It’s a beautiful morning as I head off to one of my favourite camping spots in my beloved campervan. There’s no anxiety about what awaits, just some discomfort whilst driving; this is nothing unusual: I’m always anxious about receiving a fine, having an accident or pissing somebody off and becoming the victim of road rage.
I enter the campground happy to have arrived without incident and experience a sense of relief – I absolutely love camping. Yet, something is different: there’s a man on a tractor mowing the area in which I’m supposed to park. Immediately, my mind goes into overdrive: “Shit, what do I do now? Do I get out and approach him? Do I stay in the van? Do I park where I’m supposed to anyway? Fuck, what if he’s chatty? If I just ignore him, he’ll think I’m rude. If I just park-up, he might get shitty with me. Fuck, fuck, fuck!” After a few moments of catastrophic thought, I rein it in, and park-up so that he’ll be able to stop beside me. He’s not chatty, and although I offered to wait until he was finished (I wouldn’t want to be judged harshly, would I?!), he tells me not to worry about it, and to park-up. Crisis over – or so I thought!
Just as I’m about to set up, in the background I hear the groundsman turn off the tractor, and then a couple of voices. I look over and see another camper (a very loud one at that) talking the ear off the groundsman. My immediate thought is, ‘Please don’t come over.’ I continued to set-up, all the while hyper-aware of the monologue occurring fifty metres away. Silently, I repeat the mantra of, ‘Please don’t come over here,’ rhythmically to myself. Then I hear some children’s voices. I look over again and see that this man is actually with his partner and four young kids – four young kids that are probably going to run up to my two little dogs (which are in a pen) to pat them (why parents consistently allow their children to this, I have no idea. For a start, although cute, my dogs bite; and what happened to not talking to strange men?!). ‘For fuck’s sake,’ I say to myself, getting slightly worked up; ‘Is there no end to this shit!’ This goes on for almost 30 minutes. Then comes a part of the set-up I’ve been avoiding: putting the awning out on my own. It’s actually a two-person job, but with a bit of difficulty can be put up by one person. Problem is, it’s a flash point for two possible scenarios: looking an idiot, or a stranger offering to help, and potentially striking up a conversation. Reining in my thoughts again, I put the awning up. Just as I’ve done so, I hear the tractor start-up again – a moment of panic: should I just go in the van? Fuck, I can’t. What about the dogs? Should I just pretend to be really immersed in what I’m doing and ignore them? But that’d be rude. I proceed with the setting-up, vainly wishing this wasn’t happening. Out the corner of my eye the family approaches my area, merely says ‘hello’ and keeps on walking – a sigh of relief, followed by a self-berating for being such an idiot.
I love camping, I really do; it’s my haven, from a world – a society – in which I don’t belong. Yet, it comes at a cost – as does everything with social phobia: it places me in situations which I find very difficult to read, and as fellow campers also generally love camping, they often want to talk about it too. The sad thing is, I suppose, that subconsciously, I’m never quite relaxed (unless I’m in an isolated spot). Each time a new vehicle pulls in I start ‘praying’ that they don’t park near us. Each time I get out of the van, or am puttering around the camp, I do my best to avoid eye-contact with other campers, and then of course worry that they’ll think I’m rude. Whilst, I love my dogs, I despise the fact that they attract so much attention, and that often even a polite, ‘Sorry, they bite,’ doesn’t prevent people from just walking up and trying to pat them (I don’t enjoy walking them for the same reason). Then of course, I feel inadequate, and start berating myself, secretly wishing I had the balls to tell them, ‘I said no, leave them alone! (or even better just tell them to fuck off!); and yet, fears aside, I don’t want to have to be hostile towards others. Unfortunately, though, no matter how peaceful it is around me, how benign my interactions are with others, the war inside my mind rages on.
Aksenty Ivanovich Poprishchin.