The Garbage Pocket Solution
Most people don’t mind drive-thrus, pharmacies, and writing on white boards. Most people don’t have to prepare themselves to raise their hand. Most people don’t avoid stores because there’s no self-checkout. Most people don’t lose their appetite the second they sit down in the cafeteria. Most people don’t have a “garbage pocket” in their backpack, because standing up in class is just too scary.
I dislike hearing the phrase “face your fears.” Not because I don’t agree with it, but because I'm tired of doing it. In general, it’s a good idea to face your fears, to realize they aren’t nearly as scary as you believed they were. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work for someone with social anxiety.
Because my brain is mean to me. I tell myself no one will judge me or hate me for throwing away a sticky note. I know that’s true, because it’s logical. Then I pick up the sticky note and look at the trashcan. What if you trip? What if you miss and throw it on the floor and have to try again? What if your shoes squeak? What if you bump into someone? What if… What if… What if…
I take a deep breath and remind myself that none of those things matter. No one cares, no one will remember. I start to stand. I mentally remind myself I'm okay the entire way to the trash can. Fifteen feet appears to be miles, but I make it. I throw away the sticky note. I sit back down. Nothing went wrong and I succeeded. I faced my fear and I defeated it, right?
Like I said, my brain is mean. As I sit down, I hear two girls laugh from across the room. They’re laughing at you. Obviously not, but my brain tells me they are, and I believe it. Now I have to figure out why and the “what ifs” start all over again. Meanwhile, twenty minutes of class have gone by and I have less than no idea what happened in them.
I just wanted to throw away a sticky note.
Knowing is not the same as believing, and therein lies the problem. I face my fears every time I leave my house. I mentioned in my first post that know they’re irrational, but that doesn’t make me stop thinking them. It takes a long time for me to believe the fear is as irrational as I know it is. Facing my fears doesn’t fix anything, learning to live with them does.
So I developed the garbage pocket. I slip the sticky note (or any other trash) in the side pocket of my backpack and throw it away on my way out the door. Problem solved. I didn’t face my fear of getting up during class, but I learned to live with it in a way that doesn’t negatively impact my life.
Now, I don't do this with everything "Garbage pockets" take away the energy I waste on little things, so I'm able to spend it on big things like walking out the door or going to class and work.
Next week I’ll talk about other “garbage pockets” I have, ways of living with fears that don’t involve directly facing them. I’ll also talk about how you can help alleviate some of the fears people with social anxiety face every day.