Simple restaurant eating, which most people take completely for granted, can be really hard for me to do.
It has occurred to me that if Linda and I are to do much traveling, especially extended trips, especially extended trips at long distances, that we may want to eat in some fine restaurants.
Something other than takeout from fast food joints; or, occasionally, sitting in a fast food joint.
I mean, that's not fair to Linda.
Over the years, I've chipped away at my agoraphobia, so that now I rarely feel a twinge in any movie theater, or walking the streets shopping, or in most stores.
But I still feel myself tighten up and get all self-conscious when I go to a restaurant, and because I don't go to restaurants I feel awkward and unsure when it comes to ordering and paying. It's fine when I have friends or family, who take care of that, but when it's just Linda and me, I feel a little concerned.
Yesterday, we decided to eat out before going to the movies (Unknown-- when I bought my ticket, the guy asked, "Unknown?" I said, "No I know -- I want to see Unknown..." both Linda and him just looked at me strangely.) Linda wanted to go to the Flatbread in the Old Mill, but I suggested Pappa's Pizza south of of Bend. Why? Because after eating there with my Dad (he loves the place) so many times, I'm completely comfortable there.
On the way out the door, I said, "I have to get over this one of these days, so I'll go to Flatbread if you want." Linda says, no, no...
....but when we get to the pizza joint, it is loud and crowded so we back away and drive the Flatbread.
I walk in the door and immediately feel myself tense up. We are shown our table, and it is in the middle of an open floor, the worse configuration for me, and I feel myself hunching up and uncomfortable -- I look a little like James Franco at the Oscars, with a tight little smile and trying really hard to seem casual.
I can barely read the menu, so I just take a stab at the simplest and most recognizable items: Caesar's Salad, and Parmesan flatbread with three sauces.
So, here's where it gets better. I chat with Linda about writing, and I start to feel myself loosen up a bit; I look around, finally, and no one's paying any attention to us.
Then the two dudes running the floor start chatting with me, because they recognize me from Pegasus and the waiter and I talk about the Transmetropolitan comic and I tell him the other Vertigo titles were also great and what I read myself. And, suddenly, I'm comfortable.
The meal arrives, and I get busy eating.
Here's the thing. The stuff I eat at home is so bland -- that any time I eat out, it tastes absolutely wonderful. In other words, I can't give you a restaurant review because just about any restaurant will be so tasty, that I'm happy. I think this actually comes across to the waiters, who find it endearing.
In the last few months, I've eaten at Kona Mix twice (pretty casual, but still sit-down nervous); and Flatbread, and...a few other places on our trips I can't seem to remember right now.
The trick is this, and this is the way I'm going to play it. Find situations that are in my favor -- say eating on off hours (yesterday, it was 2:00) or on off days (such as a Tuesday); then eat a few times at the same place until I feel comfortable there. Then move to another restaurant, and do the same thing.
Then maybe, when that becomes routine, try some busier times, or even fancier restaurants.
All this can be set backward with a bad experience. Tightening up and feeling uncomfortable and awkward and self-conscious can lead to bad outcomes. But if I can manage to get good experiences under my belt, it will slowly improve.
I've never heard it explained this way, but to me Agoraphobia is the Body tricking the Brain. And the way to combat it, is for the Brain to trick the Body. Not by willpower --that doesn't seem to work, but by lulling it, easing into it, to calm it down so that the next situation doesn't seem so threatening.
I'm still not sure about really big events -- concerts and plays or festivals. Part of me thinks the anonymity of the crowds will make it easier for me to blend in, but part of me remembers that this is where my panic attacks first happened, so I'm a little leery of pushing it.
I mean, it's only been about 40 years -- no sense rushing it.
I've managed to create my own little world where I'm comfortable -- it's my boundaries, and I can roam within them. Over the years, I've pushed those boundaries further and further apart, until -- I can almost fool myself into thinking I'll never have another panic attack.
But feeling myself tense up in a restaurant reminds me it's still floating out there....
3 days ago