Panic! at the party
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“This is where I left the party early.”

Hawthorn Street, South Park, San Diego, California

Earlier that day, as we were taking a break from cleaning her apartment in preparation of that night’s party, my girlfriend was regaling me with stories of the women she had dated before me. One in particular, she had told me, had the peculiar habit of lifting her shirt to expose her stomach, sticking her index finger into her belly button and muttering off unintelligible phrases into her shoulder. I laughed. To me, this girl whose name I didn’t even remember, was a stranger, and for all intents and purposes, was fictional in my mind. I continued to laugh, feeling safe that my derisiveness would hurt nobody’s feelings. Then my girlfriend said, “you actually remind me a lot of her”. The laughter stopped. And while I’ve never engaged in the same sort of belly-button poking, shoulder muttering behaviour of this now, seemingly much more non-fictional girl, I knew what she meant.

I struggle with anxiety and depression. Most who come to know me, realise this fact long before I choose to tell them. And so I build up walls and defense mechanisms and peculiar behaviours of my own to protect myself from the judgments of others – judgments like I made of my girlfriend’s ex that Saturday afternoon. My girlfriend, who has only held the title for just over a week now, was my best friend for the preceding year and a half. And while I’ve been over to her apartment literally hundreds of times in that time span, she’s only seen the inside of my place on three separate occasions. She understands that my home is a place for me to be myself free of the worry of judgment from others, and that inviting anybody else in to my unshared one bed, one bath, is horribly anxiety-inducing for me. But I realise that to most, it might seem strange – even laughable – that I not let anybody, even the most important people in my life, into my home.

That evening, the party was going well for the first half-hour or so, when I stumbled head first into a tall pile of awkward silence. It may have been silent in the room, but my head was filled with the noise of insecurity. I excused myself from the conversation, made my way to the restroom, and proceeded to have a panic attack. My thoughts were on the girl I had laughed at earlier that day. Is that how people see me? The weird girl in the corner with her finger in her belly button and mouth to her shoulder? I stayed in that bathroom for ten minutes or so, trying to clean up the cluttered insecurities, but only managed to stack them in a neat little pile. “They must think I’m so weird. They probably describe me to their other friends as this creepy girl who is socially inept. They laugh at me behind my back. They MUST hate me. I know it. They hate me and they wish I wasn’t at this party.”

Whatever I lack in social aptitude, I make up for in party forensics. I could tell by the change in the degree of muffled voices through the bathroom door, that the party had moved to the kitchen. My head immediately went to “with everybody in the kitchen, I can escape this party by making a straight shot from the bathroom, through the living room, and out the front door without anybody noticing.” Without hesitation, I acted. I got to my car parked across the street, and immediately launched into panic attack #2. This time the internal monologue went something like: “What have I done? They’ll surely notice that I’m not at the party anymore. They’ll say, ‘why did she leave so early without so much as a goodbye?’ I’ve only cemented my weirdness in their heads, further ostracising myself from the group.” I didn’t drive away. I didn’t go back to the party. I hesitated. Five minutes later, my girlfriend came running out of her apartment barefoot. She was looking for me. She was looking for ME – the fuck-up who can’t handle a casual get-together amongst friends. She had a party to attend to, but at that moment, her only concern was that I was alright. She comforted and consoled me. I didn’t return to the party that evening, out of embarrassment. But I slept well, knowing that there was somebody in the universe who was privy to all of my weirdness and still wanted to be with me.

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