I would like to construct for myself a panic room, into which I can retreat during particularly bad spells of social anxiety.
Perhaps if you have social anxiety, you know what I’m talking about, or have even imagined creating such a thing for yourself. Picture it: a place we can go when the press of humanity becomes overwhelming, when voices seem too loud, when eye contact is terrifying. A retreat. A miniature paradise, close at hand and far from stress. I have spent decades of my life sketching the schematics of my panic room down to the inch. This is not a hypothetical exercise. This is not a place I plan to “go” when the bad feelings come in. It does not exist on the other side of darkened eyelids and boxed ears.
The Social Anxiety Panic Room will be a literal room at some point when I am wealthy enough to own my own property.
I envision a future in which I am talking with my realtor as we stroll through properties, arm in arm with me spouse/partner, discussing the possibilities. “Yes, we would like a two-car attached garage. Yes, three bedrooms is just perfect. Yes, we do require a ten by ten square-foot enclosed space for my own discreet purposes, which can be affixed with a single door or reinforced steel, and as much soundproofing as is physically possible.”
Beyond these features—the steel, the silence—I have a few additional requirements for this room, a few features I’ve been dreaming for more than two decades. I understand that these might be unrealistic, and that I should separate this into nice-to-haves and must-haves, but I see no reason to abandon my dreams this early in life.
Please feel free to copy this list of required room dressings in the construction of your own social anxiety panic room. They are as follows:
1. The softest, supplest blanket known to man. Of fabric strange and flawless and unknown. It shall be piled atop the second-softest blanket known to man, which shall in turn piled atop the third-softest blanket known to man, which shall In turn be piled on top of the fourth-softest pillow known to man, etc. An infinite regression of softness, if you will, miraculously enclosed in finite space. I will wrap myself in the perfect cocoon of blankets. My whole body, and my head if I need to. Whether I emerge from this as a butterfly is irrelevant. Becoming a butterfly is not the point. There are no expectations here. Just warm, and soft, and the little happy animal noises I will make to myself in the blankets’ embrace. Mmm. Mmmm. Coo-coo-o-o-o.
2. A beautiful window with a beautiful view of the beautiful day. I can look out whenever I please, or I can erase the window if the view upsets me, or if it is cold, or if I would prefer to pretend that the world beyond does not exist.
3. A journal with the most exquisite binding anyone has ever seen. Its pages smell of quiet adventures, of rigor and of memory and dust. I will fill its blank lines with my well-formed thoughts and feelings, which will become progressively calmer and calmer over time, until I am calm all the time. The binding will be threaded with exactly the color I want to see at the time I look at the book. It will have been made by monks in forgotten times. Its inside cover will be adorned with illustrations that prophesy the creation of this very room.
4. A small turtle. To him I will speak the troubles of the day. He will listen and nod in the sage way that turtles do. I will provide him with a tender leaf of bibb lettuce. I will leave him be when he needs his privacy, until—oh! Oh look, the turtle is laying little turtle eggs. It is a she-turtle Now the little turtle will not be so alone. Now we will all be together, all quiet, all chewing thoughtfully and listening.
5. A one-button phone that can only dial one number. On other end will be an operator who will softly whisper messages of tailored, specific statements of unconditional positive regard. “Everyone at the company potluck understood why your pie crust was dry, and enjoyed it anyway,” she will say. The connection is one-way. I can hang up when I am through. I will not need to warn her. She cannot call me back, and she will not be offended that I have chosen to end the conversation. Like the people and the pie, she understands.
6. A big oak table to hide under. I can drag the blankets under the table if I need to. I can hide under the table. I can drape more blankets over the table and make a little fort, or a little tent. It is easy to imagine I am inside a tent on any manner of quiet, calm, alone-adventures.
7. A small glass bowl of my favorite candies. Tethered to the table so that even if I knock the table, they will not fall off.
8. A bar for lifting myself up. Sometimes physical exertion is the best channel for anxiety. I could lift heavy things. But the Panic Room is not a place for heavy objects. It is a room for the soft, light, the friendly. Feathers. Birdsong. Endless mounds of cloud-white meringue. The heaviest thing I shall lift is myself. And in doing so, my soul will become lighter. Light things. Soft things. Soft. Light.
9. A nice therapist with a calm face. His name will be something monosyllabic and androgynous like Hem or Ham or Hum. He will have the dry mouth and scratchy throat of someone who needs one sip of water. Just to my left will be a big cup of water at exactly the right temperature. I will reach for it and hand it to him. “Thank you,” he will say, “for handing me that water.” His voice will now be clear. “Your response to my mouth-noises was warranted and socially appropriate.” Then he will leave me, because there is nothing else to say.
10. Apples of varying firmness. What is the tenor of your anxiety? Is it taut like a bow string? Rumbling and low like the hum of a vent? Is it as the grind of many old gears turning too quickly? Sometimes cutting things helps. I will cut into apples. Imagine cutting into the sharp crispness of a Granny Smith, of the soft meal of a Macintosh just past freshness. Imagine a vegetable knife piercing the skin and slowly dragging through the apple’s flesh, cutting the perfect slice, the juices slowly dripping down into a circular pool, none of it getting on my hands, finding no seeds. Just slices of apple cut perfectly, smelling perfect and sour-sweet. Slipping one slice of apple into the turtle’s tank. Enjoying it together. And the cutting board and the core just disappear, just evaporate into the atmosphere of the room. Nothing to deal with. No mess to clean. No one to share with but the turtle, and the therapist, when he comes, which is only when I want him to.
And that is all there needs to be. And everything is flawlessly calm and flawlessly alright.