When the sun set on Friday, Oct. 28 and a full moon shimmered over campus, Halloweekend officially begins. Every year, I walk out of my quiet dorm room into a transformed universe full of villains: Hordes of devils and angels line the stage at frat parties, goblins buy midnight snacks at Pancheros and leather-clad vampires fill the Michigan Theater for the yearly showing of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” If I were an alien landing on the University of Michigan campus during Halloweekend, I would run back to my spaceship in terror, believing this species was planning to sacrifice me to some sort of deranged party god. Or maybe I would just blend into the crowd and head to Lutherween.
On Friday night, every bone in my body wanted to do just that — put my foot down defiantly and say, “I go to the University of Michigan, this is Halloweekend and nothing will stop me from having a good time.”
But there is another villain lurking in the shadows of Halloween, one that is less often talked about but far more toxic than any ghoul or ghost. For people like me who struggle with social anxiety in large crowds and at loud parties, Halloweekend is a source of dread rather than delight. It is an object of terror that I fret over for weeks, even months in advance, even when I recognize how ridiculous it is for one weekend to cause me so much turmoil. For those who know what I’m talking about, you understand how debilitating this can be.
It is 9 p.m. on Friday, and I am pregaming with my friends. One minute I’m laughing, and then I remember — I am not supposed to be here. All of a sudden, the sound of giggling turns into a threatening cackle. Cardi B blasting through the speakers sounds like a war cry and my tiny dorm room transforms into a prison. It is all I can do to not get up and run as my guts dissolve inside me. I breathe deeply. Inhale for five, hold for five, exhale for five. A piercing buzz bores through my ears and into my brain. I should be having fun getting ready and listening to music, but instead, my eyes manipulate my brain into thinking I am in immediate danger, as though I’m a Neanderthal cowering from a tiger in a dark cave instead of a college girl just trying to leave her room on a Friday night.
If ancient pagans used costumes to ward off evil spirits, maybe my Halloween costume will help me ward off party invitations. Maybe, instead of going out with my friends, I can stay curled up under my blankets, light a candle for company and watch a movie while campus rages outside my window. This is a night of costumes, but my identity cannot be put on or taken off.
Villains come in many shapes and sizes. Behind every bright and shining moment I have with my loved ones, anxiety follows me, bitter and poisonous and refusing to unclench its jaws from my throat. Anxiety makes its grimy home at the edges of the world we all experience. I usually do make it to that party or movie night, and a lot of the time I have a blast, but anxiety stalks me wherever I go. That’s not dramatic, it’s just the truth. I would rather take that anxiety and shove it into the sun’s burning light than let it do its work in the shadows undetected.
There is no shortage of metaphors I could use to describe this feeling: It’s a shadow, a dark cloud, a ghoul and ghost and goblin, a monster under my bed, a villain. Anxiety is a trespassing visitor in my brain. It’s a party crasher. And yet, it is part of me.
The clock strikes midnight, and I am at a party. Surrounded by my friends, I move to the sound of the music, keeping rhythm with the swaying of the tree I am leaning against. All around me, my five senses are taking in a swarm of information. A boy in a banana onesie dazedly smokes a joint. A group of people huddle around a beer keg, laughing hysterically.
Two girls sit on the roof watching the band play. The crash of drums, laughter and talk, cars revving their engines and the chatter of grasshoppers mix together into a beautiful symphony. I close my eyes and a cool breeze washes over my face. I may have to go home early, but for right now, I can lose myself in the crowd and the music.
Because what is Halloween without a little terror? What is the night without a little darkness? Don’t fear the reaper! Howl right back at it.
Daily Arts Writer Abigail Goodman can be reached at email@example.com.