My fear of new places

This piece was first published by writer, Kimmie, on her site, Becoming Kimotionally Stable.

A few months ago I joined an extramural soccer league in Baltimore. The team is mostly comprised of people who work in the same building as I do, and even though meeting new people terrifies the shit out of me, I’ve been grateful for the invite. We placed dead last this past season, and I managed to get a red card and get kicked out of a game for punching the soccer ball, but ya know, good times have been had.

However, our current season started up three weeks ago, and as I sit here in my bedroom, I am missing my third consecutive game. The first one was missed because I had mono, so I give myself a pass for that, but the main reason I’m having trouble showing up to the games this season is because they’re at a park I’ve never been to.

Do you remember showing up to a friend’s house for a birthday party in elementary school? You had never been to this friend’s house before, but your mom read the address on the invite while driving over, and she’s dropped you off at this brick house that looks just like every other one in the subdivision, and there’s no obvious signs that you’re in the right place, but here you are walking up the steps to the front door hoping that when you knock, you’ll be greeted with someone confirming that you’re exactly where you need to be. Sound familiar? 

That terrified feeling I used to get when ringing the doorbell of a house with a door I wasn’t sure what was behind is the same feeling I get when I have to meet new (or relatively new) people at a new place. I have diagnosed social anxiety disorder, so committing to the people portion of that scenario already requires a lot of conscious and deliberate energy from me, but add in a location I’ve never been, and I feel helpless to my anxiety. 

I’m sharing these thoughts for accountability. Here I am, acknowledging that I have a problem I want to work on and with a plan to do exactly that: Some time before next week, I am going to drive to the new park for our soccer games, familiarize myself with the parking situation (if you live in a big city, you will understand the anxiety that parking in and of itself can cause), and explore the park. I have no idea what this place looks like, but even if it’s completely barricaded with 10 foot tall fences, I am going to get out of my car and walk around the area. Walk one way, walk another, and maybe even walk in a shop or cafe nearby. I am going to walk around until the knot in my stomach disappears and I feel a degree of peace while being there. 

In some ways, I’m surprised I didn’t put two and two together sooner about what I needed to do in order to feel able to show up again. In all honesty I’ve been trying to will myself to ‘just do it’ for the past two weeks. A day has not passed since the start of this season where I haven’t thought about how I am going to have to bite the bullet and figure it all out in the moment. But that’s not where I’m at emotionally, as much as I wish it were. I can’t just will away my anxieties and force myself into a false feeling of comfort. If I am truly going to make lasting changes to my thought patterns so that one day I don’t feel paralyzed by the new people-new place combination, I have to meet myself where I’m at. I have to give myself the opportunity to face each of those triggers in isolation, even if it means showing up to a new place on my own prior to showing up with others. 

I’ll report back with [hopefully] a success story. 🙂

by Kimmie, Becoming Kimotionally Stable, 2 July 2021

Yellow flag, Iris pseudacorus (Nick Smith, Creative Commons)