Tuesday, August 11, 2015


I had jury duty today.

This is not a particularly notable statement - under normal circumstances, it would garner no farther response than a distracted "ah" or maybe a grunt of commiseration.

My level of anxiety about "newness" tends to augment most "normal" circumstances into unabated nightmare scenarios in which anything can - and will - go wrong. I have been summoned for jury duty three times before, but one time I was living in a different county than my legal address, and the other two times my juror number did not have to report. So this was NEW. I hadn't been there. I didn't know what to expect.

Everyone has a comfort zone. Even people who thrive on adding new experiences on a regular basis have a trusted set of familiar locations, habits, and situations. I see every new opportunity, however, as a perfect storm of unanticipated circumstances. "Going with the flow" and "letting things roll off my back" has never been my style. (I've heard both of these phrases so many times throughout of my life, I should probably cross-stitch them onto throw pillows just so I can punch them as needed.) I'm a fast learner and I pick things up quickly, but every "first" is filled with anxiety, even when it's something I want very badly or have been looking forward to. When I start something new that I really enjoy, I yearn for a time when it will be comfortable so I can focus on enjoying what I'm doing instead of the stress bred by unfamiliarity.

I realize a lot of people will identify with all or part of this. I am not alone in preferring the comfortable, and even among that subset, I am not alone in having a strong adverse reaction to these sorts of situations, a bit above normal discomfort but still slightly below full-on panic. Still, a lot of people don't understand where this comes from - especially in a circumstance like today, where the source of my anxiety was a standard, commonly-disliked obligation everyone's been reluctant to participate in in the past. The irony here is that I was no more adverse to performing my civic duty than I am to any other "new" experience. It was precisely the newness of it I was opposed to.

I rationalized everything to myself repeatedly in the days leading up to my jury duty date - most jurors are serving for the first time, or have done it so infrequently in the past they won't know the procedure any more than I will. I am not on trial. I will not be scrutinized. I can't do anything so dumb that I will derail the entire legal system of Orange County, Florida. They'll just be glad I actually showed up instead of trying to duck out with any possible excuse. And all of these things were true, of course. This didn't stop me from worrying about a plethora of opposite situations - I would get lost on the way in and be late, I would be scheduled another day for some reason and not be able to get it off work, I would be put on a long trial despite the financial hardship it would cause me with no way out, a family member would have a terrible accident and I wouldn't be released to see them... and, well, they just got more irrational from there. It's pretty amazing what an anxious mind can completely justify as reasonable, actually. The possibility of some apocalyptic scenario causing the End of Times while I was sitting in the juror lounge was not beyond my fathoming.

But you know what? I DID get lost and was a few minutes late. And it was fine. Everyone was friendly. No harm befell me, no earthquakes tore the state off its continent, no loved ones met untimely demises. I just sat in a room for four hours on my phone and got sent home with a letter proving I was there. Done.

And next time, it won't be new.

This post isn't really about jury duty. It's about my apprehension in the days leading up to it and the feeling of dread I just can't shake before I partake in something NEW. It's about not being alone in that and speaking up in a way that's hopefully a bit more constructive than whining on Twitter about not wanting to do things I haven't done before. The fear I feel is real, but it doesn't need to control me and it certainly doesn't need to dictate how I handle a new situation once it arises. There's nothing logical about this sort of anxiety, but the more I can accept that it's there and feed it with evidence I've survived new things before instead of handcrafted recipes of utter disaster, the more I can truly convince myself it's going to be okay. Things don't have to be okay NOW, I've learned - but knowing they WILL be okay can bridge the gap between "I don't know how to handle this" and "wow, I DID handle that!"

And I did.

1 comment:

  1. Love the go with the flow/water off my back pillows idea. This is so well done! Lived experience perspective very powerful.