Tag Archives: anxiety

On Spending Time

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There should be a Writers Anonymous club: “Hi, I’m Elizabeth, and it’s been three weeks since I handed someone a half-baked draft for feedback.”

See, I suffer from something I like to call Supportive Audience Deficiency (SAD). I get SAD when I spend hours crafting beautiful words, flowing sentences, and snappy dialogue and have nobody to assure me it’s all worthwhile. Sometimes it feels like maybe I’ve misdiagnosed myself—maybe instead of SAD I’ve got egocentrism problems. I’ve had the argument with myself before:

“I just want someone to reassure me that I’m not wasting my life.”

“You mean you want someone to compliment you.”

“No, I mean if this isn’t going to work out, I want someone to tell me now, before I waste my life on it.”

Wouldn’t life be easier if everything came with a clear designation? “This will take five hours a week and be vital in the long run,” or “This will take seven hours a week and be enjoyable, though you may regret it from time to time.”

Unfortunately, life isn’t like that. For years, my best alternative has been to hand someone a draft and judge by positive or negative feedback whether it’s worth the hours I might spend revising it.

And now I’m realising that I’ve gone about this all wrong. Life isn’t a budget to be balanced. Art isn’t a carefully calculated investment risk.

So I’m turning my back on the worrying and the second-guessing and the needing to know the outcome before I invest in the process. I’m doing what I love right now and letting the long run take care of itself. Instead of letting SAD symptoms dampen my enthusiasm, I’m enjoying the moments as they pass, living my life as it happens instead of waiting for the future.

Maybe the piece I’ve spent years on will never be read—so what? I enjoyed the process. I wrote for myself, not for some hypothetical audience years down the road. As I wrote, I learned self-discipline. I got to know myself better, faced dark parts of my own nature, confronted big questions, and did not surface with all the big answers. I let my imagination run wild and I lived in a new world created entirely at the crossroads of language and ideas. All of this may never be measurably relevant to my career, but it is immeasurably relevant to my being.

The most meaningful things in life may never give quantifiable returns on my time and effort, but perhaps that makes them more valuable, not less. I am shaped by the interests I pursue, the people I encounter, the ideas I entertain. I am formed by minuscule everyday experiences, not by some intangible ledger counting my time down to a bottom line. Every moment, I am growing and becoming. The most significant return on my time is not measured by what I do, what opportunities I have, or where I end up, but by who I am.

And for that, I need no supportive audience. I know the answer without asking—it is always worth my while to be.

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Breathing

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I can’t breathe.

I find myself pacing, restless, needing to do something yet having nothing to do. I have no deadlines. I have no commitments. I have no classes, no job, no rehearsals.

Is this what it feels like to be an adult? I wonder.

It feels aimless.

To be fair, I’ve submitted eight freelance job proposals, attended a wedding, read a few books, revised twelve chapters of a novel, and unpacked and repacked almost constantly since arriving home from university. I’ve played poker and gone hiking napped on a mountain. I’ve washed dishes, made pizza, and come close to dying because I thought I was in shape and tried to sprint a mile.

It’s not like I’ve done nothing since graduation—and yet I find myself still with these terrifying pockets of undesignated time.

It’s an hour here and three hours there, ten minutes while the coffee perks in the mornings and fifteen minutes while I wait my turn for the bathroom at night.

And suddenly, without more homework than a human being can possibly get through, without work to rush to or emails to answer or events to attend, I find myself hemmed in by spare time.

I’ve dreamt of leisure for years—while I was working during high school, while I was reading textbooks during university, while I was job-hunting and tax-filing and internship-applying and apartment-cleaning and…

…and I’ve spent so much time wishing for freedom that now, with time on my hands, I feel restless. What do I do with the moments, the hours, the days? I feel lazy if I sit for a few minutes and do nothing. I sleep badly because I must be forgetting to do something.

I’m free, but I can’t enjoy it. Like a scared dog released from a small cage into a new environment, I huddle, immobile, terrified in my spare time, certain the appearance of freedom hides some trap.

And somehow, in the midst of newness and change, aimlessness and fear, I find myself breathing. I find that time is not, as I’ve been led to believe, a valuable commodity that I’m likely to fritter away.

I find it’s something bigger.

It’s the silence in which my heart beats and my eyes blink and a thousand thoughts race through my mind. It’s the chance to work, to invest, to learn, yes—but it’s also the chance to breathe. To look around me, to be caught up for minutes together in the beautiful flicker of leaves in the wind, to bond by lounging in aimless togetherness with my family, to sleep until I wake naturally and to marvel at the unfathomable interaction of my waking mind and my unconscious dreams.

Living, I see now, isn’t a matter of getting everything done before you die—it’s a matter of breathing.

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Today I Feel

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Today I feel numb. Or perhaps I feel so much that my capacity to feel is overridden and subsumed under a more urgent instinct—the instinct to hide. To curl into a ball tight enough to feel myself, to wrap my arms around my legs and feel that my body is solid, not flying apart in every direction, that it’s real, not an extension of my overactive mind. To pull in close until I think, maybe, I have some control.

A few years ago, on a day like today, I would have said, “I’m ill.” But over time I’ve learned to recognise this feeling and the seed of panic that comes with it, blooming somewhere at the base of my skull, spreading until it pounds through my mind. Today, I know to say, “I’m anxious.

A year ago if I were writing a blog post on a Thursday morning, I would have apologised for posting two days late. I would have said, “I was busy.” Today, I know the truth is not that I was busy but that I was anxious—so anxious that I opened my laptop to write, but instead found myself curled in a safe nest of blankets watching Emma for the hundredth time.

A month ago, I would have felt guilty for this—for letting my dysfunctional mind take over, for succumbing to the undercurrent of fear running through my life. But today, I recognise that anxiety is a spectrum, and living with anxiety is a journey.

Sharing my body with anxiety means some days I’m in complete control, and some days I fight for every step. And some days, the anxiety wins, and I watch from inside my head. And whereas a year ago or a month ago I might have seen a day like that as a failure, today I can see that day as a single step in a much longer walk—one moment that does not define me.

Whereas a year ago or a month ago I might have denied my own experience in light of the worse experiences around me, today I acknowledge that my experience is valid—that someone else’s greater pain does not lessen my own. And today I can focus on taking care of myself, whether that means staying in bed an extra hour or simply remembering to breathe as I walk through the snow to class.


My New Year’s Revolution

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With Christmas (barely) in our rearview mirror and 2016 looming ahead, the New Year’s resolution ideas are starting to zip around. Blog titles like “The 10 New Year’s Resolutions You Absolutely Won’t Regret This Year” show up on all my social media. I’m seeing everything from “get up five minutes earlier every morning” and “read through these 100 classics” to the timeworn “go to the gym” and “stop drinking soda-pop.”

And my anxiety level is climbing.

I really don’t need any more anxiety. It’s bad enough that I have a to-do list the size of my school debts. The internet is eager to suggest a hundred other things I should do, other books I should read, other commitments I should make. I’ll never reach the end of it.

Somehow everyone else on the planet manages to read all the right books and go to all the right places, pass all the right classes and follow all the right headlines—and here I am, proud of myself if I do my laundry over the weekend or blog on time.

Every book recommendation is one more thing I can’t measure up to (because my to-be-read list is already longer than my lifespan). Every “get healthy using these 3 tips!” article covers three more habits I’ll never build (because my “get healthy” list would already fill a 24 hour day if I followed it).

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So a New Year’s resolution is not encouragement to improve; it’s one more thing to feel guilty about not doing.

And this year, I refuse to live the way I have for the past twelve months—desperately trying to catch up with a million other people who are also desperately trying to catch up. I refuse to feel guilty for my humanity. I refuse to compromise my health for the sake of some impossible standard I’ll never reach.

This year, my only resolution is to breathe. This year, I resolve to forgive myself. To allow myself the space to appreciate the moments as they pass, to see the place I’m living in rather than looking forward to some hazy future. I resolve to sleep. To recognise that nobody else has it all together, either, and that my flaws, like everyone else’s, make me unique.

Rushing from one thing to another, obsessing over to-do lists, committing to yet another habit I know I’ll break—that’s hardly surviving, much less living. Each year passes quicker than the one before it, and I don’t want to reach the end of 2016 and wonder what I’ve done with my life. I want to live it. I want to reach the end knowing I’ve immersed myself in every experience, knowing that maybe I haven’t completed everything or followed every handy tip, but that I have lived and fully enjoyed it.

No guilt. No pressure. No regrets.

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To Do: Everything

“I’ll put you in contact with the right department,” the woman assured me, smiling.

I thanked her. “That would be great,” I said.

It was 8:30 on a Tuesday morning. I was sitting in the university’s Calling and Career office, where I’d made an appointment to have my resume reviewed before submitting it with a job application. The friendly professional I met with gave me some good tips, suggested reorganising some points—and then she told me I should add some volunteer work.

I took the names she gave me, sent emails, and committed two hours a week of volunteer tutoring.

Now, don’t get me wrong—I’m loving it. But my resume is a three-page monster featuring everything from teaching piano to providing over-the-phone customer service, from feeding horses to publishing radio devotionals.

So how can I still need more?

I go from the moment I wake up (far too early) till the moment I crash into bed at night (always later than I mean to), and I never get through everything—yet I think it’s not enough. It’s more than some woman in an office saying, “Your resume looks skimpy.”

This is me, with guilt cramps in my stomach, worried I’m slacking. This is me, with anxiety headaches, thinking I should attend yet another event or participate in one more club.

And tonight, I realised: there will always be one more thing. One more job I could do—a job I’m perfectly suited for, a job I’d fall in love with, a job that would look good on my resume. Always one more hobby I want to pursue, always one more book I need to read or one more event I should attend.

I will never finish.

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And that’s okay.

Success is not measured in to-do lists. Worth is not determined by overcommitment. Value is not the product of a resume.

We live this crazy life of paranoia and terror. We’re afraid to say no, afraid to fall behind, afraid we’ll miss out or skip an important step, and I say it’s time to stop.

Time to stop counting minutes we don’t have; time to stop outlining tasks we haven’t completed.

Because I am enough. You, right now, are enough. What we’re doing is enough.

We’re so busy listing the achievements we don’t have that we can’t see what we’re achieving right now, and I say we stop. Where we are is enough, if only we can slow down enough to see it.


Three Weeks of Crowds (and also rain)

Three weeks: the point at which any adventure begins to crumble.NYC

At three weeks in New York City, I’m exhausted. The thrill of the adventure has given way to the repetition of the mundane.

Every morning I spend nearly an hour jostled by a shifting mass of shoes and bags and shoulders. Every evening I do the same. Every lunch break I brave the row of knees and takeout bags settled on park benches; strangers terrify me, but the office is cold, and I need that hour of sunshine.

Walking around town isn’t so bad. I have a destination. I don’t have to brave any one person’s presence for longer than the time it takes me to notice and then pass them on the sidewalk. But trains, coffee shops, parks… I have no escape. Nowhere to go, no excuse for where I look. Just me, motionless, and the crowd.

The fact that most of these strangers probably don’t notice me makes no difference. I know they’re worried about their own issues, not wondering about mine. They’re too concerned with whether or not they can find a seat to notice that I’m two inches too close or that I forgot to grab my rings this morning. But I notice. I feel their eyes on me, wish I could make some kind of public apology for taking up space on the train, for sitting on this bench, for eating my lunch in this place, for needing a second to zip my purse before grabbing my coffee and running out the door.Subway

I have no buffer. I’m alone in the city. Just me and my book on the train. Me and my tupperware at lunch. Nobody to distract or protect me or say no, it’s fine, you’re not staring at anyone, don’t worry.

Anxiety is like a spiderweb you didn’t see, and then you feel the sticky strands across your face, and you panic. And you can tell yourself it was just a web, but you’re still convinced at the slightest prickle that some hideous, venomous spider is hiding somewhere on your body, waiting to sink its fangs into you. And even though nothing bad ever happens, that spider rides on your shoulder until all you can feel is its weight.

The crowds are like filaments of spiderweb, each so light I barely notice, wrapping tighter and tighter, and somewhere in the tangle, I know there’s a spider biding its time.

And then this afternoon, something happened. It rained.

I walked out of the office building into a downpour. My umbrella did nothing to shield me from fat, warm drops, and rain ran into my shoes and soaked my feet, and the trees in the park dripped a wet syncopation, and the streets became rivers, buoying up taxis and busses. Umbrellas bobbed along above splashing heels, and as everyone else clutched their coats tighter and hurried from sheltered place to sheltered place, I found myself laughing in delight. Sopping wet and no way to prevent it, I couldn’t find it in me to pout about the rain when it turned the whole city into such a fascinating chaos of wet reflections and refracted lights.

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And yes, I walked through that sodden park and got on a packed train and braved a hundred faces before I reached my flat. But I also remembered that there’s always something beautiful if I look for it. And sometimes, something beautiful is enough to distract me from the spider, just for a moment.


6 Things I Tell Myself Daily

Last Monday morning, I walked into the Flatiron Building twenty minutes early (because my nerves woke me before my alarm), wearing four-inch heels (for confidence), trying desperately for a smile on my face despite my trembling insides. This Monday morning, I walked into 41 Madison on time, wearing flats, pausing to smile at the security man on my way to the lift.

I had no idea what to expect when I accepted this internship. Now, with one week’s experience in New York City, I feel qualified to share a few things I’ve taken to telling myself daily.

  1. Wear flats on the subway.
    FeetHeels are fantastic. I love my four-inch spikes. But rush hour means you’re liable to stand for forty minutes, and even if you don’t, you’re going to push your way through crowds in doorways, up stairways, and along walkways. You don’t want to do that in heels. Plus, if you make a spontaneous outing (or get lost and walk twenty a few extra blocks), you want comfy shoes. Give yourself a break. Keep a pair of flats in your bag.
  2. Smile.
    If you’re nervous, smile; it tricks your brain into releasing happy chemicals, and you’ll feel better. If you’re not nervous, smile; people like you better when you smile. It brightens everyone’s day a little. Don’t be the grouchy person who ruins the morning for someone else. Engage those muscles. Put a sparkle in your eye.
  3. Step out. Literally.
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    I knew maybe two people in the entirety of New York City when I got here. But now I know more than two, because I told myself, “Self, your coworkers are your community this summer. Don’t be a recluse.” So when the editors I work for invited me out for a spontaneous Broadway show, I stepped out and had a fantastic evening and made friends. We chatted. We laughed. They made sure I got on the right train home. When they invited me to a department happy hour and trivia night, I stepped out, even though crowds and party games aren’t my thing. I shook hands and learned names. I laughed and drank and offered wrong answers, and I made friends. Doing stuff that scares you is good. If nothing else, you’ll have a great story.
  4. Do the details right the first time.
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    No, I don’t love scouring websites for professors’ contact info to solicit textbook reviews. I don’t love checking every citation against the original source so we don’t get sued for reprinting a graph. But any job comes with perks and downsides, and if you want the fun stuff (yes, I’m geeking out about copyediting psych textbooks!), you have to do the not-so-fun stuff. Do it well. Realise the little details you work on in your cubicle in the headachy last few minutes of work are little details that matters in creating the big picture. Maybe nobody sees your little detail specifically, but they’ll see if you do it wrong. Take pride in your work, even if it’s scanning last year’s check requests for five solid hours (yes, I did that).
  5. If you don’t know, ask.
    Nobody expects you to remember every name the first day. Nobody expects you to know the secret of working the finicky scanner keyboard, opening those reports, or memorising the last year’s ISBNs. They’ll help you. They’ll tell you their tips and tricks, walk you through the process, tell you how to find the answers. Humility goes a lot further than fumbling attempts to do it alone. Just ask.
  6. Enjoy the scenery.
    SceneryI’m in the city that supposedly never sleeps. (Spoiler alert: people sleep in New York.) Here, amidst the express trains and honking taxis, I’m learning to slow down. No matter how impatient you are, you can’t make the subway go faster. Instead of worrying, smile at the kid trying to climb to the top of the pole. Marvel at the diversity of language around you. Read; you can’t be responsible, because cell phone service dies on the subway, so let yourself relax. Stop rushing to get there—to graduate, to find a job, to get promoted. Stop. Look around. See where you’re at and appreciate it. Stop thinking about the doors this will open, because where you go doesn’t matter if you don’t know where you are. I’m trying to stop watching the clock and appreciate that I get to sit in the office of a well-known publishing company and work on books that will influence students across the world. That I get to learn while I work. That I love my work. That I even have work. I have so much to be thankful for; why rush?

I remind myself of these things daily, moment by moment, because I still feel nervous when I step off the train and can’t remember which exit to take. I still eye the dragging minute hand on the clock and consider pitching textbooks out the window when I come across yet another table that might need copyright permissions. I tell myself these things because I have an opportunity that not many people have, and if I end this summer with only a fatter resume and four practicum credits on my college transcript, it’s nobody’s fault but my own.

So tomorrow morning, no matter how my nerves feel, no matter what’s waiting, I will walk into 41 Madison on time, wearing flats and a smile.

New York


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