I have been sitting with some stories on my heart for the past few months, but I haven’t known how to share them with you.
I guess to start off, I have to make a confession: I’m not doing so great. I’m okay. Some days, I’m not okay. Many days, I am. I’ve been pretty emotionally overwhelmed for the past few months. Like, the -water-is-exactly-at-my-head kinda overwhelmed. I’m not pulled under the tide yet, but the current is strong.
And that’s a terrifying thing to write, if I’m honest. Much of my work is predicated on the idea that I’ve got it together– or at least that I can present that face well-enough, especially online where much of my work is done. I’m still not sure how this will turn out, but admitting this here is something I’ve wavered on a lot.
Still, I was reminded by the lesson I learned from Luis Alfaro: we can either run from the things that hurt us, or we can name and eventually own them instead.
So, let me tell you a few stories. Mostly about my anxiety.
K is the only reason I was able to write this.
K is a 14-year-old freshman in my English class. Sweet kid– hyper, athletic, hilarious, exuberant– and a great kid. He’s been dealing with ADHD since I had him as a 7th grader, and has been pretty good about managing it and being upfront with it (it helps that he has an awesome family supporting).
So, this year, I asked all my 9th graders to tell me a story about them. It was pretty broad, but K shuffled over to my desk in his Longs-Jesus-Slippers all the kids are wearing at my school.
“So, uh, Ms. Torres?” He starts out shyly.
“Yes, sir. What can I help you with?”
“Um, I want…can I talk to you about my paper? I want to write, um…” He looks back at his classmates, back at me, “I want to write about, like, um, seeing my ADHD not like, always a bad thing.”
I was silent for a moment. Here was this teenage boy in all his embarassed-awkward-teenage-boyness, opening up about his own stuff. I was also a little surprised. I’m all for framing things positively, but normally we don’t associate ADHD with anything positive, just an obstacle to get around.
“Okay,” I nodded, “That sounds great. What’s the story?”
K’s words stick with me as I drive up the Pali to my first day teaching Sunday yoga for Crossfit. I’m nervous and excited to take over the class from an excellent teacher who I consider a mentor.
Then, my car feels funny. Bump. Bump. Bumpbumpbumpbump.
Then comes the smoke.
Fortunately, I’m able to pull to the side of the road. I hop out of my car and see my front tire. Completely shredded, flaps of rubber jagged and hanging off like they had a play-date with some very aggressive cats. I sigh, thank God it wasn’t worse, then turn to get the spare in the trunk. That’s when I see THE SECOND FLAT TIRE.
I sigh, again, and feel my heart race. I’m baffled. What will I do? The logistics of letting the studio know what happened, getting the tow truck, explaining what’s happening to my parents, figuring out where to get the weird tires that no one EVER has on island and I have to wait three weeks for Costco to have shipped and how am I ever going to manage that when I only get one tow with my insurance so I’d have to pay for the others out of pocket and I won’t have a car for weeks and seriously what the fuck now am I going to do?
The tow truck guy shows up, a late-forties local with a bit of a beer belly. I ask if he can do patches, and he gruffly replies, “Nah, sis. That ain’t my job.”
I nod and understand, still no idea what I’m going to do. He begins to set up my car on the dolly. Midway through, he stops and walks over to me. “So, where am I taking you?”
I look at him. My eyes burn. “I…uh…” I feel my heart rate rising. I feel my ears start to ring. “Um…” My head gets flooded with a million thoughts at once and my lungs can’t hold onto air for very long. “I have… no idea.” I admit. It becomes harder to breathe.
He’s on the precipice of perturbed, but something stops him and he looks at me. I don’t know what he sees– late-twenties, brown, bougie, yoga girl freaking out in front of him?– but somehow it brings him to some place of compassion.
“Okay,” he says. “You don’t know where you’re gonna get tires?”
Heart rate rises. Throat chokes.
“That’s okay,” he says, “have a seat in my office.” He leads me to the bed of his truck and we lean against it. He cautiously places a hand on my shoulder.
“It’s okay,” he says. “Just catch your breath. I’m here. We’ll figure it out. I think I gotta guy anyway.”
Heart rate drops. Lungs open a little. Eyes sting with tears.
“Thank you,” I mutter back, humbled by this in-the-moment grace sent to me in the middle of my morning.
I don’t know how I end up at the foot of the bed, but I do.
It’s a week or so before, and something has awakened me. I have no idea what– but it’s all-consuming. I can’t breathe, and it feels like there’s this weird fog between my brain and my eyes. Like I’m seeing the world, but not really processing it. It’s dark, though, because it’s two in the morning, so it doesn’t matter. But I’m distinctly aware I’m operating on two different levels.
One level is telling me to calm down. To get back to bed. To settle down and get it together.
The other, though, is the one wrapped around my head like a filmy gauze coloring everything I can see. I can’t do this, the voice whispers at me again and again. I can’t do this. I feel my ears start ringing. I have no idea what the “it” is. No, no, I can’t do this.
I move to the floor sit with my back to the bed, a steadying presence. I desperately want to deflect my emotional blast from my partner with the mattress. I cover my ears, put my head between my knees, and try to breathe.
But the voice gets louder, so loud that I even bring voice to it, “I can’t do this.”
I start to cry, hard now. Sob, really– nose running, mouth open, tears and snot and saliva spilling onto the floor. I’m drowning in myself, and I don’t know how to pull myself up.
At some point (honestly, I have no idea how long), I feel the bed stir. No no no no, I try to muffle myself with my hand, but the ringing in my ears is loud again and I cover my head.
“Baby?” I hear Chase say, looking for me in his half-sleep. I say nothing. I cover my ears tighter. I hear him ask something, but I can’t hear or see him through the fog of my own panic and just tremble on the floor.
He doesn’t fly down, trying to shake me out of myself. He doesn’t freak out and ask why I always have so many feelings.
He slowly climbs to the end of the bed where I’m sitting. He leans over and gently kisses the top of my head, a silent call for me to come home now.
I take a breath.
He tucks his chin into the crook of my neck, nuzzling my hair, saying nothing. He just breathes next to me.
I pause and take another big, shuddering, breath.
“There you go,” he whispers, and I can hear him smiling.
He sits there with me, quietly, for however long it takes. He does not drag me, kicking and screaming. He merely shines the light into my own darkness and stays beside me while I find a way to return to myself.
I don’t know if I will ever see Panic as more than the monster that sits on my shoulder.
I’ll give it this, though. While I have been intensely overwhelmed, these past few months, I have also been placed in the way of grace more times than I can count.
I have tried to handle it alone. I have failed spectacularly sometimes. Yet in the moments where I have been most broken, most vulnerable and so sure in the overwhelming knowledge that I was alone, I have been met time and time again with an equally overwhelming amount of kindness. These moments have not been happy, but they have been full of joy and, yes, an astounding amount of grace that I don’t know I deserve.
So, as scary as it is right now, I can admit that I am not okay.
Still, I am filled with the small, glowing voice that reminds me that, somehow, I will be okay.
And, for now, I think that can be enough.