Anxiety is real. Feeling A LOT of anxiety for no apparent reason is also real.
This is an aspect of my life that I’ve dealt with for a majority of my life without really understanding it. And it wasn’t until a breakdown in front of my doctor, some medicine, and a lot of research into the unexplained ball of tightness at the center of my being that I began to:
1. Feel like maybe I could really be ok
2. Stop blaming myself
3. Like myself
4. Be excited about my life.
Anxiety is a topic that is coming up a lot more recently, for which I am grateful. I have had pretty severe anxiety for most of my life. And for a large portion of that time (until maybe 3 or so years ago) I didn’t think there was a solution. I thought waking up with tightness in my chest and feeling short of breath every time I had to pick up the phone to talk to a client was just who I was. That was in my 20s when I could mostly deal with it (ask my husband who I was slowly driving insane).
Now imagine being 15 and throw adolescence on top of that anxiety. That was me. It was an awful horrible wreck that I definitely didn’t understand, that my friends tolerated with grace, and that my parents tried to help me through with all of their love.
The fact that there are solutions is something I wish I would have known then. And so now, as someone who wants to writes books for teenagers, I cannot seem to steer myself away from the topic of anxiety. So I’ve decided to embrace it. I’m going to write a novel about it. I definitely think it will end up being therapeutic for me, but what I hope mostly is that it helps someone in my shoes find help and happiness faster. Because spending high school afraid of everything is not fun, and life should be mostly awesome (or at least approached with courage and determination).
So on that note… the below is how I think I am going to start my novel.
Note: (Here’s looking at you mom!) The mother in this story is not as awesome as my mom, who curled up in bed with me just to hold me through a number of very sucky panic attacks that would have been a lot worse without her. The character may be based on some of my experiences, but the parents are designed to exacerbate the issue not attempt to help it (as was my experience). Ok, so no yelling at me mother!
You can breathe. You can breathe. There is air going into your lungs. You can feel it. You can breathe. Breathe in.
God, it feels like there is no air.
No, there is air. There is air. You can feel it in your lungs. Just breathe.
God, I feel dizzy. I’m going to faint. On the dirty floor of the girl’s bathroom. Oh my God, I want to go home. I just want to be home. So dizzy. I am so dizzy. This feels so crazy.
Breathe. You can do it. Feel the air. Feel it in your chest. Feel it leave. Deep breaths. Long deep breaths.
Maybe if I put my head down. Yes, dark is better. Dark is better. Breathe. Slowly. Deeply in. Slowly out. But my chest is so tight. Why does it hurt? My heart is beating so fast. God, please don’t let me have a heart attack at 16.
You are not going to have a heart attack.
But some people do. Kids have heart attacks. It could happen. It could happen to me.
But it’s not. This is not a heart attack. Your arm is not numb.
But it does feel like there’s an elephant on my chest. And I’m fat. Fat people have heart attacks. I’m fat and I’m having a heart attack. But could I breathe if I was having a heart attack?
You can breathe. You can feel it – the air. Concentrate on feeling it. It’s filling up your lungs. You are ok.
I can’t do this. I want to go home. I want to go home. I want to go home.
You have to breathe. You have to breathe. You are not going to die. You just have to breathe.
God, please don’t let me die. I don’t want to die. I want to be ok. Please, I just want to be ok. Please let me be ok. Please let me be ok. I just want to be ok. Please, God.
This is how it goes. One minute I’m leaving the cafeteria after lunch, on my way to English where I am supposed to read my persuasive essay to the class. Next thing, I am pushing my way into a stall in the girl’s bathroom in full hyperventilation mode. At this point, I know the panic attack is coming, and I have no idea how to stop it.
After the hyperventilating crescendos the chest pain starts, which is where the real panic sets in. I literally feel like I am going to die. Literally. As in, really really. Until I either end up fainting or throwing up. Either of which finally pulls me out of it enough so I can spend the next few minutes sitting on the floor feeling like a cross between a train wreck victim and an idiot.
My goal then becomes getting to the nurse’s office, faking a good stomach bug, and getting the ok from my mom for them to let me walk home before the crying starts. Sometimes I make it, sometimes I don’t. But either way I am grateful for the sprawling, populationless culvert that runs between my school and my neighborhood.
I just have to make it past the practice field and into the trees before the real sobs start. And then I can bawl. Free, and loud, and ugly with no one to see. If I’m lucky, there’s no one out in my neighborhood either. Then I can hiccup and sniffle all the way down my street too.
By the time I get home, there’s no fight left. Not even for tears. My face is wet, my nose is running, and my eyes are swollen. And all of this makes me feel even better about myself. So I am really just ready at this point for nothingness. Which is what sleep provides.
They say some people with anxiety problems have insomnia. Well, not me. I can sleep on command. Life sucks – great, I’ll take a nap. Panic attack? Great, I’ll just knock out for the next 12 to 18 hours, thanks. See you on the other side.
When I wake up, I feel like the train wreck victim again. Everything hurts. My head, my legs, my stomach, my arms. Muscles in my neck I didn’t know existed. It’s all pounding and angry. Oh, and I’m starving.
NSAIDs and food bring down the physical pain, but they don’t take away the sadness. I’ve just lost a day of my life. I missed school. I missed my friends. I didn’t do my homework. My mother’s looking at me like I am crazy. And maybe I am. I definitely feel like I am.
But now I have to function. I have to get up. I have to shower, and figure out how the hell to tame the frizz out of my hair. And try to do some of my homework. And prepare to ward off the questions about my “migraine” from my friends. And then actually ward them off.
I have to keep going. But I’m really just not sure why. All I really want to do is go back to bed, maybe find a book, or a good CD and just not have to think or feel anything about anything real. It hurts less that way. It feels better that way.
I still feel awful about myself either way (because if I’m lying in bed I feel guilty about missing school, and stressed about the crap I’m going to get from my mother later). But the lying in bed option is slightly better than the actually dealing with life option.
But life wins today, and so I just hope, hope, hope I can get through this one without the train wreck.
I feel defeated. Fragmented. Lost. Like the pieces have scattered and I can’t seem to fit them back together the right way.
And I hate it. I hate the way it makes me second guess myself, the way it makes me want to cower and turn the other way. I don’t want to walk, I want to run in the other direction. But for all the brokenness, I have stayed, staked to this place watching all the little pieces like so many grains of sand washing in an out, tumbling into new and ever changing pictures with the drag of the tide.
And maybe that is the point, that a shattering of something old is just change. The pieces are all still there, but they look like something new. And maybe I am the one that can still see them all, can still shape them into something meaningful, swirl them around until they make something right again. Not the same, and not quite perfect, but something useful, maybe something more useful than before.
Maybe I am the tide.
Maybe nothing can stay the same, not even the image of myself. Maybe it was inevitable that I would slip and show a little piece of my inexperience. Because I do have that and my youth allows me to have that. And maybe it’s ok that it fell out a little bit.
And maybe I am like the tide, because though it is ever changing, it is also constant. Change with endurance. And I can do that, right?
Accept that I will not be perfect, that I will lose sight, but I will either reclaim it or mold it into something better.
What is it that they say, it is not how far you fall, but how high you bounce that counts?
And then my favorite person ever said this, so it must all be going to be ok.
“Failure is so important. We speak about success all the time. It is the ability to resist failure or use failure that often leads to greater success. I’ve met people who don’t want to try for fear of failing.” - J.K. Rowling
So I am going to breathe, and I am not going to be afraid of this. I am not going to be excited about it either, but I am going to breathe and I am going to accept that I am human and that what is most important about all of this is moving forward. And so I will and I will make all my little broken pieces it into something better.
Sometimes I forget about perspective. Life gets hard and I get stressed, and somewhere in between getting thrown out of my comfort zone at work multiple times in an 8 week time frame, working so much over time I’ve given myself eye strain, and trying desperately to maintain my marriage, I get lost.
I land somewhere dark and deep that makes my body feel like it’s crushing itself from the inside out. I feel trapped and I can’t see a way out. I just know that I am stressed, and stretched, and under so much pressure I can’t understand how other people do what I do. I don’t understand how they survive. I don’t get how that they don’t go crazy.
Because I feel like I am going crazy. I pick fights with my husband, and I cry (a lot) and all I want to do is sleep. But my desire to be a good employee means that I do the exact opposite. Instead of taking time to relax, I throw myself even farther into the thing that has landed me in this pit of dark crazy in the first place. I work all day and then I come home and work until I fall asleep. And then I work on weekends. And when I finally take a break I spend 2 hours telling my family how stressed I am about work.
And this cycle continues until I am crying daily and sitting in the middle of a mess of a living room crying over a semi-dirty house and how I never have time to clean and how I can never ever ever ever feel better about anything until the house is clean. But my job doesn’t give me enough time to clean my house. So I’m going to be miserable forever.
And isn’t life horrible?
And then I’m angry because it’s not fair. It’s not fair of my job to do this to me. I shouldn’t have to put up with this. And I am SO angry. Little things become big things, and I am being negative. At work. In front of my team.
Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.
But I feel justified. This job is horrible. How dare this job be so hard? How dare things change? Why did I agree to do this in the first place? Why didn’t I just stay where I was originally? Where it was easy?
I mean, the grass is always greener in the pasture that you came from right? In the pasture that doesn’t feel like it’s currently burning down around you?
Maybe I should just go back to that pasture right?
And then I am so focused on this turning point I’ve come to. Have I really just decided that I hate my job so much I’m ready to quit? Since when do I do that?
So I take a walk.
I take a walk and I remember perspective.
I remember that I am alive. I am in love. I have a family that loves and supports me. I am employed. I can pay my bills. I am healthy.
And I am letting a job turn me into a mess. Why?
There is no excuse. There is no reason.
Work is what I do. Since when have I let it become who I am?
If I look back over the last few weeks and think about all of the work related things I let follow me home, it makes me feel a little sick. Weeks of life... wasted in worry.
But perspective again – at least it wasn’t years. At least I can understand and accept, and choose not to repeat.
I may not love some of the new situations that are presenting themselves where I work. They may be challenging and frustrating. But I am smart, and I have gotten this far. I can handle them. And even if my opinion is overlooked, even if others decide to implement systems and processes that I don’t agree with that will impact my team, it will be ok.
At the end of the day I can leave the rest for the morning. At the end of the day I can leave and know that I tried, that I did what I could to make my team better.
Isn’t that all I can do?
Yes, I think it is. And I think that’s enough.
Because giving myself a heart attack at 28 probably isn’t a good alternative, right?
And I know this understanding, this epiphany isn’t going to solve everything. Work is still going to be hard. But that’s ok. As long as it’s still rewarding, it’s worth it. And as long as I remember “perspective” I can get myself back to a place where it feels rewarding, where I’ve filtered out all the BS, where I can be happy and feel like I’m doing my best and keeping my sanity at the same time.
On that note, it is time for sleep. And happiness :)
I need to start writing again. I’m afraid that I’m giving it up to everything else that life demands. And what is absolutely terrifying about that is that on some days, I am ok with that. I am ok with letting it go. It’s only my passion. Can you lose that? Can you walk away from it? Can you not regret it later?
I don’t think so.
I think maybe it has a lot to do with stress. Work is hard, marriage is hard, life is hard – all three are rewarding, but they each come with their own level of stress. And now the stress of writing doesn’t seem to fit.
Writing has always been stressful, but it has also always been the most crazy rewarding, exciting, and overwhelmingly wonderful thing to me – after the pain of the process has subsided, that is. And I’ve always been willing to deal with the painful part because it was worth it.
But now I get home from life and I can’t bring myself to put myself through more stress on purpose. So I watch Duck Dynasty, or sew a pillow, or make a wreath, or play on Pinterest.
And you know what? That is stressful too. The lack of writing, the lack of challenging my mind to come up with characters and plot twists and witty dialogue stresses me out. Because every day I feel like I should be writing. And then I don’t. And then I get a little less happy.
So maybe I’m not ready to write my novel yet. Maybe that’s too much. Maybe that comes later. But right now I need to remember how much I love words and how much I love molding them into something that is a little different than anything that has been thought of before. Even if it’s not a story. Even if it’s just a journal entry.
It’s a small step in the right direction, and that is a good thing.
After about a million years of writing not a single poem, I come up with this, randomly, and in between conference calls on a Thursday morning. It was so completely surprising I had to post it (even though I haven't updated this in well, years). And it made me laugh. And love my cats :)
Hopefully it's not as bad as I think it is, but maybe it is. The important thing, I think, however, is that I actually wrote something, and it wasn't a painful experience.
he is asleep
his favorite pillow
and showing just a hint
of brown beneath
all that black,
and his ears
usually pinned beneath his head
are up and twitching.
the roofers working
across the way
after last month's storm
have taken their morning break
and the house is so quiet
you can hear the birds.
and any passerby would think
that even he could not
resist a quick nap
to honor the ways of his kind.
only I know that he is cheating,
that after 3 early hours
of dissonant hammering
he can finally hear the
chorus of the enemy -
and he plots as quietly
as a sleeping house cat.
It has been exactly 13 months since my last post, and almost everything has changed. Last June I was packing, alone in my little one bed room apartment in Montgomery. Will was throwing all of his clothes in the back of his car at his mother’s house in Baton Rouge and heading out to Dallas to drop off his car before flying back to Montgomery to help me drive the U-Haul. We were leaving friends, and jobs behind. I was stressed out of my mind.
13 months later my thesis is finished and I’ve skipped my graduation. I’ve gotten a rejection letter for the 1 archives related job that has turned up in Dallas during that time. I’ve been a temp, twice. And I’ve finally settled into a job that has given me my own desk and a view of downtown Dallas, complete with free parking and amazing co-workers. I am stressed daily, and sometimes to the max, but I am never bored and always challenged.
Will has fought through two horrible kitchen experiences, and has found happiness as a food rep for a San Antonio based food distribution company. He is very happy to wear slacks and a button down shirt daily and not come home smelling like fried food or curry. I can’t say I’m not happy about that either.
We found an apartment in April. I’m in love with the study and Will’s in love with the kitchen. And we’re both in love with the extra 500 square feet of living space we’ve inherited.
The novel I swear I’m going to publish one day, or at least finish, has kept evolving over the past year. I’ve moved my setting from a little island town in Maine to the French Quarter in New Orleans, and I think I’ve finally settled on a name for my main character. Now if I could just get past the first chapter I think life would be perfect. But I’m stuck, surprise, and the more I try to push forward, the more I feel held back. I’m not really sure what’s going on, but I’m about to give it another go. And we’ll see how it goes.
But to conclude on point, we did not, as I feared one Saturday last June, fail… at all :) and that makes be both thankful and happy for so many things.
Have faith in the future. My future. Our future
I cried this morning when the fear for tomorrow burrowed through my thoughts into today. It must have begun in my dreams because it was waiting for me when I finally pushed out of bed half an hour late. It took a few hours of festering, a few conversations about the up coming weeks, but it refused to be pushed back into the depths, back to the part of my mind where I keep all the nonsense, and I cried.
I’m not good at change, and I’m terrified of big change because it leaves a very large door open for failure. I am told that I am not alone, that we’re in this together, and we will make it work – that we will do well where we are going. I believe him. I should relax, be calm, take this all in stride.
But my mind will not be still though I have tried. It refused to calm beneath hot, pulsing water. It played nightmare scenarios behind my eyes through two hours of packing books, and it weaved its worries around the ear buds playing an entire list of soothing songs. And it beats against my skull now telling me that we won’t find jobs, that we won’t have any money, that the family we’re staying with will begin to resent us, that we will fail and live broke, and then begin to hate each other through our own self loathing stemmed from unreached dreams. If I am truly honest, I fear we will become my parents.
And then hope sears through the worry. We will be ok because we will fight. We will be ok because we love each other. We will be ok because we have people who love us, who will help us, who want us to succeed. We will do well because we have faith, we have worked hard, and we will continue to work toward the things we want, and we will keep our love at the center of everything. We will remember God, too. And if we have Him, we have love, and we have our family, can we really fail?
So why does worry still cause my chest to tighten? Why is there so much fear mixed with my excitement for the future? Fear is normal, I guess. And we can never be certain of our futures, but it all goes back to faith doesn’t it? Faith and trust, two concepts that are so intricately would around each other that I can’t separate them now. I have to have faith in God. And I have to trust myself, my abilities, and the person I miss more than anyone else in the world right now, as I sit here alone in our apartment.
I’m fourteen, its July, and I’m sitting on the deck in my uncle’s backyard a thousand miles from home, and a few yards from the pool I was dropped into on the tail end of an hour of backyard warfare. The yard is large beyond the multi-layered deck and above ground pool, full of trampled flower beds, puddles, remnants of water balloons, and water guns – weapons abandoned at dusk, waiting for another day of clothes drenching destruction, but my eyes are higher, staring up at a million stars I’ve never seen beneath the orange glow of the suburban night sky. I’ve just finished dinner and the family is a few feet away, behind the sliding glass back door that leads out to this retreat. They’re full of Aunt Brenda’s lasagna and are laid out around the family room watching a young Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera battle it out on MTV’s Celebrity Death Match.
I’m in love – my fourteen year old version of it – and I’m thinking about him. It’s the song – the same sappy Disney inspired song that, ten years later still pulls me back to this moment. I listen with my eyes closed, the slow, sweet melody wrapping around my buzzing hormones, and I can almost cry imaging his lips whispering the lyrics against my ear. They are everything I want him to tell me, to know that I am simply loved, that I am in his heart… always. And I am sad that I am away from him – his auburn hair, his freckled face, his crystal blue eyes. I miss him, and the week in rural Minnesota seems like it will stretch over an eternity. It seems as if I will never get back to him and that he will never have the chance to whisper these lyrics to me in some perfect place.
What I don’t know, fourteen, and in love, a thousand miles away from him is that over the next decade of life, this is the best memory I will keep of him. He will injure my young, idealistic heart a few weeks later, and I will spend the next year trying to convince myself each time he shows up by my car after school smelling like sweat and pot that its not love he wants to give me, but something that will only lead to more of this sad, lonely feeling.
Six years after the last time I ever saw him, eight years after the last words we spoke to one another, the song has found its home in my I-Tunes library, and as it plays I feel the same skip of my heart, the same warmth through my veins, and the same desperate need for the kind of love Phil Collins promises in his ballad. And while the song brings me back to early adolescence, a cool Minnesota breeze beneath a clear star filled night, and the memory of a red headed boy I spent a summer trying to love, my thoughts do not dwell on him now. I realize, as the song drifts to a close, its lyrics still echoing through my thoughts, that I got the wish I sent up to the stars that night – not with the object of my youthful affection but with someone who, after I ask “Do you love me?” looks back at me with a smile that lights his gold flecked eyes, touches my face, and says, “Always.”
Update: There is hope for my sad little thesis.
Ever since ADAH blessed my life with a fellowship to write my thesis the fates have decided to turn against me. I decided to approach a topic that was completely new, and that excited me because there was no precedent to reinterpret or argue against. I would be breaking ground into a new research realm. Excitement.
Three months later. Complete and utter hell. One conclusion: prejudice bites the big one. It would seem that the information I need for an integral part of the analysis has been destroyed (see previous journal entries for complete load of BS). Will ended up convincing me not to drop out of grad school during my last semester with a really good idea that would get me around not having the destroyed material. However, serendipity told the fates to go screw themselves this morning when I ran into my ex-boss, Susan, by the elevator and she told me that ADAH's director knows, as in personally, my thesis topic's family and would most likely be very excited to meet with me, discuss the matter, and get me in contact with them. Hallelujah! And hello access to all of Inez Baskin's stuff that didn't make it into ADAH's collections, and hopefully hello to copies of the Advertiser that I need!! Long shot – but its the best shot I've had in a while! And if not, hello personal interviews with the family!
This day started out rough, but its looking quite nice now :) Susan DuBose, you are my hero!
SO! It is my last night of class EVER - awesome right?! WRONG. Its presentation day. At the beginning of class we are reminded that we are to stick to a limit of 5 minutes a person. All we have to do is talk about whatever project we've taken on this semester. SO SIMPLE. SO EASY. There are 15 people in this class - so it should NOT take more than two hours to finish the presentations - awesome because its the last day of class. Lets all band together and get out an hour early, right??? WRONG. No, instead half the class decides that five minutes is just NOT enough time to present their project so they proceed to take 15 minutes a person!!! WHY? WHY? WHY? What kind of over achiever are you that you cannot limit yourself to a five minute presentation!!! To a stressed out graduate student, five minutes is a blessing from God!! It makes life so wonderfully beautiful! BUT NO, these crazy people want to talk FOREVER!!! I am SO confused!!
GOD I NEED A DRINK! NOW!
Overachieving grad students are now at the top of my "YOU SUCK" list!!
I hope they fail for not following instructions!!