Earlier this week, my husband asked if I wanted to go to a Blackhawks game with his boss and his wife. I’m a hockey fan, especially of the “Hawks,” Chicago’s professional team in the National Hockey League (NHL). Apparently, they were great seats.
Wherever the seats were, I was willing to go. I mean, it was hockey! It was the Blackhawks (even though they haven’t been doing well this season)! But I’ve been going through a depression for the past couple of weeks, and in that time, have only left the house — with my husband — 4 times for weekly appointments.
I also haven’t met new people in years. The few times I’ve socialized with another couple in the recent past were with my sister and brother-in-law, not strangers. After my husband told me about the game, my anxiety kicked in, which was no surprise.
My biggest worry was that I’d end up cancelling at the last minute, which I’ve been known to do. And yet, the other couple included his boss, so there was no way I was going to do that to my husband.
I was afraid they’d ask me what I do, but I discussed this with my therapist ahead of time, and we agreed that I’d say, “I’m a fiction writer and I blog about bipolar disorder.” I didn’t want to hide that fact, because the main point of this blog, after all, is to fight stigma towards mental illness.
So my strategy this past week was to not worry about what would happen on Saturday until Saturday came along. I successfully gnored the “what ifs.” Besides, I’ve been to the United Center (UC), where the Hawks play, many times, so I’m familiar with the location.
Yesterday came along, and I was terrified. The depression didn’t help, because I didn’t have the energy to go — in fact, I no longer wanted to. I didn’t want to meet new people. I didn’t want to meet at the Billy Goat’s Tavern, an iconic Chicago pub, before the game even though I’d agreed to, because I’d never been there.
When it was almost time to go, I was so reluctant that my husband had to literally dress me, like you would a toddler. Even though I didn’t want to go, I also didn’t want to cancel — I wasn’t going to do that to my husband. Plus, it was the Hawks?
After parking, I put on my “game face” — the mask I use with strangers to cover up my real feelings, namely, depression. We walked to the Billy Goat. Besides being an unfamiliar place, it was packed. While looking for his boss, my husband and I had to squeeze through bodies that were also trying to navigate their way in every direction. (I’m okay with crowds, as long as everyone’s moving in the same direction, like to a stadium.) I nearly had a panic attack, which would have been a nightmare. We agreed that my husband would text his boss to say we’d meet them at the UC.
Once we were seated, I could breathe easily again. The other couple arrived, and they were friendly. We didn’t do much socializing because we were watching the game, but based on their demeanor, I think I would be okay getting to know them.
I still felt nervous, and kept my mask on. It’s funny because when I played hockey, I wore a goalie mask that protected me physically rather than mentally.
The Hawks didn’t play well, and we lost 7-3 — a huge deficit. Meeting new people was a challenge. But by going through with our plans, I opposed my depression and anxiety, and pulled out a win.
Do you put on a mask when going out? Do you keep the mask on even with friends?
How do you feel about meeting new people?