During the summer, most people enjoy going out for picnics. Whether grilling with a large group of people or lounging on a checkered blanket with a few friends, picnics are a fun way to be outdoors. Sure, the bugs or bad weather might dampen spirits but overall, this quaint yet adventurous activity brings numerous people joy.
However, I dread picnics. Growing up, I think that I enjoyed them. After all, I love nature and being with my family. Thus why wouldn’t I like eating outside and joking with the ones I love? Why would I now become anxious simply sitting on the outdoor table on our deck much less lunching at a State Park or on a blanket?
One could argue that it is my eating disorder that keeps me from enjoying this experience. There is some truth to that. Just being around food still raises my anxiety so having a meal would never be fun for me. Any little extra stress added to an already nerve-wracking experience makes dinning even more difficult. Also, the possibility of others being nearby to see me consuming food (the scandal!) makes me wary of picnics. Family meals are difficult enough but a large get-together filled with sizzling burgers, screeching infants, and questioning acquaintances seems unbearable. So Anorexia certainly plays a part in my fear of picnics.
However, there is more to my aversion of picnics than my eating disorder. Anxiety and Aspergers played a huge role in my “picnicphobia” even before I began to restrict food. Eating outdoors brings many unplanned challenges that are difficult for me to prepare for. For example, mosquitoes or flies often nibble on me the entire time. Yes, I could put on spray but they often still pester me. I never know if I will have to swat them away the entire meal or be bug free. Also, how clean can I expect our dinning space to be? There might be ants marching over our table or remnants of hot dog buns and ketchup on the seats. How many germs are lying about just ready to cling onto a careless lunching victim?
What about all the noise and stimulus? When large groups of people join us or are nearby, I struggle to concentrate on my family. Instead, I long to find a quiet corner to hide in until everyone leaves. It is not that I want to be anti-social; I simply cannot withstand the sensory overload. As I shyly watch grownups laughing, children shrieking with joy, and teenagers snap photographs of each other, I wish that I could be normal. I wish that I could just jump in and be like everyone else. But I am not. Because of my brain chemistry and disorders, I lack the social skills and energy to engage in a picnic like others.
However, I am making a conciseness effort to be a better picnic-goer. Instead of complaining about eating on our deck, I appease my family. To reduce my anxiety, I sit in the same spot and breath deeply. Slowly, my dread has lessened until the experience is merely uncomfortable instead of terrifying. When numerous people come out to our house to grill and socialize, I mingle for small periods of time before heading off to work or quietly read in my room. Sure, I am not the perfect hostess but at least I am able to greet and smile at guests without having a nervous breakdown.
Today is one of those fear-provoking days. Seventy-five to one hundred people will be outside my home for a picnic. Although I am very anxious, I am going to use the coping skills I have learned to stay safe and sane. Yes, this is an uncomfortable and frightening experience but I will survive it. The event will only last for this afternoon and then it will be done. Slowly but surely, I am learning how to function in social settings while still taking care of myself. No, I will never be “normal” but I am learning how to be myself in a healthy, confident, and stretching way.