Saturday, July 31, 2010


Lady Gaga's "Telephone" in my ears, I sped home from work Friday and tears of relief puddled in the rim of my sunglasses. My new job could not be easier; in fact, it's enjoyable, surrounded as I am with funny, smart, generous women. And sticky notes in a rainbow of colors.

Yet every morning of this past week, I nearly didn't make it out of the house. I had to convince myself again and again, the first morning and the next and the next, that I would be safe, fine, okay, probably even panic-free. It sounds ridiculous, no? That the fear of a panic attack could reduce me, a 27-year-old woman, to desperate, urgent tears and the near inability to accept that I could venture outside my comfort zone?

It's ridiculous. But it's absolutely real and immediate, and I'm going to have to forgive myself and call it something other than ridiculous because belittling the problem serves only to exacerbate it. So, I have this thing, this anxiety disorder, and I need help managing it. So I'm getting help. But in the meantime, there's life to be led, and a job to convince myself to drive to every morning. And it is exhausting.

Anxiety has an odd way of erasing the memories of what it was like to feel normal and grounded. Or whether I ever even felt that way. I have to remind myself that I once spent an entire year in France. Was that me? I used to teach a class five days a week. I stood up in front of twenty students, some attentive, others less so, and I cracked jokes, summoned energy I didn't have at 7 a.m. so that I could make Composition useful and fun. How did I do that?

Driving home Friday, I celebrated Independence Day: I faced a fear, I accepted the panic, the panic passed, and I felt capable and strong.

And so I wondered: When did I forget how to do things by myself? How did I learn that I'm not able to be alone and be okay?

I've always paid extra-special close attention to others' opinion of me, and I suppose eventually I stopped paying attention to my own opinion. It started innocently enough: relying on my dad to take care of my car's oil change, asking Stefan to pick up dinner on his way home. Innocent, perhaps, but indicative of something latent in me: the fear of not being capable.

It's a habit of dependency that I've nursed -- for years, apparently. As much as I take from others, I try to be generous and loving in return. Yet I sense within me a woman who knows when she needs others and too when she is needed, but who, at the end of the day, can rely on herself. I'm trying to find her again.


It didn't feel like a day to swim. Awake at 6 a.m., I wanted to walk, but sneakers and socks seemed fussy, unnecessary. So, flip-flops on my feet, I headed up the trail behind our house.

At the top of the hill strewn with rocks and fallen oak limbs, I crept onto a ledge and looked out.

Alone with my ridiculous footwear, swatting mosquitoes intent on breakfast, I tingled with purpose.

My mother says that at my core, I will always have everything that I need. To love, to cope, to mend. 

At the top of the hill, I believe her.


  1. I am celebrating you today for all that you are. I hope you can feel the love and good wishes pelting you from the midwest.


  2. Wow...this really spoke to me. I have some anxiety and some fear of independence...of being complete. Completely able. To completely rely on myself. To take care of myself. Huh.

  3. Thank you, Bonnie. In the least cheesy way possible, I'm feeling the love!! xoxo

    Karen, I've just been catching up on some of your more recent posts, and I'm blown away by how much they're related to what I discuss here. Trusting ourselves to do things independently, not relying on others' opinions/judgments, etc. and trusting our body to regulate itself as it needs to -- I think these all come from the same place.

    You've been talking a lot about Women Food & God lately, and I was reminded of the fact that I've adopted some of her words as calming mechanisms for when I'm anxious. Usually during a panic attack, I try to remind myself that I just need to sit with the panic, let it pass through me; I tell myself that fighting it just makes it worse. But I say these things urgently to myself, almost frantically, and it ends up just exacerbating the problem. So lately, I've been using words like "sweetheart" and "honey" to myself during a panic attack. At first, it felt totally hokey, but's wonderful. At the first sign of panic, I say "You're okay, sweetie. You're okay. It's okay that you're having this panic." And it helps so much. Just changing the tone from fearful to loving has made an enormous difference in how quickly the panic passes.

  4. I noticed in your post that you had zoomed in on the fear of not being capable. The fear of it. But not the reality of it. That it is the fear of not being capable and NOT not being capable is significant (does that make sense- it made sense in my head. It might not make sense in writing). All this to say that, you are doing such intentional work, living so authentically, and what a gift that you are chronicling and sharing the journey. May tomorrow's dawn come with less anxiety.

  5. Thanks for this, Rosie. That made complete sense. I think that I often purposefully mess up, or only give 50% to something that I fear not being able to do successfully, thereby ensuring that I can't possibly do well. I honestly can't think of the last time that I tried something -- gave it my all -- and failed. I'll bet that actually failing at something isn't nearly as disheartening as being too afraid to try. I'll bet too that I'm at a place now that failure wouldn't even really phase me -- I'd be too happy with myself for having given it a shot!

    I read somewhere once: "What would you do if you knew you wouldn't fail?" I think that can open us up to so many possibilities. Even better, perhaps: "What would you do if you knew you'd fail, but in doing so, become even stronger?"

  6. Oh, this reminds me of a book I read when I was starting out as a high school teacher. It was called, "I wont' learn from you" and it was about the psychology of the student who choose to fail because, at least, they can say the failure was by choice and not because they tried their hardest and didn't have it in them. I believe Herbert Kokl was the author. So, I completely understand what you are saying and also want you to know that you aren't alone in that fear of success or trying and not being successful. Your comment above reminded me of my coping strategy when I am facing something difficult-- I always remind myself that when I have given my effort, I have never let myself down. And that when I have anxiety about somehting, it is just a reminder that it matters to me and what a wonderful thing it is that something matters to me. It means that I am really living.

  7. That is so beautiful, "it is just a reminder that it matters to me and what a wonderful thing it is that something matters to me." What's so funny is that in my experience with anxiety, it actually causes me to become extremely apathetic: I forget what I used to be passionate about, and wonder if anything will ever matter again. So interesting to turn that on its head.

    It occurs to me that maybe what we should strive for is feeling committed and emotionally attached to the attempt, the trying of something -- if we succeed, we can appreciate the positive feelings, and if we don't, we can release and detach ourselves from any negative emotions. In that way, we are defining ourselves not by what we can't do, but what we're trying to do.