Yesterday, an old friend of mine graduated from college with his Associate’s Degree. I was extremely proud of my friend. He’s practically been in college since I’ve known him because he did most of his high school in college. There was just one terrible problem that I was going to have to face.
I fear crowds.
I fear crowds more than anything. I have an irrational fear of drowning and I still go swimming. I cannot handle crowds and I don’t really know why. Granted I was homeschooled so I never even had to deal with a crowded high school. But, this fear developed around the age of 16 when I went to a huge festival with a couple friends. At first it was completely fine. Then, my brain started to turn against me.
If there’s a fire where am I going to run?
If a fight breaks out amongst some teenagers will I be dragged in?
How will I escape if someone tries to kidnap me?
See, having nowhere to run forces me into thinking of every possible (and impossible) scenario that could happen. However, despite my fear of just simply GOING to the large arena full of people, I decided to go for my friend. He attended my high school graduation, so I felt obligated to return the favor.
We had a nice little dinner before heading over to the arena. Well, almost as soon as we leave this quaint restaurant, we hit traffic. Not just traffic. Really bad “everyone is trying to get to the arena at this very moment” traffic. Traffic also kind of triggers my fear of crowds because again you have nowhere to go if there’s an emergency. My friend was stressing. He was already kind of late. I tried to distract him with light conversation, but there was no stopping the waterfall of anxiety.
We finally got to the arena and we found a parking space that was a decent walk away from where we had to be. So, we rush into the building and do our best to get through the crowds of parents, grandparents, and children that were all perfectly in our way. Now, with my friend by my side, the crowd wasn’t really bothering me. As soon as my friend disappeared to where he needed to be, I froze. The urge to vomit immediately rushed over me. I knew that a couple of his friends were in the audience somewhere and luckily I found them within a few minutes.
They didn’t save a seat for me, though. So I had to sit in a row alone. This wasn’t too awful until my mind started to bother me again. I don’t really know what made me decide that I absolutely needed to leave. Something in my brain triggered the “flight” switch and I was out of there. I made it to a little area outside of the arena where there were televisions showing the ceremony. While I waited for my boyfriend to pick me up, I texted my friend to let him know how sorry I was that I couldn’t stay in the arena and watch from inside.
Needless to say, I don’t really know if we’re friends anymore.
I feel bad. I really, truly do. I really wanted to watch and cheer for him. The only thing is, I realized in that moment that maybe we just shouldn’t be friends. He’s never taken my fear of crowds seriously and I’m pretty sure he thinks I’m just faking it. Fear of crowds and claustrophobia are really considered “fake” fears. People who don’t understand the fear of crowds just think it’s some sort of excuse not to go anywhere.
Let me tell you right now that it’s real. It’s 100% real. Crowds make me feel as though I’m helpless especially when I’m left alone in them. They’re terrifying. People who enjoy crowds typically don’t think this fear is an actual thing.
Anyway, I watched my friend accept his diploma from outside the arena. In my heart, that was good enough. Before the students walked to accept their diploma, the mayor of Dayton was actually a guest speaker at the ceremony. She spoke of how some students are told that they are not college material. I never understood what that meant. College, in my opinion, was way less stressful than high school. The classes I took were awesome and the professors actually cared about you passing the class. College was way more exciting too! In high school you’re taught stuff that you HAVE to learn and you HAVE to pass all of those crazy standardized tests. College is way more relaxed. (Not saying it’s easy in any way, just more exciting because you’re actually becoming what you want to become)
While the mayor spoke, this little girl was watching the TV. I wasn’t sure where her parents were at the moment, but she was probably around 10 years old. She stared up at the screen the whole time. I don’t even think she blinked. The mayor spoke of the youngest graduate and the oldest graduate at the ceremony. The youngest was 14 and the oldest was 89. The little girl watched as she spoke of how it’s never too late to accomplish your goals and that anyone who tells you otherwise is lying.
I honestly said a little prayer to myself. I prayed that the little girl would remember watching that screen and hearing those words. You never know what someone’s family life is like. They might NEVER hear those words of encouragement again. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a family where we constantly told each other how much they could accomplish if they just put in the effort. Everyone is college material.