Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Anxiety Fear Challenge Week 2: Huge crowds...alone.

Groups of people. Inevitable communication with strangers. No silence. Avoiding collisions. Huge crowds are a huge anxiety of mine. I have claustrophobia as well, which of course does not help AT ALL. Being that I've made this personal challenge (I'll be honest, I'm already hating this, but I'm going to keep on because I know it's for the best), I decided to tackle this horrendous task. What better way than to go to the Earth Day Festival at Balboa Park in San Diego, on a Sunday, where over 60,000 people gather to celebrate....yay me.

The festival started at 10 am, but we got there at 8:30 am. Just because I have to deal with people, doesn't mean I have to tackle the huge job of finding parking by showing up on time. By getting there early, we got front row parking AND were able to scope out the vendors ahead of time. We packed some deliciousness (breakfast, lunch, and snacks), so we found a nice spot by the water to eat and watch vendors set up. I was also wrapping my head around the fact that I would soon be bombarded by people everywhere and I had absolutely no one - besides my son - to help me do my "grounding" (an anxiety technique I use when in public to avoid panic attacks). Going all in with this one.


The reason I prefer someone with me when dealing with a huge task such as crowds, is because I can feed off their non-anxious energy and feel stable when I need to sit down to practice "grounding". "Grounding" is when you look around, find 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste. It's a huge help to me and having someone there can keep me focused without blacking out. Yes, that's happened before, hence the "challenge".

After filling our bellies and preparing myself mentally with a pep-talk, we set out to walk down past the vendors to see what will be around. We came across this little upcycle boutique that uses random items (keys, stones, small magnifying glasses) to make jewelry. I was extremely tempted to purchase a magnifying glass necklace, but I felt $15 was a wee-bit too much for me. Further down, we saw an awesome upcycle type stand, where these girls made wallets, pouches, backpacks, and purses from Caprisun and Kool-Aid pouches. The Kool-Aid one's still smelled like cherry. Not a huge fan of cherry, but I can still appreciate a nifty idea. 

This is where I hit my first road block. By the time we got to where the Goodwill stand was, a few stands down, I started to see more and more people gathering around. I love thrifting and I wanted to check out the clothes, but I was trying to avoid the mini crowd surrounding it. I was already starting to breathe heavy, perspire, and shake. I immediately began "grounding". 5 things to see: the sky, a tent, cars, a stroller, a hot dog sign. 4 things I can touch: the stroller, my son's hand, my purse, the table next to me. 3 things I can hear: a parrot quaking, a child laughing, someone on the phone. 2 things I can smell: my lotion, the smell of grass. 1 thing I can taste: my coffee.

After successfully calming down and trying not to pay attention to those wondering why I was standing completely still on the sidewalk, I walked over to the Goodwill stand to purchase a t-shirt for my son.

A few moments had passed and I started talking to my son. Making normal conversation as we walked over to the arts and crafts area. The entire time I focused completely on my son. Kept him talking, crafting, explaining, playing I-Spy, and just staying busy. This experience wasn't just about me conquering an anxiety fear of mine, but also to give my son a fun filled day. 



Throughout the rest of the day I had two more episodes, but with the combination of my grounding technique and putting all the attention to my son, I realized I was going to be ok. The crowd gained momentum and the streets filled with people everywhere. Lines were forming, voices were everywhere, and there were hardly areas to stand without blocking someone. 

We saw a really cool tiny house and was able to do a walk through. We also watched the parade, participated in "nature play" by building a tent, and of course bought some amazing food. French fries with nacho cheese, pico de gallo, sour cream, avocados, and beans. 



When it came time to leave, I checked my clock and saw that we had spent a total of 
 and a half HOURS there! This was a record for me. The longest I normally stay in a crowded area is about 2 hours tops. This in itself was a huge triumph for me, but the fact that I only had a total of 3 episodes and no panic attacks was awesome. There were moments when I thought for sure I was going to have a meltdown, but I looked at my son and realized my energy would project to him. He didn't need his mother having an attack, even though sometimes we can't help it. It doesn't make us any less of a person/mom, if we have an attack. For me, I was able tor pep-talk myself and remember that this wasn't forever. This would end and whether it was a positive outcome or negative, solely depended on how I reacted.

I am proud to say this was a success, but I will be completely honest, I know there will be moments of defeat. This was incredibly hard for me and I did try to go to less crowded areas (they were still packed with people though). Just those small moments of having less than the worse, helped me. 

I gotta say, I'm happy this challenge is only once a week. Please excuse me while I curl up in a ball and play "hermit" for a little while. 

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