Hands sweating, heart racing, the bones in my legs were suddenly made of string. There was no way I was standing up, let alone on blades a few millimetres thick, on ICE. What was I thinking? Why did I think this was a good idea and I could do this? That’s a crazy concept anyway, people do not belong on slippery surfaces. They belong on solid ground, or in bed, actually yeah, bed sounds like an attractive option right now.
“Size 6.” I forced out of my unsteady lungs, handing my trainers over in return for ice skates and begging my mind to please, please just keep it together and not ruin this fun, yes FUN activity. I will have fun. Will I?
I started lacing my skates up with jelly fingers at the edge of the ice rink on an early Wednesday afternoon, thinking, there are way more people here than I thought could be possible at this time of the week. Who are all these people? Don’t they have jobs and lives and- And why all the kids?! Schools have already gone back after the holidays, right? Why are they here?? It’s going to be too full and should I be wearing my gloves? Maybe I shouldn’t have left my coat in the locker. I’ll probably be too cold. Ha, yeah right, you’re sweating like crazy, you think you’re going to be cold?!
I tried to hush the anxious thoughts angrily tripping over each other to be noticed, piling up in a rugby scrum and all greedily reaching out their claws for the ball – my attention. My mental energy pushed them away, imagining each one as light as a domino, taking its turn to faceplant to the ground, hitting others over as it went. It kind of worked, I guess?
A brief moment of stillness in my head… One question rose from the dust of the cascading dominoes in my mind, what am I actually anxious about? I scanned myself: was it the social situation? A little bit yes: there were quite a few people there and many of them were probably going to notice me at some point, but for the most part no.
Big crowds don’t bother me in and of themselves; doing things in a big group doesn’t particularly bother me either. My social anxiety is, for the most part, rooted in being the centre of attention, and this was not one of those moments.
So what was it? The specific activity? I guess this was more it. I have only been ice skating a few times before, and the time before this one was a long time ago. Naturally, in this situation, lots of people would be nervous. Maybe it’s all good then, maybe this is just a ‘usual’ thing, people with ‘normal’ reactions feel.
Looking around, I couldn’t help thinking it was more than that though. These people were smiling, talking, laughing. I was trying to stop myself from breathing too fast or getting up and leaving. There was one huge difference here: the people around me were so in control of their thoughts, they spared no thought for thinking; I was so desperately trying to take control of my thoughts all I could think about was thinking.
But why was I overthinking this, and why did my reactions have to go so off the scale in comparison to other people? Having managed to logically think through my feelings and physiological reaction, I calmed down a little.
My anxiety was mostly radiating out of my discomfort with the unknown: ice skating was something I didn’t do regularly, therefore it was going to be an hour or so of unpredictability. This seems to be one of the key triggers of my anxiety, but can often be lost in my misguided attempt at labelling all anxiety I feel as social anxiety. Yes, I do get social anxiety in some situations, but sometimes that is not the source of these feelings, and misunderstanding my responses can make it harder to know what thoughts and actions will help me in the moment.
From past experience, I knew the only way to quieten this type of anxiety was to steady my breathing, try not to think too much, and just get on with it. So that’s what I did, and unsurprisingly enough, I had a wonderful time.
I clung to the side the first few circuits around the rink, and then, slowly but surely, spent less time on the edge and more time cutting through the chill of a sunny winter day, gliding with speed that took my breath away and shaped my lips into a smile. I thought about how lucky I was to be able to experience this feeling.
At the end of the session, I was physically exhausted but also mentally drained. My mind had gone on an extensive rollercoaster ride of emotions and I was ready to collapse on the sofa at home in a blanket and munch on a piece a cake (which is exactly what I did).
I am proud of myself for having just enough confidence to book the ice skating tickets, I am proud of myself for not walking away right before the session started when I felt awful, and I am proud of myself for having a great time.
Sometimes doing things that seem inconceivable beforehand can be the most rewarding things to achieve, and for me, this was certainly one of those moments.
If you enjoyed this post, you might like:
My Social Media Links: