In praise of public bathrooms.

I’ve always been an introvert, but I’ve not always known that word means. Since before I was able to articulate my need to be alone, I’ve gravitated towards warm, dark places.

I get easily claustrophobic if trapped, but for some reason the idea of choosing my hidey-hole has always appealed to me. In my mind, it’s the difference between forcing a cat into a pet-carrier and leaving a cardboard box out for the cat to investigate.

Even in childhood, the idea of a full day of uninterrupted human contact was a bit overwhelming, and so I learnt to break it up as much as I could. I would go to the library at lunch – far from being antisocial, this was my way of re-charging, so I’d have the energy to enjoy chatting in afternoon classes. I’d lean towards working on my own, because I found group discussions exhausting, and would take any opportunity to read or write on my own in a corner.

I also spent a lot of time in bathroom stalls.

There is something deeply serene about sitting in complete silence in your own little booth, thinking about nothing in particular and just taking a blessed break from real life. There are many – many – public bathrooms I would never consider sitting in for any length of time, but there are also some very pleasant ones hidden about the place. Bathrooms in Indian restaurants with black tiles and soft music.

Bathrooms on the top floor of bookshops that have doors from floor-to-ceiling, allowing you to get over a panic attack in peace and quiet.

Bathrooms in fancy hotels, where you can take ten minutes away from a conference and sit in floral-scented calm.

Bathrooms with free sewing kits and handtowels instead of paper towels, bathrooms with their own little sinks, bathrooms abandoned in the middle of nowhere on the beach which are impeccably clean and smell of the sea.

Bathrooms with big mirrors where you can inspect your own face, and imagine you’re on the Truman Show.

Bathrooms let you put a locked door between yourself and whatever has upset you, something you’re rarely able to do in the rest of life. They also have great acoustics for singing the Hercules soundtrack at full-volume.

When pretty much everything about modern life has the potential to screw with your peace of mind and send you into a dangerous spiral of stress and over-stimulation, bathrooms are an oasis of alone-time. They let you take a mindful moment, take a breath, and mentally prepare yourself for the outside world. When dealing with social anxiety,  sometimes the only thing that gets me through a long group interaction like a birthday dinner is the ability to take five minutes to myself and re-acquaint myself with normal.

Everyone has their different coping mechanisms, and my point is this: if you have something, no matter how ridiculous, that gets you through a difficult day? Use it. Enjoy it. Hoard cereal bars in your handbags, watch videos of parrots dancing, Play Pokemon, chew pen-lids.

Part of being mindful is taking pleasure in little things that allow you to turn your attention inwards. I always told my siblings growing up that if you can imagine the worst case scenario, and it’s still something you can live with, but the best case scenario is excellent? You should always do that. Re-building my calm in a bathroom for fifteen minutes is excellent. The worst case scenario is I have to use a heavy-handed innuendo to imply my time in the bathroom was both timely and productive. This is embarrassing, but also never leads to any follow-up questions.

Let me know how you grounding yourself when you’re out and about. I’d love to hear it.

With love, always,

Tea.

NB: PLEASE NOTE, I AM NOT A DOCTOR OR A MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL. THIS BLOG IS INTENDED AS A PERSONAL DIARY, AND ANY ADVICE GIVEN IS FRIENDLY AND LIGHT-HEARTED – PLEASE DO NOT USE IT INSTEAD OF SEEKING PROFESSIONAL HELP. IF YOU DISAGREE WITH ANY ADVICE I GIVE, PLEASE LET ME KNOW. SIMILARLY, IF YOU ARE OFFENDED FOR ANY REASON, PLEASE SHARE AND I WILL TAKE YOUR THOUGHTS INTO CONSIDERATION. FINALLY, IF YOU ARE HAVING VIOLENT OR SELF-HARMING THOUGHTS PLEASE SEEK MEDICAL HELP AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.
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