Well it happened over four months ago but I’m only now getting round to writing about the 5-day residential field trip that I went on with about 50 others from my university.
The trip was to a small island that is just a couple of miles off the west coast of Scotland, to study marine organisms. Everyone going on the trip needed to make their own way there and back. This proved really difficult for me because – as pathetic as this may sound to some people – it’s the furthest I’ve ever travelled alone, and travelling alone to somewhere I’ve never been before causes me considerable anxiety. I had to get 2 trains, a ferry, then a bus to get there. Again, this might sound a bit pathetic but I find being in train stations very stressful sometimes, not only because of all the people but because I sometimes get agoraphobic-like feelings when I’m there. Thankfully, I did manage to get there all right despite my anxiety and was less anxious travelling back at the end of the week. I felt awful travelling there because I did see quite a lot of the people on my course. They were all travelling together in groups while I think I was the only one sat there on my own. There ended up being about 20 of us waiting for the ferry. Again, everyone else managed to talk to each other while waiting but I just stood awkwardly on the periphery of the group, feeling like a lost puppy.
Everyone was shown to/ told the room which they would be in when we arrived. My room ended up being away from the main building, in a much smaller building which was connected to the caretaker’s house. There were only 4 other women in there. I was so glad that I’d requested a single room when I got there. Everyone else was sharing and apparently the beds were very close together – almost like a double bed instead of 2 singles – sharing would have been extremely awkward for me because I still don’t really know anyone on my course. I’d completely freak out if I had to share a room with a stranger. I still had about an hour to spare before lunch so I just unpacked and wandered around for a while. Everyone else was gathered outside the main building but again, I just stood there awkwardly while everyone else talked. A mature student on my course – who is still the only person from my course that I’ve ever had a proper conversation with – came over to me and said hello. He keeps trying to have a conversation with me but I don’t know why. I have difficulty trying to work out other people’s motives sometimes. It’s unfathomable to me that anyone could actually be nice and try to include me. There must surely be some alternative, malevolent motives? Anyway, I was barely able to say anything other than “Hi” to him and he soon gave up trying to talk to me and went off to explore an area down the road from where we were staying, with a couple of other people.
Then lunch began. I felt anxious during every single meal that I ate while I was on the field trip. Everyone ate in the same canteen and everyone sat in their own friendship groups. I’d feel very awkward and conspicuous when sat at a table on my own, so I learned to “camouflage” myself as the week went on by sitting with others, even though I couldn’t say a word to most of them. They at least seemed to tolerate my presence though. I didn’t shake as much as I thought I would while eating in front of others, though it was difficult. No major mishaps though. I also managed to have a conversation with the woman at reception when I went to ask for a receipt for a single room. She was quite friendly and I was quite proud of myself for managing to actually talk to her.
We spent the rest of the day finding out where everything was and then just worked in the labs for the rest of the evening, sketching, identifying, and classifying fish, crustaceans, and echinoderms. I managed to talk to the guy who was sat next to me in labs, though I felt very awkward and he probably thought that I was rather strange. Just before we started lab work, one of our tutors handed everyone their own unique library card for the marine library there. So she’d shout out names and we had to collect the card from her. I felt really anxious doing this because I had to get up and walk to the front of the class and back, while everyone else was sat down. Anyway, there was another woman there who seems very shy and who I suspect may have SA or Asperger’s herself. The tutor called out her name but was standing with her back to the shy woman, so didn’t see her raised hand. The shy woman seemed too afraid to speak up even after the tutor had said her name 3 or 4 times, so she ended up not getting the library card. What really got to me was that a group of women sitting next to me saw this and then decided to mock the shy woman behind her back because of her shyness/ weirdness. Maybe that’s how people on my course talk about me when I do something strange because of my anxiety. I could really empathise with the shy woman because I’ve done that sort of thing loads of times and it can make you feel very frustrated, embarrassed and ashamed. And then you get arseholes like the women sitting near me, who will mock people for any perceived weakness or quirk that they have, even though people can’t help those things. It angered me. What limited lives these people must lead if they mock and reject everyone who doesn’t fit their own very narrow definition of what is “normal”.
By the time the evening lecture finished (at 9pm), I was so worn out from anxiety that I just wanted to go to bed – just about everyone else went out drinking every single night that we were there.
Despite how worn out I had felt the night before and that I’d went to bed at 10pm, I only managed about an hour of sleep the first night that we were there. Being sleep deprived while having to work/study from 8:30am-9pm would have been exhausting enough, but when you add an anxiety disorder to the mix, you feel like a zombie.
We spent most of the morning taking box core samples from a sandy bay, before being given some free time to wander around the island’s only town. Again, everyone else was in groups or pairs, while I was just wandering around on my own. There were a bunch of us in one of the small shops there and when I was the only student left in the shop, the shop keeper actually said to me: “What a shame, pal – have they all gone off and left you here looking like Billy no mates?” One on hand, yes, I feel crap that I have no friends and always have to wander around on my own, but on the other, why does everyone feel the need to mention it? As if being on your own is against the law or something abhorrent. I realise that the shop keeper probably meant nothing by this comment. He doesn’t know that I don’t have any friends and probably thought I was with the other people, but his comment still got to me.
The rest of that day was again spent in labs and a lecture, identifying what was in the sediment samples and counting how many individuals of a given species were present. Once this was over, I got a couple of books out of the library – being in that particular library felt eerily as if I’d gone a century back in time – and showered. While I was in the shower, 2 of my dorm mates decided to invite a group of men round to our building. As soon as I’d stepped out the shower, one of them (who was standing right outside the bathroom door) said – in a really creepy voice – “Mmmmm….who’s in the shower?”, as if he wanted to come in and see. I realise that he was probably just having a laugh with his friends rather than trying to make me feel uncomfortable, but it still creeped me out a bit. After I’d come out of the shower and dried my hair, I was so exhausted from anxiety and not being able to sleep the night before that I just wanted to collapse into my bed for 9 or so hours. But my dorm mates and everyone that they’d invited round were getting drunk and making a racket. This greatly annoyed me but I decided that I’d go the computer port-a-cabin and study for the marine taxonomy test. The mature student was there studying as well, though I only managed to say a few words to him.
I went back to my dorm building at around midnight, hoping that everyone who was drinking had gone somewhere else or decided to call it a night. On my way back, I bumped into 3 of the men who had been drinking, and one of them asked if I’d seen “A really drunk guy”. I told them I hadn’t, and hoped that everyone else would leave our dorm building so that I would be able to sleep. I was beyond exhausted at this point. Everyone in the room next to mine – which was where the drinking was taking place – was even louder than before I left. They kept shouting and would not shut up for even a second. Then the really drunk guy came back and apparently ended up passing out on one of the beds in the next room. Shortly after that there was a lot of noise and laughing coming from the hallway so I opened my door to see what was going on. About 6 men had carried the drunk guy out into the hall and put him down on the floor right outside my room. Everyone else seemed to find this hilarious but I just looked at them all with a facial expression that was probably as stern as that of Severus Snape’s. I probably would have seen the funny side of it if I hadn’t been so sleep deprived, but by this point, I was so exhausted and pissed off that I wanted to scream at them. Also, I don’t know why, but having a bunch of loud, drunken people in the next room made me really anxious. I was shaking, pacing up and down my room and nearly crying. All I wanted to do was sleep but I felt that I couldn’t even try to sleep because the bathroom door was the only one with a lock on it and there were a bunch of drunk men right outside my door. I tried banging on the wall to get them to quieten down at one point but no one took any notice. I felt trapped and on the verge of having a panic attack, as pathetic as all of this sounds.
This went on until about 2 or 3 O’clock in the morning (we needed to be up at 7am), so I had another night of sleep deprivation. Apparently the guy who had gotten really drunk ended up waking up the caretaker and the caretaker’s 4 year old son, and was chased back to his room by a security guard.
I felt like a zombie for most of the day. The two women who had invited everyone round to our building the night before were at least nice enough to apologise to me once they had sobered up.
We spent most of that morning at a rocky beach on the north of the island. Even though I had 5 layers of clothing on, I was – like everyone else – shivering with the cold. We had to work in our project groups, which had been decided on the night before. As usual, I felt like I couldn’t really talk to anyone and was unable to contribute much to the group. Thankfully, my group finished early so we got to sit in the minibus and try and get warm while everyone else got rained on, hailed on, and battered by gale-force winds.
We spent most of the rest of that day looking at seaweeds (how exciting!) and preparing for the group projects that we’d be carrying out the next day. I again felt unable to really say anything and felt like I couldn’t contribute anything because of my anxiety. I always worry that the other people in my group think I don’t want to contribute anything because of this.
Project time. Half of our group went to the beach at the north of the island and the rest of us went to the beach that was about a 10 minute walk from where we were staying. We then spent most of the day measuring the diameters and longest sides of 1,000 limpets (again, exhilarating!). Thankfully, this was the one day that it didn’t rain at all and the weather was beautiful. So even though we were doing quite a boring task, it was quite pleasant being outside in the sunshine. Everyone who walked past us said hello and asked how we were doing. I don’t know if it’s because it’s a relatively small community but everyone on that island seemed more friendly than most people on the mainland. I was really anxious with talking to the other 2 group members at first but gradually began to feel a bit more relaxed around them.
Once we’d finished collecting limpet data, we had about an hour and a half to spare so I decided go for another walk into the island’s only town. Most of the other groups had also finished their projects and were doing the same. I again felt self-conscious and like a complete outsider because everyone else was walking around and having a laugh with their friends, while I was once again the only person on my own.
We spent the entire evening entering all the data we’d gathered into a spreadsheet and trying to work out how we’d present everything in the presentation. One of my group members decided to give me (and everyone else in the group) a “high 10” when we’d finally finished all of that. I sort of felt like “Really, you want to give me a high 10?” I feel like I don’t even deserve for people to touch me. It’s such a foreign thing to me. And I felt unworthy of being included in their group. What’s the point if they’re just going to find out what a weirdo I am and reject me anyway?
Everyone was really happy once we’d finished and they were all adding each other on facebook and getting ready to out drinking. I know how stupid and petty this is, and that everyone tries to make their life look wonderful on facebook, but seeing their pages makes me feel even more of an outcast and like I’m from a different planet to other people my age. Most of them seem to have 3000+ pictures of themselves at parties with friends or on holidays with friends, and their lives seem to revolve around getting drunk. Yes, I realise that I shouldn’t compare myself to these people but even little things like that make me feel so alienated from my classmates. The way that they can all just talk to each other and make friends so easily always amazes me as well. I am the oddball.
A little bit later on that night, a couple of people from my course knocked on my door and asked if I wanted to go to the pub with them (I think they were inviting every single person on the field trip). I panicked and said that I was still getting ready and wasn’t sure. Part of me did really want to go but I was on the verge of having a panic attack at the mere thought of joining everyone in the pub. I spent about the next 30 minutes pacing around in my room wondering what to do and getting myself into a bit of a state. By the time I got ready and finally decided to bite the bullet, it seemed that everyone else had already left. I felt quite upset because I did really want to at least try and be in the pub with everyone for a while, but I also felt a massive sense of relief in that it seemed I would not have to endure all of the anxiety that that would involve. I was just about to leave the main building and go back to my room for an early night, when I bumped into the mature student. He said that literally everyone else was at the pub and he felt like just having an early night but he could drive me to the pub if I still wanted to go. Because of how torn I was between going and not going, I ended up telling him that I get really bad anxiety around people and that’s why I was so afraid and reluctant to go to the pub even though I wanted to. I kind of regret telling him about that but at least nothing bad has come of it (yet). He said “I kinda know how you feel” – I’m always wary when people say this to me after I mention my anxiety because usually, they have absolutely no idea how I feel – and said that he was very socially awkward when he was younger and still is to an extent. He says that he just tries to be funny because he doesn’t really know how else to interact with people. I was very reluctant and uncomfortable but he did manage to talk me into going to the pub and drove me there in his car – this made me feel very, very, very uncomfortable, as being in an enclosed space with a man who is a non-family member generally does. He said that if I was starting to feel really anxious while we were in the pub, we could just step outside for a bit or leave. It was really, really busy when we went in but thankfully not too noisy. We sat next to our tutors and I managed to have a brief conversation with one of them. I also had a brief conversation with the mature student about career plans/ ideas. Someone from my course (who was also in my project group) offered to buy my a drink. I said no but she insisted. I ended up just having a glass of orange juice because the pub didn’t have any of the stuff I normally drink, on the rare occasion that I do drink. There was hardly a sober person in the pub but it did make trying to talk with them a bit easier than normal. Someone else from my group came up and hugged me as I was leaving, which freaked me out quite a bit. We only stayed for around 20 minutes but I suppose I’m glad that I had the courage to go. It was the first time I’d ever been in a pub with people other than my family. It actually wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.
Almost everyone was hungover in the morning. We were free to leave once we’d had breakfast. I made a bit of an idiot of myself by managing to get myself locked in the toilet/ shower room, and eventually ended up having to climb out of the window and back in another window (thankfully the people who had been staying in that room had already left by this point – it would have been very awkward otherwise, as it was the only window that was open and the area outside was all fenced off so I would’ve had nowhere else to go). It’s kind of funny when I think about it now but it certainly wasn’t at the time – I thought I’d be trapped in there for days because I was banging on the door and walls for ages and no one seemed to hear. Another of the downsides of SA – no one notices when you’re in trouble.
I again sat on my own on the bus, ferry, and 2 trains back home while everyone else was having a laugh with their friends. Some of the people on the train were actually still drunk from the night before.
So overall, I wouldn’t exactly say that the trip was an enjoyable one, though there were enjoyable moments. It really just served to make me feel even more alienated from the people on my course and to remind me of my social ineptitude. Hopefully the next field trip (which I leave for in 2 days) will be better.