I hate how committing to a meeting means committing to a panic attack. Even if I go into it with positivity, I know that the majority of the time I will break down.
This is why I avoid meetings. Most meetings are inefficient anyway so I would always just prefer an email, but the main reason why I hate meetings? Because I hate panic attacks and, even more, I hate depression.
I just had it happen the other day. It was a breakfast with a bunch of great people for a project I’m a part of. I was already starting to feel anxious so I dragged my feet and showed up a couple of minutes late. When I arrived I took the chair closest to the door and stared at my phone for 10 minutes until I ‘warmed up’ to the situation. I then avoided eye contact for the next half hour by staring at my arms or the bottle of hot sauce at the table. Eventually an agenda was passed out so, thank goodness, I could then read it over and over for a bit and not seem weird.
After about forty-five minutes I chimed in with a word or two. At best I was dipping a toe in the water but at least I was letting everyone in the room know I was still breathing. A little bit later I was able to manage cracking a joke and, feel free to applaud me, make some eye-contact.
Finally a topic came up and I felt passionate enough (and felt warmed up enough) to contribute. That helped because after that I felt a little better and could add to other discussions but I still never really felt like I was there.
The meeting wrapped. ‘Thank God,’ I sighed to myself. I was finally able to leave.
I barely stood up before someone from the table stopped me. It wasn’t his fault. What he needed to talk about was valid. The Adam I really am wanted to be there and wanted to help.
So I sat back down. I listened and nodded and was reassuring and accommodating and all the things you try to be in order to make the conversation end as soon as possible. But on the inside I just wanted to burst out and scream and throw a chair and cry and hide under the table in the corner all at the same time.
When the conversation wrapped up I took my feet ready to make an exit. But, as if I was being handed off from one person to the next, someone came up to give me a hug.
The Adam I really am likes hugs. Even better, this was a hug from someone I actually liked. But right in that moment I don’t get to be that Adam. No, I’m stuck with awkward no confidence Adam. The one who is on fire inside. The one who is scared he’s going to snap and Hulk out and run through the wall of a Denny’s. My shoulders are hunched forward and my chest caved in and I’m never quite present. That’s the Adam I’m working with at this moment.
She smiles at me and I grin as best I can. The anticipation of the hug shivers through me and I brace myself for contact. I want the hug because I need comfort in this moment but at the same time nothing could be more painful. Oh crap she’s moving in… and then I freaking side-hug her. A freaking side-hug?! Like I’m one of the prude homeschooled girls from my old college. I’m such a tool.
I wrap things up as quickly as possible, I avoid eye contact with anyone who may want to talk to me and beeline it for the exit.
‘Oh no, a couple more people by the door.’ I see who it is and think I won’t have to talk to them. Hoping it is safe, I continue to the door. My panic attack is moving in fast now.
‘Keep it together dude you can see your car you’re almost there.’
I smile politely at the girls by the door and continue toward the exit.
‘You’re awesome Adam,’ one of them says encouragingly.
At this point, things were starting to get blurry. I was focused on getting outside to fresh air. I was so close but now this lady has to go and say something nice. What do you say in response to something like that? I mean that was flattering and I was appreciative and I don’t think I deserve that but I was very thankful that she said it to me. How am I supposed to communicate that to her without sounding like a complete weirdo?
I sheepishly reply with whatever I can muster but now I don’t feel like I can leave. I feel like the three of us have to talk more now. One of them says something like that to you and you should maybe hang out for a second, right? That’s not going to go well.
One of the girls tells me that she had some very bad news. To keep her privacy I’ll leave the details out but it is the kind of news that usually instantly breaks through my ceiling. All I wanted to do was hold her and comfort her and cry with her because I felt for her. But I can’t do any of that because I’m still spazzing out from the panic attack that’s coming. How can I be a comfort when I can barely breathe?
Thankfully a fourth person breaks into the conversation. I seize the opportunity and quickly excuse myself.
‘Yes, the parking lot, fresh air.’ I don’t look around I just walk fast toward my car. I’ve been here before I know if I can just get to my car I can break down and it will feel safe. I unlock the car, hop in, close the door and put my seatbelt on.
‘I made it,’ I thought.’ Right before I let loose I look over to spot someone from my meeting sitting in her car right next to mine.
At this point you just have to laugh. I didn’t but you probably can. Defeated but still holding it back, I turn on the car and get out of the parking lot as quickly as possible.
By that time I’m able to drive but I can’t really focus on much else. I just have to get home. On the drive the pain and the guilt set in. I get mad at myself for talking too much. I get mad at myself for being awkward. I lament over what my depression has done to me. I vow to not let it happen again.
‘Please God no more red lights, I just want to go home.’
This happens too much. It happens enough that when I commit to a meeting I expect that I’m committing to all this as well.
That’s why my attendance at my weekly small group is spotty. That’s why I avoid as many meetings as I can. Because if I have to go to a meeting, it better be worth all this.
I’m embarrassed by it all but I also feel bad for the people I’m meeting with. They must think I am so disinterested. They must think I really don’t care. How condescending they must think I am. Like I think they are somehow beneath me. They must think I’m annoyed or feel put upon or that I don’t like them. They must resent that they have to work with me. The people closest to me get it. Or they at least try to accept it. My partners all know that I’m like this and for some reason they still think I’m worth working with. I’m sorry for that. I don’t want people thinking this. I don’t want people to feel that way because of me.
As much as I avoid these interactions, the only way this will ever get better is if I don’t stop. How do hills get easier to run? You keep running up hills. There are a few trails I train on that I know are going to suck. I see the location on the schedule and I know it’s going to be a painful day. But knowing that, I still go out and run it. It’ll hurt, it’ll make me cry, but I have to do it or else it will never get easier. Guess what, those trails are easier now. They still suck, but they are easier. That’s what these meetings are. They are painful and miserable exercises that only improve if I don’t quit.
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