“Do you have a table for one, in a corner?” I asked the waiter who met me at the door. I had high hopes for this restaurant, as their toilets were perfect for crying in. Let me explain. First of all, they were on a totally different floor, far away from everything. No music was playing. The stalls were completely closed, no huge gap above and under the door, so people can hear you weeping “God oh why, oh God why me” or whatever you decide to cry out on the given day. Neither can they hear a plop, if that was to happen. No, completely closed off. Good, decent lock on the door. A good coat hook on it as well. It was big enough for my ass to feel comfortable on the seat without half of it having to rest on the bin for Embarrassing Lady Stuff. And it was quiet – no queue. No other people in there. It even had automatic hand dryers, which is perfect for when there are a lot of people there – and you have to blow your nose or do the plop without anyone hearing. It was even on the top floor, so the cellphone reception was excellent. This public bathroom was a five star bathroom and I spent a good 20 minutes in there, taking deep breaths (after flushing) and trying to get my head together again. I had spent six hours straight amongst people, loud people in particular. I needed a small space, alone, to clear my head and close my eyes. To let my guard down, just for a bit. And this bathroom stall was perfect. So I had high hopes for the restaurant itself.
“Yes, of course!” the waiter answered me and I was not surprised – I already knew it. Based on their toilets alone, I knew that this restaurant was one of the only Social Angst-Friendly restaurants in all of England. I followed him to a table that was… Oh… Wait… In the middle of the room?
“I mean, it’s a table for one, but it’s not in a corner,” he said, laughed a bit and placed the menu on the table, “Enjoy and let me know if you need anything.”
“A FUCKING TABLE IN A FUCKING CORNER IS WHAT I NEED!” I almost shouted at him and maybe I would have, had I not been at a high level of social angst. And then again – had I not been at a high level of social angst, I would not have needed a table in a corner in the first place.
It is just that corners are amazing in the same way that bathrooms are amazing. I would say – the more walls that surround you without including other people, the better. Instead I was placed right between two dates.
I do not really remember the meal – I ordered, ate and paid within twenty minutes and rushed out. I had 1,5 hour left of the two hours I was meant to spend relaxing. Instead I had been tensely scribbling notes down in my notepad whilst listening to ‘No Such Thing As a Fish’ podcast whilst texting two or three friends at the same time whilst taking shallow breaths and swallowing food. I. Needed. A. Corner.
Just. A. Fucking. Corner.
My friends always think I am silly when I do not wish to sit in the middle of the room. “THE BOOTH!” I always demand when possible.
Rare times I am okay with being around people. I think it is when I am either in my own comfort zone, for example, when I am on stage doing comedy. I am fine with the audience. They are all shutting up, facing the right way (usually). Or if I am at a party where I know everyone. Or if I am particularly confident or with someone I trust immensely. There are only three people like this. They are all in Denmark.
Usually, if I do go to a party, I will excuse myself at least once an hour, to go somewhere and sit. Often toilets in pubs are horrible, 1 or 2 stars max, with huge gaps under the stalls and usually one or two of the toilets are clogged, so there is only one left and girls are standing in front of the mirrors screaming to each other. Horrible.
Instead I find a corner (oh, corners) or a staircase or an alleyway outside, nearby. Then I take deep breaths. Tweet about how much I hate people and parties and being not in my bed. Text a friend. Put music in my ears. Fifteen minutes later, I feel like I have to go back and plaster a smile on my face and pretend I am listening to conversations – where chances are, I’m focusing on not being in the way of people walking close to me or on how the voices around me seem to get louder and louder.
When I take the night bus home, I try and get the front, right window seat on the upper deck. That is the most corner’y seat. There is usually not a seat behind you and in front, there is a window. It is the best seat on a bus, if you don’t want to be close to people. Tubes are no go, especially during rush hour. There are always people using the tube. If I have to go, I always sit in the front or rear carriage, up against a wall, as far away from people as possible. And then I hold my breath till I’m over ground again.
When I was a teenager and my boyfriend and I would throw house parties, I would make it my ‘thing’ to always sit in a corner with someone, on the floor, and have a chat. I loved it. “Come on, let’s sit on a corner and talk.” and people would be drunk enough to think it was hilarious. I just thought it felt safe. I spent New Years of 2006 doing the dishes (mind you, it was a house party that we were throwing – I didn’t just break into a kitchen at a restaurant) because the kitchen was bright, quiet and I could be alone. I was happier than I have ever been at any New Years party ever.
I have never been diagnosed – well, I have, but not for this. No one has ever told me I have social anxiety, agoraphobia, socialphobia or even that I am introvert – the one thing I know for certain that I am. I use “social angst” because it works better than saying “I would rather not sit by the table in the middle of the room, as it makes me uncomfortable”. Then people look like they have sucked on a lemon for an hour and sigh, “What?” and then you have to explain that you give public toilets a star-rating. “Social angst” sounds horrendous, it is horrendous and it makes people shut up.
Cars. Cars are incredible. Tiny, little boxes, sound proof even. I was recently stuck on the M4 for five hours because there had been a car accident. The other two comics in the car immediately got bored and nervous about not making the gig we were going to. One of them got so restless, he left the car to go for a walk.
I was saying things like, “Eurgh, come on already, how long can this take?” whilst thinking: “This is my psychological vacation.”
I enjoyed it, probably more than anyone has ever enjoyed being stuck on the motorway. When one of the comics jokingly said, “There was once a car queue in China that lasted for three weeks!”, part of me secretly hoped that it would happen to us. Three weeks in a tiny, confined space with one two people? Stick a toilet in there and you may have just found yourself a six stared vacation resort.
I am not sure of my limit – it depends how high my level of social angst is on the given day. I have been standing in a backstage room with seven wonderful comedians, whom I would all refer to as my friends and yet, when it came to saying goodbye, I panicked and just left. Instead I texted them all a bad excuse – had to run for my train or something like that. The thought of having to interrupt their conversation, get their attention and then say goodbye made my throat dry up and my eyes flicker. So I bailed. Other days I can say goodbye just fine. Other days I cannot even make it to the gig. This is quite rare though. Gigs are my safe space.
I have sometimes been able to be alone in a crowd. Few times. Front row at concerts is good. You’re stuck between people and the music is louder than everything else. You get to jump up and down till your feet start bleeding and then some more. You sweat and let go of the tension.
Or, of course, if you’re drunk – in the nice way. Where you do not give a flying fuck. That usually only lasts till you get either drunker or less drunk or someone says something such as “Why are you drawing stars on the bathroom wall?” or “That guy whose leg you are dry humping probably finds you really annoying” and then it’s back to reality, cruel, cold reality where being surrounded by people makes your gut tense up, your breath become shallow, your muscles tighten, your body language close up and your head hurt.
I am not sure if it is social anxiety. It could be one of the other diagnoses I have been given through my life. Laziness (“come on, just because you don’t want to get on the tube at rush hour? shitty excuse!”), anti-social (“you never go to parties, how are you supposed to make friends?”), weird (“why are you sitting in a corner? people are dancing, come on!”), boring (“you just have this dead demeanor around people!”), stupid (“you just said nothing and kept looking around the room, so we assumed you didn’t know anything!”) or simply just arrogant (“you didn’t say goodbye to anyone, you just left, like you thought you were better than all of us!”).
I have been called a “diva” many times. And I guess I would be – for if I was ever to be famous, like really famous, Madonna-famous, my first demand would be that I always had a corner table ready for me, wherever I went. And I would only dine in restaurants with Social Angst-approved five star public toilets. But most of all, I just want a fucking table in a fucking corner.