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Last summer, in the midst of a terrible bout of panic attacks, a friend (and fellow sufferer) loaned me a self-help book on dealing with anxiety. I read it, took some parts to heart and dismissed others. One thing that stood out to me was this: that confidence has something to do with anxiety. The connection didn’t become clear to me until recently.

Something interesting happened in the midst of panic, and in a public place. I was standing in a check-out line, fumbling to get money out of my bag, when I came across an old school photo ID. The ID was from a community college where I adjunct as an English teacher. It’s a nice photo: while not glamorous in any way, it looks like me on a day when I felt good about myself. And not just how I looked, but my life in general. It was a moment of shock, revelation, but mostly of recognition. It was me, myself, looking confident.

I know this girl: I know who she is and what she is made of. This photo did for me what no amount of positive self-talk has done lately: it gave me a moment of confidence. It grounded me. I had no idea something so simple would have such a powerful effect.

This moment wasn’t about looks or vanity but simply one of self identity. Anxiety has a way of making you feel as if you don’t know who you are, or where you are. At the worst point in a panic attack, you may not even recognize your surroundings. It can feel as if you are separated from yourself and your life. It can be terrifying. In these moments, you need something to hold on to, something to ground you. It might just be your self that you turn to.

The crisis of confidence, of self, is clear to me now. You doubt yourself, you are afraid you will ‘lose it’ in public, or have a panic attack in front of others. You fear the unknown; you fear fear.

My moment of self identity passed quickly. But there is hope in this, too: anxiety can be dealt with, and I will start with that.

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Meditation:  it’s hard to be still.  It’s hard, in the midst of emotional turmoil and muck to just sit with it, to not run.  To acknowledge what you are feeling.  To sit still with it.

There was a time in my life when was literally starving.  I learned to live with it, in a way, to  accept that it was just part of my daily quasi-existence.

Sitting with your fear– waiting it out, experiencing it– much the same thing.

But sitting with your desire– as a human that has agency, should we sit with desire?  Or should we chase after what we yearn for?  This largely depends on the object of desire.  Oh yes it does.

Be calm.  Breathe.  Take a moment.  Focus.  What is it you really want?

Some days I look at my life, and wonder how I got to where I am, and where I thought I might be.  There are certainly things I have accomplished, goals I won.  But I feel some days that there are certain items on my proverbial list that have not been attempted, much less done.  Why?  Circumstances certainly have played a part.  Choices, they too have had a hand in how I got from there to here.  And what else?  Oh, yeah, those life-changing events that
happen to everyone and forever change the course, the path.

Just like everyone else, I am just a soul trapped in a body, full of pent-up desires, wants, needs dreams, aspirations, yearnings, achings.  Pain.  Fear.  Love.  Curiosity.  I could go on.  There are few times when I have felt truly content, and there are scant few other humans that I could     honestly say (that I know) are content.  Contentment:  who knew it was such an illusive quality of life?  Did I say to myself, when I was in my teens and had the whole world (not to mention time) ahead and in my sights, that my goal in life was contentment?  No, I can assure you, I  certainly did not.

I am reminded of something author Shelley Jackson said in “Stitch Bitch:  the patchwork girl”–
“You won’t get where you think you’re going.” [the full text is here:  http://web.mit.edu/comm-    forum/papers/jackson.html]

She is talking about hypertext, but she is also talking about the body, the mind, the disconnect between who we think we are and what we think our realities are, and what they actually are.

So.  These are the thoughts that have occupied my mind of late.  I often accuse myself of  thinking to much.  I think sitting with my thoughts is really the challenge.

Another evening spent at Fido, drinking tea, having deep conversation.  My favorite cousin Mike was in town, and as we don’t get to hang out or talk much, we met up at the coffeehouse.  It’s funny how you don’t realize how much you miss a person until you see them.

I won’t go into details, but some themes of our discussion included our childhoods, relationships, various drugs (legal and not), Harry Potter, the prison system, shit sandwiches, literacy,  and student loans.  How’s that for a mish-mash of stuff?

I came away feeling lighter, less burdened, less alone.  Lately, and this week particularly, I have felt utterly and desperately alone.  Not just alone as in the feeling of not having anyone to talk to or depend on, but alone in my struggles.  Alone in absolute mess I call my life.  It doesn’t matter how many times you hear others say that you are not alone, and that everyone has problems, it never sinks in with me.  Not until I can listen to someone else articulate their feelings, tell me their stories.

Anyway, thanks to Mikey for the talk–It was much needed!

Searching for Ted Bundy

(The DSM-IV does not mention, in the diagnostic criteria for OCD, paranoia.
It seems to come along with the rest, however.)

I can’t remember what brought me down to the empty and uncomfortable
room in the lobby of the dorm. There was a TV there;  I didn’t have one in my room.
The chairs were the connected kind, with wood armrests between each seat. Room for one only. Maybe that’s why no one was ever in the TV room in the lobby of the dormitory in which I lived.

It was 4 a.m., and though there was no cable, you could still catch a late night movie on the network channels. Crappy movies, usually, ones you’d never heard of.
Movies barely entertaining enough to keep your attention for more than a minute.

Insomnia and bad films go together. Fit like a glove.

What a bizarre experience it is, that first semester at college, that first time you move out semi-on-your-own. Small windowless rooms, community showers, wide steps that smelled so familiar I can still remember them.  No elevators; what an absolute pain it was, carrying up clothes, books.  The fifth floor was the best, though:  it was the top floor and there were only five rooms.  Only ten girls to share the bath with.  Roomier rooms, and windows right across the hall that looked out over  campus. Who were all those other girls?  I was so unfriendly, kept mostly to myself, so I only knew the girls right next door to us.  My roommate and I had the room at the end of the hall, right next to the stairs. She wasn’t my original roommate:  the girl I was assigned to live with was friends with a girl on the first floor, so a room switch
was arranged.  The new girl and I got along well, better than well.  Until she  got pregnant and ruined everything.  No, no, it wasn’t her fault, not really.  It’s just that when she dropped out due to morning sickness during chem labs, that’s when my trouble began.

We did the normal college routine:  ate fast food, drank all the time,
did homework at the last minute.  Smoked clove cigarettes, because in those days, you could still smoke in buildings, in your own room.  Some girls thought we were smoking something else, though how they confused the sweet nearly cloying smell of cloves with the more herbal smell of marijuana, I’ll never know.  We got caught drinking Chambord in our room by the RA.  We covered the ceiling of the room with black cloth and painted peace signs and song lyrics on it with bright spray paint. We listened to R.E.M. over and over again, to figure out exactly what the enigmatic Stipe was saying.  We wore tights with old denim shorts and skirts and we rummaged secondhand stores for old grandpa looking sweaters.  With alligators on them.

We had no TV in our room, and that’s why, late at night, I’d be in the lobby, after  she left.

I can’t remember when I saw “The Deliberate Stranger,” but in my mind, it is associated with that first semester of college.  I’d like to say I saw it one sleepless night, one of those nights after my roommate dropped out and left me in that room alone, but I can’t be sure.  All I know is that the film and the experience are tied together.

One of Bundy’s last stops:  A college in Florida, a sorority house I think.
Murdered two women and injured two others, middle of the night, no warnings.

This fact stuck in my head:  I was living on a college campus, in a small
town, on a floor with few girls on it.  The doors in the first floor lobby were always unlocked. There were no doors on the floors, just stairs and open entrances.

My roommate, pregnant and constantly sick or sleeping, left me in the fall of 1989.

For  two months, I would sleep only two hours each morning.

It began innocently enough:  I was stressed out due to exams, papers, the
normal stuff, all within reason. I smoked a lot, I ate chocolate donuts, I didn’t get enough sleep.  Big deal. I was twenty and had no worries.  Staying up until 3 am and going to class at 9 am was common.

Then there began to be a problem with the closet.  And the bed.  And all the noises in the dorm.  The closet:  I had to check it repeatedly each night. I would go to bed, and then I would get up and open the door, heart pounding, move all the hanging clothes around, making sure. I would go back to bed I would get up and  check the closet I would go back to bed…. Well you can see what I mean.

And under the bed:  ridiculous.  Tiny, hard, girl-sized bed, with not enough room underneath for me, much less a man, or a person weighing more than say, ninety pounds. Didn’t matter, had to be checked.

And the noises:  What went on in this place at night? Every noise, in my
head, was him.  It was Ted Bundy, and he was coming for me. Didn’t matter if he was in jail or executed, or whatever had happened after his trial:  I was sure it was him.

My routine, for the rest of the semester:

Stay awake all night, ’til the sun comes up. Around 7 am.
Have girls next door wake me for class.
Have girls next door bang on my door, call me, anything to wake me.
Sleep 7 am to 9 am.
Miss 9 am class for two weeks.

I left school early in the next semester, the insomnia was just too much.
The paranoia was too much.  After a few months, I was back to normal.

That was just a preview:  That was a taste of what was to come. That was
only the smallest hint. Checking behaviors, paranoia:  these were signs.

Why is it so hard to care for one’s self during times of depression, stress?  Why do basics suddenly slide into remiss during times of emotional distress?

After having spent my Saturday in a complete funk, a funk so funky it was a bit scary, I woke up to a Sunday that began in frighteningly the same way.  All weekend I’ve been involved in a pissing contest with the ex over who is struggling with this break-up more.  All weekend I’ve worried over the obstacles I have in my life right now, searching for solutions and feeling there are none.  All weekend I’ve worried and wondered what my life is going to be like now.  What I should be thinking is– What do I want my life to be now?  Things have felt wildly out of control lately, and I need to take back my life.

Easier said than done, of course.  So I’m starting small, with just the basics.  First, taking care of myself.  I dunno why, but when problems in life start getting on top of me, I take it personally:  personally as in “I’m a bad person for letting these things happen” or “this is all your doing, your fault.”  I don’t sleep well, I don’t eat well, I stop caring about my personal appearance.  I take it out on myself.  And why??  This is so opposite of what I SHOULD be doing.   I can’t figure out where I’ve learned this kind of thinking– it certainly must be learned thinking or behavior from somewhere.  Where did I learn this– religion? family? society?  I don’t know.  But I cannot overstate how harmful this pattern has been to me in my life.

So today is my day, and I won’t feel guilty about it.  All of the problems I have will still be there on Monday.  Today I need desperately to relax, rejuvenate, reconnect.  Going to get a decent meal, read a good book, do some yoga.

No more tears.  I’m tired of handing over my money to Walgreens for boxes of Kleenex.

I saw this quote on Twitter not long ago:

“What do we live for if not to make life less difficult for each other?” — George Eliot

In my search for meaning lately, I have come to wonder many times what I am doing here; what we all are doing here.  I feel lately that things have been hard for me– certainly, others have it worse, I don’t want to get into a pissing contest with anyone else.  But the truth is, life is hard, at least for most of us.  And not being the most optimistic person on the planet, I tend to miss any lights at the end of my tunnels, if they indeed exist.  Today, I feel the weight of the world on my shoulders.  I didn’t even make it out of bed before I succumbed to my daily sob-fest.

One thought that occurred to me today:  Where is my husband?  Or partner?  I don’t mean this in a romantic way, either– I mean where is my partner, the one who is supposed to help me share the burdens of life, the one who is supposed to be my support, the one I can lean on?  And he on me?   As I was musing over my many problems and looking for solutions, I realized that this is something a lot of people have that I have never had.  Someone to share the good & the bad with.  Someone to help shoulder the burdens with.  Someone to make things easier.

All this time, I’ve been looking for love– still am.  But I was so independent, so sure I could self-sustain, that I never realized that this was something else I needed.  My most recent ex-paramour and I discussed this in some aspects, mostly the financial one.  When he moved here, he was to get a job, pay half the bills, help out with the housework.  Which he did do.  This having lasted only 3 months, I am now back to where I started.  Alone, and with a lot of shit to deal with.  I used to wonder why people got married; is this one of the reasons?  So that they don’t have to deal with life’s travails alone?

As usual, I realize things a bit late in life.  So now I’m wondering– where is my husband/partner?

The only form of optimism I have is the ability to look forward. When I find myself not being able to look forward, I know there is a problem. I see myself as more of a realist than anything; lately, I think that view has become a bit fuzzy. Hell, I may as well admit it, everything in my life is fuzzy at the moment.

Is this what the infamous mid-life crisis looks like? Everything in your life in flux, future uncertain, not able to see where you’re heading? I find this to be incredibly scary. I had plans; I had a future planned out. The person I was planning to marry and spend life with is gone; my finances, as always, are in need of repair; I feel stressed over my job. I don’t want to fall into whiny, self-indulgent sulkiness here, but I really feel as if things are just out of control. I don’t do well when I feel loss of control.

So. This is where I am.

I realized today that I have cried every day for about the last three months. Sadly, that does not even begin to speak to the amount of sadness and heartbreak I feel. I’m doing every thing I can to alleviate the pain: walking, herbal remedies, chocolate. Talking. Crying. Chanting to myself ‘things will get better.’ The chanting has earned me quite a few stares on my walks around the dog park.

The thing is, when you lose something you are very attached to, it hurts. It hurts like bloody hell. And time seems to be the only healer. This is the danger of getting too close to someone, the danger of loving someone so fully: you can’t extract yourself easily from that person.

So. This is where I am.

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