March 5, 2011

Take Two

Every day I take mass transit to get to my office. I work at a huge public university in one of the biggest cities in the world. None of this is crippling. But the thought of certain social situations - parties, bars, and almost anywhere with large groups - fills my stomach with nervousness.

I wasn't always like this, though it also is not exactly a recent development. I think it started when I moved to Chicago and gained a ton of weight in grad school. My classmates would often head out after our late Thursday night seminars to grab a beer and decompress a little, and I always had an excuse why not to go - exams needed to be modified, books needed to be read, lessons needed to be planned. And eventually, the invitations stopped coming, because they knew I'd always say no.

I was never so busy that I couldn't have spent one night out with my friends enjoying a drink and talking about something that isn't coursework-related. I was just too afraid and embarrassed, to be honest. I feared everything from breaking barstools to getting hurt as I tried to get my large, tipsy self back home. And since drunk people tend to speak their version of the truth, if people would yell mean and nasty things at me from their car windows when they were sober, I just couldn't bear to think about the painful things I could hear in situations involving alcohol. I was embarrassed enough just leaving the house for the errands I had to do, but to go out in addition to that? It wasn't worth the pain to me.

A few weeks ago, some of my students asked me to go to see a French movie with them downtown. I said maybe, then ended up staying home and having a small panic attack over the idea of going out and being social. There wasn't going to be any alcohol, of course, but still - I felt vulnerable. What if I don't fit in the seats? What if someone says something mean and nasty to me and my students hear it? It's illogical, I know it is. But these thoughts pop up all too frequently. I don't want to get hurt, so I don't take any risks.

Obesity was a shield for me for far too long. Ironically, it was the reason why I had so many fears in the first place, but it also provided me with an oddly comforting place to hide from facing them. I'm still obese, and I'm making progress to fix that - but I need to work just as much on facing my fears as I do with staying active and watching what I eat. Truly living life requires a little risk taking. I'm not sure of the source, but there's this quote that I love: A ship is safe in harbor, but that's not what ships are for.

Tonight, my students are going out again, and this time, I will be going with them. I have all day to brace myself and do whatever I need to do in order to get ready, but I have committed to this - not to them, to myself. I want to see this movie. I want to support my amazing students while they do exactly what every teacher dreams of - truly love, enjoy, and seek the material outside of class. And I want to live my life fully, in spite of the risks and possibilities.

from college - i miss that great camera


Amy said...

Awww good for you! I hope you had an amazing time!!

Jess said...

Good for you!!! Enjoy!!!

Spoonful of Me said...

Just remember the old saying sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.

I hope that all goes well with your students.

Shannon said...

Love this post! I can relate to it so much! I spent almost 14 years in hiding because I couldn't handle being in social situations....heck, just being out in public was hard! I've been trying hard to get past the fear, and join life again. I'm so glad you are going out with your students tonight. I really hope you have a good time, and enjoy yourself!

Colleen said...

What a big step. I am so proud of you and I hope you enjoy yourself.

I know the EXACT feeling you're describing - it's the reason I don't really have any "real life" friends to go out and do things with. I just got an invitation from my husband's cousin's wife to go out and have a coffee this week sometime and I said, "I'll see what's going on and let you know." Which really meant I'll let the week go by and never get back to her. But because of your post, I'm going to have the courage to do it because I know I'll have a good time....and I just need to do it and deal with the emotions that come.

Thank you so much!

Goodbye, Fat Girl!

Anonymous said...

Mary, I hope you went out with your students and felt good afterward. I hope it was fun and something you might do again.

Just like others have commented, I can relate to your post. I've avoided everything social for over 20 years now and because of it have no friends that I hang out with. My sister and husband are my best friends. I admire the type of person that can be obese and not care of what others think. Those people live life despite of their outer skin. I haven't been able to do that and hide in my shell instead. I live a happy life, but not it's not as rich as it could be. I always say 'someday', but when will that day be.

Tim said...

What film did you see? I hope it went well yesterday and you had a great time :)