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My Speaker Dinner Anxiety Worse Case Scenario Realized and Other Anxiety-Inducing Things

I recently wrote about the fear and anxiety I feel with events that involve being put on a bus with a bunch of peers for any length of time. The fear of course comes down to, "what if I have to stop a bus full of all of these people so I can get out and find a bathroom in the middle of who-knows-where." (learn more about IBS-D here...)

It is not longer just a fear that my anxious brain worries about someday happening.

It happened.

The month of May suddenly got extremely busy. I was fortunate enough to get selected to speak at three conferences! I knew about php[tek] pretty early on but within just a few days of each other I found out that I was invited to speak at both PHP Tour Luxembourg and phpDay as well! They were both the week before php[tek] so it meant conferences for two weeks solid.

This was exciting but also a source of stress. Between the two conferences they had selected two talks and a tutorial, none of which had been written. I have no doubt that the stress this put me under played a big part in everything else that happened health-wise. Brains are weird like that.

phpDay was the last of the first two events. It had both a tutorial and a talk so there was a ton of preparation work involved. Making matters worse, I had not received favorable reviews from the presentation I delivered at PHP Tour just days before so I wanted to make sure and put extra polish on my phpDay presentations.

The tutorial went well. That relieved some stress. I still had a lot of polishing to do on the talk for the next morning but before I could get to that I first had to get through the speakers dinner.

If I didn't have the first slot in the morning it might not have been so bad. The other two speakers who had early morning slots (Beth and Cal) were in a similar situation. I talked to them both and we had made informal plans to try and leave on our own and catching a taxi back.

The speaker dinner was of the "get on a bus with everyone" variety. We were taken to another part of Verona maybe 15-20 minutes away. The drive should have been beautiful but I spent most of the time worrying, trying to guess if we were there yet, and if I could see anything that looked like it might be a good restroom stop if needed.

The meal was lovely but I had a hard time enjoying it. We were squished into small tables. I ended up in a corner so it would have been quite an ordeal if I need to skip out to hit the bathroom. Of which there was only one for a whole mess of people. Anxiety went into overdrive at this point.

Eating unknown food is sort of a problem as well. Diet plays a big part in what happens to me sometimes but it is unpredictable. It was all delicious but I felt a little out of control of what I was putting into my body. I was super hungry but with every different thing I ate, I wondered, "will this give me problems?"

By the end of the meal I needed to use the bathroom. Twice. I was not feeling comfortable at all and I was getting even more anxious about a 15 minute bus ride back to the hotel. Wait, how long was the walk to the bus? And how long was the bus ride, 15 or 20 minutes?

Even after going twice I still didn't feel right. I knew other people needed to use the bathroom (remember, there was only one...) so I came out feeling better but still not quite right. I had hoped to try going one more time before leaving for the bus but when I looked around the restaurant I saw that everyone was already outside waiting on me.

I kinda started to panic as the walk back to the bus took longer than I realized. I imagine it sounds ridiculous to anyone who doesn't have the same anxiety or suffer the same problems, but minutes matter. I can start to panic any time I'm going to be more than 5 minutes away from a bathroom.

And to make matters worse, the bus wasn't there when we got to where we were supposed to meet it. Where was it? How long until it gets here? My comfort level was dropping and I started to get more panicky.

I tried to calm myself and that helped a bit. I tried to focus on breathing differently and I started to think it was all right. The bus finally arrived and I got on as quickly as I could. I don't even remember who sat next to me, but I was on the window side. Even that was enough to bump up the anxiety level. One more person between me and the exit.

I was still feeling kinda ok as the bus started driving off. I started to mentally keep track of how far I thought we had gone and how much longer we'd have to drive. Things stayed ok for maybe five minutes.

Then it hit me.

It comes fast and it is hard to know if it is going to pass. But who really wants to find out what happens if it doesn't "just pass?" If you've suddenly got to go now and you're "oh, I don't know, maybe 10 - 15 minutes away" it starts to make things even worse.

So I had a choice to make. See if it subsides or make a scene of climbing over someone and working my way up to the front of the bus to weakly but urgently ask a question for which I already knew the answer, "are there any public restrooms on the road between here and the hotel?"

I decided I didn't want to make that scene unless I was sure.

"Maybe it will get better," I told myself.

Nope. It got worse. Fast.

So, I did what I've long feared I'd have to do. I had to get up on a moving bus, stumble my way in the dark to the front, and try to figure out how to say, "yo, I gotta go now," to an Italian bus driver in the middle of some foreign city.

If it wasn't so awful for me it would have been funny.

The bus driver appeared to only know Italian. I know English and maybe only a few hundred words in French (for example, I can say "Je suis une pomme rouge" very well!) so I would have been in a pickle if Cesare, one of the organizers, wasn't sitting up at the front.

He had a quick conversation (that felt longer to me than it probably was) with the bus driver. Between the two of them they knew the name of the bar around the corner. So he hopped off the running bus right then and there with me. We walked around the corner and into the first open door we saw.

More Italian was speedily exchanged with the bartender as I frantically looked for where the bathroom might be if I were allowed to use it.

We were good to go and I made it.

Meanwhile, I'm thinking to myself, "ok, we're not even at the hotel yet... what if this keeps happening? What if I have to stop 5 minutes into the next leg of the trip?" I realized what would probably make me the most comfortable is to just continue on alone and send the bus on without me.

Well, it turned out the bus hadn't waited. Cesare was on the phone arranging for a taxi to pick us up. I felt better about that but still nervous about waiting for the taxi and making it all the way back to the hotel.

Those worries were unjustified. I got back to the hotel safely.

I was so relieved.

I also received a nice text from Beth somewhere in there asking if I OK and offered to help get me back to the hotel. She saw me get off the bus and said she wanted to help but the bus continued on its way before she could get to the door in time.

The rest of the conference, including my talk the next morning, went off without a hitch.

This has been one of my biggest fears over the last year. I guess I survived when it actually happened so that is good. It will probably make it less of an issue in the future if it happens again, but quite honestly what I really want to do is just never go anywhere ever.

The following week at php[tek] things were a lot easier for me since everything was at the hotel. I don't think I went outside the entire week. I had intended to go to KosherCon and had been looking forward to it but I ended up canceling that in large part because of my experience at phpDay.

It was going to be some unknown amount of time (probably 20-30 minutes) on public transit. Both directions. Which meant public transit after a meal. Things are so unpredictable but one pattern I have noticed is that after meals are always the danger times.

Less than a week from my last "everyone on a bus" fiasco, I'm sure you can imagine I was not in a good place to try that again.

Later during php[tek] I took part in the open-source summit. I miscalculated how long the intro speaker was going to take. I thought it was 15 minutes, turned out to be 5. As I've grown accustomed to doing before going on stage, I decided to try to go "one last time." This caused me to almost miss the session. They were already trying to find a replacement for me by the time I actually made it back to the room.

I hate that this thing influences decisions like this. It makes me miss out on interesting opportunities and makes it so that I can't really enjoy things in the moment.

DPC this year presented a whole new facet for me to stress about. The speaker hotel was 20-30 minutes away from the venue and 15-20 minutes of that was travel using public transit. This was a huge source of anxiety for me leading up to DPC.

Nothing bad happened and I was super grateful for that, but it was constantly on my mind throughout the conference. I didn't worry too much about the speaker dinner, though, so that was nice. This was partly because the dinner was only about 5 minutes away from the hotel.

So things have been getting worse since my last post on this subject. I'd say I started to notice it getting worse during the month leading up to phpDay.

It has such a huge impact on my life but it is hard to talk about.

Even little things like going for a drive around the city for a few minutes with my family after supper at night is a cause for anxiety for me. Long walks are a nightmare. And these are things I'd otherwise enjoy doing!

I even had issues at the last Madison PHP user group I attended. During the session things were fine but at the social afterwards I had to excuse myself three or four times. I was quite literally gone more than I was there. It is both embarrassing and frustrating.

Hopefully it will get better. The last month is maybe starting to trend positive again so we'll see.

I wanted to thank Cesare for his help making this awful experience for me less painful. He reacted quickly and helped me when I really needed it and for that I'll be forever grateful.

Tags: ibs, conferences

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