by Ash Fischer
Wang Chi: A brave man likes the feel of nature on his face, Jack.
Egg Shen: Yeah, and a wise man has enough sense to get in out of the rain!
This weekend I saw Avenger’s Endgame. Wait, a Big Trouble in Little China reference into an Avengers opening? Just hang in there! The idea to see Endgame came to me the night before we ultimately went, mostly due to having the movie nearly spoiled for me while out at a farmer’s market that afternoon. We decided to go early the next morning to avoid some of the crowds (laughable) and because the tickets were a bit cheaper. That morning I went online and purchased five tickets that weren’t sold out, or spread across the theater in single seats. Of course the tickets had to be on the end of the isle, not in the front row and definitely not tightly packed in among a group of people. Unfortunately the seating chart didn’t indicate where the exits were, but you can bet that I checked for them. I was texted our ticket information and an hour later the family and I piled into the truck and drove to the theater. Of course we had to get in early. Even with reserved seating it could be a coin toss on where you ended up sitting. I got the kids seated and kept myself busy getting snacks for the family. I spent more on popcorn and drinks than the cost of the tickets somehow. I meandered around a bit and used the bathroom twice and finally, I made my way to a room packed with a ton of people, eager to sit through three hours of cinema. Specifically one that I was assured would bring up some emotions.
To most people, this is something so normal and mundane that when they speak of their time seeing Endgame, or any movie for that matter, they skip over the boring parts leading up to the movie and focus on the fun parts. Not me. I focus on the boring and mundane so much that usually it ruins a good time for me.
I have experienced anxiety in movie theaters since as far back as I can recall. Sometimes I would beg my parents to leave the theater. Sometimes I would stand in the hallway to the exit and watch the whole movie from there. Sometimes I would leave early and walk the corridors convincing myself that I wasn’t having an asthma attack. Before I quit drinking, when I would see a movie I would drink so much during the movie that I could only remember the first half. It didn’t fix anything but it was the only solution I knew at the time. I thought it made me look “normal” to my friends, but I wouldn’t call being so drunk I can’t remember the movie I paid 12 bucks to see, a very good solution.
Seven years ago I stopped drinking and things changed. I knew that when I stopped drinking, things were going to change, but I thought it was supposed to be for the better. My anxiety increased, I developed a panic disorder and I actually became terrified of having panic attacks. Let me repeat that. I became scared of being scared. This wasn’t just limited to movie theaters either. When I moved to a new state and into a new house I couldn’t even leave the house to walk around the block. It was difficult to interact with people while sober. I either talked too much or not enough. I felt out of place or like I was having that particular experience for the first time in my life. I didn’t know where to put my hands, which I now realize I flailed around like an idiot while I spoke. Everything I did felt fake or foreign. When someone would laugh at a joke, I just thought they were faking it. If anyone said anything nice to me, it had to be a lie. Nothing seemed genuine. I had medicated myself for years to avoid discomfort and it made having to face the world sober the most uncomfortable experience of my life. This next sentence may sound melodramatic, but I can promise you it was 100 percent how I felt. Just taking walks, being away from home or talking to people made me feel like I was going to stop breathing and die. As you can imagine, the idea of going to a movie theater was the last thing on my mind. I couldn’t even drive to a redbox to rent a movie, let alone to a theater packed with people to see one.
Eventually my doctor gave me Xanax, and with surprising ease. This was nice because I had to fly back to my hometown, alone. This would be my first time on an airplane and the Xanax probably kept me from being tazed by an Air Marshal as I tried to escape the metal tube of death. Oh yeah, did I mention I’m extremely claustrophobic? The more I thought about the Xanax, the more I realized that for me, this was no different than drinking. I am in no way saying that medications like these aren’t a good thing. I truly believe that there are people who benefit from them, but for me, I went back to living a life where I only remembered the first half of things and pretending to be what I thought was normal. I didn’t like it and really started to think about ways to solve my particular problem. One thing I immediately noticed was how easy it was for me, an alcoholic, to get Xanax, a proven addictive substance, from my doctor. She asked a handful of questions and then wrote me a prescription. I’m no doctor, so I can’t say if the line of questioning was sufficient or not, and I’m not saying she was wrong, but I know my body, and I knew that it was wrong for me. I did not question her, however.
I decided to start where I thought things had failed for me and that was with communication. This was an issue for me long before I started drinking and maybe one of the biggest reason why I drank. I was never honest about my feelings or emotions. I hid them from people because I was embarrassed that I wasn’t being normal and that certainly created more anxiety and panic. Hiding my feelings and emotions was lying. Lying about panic and anxiety seemed to make the issues more real for me somehow. Two things that couldn’t physically harm me were beginning to steal my life away. There were times when I panicked so hard, that I would stop myself from breathing.
I don’t remember when it was, but at some point during the first four years of sobriety I decided to get help and talk with someone. It was during this time that I thought of an exchange between Wang Chi and Egg Shen in Big Trouble In Little China. It’s a silly thing, but sometimes you get desperate for a life line and a few moments of being calm and not having to fight. I would come back to it when that inner voice would start up trying to convince me that nothing I was doing was normal. For those of you who need a refresher on the greatest movie ever made, Wang Chi, Egg Shen, Jack Burton and company are heading to Egg’s place to plan their final attack on LoPan. As they march through the rain, Jack Burton, hunkered underneath Egg’s umbrella, attempts to hold it for him in order to keep out of the rain. Wang Chi, with a smirk on his face chimes in, “A brave man likes the feel of nature on his face, Jack.” To which Egg, in all of his wisdom responds “Yeah, and a wise man has enough sense to get in out of the rain!” Like I said, a silly scene, but it stuck with me.
Wang Chi represented who I was trying to be. A man standing around in the rain pretending it’s the brave or normal thing to do. It was either because that’s what I thought bravery was, or because that’s how I thought I was supposed to act around people. Either way, it wasn’t helpful or useful in any way. Egg Shen on the other hand, was who I needed to be. A wise person who knew when it was time to get out of the rain. There was nothing I needed to prove to anyone. Trying to pretend to be normal, or someone who doesn’t need help isn’t bravery. It’s brave, in my opinion, to go through life with anxiety, panic disorders, depression, addiction etc, but still ask for help. It’s wise to understand that normal is subjective and that basing your life off of someone’s else’s definition is harmful.
I would be a jerk if I told you that opening up and talking to someone is easy. It’s not. At least, it wasn’t for me, but I did it. And I would also be a jerk if I promised you that the way I did things fixed everything for me. It didn’t and it likely won’t. This is just life but there is no sense in going through it on hardmode if you can help it by opening up. The battles that people with issues of the mind face on a daily basis is something that others may find boring or mundane, but it’s nothing personal. They probably don’t know what you’re going through anymore than you know what they are going through. This is where communication comes in. I used to ask why I couldn’t be normal like other people. Why can’t I do things like go to a movie like regular people do? It turns out that once I found a counselor to talk to, and once I opened up more to my family and friends about my issues, the more I understood that I’m not alone or abnormal. I also found out that people were more sympathetic to my issue than I realized. I had created an idea in my head that this was all unique to me, and it turns out that a lot of people face the same, or similar issues. I stopped lying about what was going on in my head, and eventually those lies had less of a hold on my reality. The more I opened up about my issues and talked about them, the easier it became to manage them. This may be how life goes, but I found hope. I was blessed enough to have great, understanding people around me, but I would have shut them all out and turned them away if I didn’t start telling the truth.
So, did ordering tickets to see Endgame come with some anxiety? Yes. I hesitated and thought of ways to get out of it to be honest. I knew that commiting to going to the movies could lead to some of the discomforts I have felt in the past, but I realized this was old me. These thoughts were because of the lies I spent so long making a reality. I leaned on what I had learned in opening up about my issues and knew that I could get through it. I had to be both brave and wise to go see a movie. Imagine that.