Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Lit Love: Feb Fair, Death Traps, Zombie Apocalypse, and my Anxiety

By: Joel Donato Ching Jacob

Amy asked why I felt that I wanted to meet with her. I answered, “I wanted to meet with you because I do not want to meet with you.”

I didn’t know it then, but I have social anxiety. I am not sure how it feels for other people I can only relay how it feels for me. It does feel like I was going crazy because I get upset over conflicting fears. I get overwhelmed with fears of missing out but I am also afraid of people. I dislike interacting with people. Some of my friends find it hard to get on board with the idea; maybe I did too at the start. I can be loud. I can be fun. I am the guy you can expect to call for the waiter at the restaurant or to ask for the manager if we had complaints in a venue. I love dancing in the clubs. I am not the least bit shy, so social anxiety seemed like the least of my problems.

Illustration by Isaac Brines

But I was also very flaky. I would agree to go to events and I would be ready but I would cancel at the last minute. The idea of interacting with other people made me uncomfortable. At work, when people come to my desk with requests, I would ask them to go back to their desks to send me an email instead; I have made up a very real and valid excuse that I am forgetful and that if I were busy, I can queue their requests on my inbox. But I did not want to be talking with my co-workers. It got so bad that some of my friends have stopped asking me out because there was no point; I was not going to arrive. I am often late for work because I need to build up the courage to interact with other people.

The desperation to seek help finally arrived when the UP Feb Fair was going to be held a few blocks from my workplace and the idea of tens of thousands of people freaked me out to the point of indigestion and sleeplessness. Amy is a psychiatrist and she was going to be my therapist for the next 8. My first session was spent making introductions and instructions on how to maintain a mood diary where I was going to track my anxiety events, thoughts during the event, feelings during the event, and most importantly, I had to write down physiological observations as I went through the event, like if I was short of breath, or physically agitated in any other way.

Illustration by Isaac Brines

I pace. I probably could have walked from SM North to UP Diliman with the pacing I do in the parking lot over a week. I don’t keep a pedometer because I am sure I can knock any step goals out of the park. But in staffing ours, my away-from-desk time is not looking admirable. In an exercise, Amy asked me to report about a moment of extreme stress and what could go wrong. I was like “Talaga lang? (Oh,really?) Are you challenging me?” So I spent an entire hour telling her how horrible malls were and how I imagine stuff like fires, martilyo (hammer) gang attacks, terrorist bombings that would result in zombie-apocalypse-level stampedes. I transitioned into an actual zombie apocalypse scenario because I was soon explaining how I spent most of my time in malls imagining how to escape from zombies. At some point after, I talked about disease transmission by droplets, bodily contact, or by air. Malls are death traps. Near the end of our eight sessions, Amy gave a bit of advice and I wrote it down word for word because I knew it was going to change my life: Avoidance causes anxiety because it keeps you from the position to create positive change whereas, even with failure, action is anchored on hope.

I have become paralyzed by things that I should do right. I have expectations of how to behave to impress my friends when they never verbalized those expectations of me. So I end up flaking out on opportunities to be a friend to them. I have this idealized self that presented himself as a distinguished co-worker that I can never live up to so I just gave up and stopped interacting with my officemates. Malls are still death traps.

Illustration by Isaac Brines

Does interacting with people still freak me out? You bet. I hate it! But now I do my best to follow through because I want to have hope. I had lost hope in myself and I had to regain that. Do I still flake out? Yes. Do I still panic in public? Yes. But do I hope to get better?

Yes. I sought help.


Joel Donato Ching Jacob is called Cupkeyk by friends. He is the 2018 winner of the Scholastic Asian Book Award; Wing of the Locust is coming out later this year. Cupkeyk is also a 2019 Editors Choice Awardee for The Best Asian Short Stories for “Artifacts from the Parent.” He lives in Bay, Laguna with his mother and two dogs. He likes hiking up mountains, lifting weights, and eating out. Follow him on Twitter or IG: @chimeracupkeyk