Hopping from one foot to the other, I queue for a portion of fish and chips at the Good Food Market near Paddington Station.
This is my first time. I never buy food on a street. I never eat food on a street.
Today I am feeling extra brave. More surprised than impressed with my own bravery, I decide to leave the queue and explore the rest of the food stalls. 'Fish and Chips' was the first one on the corner and on my way home.
I manage to check two more, further down the line, and then decide to flee the area all together. With no food in hand and somewhat sideways, like a frightened cat.
My analytical mind gawps.
"I've got food at home!" I respond.
"You are super hungry, buy food before you run away!" declares my analytical mind.
"Remember that beef dish I got yesterday?"
"You don't even know how long it'll take you to warm it up. Do you remember if it was 30 minutes in the oven, or could you just heat it up in a frying pan?"
"Good point. But I have to queue. And then I only have a credit card on me, I bet they don't take credit cards. I can't ask..."
"You've got some coins on you. Count," my analytical mind has taken control over me, like a parent would take a control over a child.
"But I don't count money in public."
"Count your money now, or you'll stay hungry again. Remember the last time you tried to warm up that lunch of yours?"
I remember, I burned it in my oven, perhaps with the oven together... I sheepishly count my coins. I've got the £6.50 that I need.
I join the queue again. The strong smell of freshly deep-fried chips from the 'Fins & Trotters' stall holds my legs in place.
I try taking photos around me to keep myself doing something familiar.
The Image: by Olga Levancuka.
The queue is slow; I am about to give up. In fact the queue isn't slow at all, it's just that it is long and I am already panicking if they don't give it in a closed box. I still need to get home; the ingesting would be strictly behind closed doors, and I have less than an hour before my next appointment.
I can't possibly ask. There are about 20 people in the queue, all strangers. I'd potentially need to deal with the attention of 20 strangers. It's awful! Pain threshold: Unbearable, building up to a panic attack.
"Stay put, three more people to go," protests my analytical mind.
I am extending my hand with coins, before the food guy's eyes meet mine. That does the trick, the food guy responds with:
"And one for you then."
I exhale "Yes", and relieved the interaction is over. The box (complete with lid! Yay!), is in my hands and the smell permeating my nostrils. I run home, still surprised with my heroism.
...I am soon to go back to Japan, where I also have clients and now plenty of friends. Saying all that, I would still spend a lot of time on my own. And the trauma of recent events in Tokyo is still vivid.
My last trip, I made an effort to visit a climbing gym B-PUMP in a suburban area of Tokyo, Ogikubo. Trying to get there, I hit the rush hour at Harajuku Station and human traffic pushed me against the wall. I got disorientated, tears in my eyes and my feet firmly clutching to the ground.
Still somewhat shaken, but unable to stand en masse I managed to get to my next train. Clearly, I should've took it as a warning, returning to my hotel and locking myself in. Instead, starting off on the wrong foot, after reaching Ogikubo station, I managed to get lost on my way to the climbing gym and! a cyclist run over my foot and scratched my hand that was trying to protect a camera that got squashed between the bicycles' body and mine. The policemen rushed to the scene.
Given that policemen escorted me to the climbing gym, there was nothing else I could explain to them in my broken Japanese language with a heavy anxiety accent, I hobbled up the climbing wall.
Hungry on my way back to the hotel and remembering that I only had eaten breakfast that day, I was a pure resemblance of Oliver Twist. Standing outside of the food shops' windows and unable to enter. I extorted my social-interaction resources for a week ahead. I returned to the hotel late, hungry and with bandages on one of my hands.
Hence the extra joy of being able to buy the food in uncomfortable-to-me surroundings today.
The Image: from personal archives.
... I have read plenty of literature on the subject, I studied psychology, I have spoken to many experts in my field. Most of the suggestions were about understanding my issues rather than dealing with them.
But what good are those suggestions when I still want to live a fulfilling life; and such stresses that handicap my normal social interactions with the world are never really improving, no matter how hard I try.
What I did discover however, that even if I never get used to the stresses I go through on a daily basis, I do become more tolerant to the pain (emotionally and physically) that I am dealing with every time.
If you'd ask me how I manage to interact with people during my workshops, trips and presentations, I'll tell you: I just deal with the pain every time. And then I reward myself, with the activities that calm me down, seeing my close friends, climbing or spending time with my partner.
The Image: from personal archives.
I also observe and collect something that gives me strength to continue. For example, every workshop I start, I shake. But with time, I noticed that the attendees do not see what or how I suffer, they are too busy listening to what I have to say.
If I work a whole day with brand new clients, I normally cancel all of my work for the next day. Stress levels are shooting through the roof and I need to hide from the world! But at least I've learned now: Too many new clients? Take a day off.
How do I meet new people? My friends introduce me.
How do I eat in new places? My other half has to tag along. He makes me feel safe. I need something or someone to make me feel safe. I can usually go back by myself to the same place and happily eat on my own, as long as my partner or my close friends went with me there twice before.
How do I shop? Usually online. Too stressful for me to go out shopping unless I've been to that shop a few times before, due to the need (Boots for example) or with my friends.
What can I suggest based on my experience? It never gets better.
But what does get better, you slowly expand your social circle to the level where you have enough friends and people that you know that you feel safe to be with.
And eventually! The pleasures and happiness that my daily life provides me with outweighs the pain I need to deal with... on a regular basis.