Last month, I went to the movies with a friend. Our seats were obstructed, and we could barely see the screen. He suggested we switch seats, and I protested. I told him we’d need to wait until the movie started to confirm those seats were empty before switching. But he reassured me it was okay to try. Worst-case scenario, we’d be asked to move. So I followed his lead and slid into a seat that wasn’t mine.
I spiraled into a bout of anxiety as I waited for the seat’s rightful owner to show up. My rational self knew the situation wasn’t serious. But knowing that couldn’t change how I felt. It couldn’t stop my heart from racing whenever someone approached our aisle or brain from imagining the potential conflict ahead. It couldn’t free me from the anxiety that had already taken hold.
I should have told my friend about my struggle. I know he would have agreed to return to our original seats. But I didn’t because I believe I had no right to feel the way I did. I had no right to inconvenience him with whatever was going on with me. And I didn’t want to embarrass myself by admitting to my anxiety.
So I sat there and struggled.
Eventually, the seats’ rightful owners showed up, and I panicked. I stood up too spooked and anxious to say something. My friend handled the conversation in a calm and friendly manner. “It was all his idea,” he joked, pointing at me. Then we moved to another pair of unoccupied seats until the situation repeated itself and we found our way back to the nosebleeds of the theatre.
I spent most of the movie unable to shake how angry and ashamed I felt. I was furious at my friend for making light of a situation that made me uncomfortable. I felt like he had made me the butt of the joke and mocked me for something I couldn’t control. Something I already felt vulnerable and ashamed about. Everything I felt about myself I projected onto him.
The shame felt worse than the anger. I could barely stand to sit with myself. I mean, why couldn’t I just sit in a seat without turning it into an ordeal? Why couldn’t I stay calm and in check? Why couldn’t I just be normal? Why did I have to be broken?
After, I told my friend how I felt. He apologized for his behavior and not picking up on what was going on. And I cried—a lot. I cried because I felt out of control and embarrassed. I cried because I didn’t want to acknowledge how bad my anxiety had become. I cried because I felt overwhelmed and sorry for myself. I cried because I knew things needed to change, and I was scared I didn’t have the strength to change for the better.
Since then, I’ve started to seek professional help. I’ve been to therapy before, and I know I handle my issues better when working with someone else.
I wish I weren’t the guy who lost his shit over movie seats. I wish deciding where to do dinner didn’t feel like a “life or death” decision with right and wrong answers. I wish I didn’t have a doomsday mindset about my love life.
But I am that guy. I have to acknowledge and accept that. Because I’ll never become the person I want to be if I can’t accept and show compassion for the person I am now. I’ll never be able to see improvements and celebrate my growth if I don’t acknowledge the problem in the first place. I’ll never be able to fully love myself if I continue to bury the parts of me I think are bad.
I didn’t share this story to worry people or make them feel bad. I know I’ll be okay. I shared it because I wanted to be honest with where I am. I wanted to share my issues because acknowledging and owning them is the first step in forgiving yourself for having them. I know I’m not at my best, and I know I deserve to be and feel better. I deserve to sit through a movie without losing my mind, even if the film in question is starring Scarlett Johansson.
And if I do have another anxiety attack at the movies, so be it. Wanting to do better doesn’t change what I know to be true. That who I am now is enough.