After the band at my church finishes their music set, the band leader is known to often ask the crowd to spend a few minutes shaking hands and chatting with those around them. Some folks enthusiastically embrace this time and you can hear the raucous mingling of laughter and conversation from the assembled crowd as it bounces around the auditorium. For me, however, this is a time that fills me with dread. It causes me great discomfort when strangers come bounding up to me and try to touch me or engage with me. The whole experience makes me miserable and I just want to run for the exit to make my escape. Over time I have noticed that my level of dread, anxiety, and fear in this type of moment has escalated dramatically. It has risen from the level of shyness or minor personal discomfort to nearly a full on anxiety attack. Now I try to energize my protective force field by sitting in my chair and closing my eyes. I silently plead with the band leader to call an end to it. Even though it only lasts for a minute, in the middle of it, the whole experience seems interminable.
Recently, during one of these called for mingling times, I assumed my usual position of hiding, when an older woman walked over to me and started to talk. The longer she talked the more I just closed her out. I tried to scream out in my mind, hoping to overpower her presence. She was asking me questions, that much I understood, but my mind was completely withdrawn and I did not even attempt to comprehend her words. As I was battling this onslaught, a young couple came over to my other side and said hello and smiled, but would not go away without acknowledgement. Just when my misery reached a crescendo, the band leader finally called for everyone to take their seats. The young couple went back to their place and the older woman stormed away, shaking her head and voicing her disgust with me. If only she knew how hard this whole thing was for me.