My knowledge of far away places outside of my small mountain town may have been limited to what TV stations we got during the 1980s.

I was going to be a travel agent. I just knew it. Or at least that was the plan until one fateful day right before Christmas break.

The Friday before the two-week holiday break was a throw away day. The teachers would sign-out the TV and VCR cart and let us children spend the afternoon watching movies while visions of sugar plums danced in our heads.

My favourite film was “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Who wasn’t excited when Clarence got his wings at the end?

But on this particular holiday countdown afternoon, the teacher gathered us on the carpeted floor. However, there was no TV. No VCR. In their place at the front of the classroom was a wooden stool.

What is this? I thought. I figured our teach dropped the ball and there wasn’t a TV left for our classroom.

“Children, I would like to introduce you to Patrick, a storyteller.”

Patrick* was a man who looked better suited to be driving a semi-truck and not talking to a classroom of third graders. He was wearing a baseball hat, jeans and a flannel shirt. He had a full beard and piercing green eyes.

“Have you ever stayed a bit too late at a friend’s house and had to go home in the dark?” He started one tale. “Well, I have a cautionary tale for you.”

Patrick started weaving a tale of an encounter in the forest with a strange man who said “guess what I can do with my long bony finger and red ruby lips.” Patrick talked in detail about the noises in the forest, the illuminating moon beam and the fear in his heart.

As he spoke, the entire classroom was hanging on his every word. Our mouths were open, our eyes big and we were barely breathing. He had us enraptured with his spoken words.

I have a feeling the teachers were jealous of the trance he put each of us kids into — it was the first time all week we were quiet.

“I was banging on the door, yelling for my mom to unlock it and let me in, when the man with the dark hat and long coat stepped out from the shadows.”

All of us held our breath.

“‘Guess what I can do with my long bony finger and red ruby lips’ and I didn’t want to know. But he brought his long, bony finger up to his red ruby lips and then he –”

There was a long pause before Patrick strummed his lips with his forefinger, cracking up a room full of third-graders.

I went home that Christmas break and told my family the tale.

But I listened to their tales with a new perspective. I heard my mother telling my father tales about her day at work. I heard my sisters tales about why she wasn’t talking to her best friend for the third time that week. I heard my aunt tell the tales of what my cousin did to be grounded the whole holiday break.

Guess what I can do? I can tell stories. There’s a storyteller in all of us and a desire to hear stories. What is your story? There’s a world out there waiting to be enchanted.

 

*Patrick is the name I give the storyteller for it is one part of my memory that has been forgotten.

 

Stepping Out of My Comfort Zone & Into a New Role

We are adapting creatures. We adapt to our surroundings. Our emotions. Our habits. We grow accostumed to daily life and rituals.

Professional speakers and self-help books encourage us to step outside our comfort zones and embrace the new. But even the new becomes a comfort zone after awhile.

I had been working from home since 2011 as a freelance administrative assistant and social marketer. My interactions with co-workers and the outside world involved a computer screen and a keyboard. I didn’t have to read non-verbal cues or respond in real time.

While I was living in a very protected world, I felt stuck. I felt like I was losing the ability to connect with people. Motivating myself to go out into public, even to the grocery store, was growing harder and harder.

The ability to interact with people is a like a muscle. The more you interact face-to-face with people, the easier it gets.

And it’s not just small talk.

The ability to confront issues, handle disagreement, hear criticism and offer contrary opinions is a fine craft that is only honed by immersing oneself into social interactions.

My main reason for joining a local Toastmasters club was an attempt to step outside of a comfort zone. I learned how to interact face-to-face and in front of a large group. I learned how to listen and respond . . . in real time.

But like anything in life, I realized my club was a new comfort zone. I was comfortable there. I knew what would make them laugh and how to respond. It was life — scripted.

IGA - Gibsons, BC - Weegee Sachtjen - Comfort ZoneI needed “real life” — where the reaction of a person wasn’t guaranteed to be supportive and encouraging. I needed to put myself in a situation where I was going to have bad encounters. Where I may run into terse, gruff people who didn’t want to talk to me or . . . even like me.

I took a job at the local IGA grocery store as a cashier. I interact with hundreds of strangers a day. I have confrontations with customers and co-workers. I feel awkward and uncomfortable hourly.

I have never felt better.

While my interactions are unscripted, I find I have the ability to connect with people over pickles, holiday plans, movies and dairy-free ice cream flavours.

But mostly, I have learned that perhaps I am a social person after all.

We adapt to our environments. Sometimes it is up to us to make the changes we need to be the person we can be.

Be brave. Step outside your comfort zone. That’s where your new life begins.