In which I ramble about anxiety

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I’m not going to lie to y’all: I’m all over the place right now.

Which end is up?
Which end is down?

I was doing really well in advance of the move, but Spencer has been away this week and . . . I’m having a tough time.

Why is it so hard for me to say that — that I’m struggling? We’re used to putting on a brave face. Many people in my life are dealing with truly tough things: illness, grief, job loss. When I stack my “problems” next to theirs, they look wholly inadequate. Silly. #firstworldproblems, you know?

And I don’t want to complain. Or look bratty. Or selfish. So I say little, smile, keep going . . . but inside, all that “nothing” has been hard. I’ve been keeping it in.

Spencer has been gone. He’s been out on business before, but I was still living at home then — so I spent that week eating my parents’ home-cooking and generally doing my normal thing. But this? Now? A week before our move? I’ve been alone in the apartment, obsessing and worrying and wondering. Trying to pack but getting too overwhelmed to do much of anything. All the ambitions I had for the week have evaporated, and I feel guilty and sick knowing I could have done so much but chose to avoid it all instead.

But it’s Thursday, I keep telling myself. I still have time. I can pack tonight, check on the new house, get some things together. The week hasn’t been “wasted.”

I think I just needed a break.

And a chance for some forthrightness. Is that a word? I’m making it a word. Because on this specific Thursday, I felt the urge to say I’ve spent most of this week feeling anxious and weird and freaked out about so many changes on the horizon . . . and that’s partly embarrassing and partly just what it is.

More than just my husband, Spence is my best friend. When he’s not here to talk me out of my nonsense, that nonsense becomes all-consuming. Before him, I’d never had a significant other so in my corner . . . someone so thoroughly in the trenches with me at all times. Until this time alone in our boxed-up apartment, I’d never considered how emotionally reliant I am on him. I just really miss him. I love him. It’s been one silly week, but this has been hard.

The truth is . . . I tend to panic. Though I don’t often talk about it, I struggle with anxiety. The easiest way I can describe it? When I’m stressed, I operate in fight-or-flight mode. Despite the fact that I am not in a life-threatening situation, my body screams at me that I absolutely am. My pulse races; I begin to sweat. I have a hard time breathing. When I’m in an uncomfortable situation (like being home alone), my instinct is to flee. My mind convinces me that I’m in mortal danger even if I’m safely ensconced in a locked house.

It’s rather inconvenient.

I don’t walk around scared all the time, but I’ve noticed my anxiety issues reach a fever pitch when I’m stressed about something — usually totally unrelated — in my life. Right now? That would be the upcoming move. The one happening next week. And because I’m stressed about that, my body has begun its attack on all rational sense. I’ve been sick to my stomach since Monday.

I’ve been thinking about why I don’t often write about my anxiety given I talk about . . . well, just about everything else. And I don’t really have an answer. I’m afraid of someone misunderstanding or judging me harshly, of course, and also of having my fears dismissed. I don’t like looking “weak” — even though I don’t see this as a weakness, per say. Just a facet. I struggle like we all struggle: shades of being human.

In disclosing our worries, we realize everybody’s got something. And when I talk about how I fear not finding a table in a crowded restaurant, some folks could snicker . . . but most accept this and try to help, you know? Rarely has anyone been unkind. Never am I teased. We adapt and accept and, when you’re with those who love you, they want to help.

Even if that means pushing you outside your comfort zone.

But that’s another post.

I felt compelled to scratch some thoughts out this morning because life isn’t always polished, as we know. I’ve felt like writing this week . . . but not in the way I normally would. My attention has been all over the place — too scattered to talk about books, though I’ve finished some good ones. I just wanted to talk out loud and think, and I knew you’d be here. You’d understand.

I feel a little better already.


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Scaling to new heights

Bodie Island


It didn’t look that high.

I have vague memories of Bodie Island Light Station from a visit decades ago — murky memories of the black-and-white structure visible in the distance when we’d cruise to the drive-in beach down the road. Little brother to the nearby iconic Cape Hatteras, the tallest brick lighthouse in North America, Bodie Island is near the beach house my family has rented since I was a kid . . . but like all things nearby, it fell off my radar. There was always something else to see or do.

Since Spencer made his first trip to the Outer Banks with us last year, I’ve been refreshing my views of the coastal towns I’ve come to love so much — and Bodie Island made our list of local spots to check out this year. We made it there on Tuesday just as black storm clouds crested the horizon. The rain came in not long after I took the shot above, but we’d secured our tickets to climb the lighthouse already — and we were going for it.

That’s what I told myself, anyway.

IMG_9051Have I ever mentioned I’m scared of heights? I mean, that’s not weird or anything, I know; plenty of folks are freaked out by heights. Despite my all-out panic-induced tremors, though, I never let the terror keep me grounded. I’ve been to the top of the Sears Tower, ridden the London Eye, walked across a glass floor at the top of the CN Tower in Toronto. These things scared me, but it was a good scary. It was an “I’m not going to let this defeat me” kind of scared: the sort that leaves you exhilarated after you’ve crushed something that intimidated you.

By the time our tour group made for the entrance of the lighthouse, my palms and feet were sweating. A sudden downpour left me soaking wet and squeaky. Our park ranger explained a bit about Bodie Island and the lighthouse’s original construction in 1872, detailing the grueling hours and tasks performed by the tower’s keepers for more than a century — long before electricity first illuminated Bodie Island in 1932. I was really interested in the lighthouse’s history and Sarahanne was really knowledgeable and everything was cool and blah blah blah, but we quickly started climbing the stairs and man that thing was high and I was getting freaked and briefly thought I’d have to embarrass myself by turning back.

But I didn’t.


Stairs


The stairs were grated and see-through; the higher we rose from my dear friend Solid Ground, the more anxious I became. The humidity inside the lighthouse was tremendous, twisting my already-damp hair into a mess of frizzy curls I had to keep out of my eyes. I struggled to keep my toes inside my sandals, putting one foot in front of the other, and I began to mumble to myself in the nervous way everyone must just before suffering a psychotic break.

Poor Spencer. My mom climbed ahead of me, reaching higher and higher, as my fiance tried to reassure my trembling form from a few steps behind. I focused solely on walking up step by step. I didn’t look up; I sure as heck didn’t look down. All I could do was focus on each individual stair until I’d scaled the 200-plus steps, all leading to a hatch at the top.

I climbed through.


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The rain had slowed to a fine mist, but the combination of slick steps, wind and knowledge that we were really high up was enough to keep me glued to the wall. I dug around for my camera to snap a few gray pictures before spinning around to begin our descent. The walk back was worse than the walk up . . . mostly because as we continued down, I could totally see the ground. And it was really, really far below me.

But I made it, obviously. I’m typing and drinking a Diet Coke right now. And as my mom raised her eyebrows at my sweaty freak-out, proclaiming that she had “no idea” I was afraid of heights, I felt irrationally proud. I am afraid, but I do it anyway. “Feel the fear and go for it,” as they say.

Oh, I felt it.

And I am better for it.


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Getting wicked: Or why I’ll never, ever want to trade places with Dorothy

Of my many fears born in childhood, there are some that I’ve never quite been able to shake. I’m still afraid of spiders, for one — creepy; crawly; hiding in my shower, waiting to attack me when I’m just trying to get ready for work and OMG please just go down the drain already. Or I’m calling my dad. And don’t think I won’t do it.

Ahem.

We have my fear of heights — or, more accurately, my fear of falling. Fear of public embarrassment. Fear of lima beans (come on — you know they’re disgusting).

And my fear of the Wicked Witch of the West.

When other children were enjoying L. Frank Baum’s classic The Wizard Of Oz — in either book or film format — I was the kid cowering in the corner, weeping quietly to herself and shrieking whenever Dorothy would fall prey to the Wicked Witch’s schemes.

And that’s what I’ve always called her: The Wicked Witch.

I remember watching “The Wizard Of Oz” for the first time when I was around 3 years old. If you believe my mother’s  tale (which, you know, I guess I do), she was desperate for the chance to take a shower. An active child and, at that time, only child, Mom needed to occupy me long enough to get cleaned up. She plunked me down in front of the TV and scrolled through the channels until she stumbled upon the movie that would taint me forever.

“I thought it was a children’s classic!” she howls now, staring at me.

Even 20 years later, I remind her that she ruined my life.

Watching the woman in question morph from her dog-hating “human” self into the Wicked Witch of the West during a Kansas twister, my eyes were probably as large as globes. Some things happened in the movie — Dorothy gets far from home, meets a bunch of unusual characters, finds some ruby slippers, etc. — but I wasn’t concerned with any of that.

All I could see was that face. That big, green face.

The years have not been kind. Every time I think I’m “over” my fear of the Wicked Witch, something happens to send me right back to square one. Though I’ve seen “The Wizard of Oz” in snippets since childhood, I’ve absolutely never sat down to watch it again.

Of course, this is a source of hilarity for friends and family.

I’m going to say it loud and sincerely: I’m Deathly Afraid Of The Witch. So if you think this has kept my sister from torturing me with witch-related items over the years, you’re wrong.

Very wrong.

The first sign of trouble came on Christmas morning in 1988. My mom mistakenly believed that I’d actually loved “The Wizard of Oz” (um, what?) and bought me a set of dolls from the movie: Dorothy, of course, with a tiny plastic Toto; Glinda the Good Witch; and You-Know-Who.

We have home movies of me turning the box over in my hands, an expression of terror slowly creasing my features. I looked from my mom to my dad, wide-eyed, before I said slowly, “It’s the Wicka Witch.” (I hadn’t yet mastered words like “wicked.”)

My mom says she felt terrible, that she hadn’t realized I was afraid, but she’s laughing on the tape. Laughing.

My sister, kind soul that she is, has purchased dolls in various forms for me, plus birthday cards bearing the witch’s trademark cackle, T-shirts, etc. Since the ’80s, the Witch has followed me everywhere. I tried to combat my fears by even dressing as the witch for Halloween — pictured above in 1988 — but nothing worked.

I hate her.

When I cop to my terror about that green-faced nightmare, others smile and shake their heads. My aunt Jacki has reported that it wasn’t the witch that scared her so badly growing up, but the flying monkeys.

I’d totally take a barrel of flying monkeys over any witch. I’d even let them pick me up and fly away — as long as it was away from You-Know-Who.

So tell me. Am I alone in my witch fears? Has a character scarred you for life?