The People Who Danced

The storm of Latinidad hits all in one night.

We make enchiladas (from Costco, sure. I’m tired and haven’t made them from scratch in years) and the episode of House Hunters International on TV is about a Mexican-American family deciding to move to Puerto Vallarta to reconnect with their roots. We watch and dream of moving to Mexico one day so our kids will be fluent in Spanish. For the rest of the night, I speak to Michael in my child’s-level Spanish and badger him to practice with me. I am grateful to still be bilingual, even at a basic level, and am able to quickly switch to it. I still remember a time when it was a foreign language on my tongue and I’m scared of returning to that place

The enchiladas are not homemade but actually a bit spicy and pretty flavorful. At least, I think they are. Maybe I’ve lost my ability to decipher good Mexican food after living away from it for so long. I often worry that being away from Latinx culture will slowly begin to strip away that part of myself.  Being half-Chicana but growing up in a mostly white place, my identity and how it affects my understanding of the world has always been difficult to navigate. Being half-Filipina and half-Chicana in Hawai‘i has, strangely enough, been an even tougher needle to thread sometimes.

Our identities are not simply made up of our internal beliefs— they are validated and enriched by interacting with those cultures and, more importantly, its people. The 6 years I lived in LA, learning to speak Spanish, working in Latinx communities, and Salsa dancing were some of my most formative. They shaped my understanding of what it meant to be Latina.

Now, though, I live in a world mostly devoid of Latinx culture. I’m not saying it doesn’t exist, but without that consistent connection (mixed with the interesting fact that I am more likely to “pass” as Pinay while out here) makes it hard to feel Latina sometimes. What does that identity mean now? Do I even get to call myself Latina, or is it merely the card I can slip out when I get lucky enough to spend time with another Latinx person or a party trick I can play when I want to surprise people?

Michael goes out and so I finish my meal and scroll through Instagram. I stumble on the Super Bowl half-time show. I still remember watching when it aired, aware of its problems but also so excited to hear rhythms and music that were so deeply embedded in my muscles, my hips instantly moving when I heard them. I watch parts of the performance, realizing how much I love Latin music and how infrequently I listen to it. Without thinking much of it, I throw some Bad Bunny on the Bluetooth while I get up to clean the kitchen.

It takes about three minutes—just enough time to put the enchiladas away— before I am dancing around, shaking my hips and tossing my head from side to side. I move to the living room, turn the volume up, and dance, watching my reflection in the window, amazed that I can still move my body this way when, frankly, I haven’t danced in years. It puts a smile on my face and I find myself laughing at how good I feel, particularly given the fact that, two hours earlier, I was curled into a ball, wrapped in sheets, crying.

The quarantine and mourning the loss of so many things has been hard, as it has been for most of us. I’ve been particularly struggling for the past few weeks. Yes, I find moments of uplifting joy and my students consistently make me happy, but I have found myself bursting into tears at random moments more often than before. A difficult interval or thought-provoking quote while riding my stationary bike will leave me sobbing and breathless for a moment, the intense adrenaline rush combined with the storm of emotions enough to provoke my body to near-panic. Today was a long one preceded by a night of bad sleep, so I was particularly prone to tears.

Yet, now, a few hours later, give me some Daddy Yankee and I am able to find joy once again.

May is mental health awareness month. I’ve been fairly upfront about my mental health journey but have been struggling with what, if anything, to say about it. I don’t know how my mental health is right now and I don’t know how I’m managing it.

Last night, I had a small revelation, a moment where my racial identity and my experiences with anxiety and depression intersected.

The stereotype of “big Latinx feelings” was certainly true in my upbringing and every day I count my blessing that I grew up in a place where we were allowed to openly feel and experience big emotions. It was okay to cry in our house. The ability to express my feelings without shame is something that has saved me in so many ways. Even in my darkest moments, I was able to share and attempt to name what was happening, and it helped me retrieve stability and control out of the maw of anxiety and depression.

The other gift was the ability to dance through pain. When my grandfather passed five years ago, his celebration of life was filled with music. My uncle, a singer and guitarist in a mariachi band, pulled out the stops and played everything to classic mariachi to Johnny Cash with Mexican rhythms. We danced and cried and sang that afternoon, celebrating death in a way that is special to Mexican culture.

I realize now that this gift has stayed with me, even 3,000 miles away from home on an island in the Pacific. I remember that, even after a sobbing breathless interval, I still stay on the bike, swaying my hips in rhythm to the music, dancing even as I catch my breath and push through the bad feelings. When I am sad, movement still finds a way to call me back to my body, to home, to the long line of people that I come from, who danced in the ashes and mixed sorrow with joy.

I come from the people who danced. That lineage gives me strength to move even through the darkness. There is an ancestral knowledge that lives in me, helping me find light even when it feels like there is none. Even when I’m sad, I can find rhythm, close my eyes, and swirl my hips towards happiness again.

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Down the Rabbit Hole

CW: Anxiety and images of death.


I never know when it’s going to hit.

I am sitting in an airplane as it begins to speed towards the end of the runway and take off. It’s a normal flight— one of the the hundreds you take when you live on an island, getting either to the mainland or island-hopping. It’s routine, at this point, to find myself on a plane.

Then, there’s a slight bump as the jet soars higher. The plane pitches forward for an instant, and I hear the metal begin to rip off and break. The bolts are popping off, loud and violent, and I look up to see a fireball shooting down the aisle of the plane, straight for me. In that moment, I realize I am going to die. My eyes engulf the flames coming towards me, the silver second I have left on earth quickly flashing away. My mouth turns to ash as I whisper, “No,” thinking of all the things I do not want to lose.

Then, I blink, and it’s gone.

The aisle is clear, the plane is steadily taking off, safe as any other flight I have been on.

I blink again, and the sequence starts all over, a movie playing behind my eyes on repeat. Over and over I watch myself die— which is not necessarily the worst part. The worst part is imagining what comes after. I see my family, devastated and in mourning, all the things I left unsaid, everything I will not get to do. My heart breaks. My chest clutches and I feel like I cannot breathe.

I blink, and it’s gone. Then again, in an instant, the movie starts all over.

I take a deep breath, and close my eyes, trying to stop the anxiety that is not the monster looming on my shoulder or the storm cloud passing through my day, but torture in the worst way. It is my own mind, forcing me down the rabbit whole of my worst nightmares over and over and over.

May is Mental health Awareness month. My anxiety is something I’ve written about often— in regards to my teaching, my running, and just my day-to-day existence. I can easily share many of the ways it will manifest: crying jags, a temporary inability to breathe, insomnia.

I’ve been quiet about it, though, because I’ve been in the throes of some of the worst manifestations of my anxiety that I deal with.

Which is difficult, because it’s something that’s hard to talk or write about. It’s not the anxiety that my body unwillingly throws at me when I least expect it, a physical mutiny of panic as my rational brain scrambles to try and calm me down. It’s a descent deeper and deeper into the own, darkest parts of my psyche and, if I’m not careful, I can spiral may way down into a pretty terrible place.

My most intense trigger, in truth, is death— more specifically, death or pain happening to my loved ones. Since childhood, I have been occasionally overcome with the deep fear that someone I love is going to die and I won’t be there to do anything about it. As a kid, I would follow my family around because I’d feel certain that if I didn’t, something bad would happen and I wouldn’t be there to try and help them or simply be around for their last moments. My stomach will fill with hot lead, I’ll get nauseous and light headed— not just anxious or scared, but unable to stop seeing the horrifying movie in my head. It plays my worst fears back to me in vivid detail— seeing my family brutally murdered, discovering their bodies strewn on the street after a car crash, the anguish of discovering they’d been killed in a fire.

Like Hamilton in Hamilton says, “I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory.” I am no Lin-Manuel Miranda, but I understand what it’s like to imagine something so vividly over and over that you relive a memory that hasn’t happened at all. The sequences will repeat itself over, and over, and over again. It can paralyze me. I have lived with the specter of death since childhood, and there are times its presences looms so large that it overshadows anything else. Instead of living my story, I can find myself caught up in the horror movie my brain insists on writing and rewriting.

Now, we live in an increasingly scary world, where our ability to stay safe feels even more out of our control. There are only more images of people mourning lost loved ones that feed my own ability to feel like I am living that trauma myself, over and over again. While I can manage some of the physical aspects of panic, it’s hard to control my vivid imagination when our current climate only adds more ammunition into the gun that shoots off rounds of “what if, what if, what if” over and over through my mind.

The world is scary for many of us, and I think there’s a natural anxiety that comes with a lot of what’s in the news today. I’m not saying I’m special or that my anxiety is any more unique or interesting than anyone else’s. I am just admitting that my panic is not only the out-of-my-control physical reaction I often write it as. My anxiety is just as much mental as it is physical; it takes the horror of events and overlays them onto my own life.

Which is not only painful but, frankly, inconvenient and annoying. While there are many real fears that can upset me, my anxiety also makes it hard for me to function rationally at times where, truly, there is no need to panic. It’d be nice, for example, to not have a panic attack after watching Avengers: Infinity War, because, in watching the end of that film, it triggers the film in my mind that forces me witness my family or partner disintegrate before my eyes over, and over, and over again.

Do I rationally know that this is ridiculous, because this is a fictional movie and, while there are many scary things in the world, the possibility of Thanos snapping his fingers and removing half of us is not one of them? Of course. But that doesn’t make the feeling any less real in the moment. Even though, in my head, I know that it’s ridiculous, it doesn’t take away the overwhelming heartbreak, the tears burning in my eyes, my chest caving in so I cannot breathe, as I see the fear, sadness, and horror in their eyes over and over again.

There are things that help, of course, but anyone who’s ever had anxiety, depression or running thoughts will tell you that saying, “Well, then don’t think about it,” is like giving me a box of tissues to try and stop a flood. Even while well-intentioned, it not only will not work, but also leave a soggy mess in the process.

My therapist has also tried some other tactics, like asking me to play the movie to the end. What would happen if any of those tragic events did occur? And this is what’s also difficult— my mind knows that, rationally, I’d be okay. I would be heartbroken and devastated, but I would live. I’m strong enough, now, to believe that. I trust in the love and support my loved ones have given me to know they would want me to be happy, and that they have given me the tools to move towards happiness again.

But it doesn’t make the moments where I am living those very real things feel any better. Knowing that, eventually, I’ll stop falling down this well of darkness, doesn’t change the fact that I am currently falling and it’s really terrifying. The hardest part with being told that “it will pass,” or “it will be okay,” is that I know those things are true, but it doesn’t fix the feeling I am having right now. Knowing that this will pass doesn’t un-cave my chest or bring back my breath. 

Unfortunately, the best option I have found when I find myself going down this spiral is to try and distract myself so that I don’t fall too far down. I claw my way out towards the light and attempt to move forward by focusing on something else.

Of course, though, that means that it’s really hard to talk or write about, because in doing so, I have to think about it, which makes it really hard to not trigger a downward descent into the darkness. Even in writing this post, I have had to take multiple breaks so that I don’t let myself go to far.

Recently, though, my anxiety has gotten worse, because it’s started attaching to my partner, Michael, as well. Before, it would only be my family I worried about. Once Michael’s departure got close (he is surfing and adventuring for a month), my anxiety went into full affect. I have been terrified that now that I am so incredibly happy and feel stable in my life, that it will suddenly be ripped away from me.

In the weeks before he left, I was a mess. I will be honest: there are time now that he is gone that I am still a mess, because I can’t stop myself from watching his death in my mind over and over again.

Which is a pretty shitty way to live. Michael has been really supportive, but I feel bad dampening his deserved excitement with my morbid fears of his death. It also means that there have been times where, instead of enjoying the time I did have with him, or the time that I have now with my friends, I am very close to being paralyzed in terror on my couch.

But… that hasn’t happened. At least, not yet. There have been a few close calls, but after crying for a few minutes, I have been able to breathe through it, remind myself to let it go, and call a loved one or put on MTV’s Catfish because it is the perfect kind of TV distraction that helps me stop seeing this morbid movie in my head.

I can’t help but wonder, though, if this is a sustainable plan. As vulnerable and thoughtful as I have tried to be with my anxiety, this Mental Health Awareness month I find myself at the end wondering if I’m actually as aware with myself as I could be. Yes, Catfish is a fun distraction, but running from this trigger for the rest of life (one that I imagine will be worse when I have kids) doesn’t seem to be the most enduring response.

For now, I am trying to breathe through it. I am sitting in these feelings taking each day as it comes, and thinking through what comes next while still trying to be kind to myself and figure out my next course of action on my terms. The rabbit hole can be dark, but I know I can claw my way out, and I feel lucky that the light at the top I’m reaching for is full of joy and strength and, most importantly, love.


Hi there,

I know sometimes with posts about mental illness, we want to share our own experiences as a way to validate and connect, and I really appreciate that. But if this is a trigger for you, too, hearing your vivid imaginings of death or tragedy is kind of upsetting and hard for me, so I’m gonna ask that you hold off. Also, I’m not looking for feedback or ideas on how to handle this at the moment, since I’m dealing with a lot and don’t have the capacity to focus on that right now. I’m just sitting in and sharing these feelings. Thank you!

Lifting the Veil

“The hardest story to write is always the one you struggle to tell the most.”

This is what I typed a few minutes ago. Then, I look at the sentence and laughed. Well, duhI thought to myself, That’s pretty obvious.

What meant to say was:

The hardest story to tell is the one you need to write the most.

or maybe

The story you need to tell the most is the one you struggle to write.

That’s the place that I have been in. I know there’s a story I need to tell, but I haven’t been able to share real words about it yet. Because I haven’t really felt like myself for about two or three weeks now.

It’s a little terrifying, to be honest. When I’m trapped in an anxious state like this, it’s as though there’s a veil behind my eyes that separates me from the rest of the world. It’s not active, necessarily– it’s not as though I can’t do my job or generally act like myself. It’s more subtle than that. I remember conversations after they happen, but feel as though I’m watching them in the third person instead of having lived them. My students notice when I misspell easy words (“fued,” “Aril”), or switch them around completely when I speak. I write sentences like the above, which are a bit nonsensical.

This has happened before, of course. I’ve been dealing with anxiety since my childhood and all of these things point to an incoming panic attack. The difference now, though, is that my life is actually, truly happy and stable. There is no big “thing”– relationship worry, job concern, etc.– that will trigger an attack. In the past, there has always been something that my anxiety could latch on to– whether or not I admitted it– that could set me off and, at the very least, allow me to have the attack, get the anxiety brewing inside of me out, and help me move forward.

It’s the most hilarious problem to have, in some ways. Now that I can’t default my normal ways of “bursting the bubble,” I have no choice but to face it. I try and breathe through it. I try drinking or not drinking. I went to yoga twice this week and am working out daily. I am attempting everything I can to be “okay.”

I will think I’m fine, but then something will happen that reminds me that, actually, my body isn’t yet mine. One Saturday, after a wonderful writing workshop, I was standing in the middle of Foodland when the world around me went fuzzy and I suddenly felt like I could no longer stand. The rest of the day was hours spent of trying to work through nausea, lightheadedness, and worry. I didn’t run the half-marathon I’ve done annually for the first time in 4 years, unsure if my body would be able to. This feeling lasted for days, and each morning I’d wake up hoping this would be the day my anxiety lifted away, and at some point, my chest would begin to bubble, my heart race and my throat close, as it hit me that I am still separated somehow from my reality.

Yet, somehow, having anxiety is not the end of the world. Unlike the past, I’m still able to function well, laugh and love and be loved, despite the looming veil of clouds on the horizon. With the exception of that one weekend, I am able to have this anxiety and still feel, well, happy.

Which is a weird reality to sit in. For so long, my anxiety was the monster I ran from, the black smoke that swallowed me whole when it came, leaving me gasping and weeping on the floor. Now, I am in a place where I can still live a generally happy life, if only behind the veil a little.

And it does eventually lift.

Michael and I were preparing for our Friday morning workout when, out of nowhere, my body broke into a sweat and began shaking uncontrollably. I sat on the ottoman by the door, back flat against the wall, trying to breathe, as Michael got ready in the other room, not knowing I was fighting through a storm.

“What’s wrong baby?” He asked, as soon as he saw my face. I shook my head and said I just needed a minute. He came over, stood in front of me, and rubbed my back for a moment. “We don’t have to go,” he said quietly.

“No! No. I want to go. I can go. I can… I just…”

“Just breathe.” He responded immediately. “Just breathe. It’s okay.”

And just like that, the wave broke. I leaned my forehead against his chest and my hand on his back, as if to steady myself against the storm. I started to sob, crying into his shirt as everything inside me whirled about. He stood there, ever my rock, as the storm raged through me.

Then, things settled. I took a long, shaking breath. The clouds began to dissipate.

And there I was. Somehow, slowly, feeling the light of myself shine through again.

Michael asked me later why I hadn’t told him I was feeling so disconnected. “There wasn’t anything anyone could do,” I shrugged. “So it made sense to say to just wait for it to go away.”

“But I could’ve known,” he pushed me. “That way I could understand better.”

For the first time, I realized that panic is not always the monster I have to battle or run from. Panic can just be the sometimes-storm-cloud in my forecast, and I don’t have to wait for it to pass alone anymore. 

It is not perfect (as the sentences at the top of this post show). I was still tired much of yesterday and today. I am still catching myself a bit out of it, but finding a quick shake of the head brings me home. While I am still recovering from this cycle of anxiety, I at least feel like the veil is lifting and I’m seeing the world as myself again. Yesterday morning, I stood under the shower, feeling the water hit my scalp as I dug grains of sand out of my hair from the day before. I inhaled deeply and rejoiced that, in the solitude of my simple, little shower, I was able to finally be my full self.

I smiled then, relieved to realize that these little moments– while lacking in drama or intrigue– are the things making up the happy life I have wanted for a long, long time.

A Shatter, A Death Knell, A Wail, A Rallying Cry

I’ve been writing a lot about mental health recently. At least, it seems that way— for Teaching Tolerance, thinking about it as a runner and educator. I’ve been talking about “fighting monsters” for years now, mining stories of the times I “got off the mat,” or “made the choice to stand up.”

Those stories feel good and victorious, don’t get me wrong. I’m happy I’ve written them. Those days do feel good— the days where I am able to look my monsters in the eye, to get up, to not let them control me. Those are stories that feel good to share too— reading how other people cope with mental health has also been an inspiration for me to move forward too.

There are days when the monsters win, though.

These are the days that are hard to write about.

They start slowly. Lots of times, a panic attack will hit me out of the blue– a blind-turning-truck-into-a-deer-in-headlights hit. The tsunami wave you were so sure would never come. I don’t expect, and the ferocity of it flashing through me is enough to knock me on my ass. It hits. I cry. It passes. Panic.

Some days, though, my body has been a battlefield for weeks. I start noticing little things– I’ll stutter when I talk, I’m tired all the time. I start struggling with my spatial awareness and running into desks and doors, bruises blooming on my arms and thighs.

Still, even now, I try and see if I can outrun and out work Panic. Two-a-days and yoga in between. An extra beer at dinner. Nights laying in bed, hand on my heart, repeating, I am fine, I am fine I am fine Iamfineiamfineiamfine, like a talisman to protect me. If I run my tongue enough over the words, maybe I will conjure some sort of magic that will make the statement true.

You can’t ask the external to protect you from what’s already inside you, though.

And so, over the course of the day, a few hours, it comes. I am lightheaded all afternoon, my heart feeling like it will beat out of my chest. I am so hoping it’s just an upset stomach or tired mind. I try to calm myself, taking my own pulse to prove that I am not having a heart attack or dying. I just feel that way. I hang on, for as long as I can, to the rational part of my brain.

I begin to shiver, and my body becomes the Hoover dam holding back the flood, bursting at the seams. I wrap my arms tightly around to try and hold myself in, as if I could keep my rabbit-heart safe in my embrace so it does not beat right out of my body and lose a bad fight bloody on the floor. I breathe. I tell myself, iamfinefiamfineiamfine,

And then, I call my parents. They immediately hear something in my voice. “Can you stay on the phone with me? I think I’m having a panic attack.”

And then, I break.

They stay with me as the first wave passes. They’ve been here before– comforting and cajoling me to breathe, just breathe. As I alternate between hyperventilating and sobbing, they tell me that it’s okay. They gently remind me that I’m okay, they’re okay, everyone is okay. They sit on the phone and tell me that this, too, will pass. That they are there, and that they love me.

And, in many ways, this is more than enough. The first wave passes, I am able to breathe again. They remind me how much they love me, ask me to get some rest and stay safe and, when I am ready, they hang up the phone.

The fight is not over though.

I roll onto my side and begin to heave, my body furled tightly into the fetal postition like a flag rolled up to try and survive the storm. I cannot stop crying. I openly weep, long unfettered wails pulled out of as I mourn the gentle peace my body had built. I try and let loose everything bursting from me, as if I could scrape the bottom of the well of my sadness as a sign that, just maybe, it’s finally gone

I roll onto my hands and knees on the bed, the blanket draped over my back like a fallen warhorse making its last stand that I saw in a book somewhere. “You need to get up now,” I beg myself aloud, sobbing as I press my forehead to the bed in a desperate prayer. “You have to get up.”

I continue to cry, to wail, to try and somehow call my body back out of the hole we are falling into and try and find my way. I slink and slither to the foot of the bed, trying to breath. One foot touches onto the cold linoleum. Then the other. I come to my knees on the floor, pressing my eyes into the mattress as I finally, finally start to calm down.

I don’t know how long it takes, but by the time I am able to stand, it is dark outside.

I get up, slowly find my footing.

I breathe.

And I begin to rebuild.

These are the days I do not often write about. The shatter, the death knell, the wail, the rallying cry trying to bring me back home to my body. They are the not the Cinderella-story where Panic is the thing I find some magical cure to overcome.

Yet, they are just as much a part of my story as any. At the end of the day, I always come home. After it all, this, too, does pass. And today, raw and wounded as I feel, I have put hand to body, and begin to rebuild.

The Ragged Sweetness of My Own Voice

“You need to get up now. I need you to get up.”

I am kneeling on a cold floor, sobbing into bedsheets.

“You need to get up now.”

I brace myself against the command, the voice thick with emotion and wet with tears. I grasp tighter at the soft cotton, the smoothness of it against my palm soothing. I shake my head, sobbing harder. My anchor-heavy heart sinks further into the ground, the leaden weight ripping a track down my gut as it goes. I open my mouth, and my sadness begins to tumble out and patter to the ground like broken shells, each one cutting my throat and making a thin, little wail and cough each time they hit the floor. I actively open my jaw wider, as though I could let out all this feeling, all this hurt, all this stuff out with tears and small-hurt-animal-sounds. I shake my head again, so sure I will not be able to get up, sure I will not be able to pick up my keys, sure I will not walk out the door. I am sure I will be anchored forever by the bed, in a broken harbor of my own making.

“You have to go now. You have to do this. I need you to do this.”

Even more strained, the seriousness makes me snap back to myself. I struggle to take a few deep breaths, my own inhalation rushing into me like ice. I blink my eyes a few times. I cough, the last few shards of sadness sputter out again, cracking once they land.

Stop. Breathe. Again. Good. ”

“You know you need to get up now. You know you can do this.”

I nod, recognizing the voice as my own. When panic hits, the separation between the head and the heart becomes so clear, so precise, that it’s jarring when the wall shatters and comes down.

Still, after years of begging others to help me come home, I take a deep breath, and hear my own voice– ragged and strained, but still sweet and drunk on its own agency– bring me back to myself.

“You know you can do this.”

I take a breath again. I see so many faces, people who have wrapped themselves around me like warmth in the storm, nodding as I finally, for the first time, come into myself as master of my own fate.

Today, that fate is merely picking up my keys and being able to leave the house.

I take another shuddered breath. I nod to myself again.

I pick up my anchor-heart. I feel the weight of it in my palms, notice how my arms strain to carry it. I sweep away the bits of my own sadness, mindful not to get cut, not scared if I do. I listen to my own broken voice, a siren’s call, begging me to come home. My throat is ragged with painful truths. I hear the sweetness of its own power. And I leave the house.

Today, that small victory is the flag on top of Everest. It’s the medal at the end of the marathon. It’s the ravaged warrior, finally come home again, not dead as once-believed but scratched, beaten, scarred, and smiling that they came out the other side.

Today, the call was my own voice. Today, I listened and came home.

 

The Stories I Weave Myself

I am sitting in a small dorm room at Carroll College. The window overlooking downtown Helena and the Helena Mountains is to my right, and the sun has just broken out of a thunderstorm to break into a beautiful sunset at 9:20PM.

sunset

Earlier, when I was supposed to be writing this piece (though I confess, I had no idea what I was going to write about), I was sitting with my feet up on the windowsill as a lightning storm passed through. Thunder boomed, lightning shot across the sky, and the rain streaked down all the way to the range– long fingers of cloud-wisps reaching from the horizon towards the trees. I sat in the room, alone, listening to Jazz music, just… watching.

I am in Helena, Montana, for a seminar on nature and education. It seems fitting to try and paint the picture of my setting for this story.

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I had an interesting realization earlier this week. While I’ll be studying with a cohort of 16 people, I don’t know anyone on this trip. I don’t know anyone in Montana. I got on the plane out here knowing that, frankly, I was going to be alone. No one to meet up with or reach out to, no one sitting on the plane next to me holding my hand and planning adventures. I was on my own.

As much as I am an introvert and love my alone time, I realized that I actually am very rarely alone. I’ll go through brief afternoons and evenings, but I haven’t really been on my own since I moved to Hawai’i five years ago. Ever since then, I’ve found people– friends and family– to call mine. If I’m really honest, I’m a serial monogamist who hasn’t been single in quite a while either. I function best, I think, when partnered.

Or, I assume. Of course, I am still (very happily) partnered, but there was no feasible way to get my guy out here to join me on this journey. So, for the next three weeks, I’m flying solo, and it’s completely new to me.

And, as much as I should have been excited, I’ve actually been terrified. What if I lost all my luggage on the trip? What if being apart like this destroys my relationship? What if someone I love dies while I’m gone and I wasn’t there? What if I hate everyone? What if everyone hates me?

These questions don’t just stay simple, easy-to-answer dilemmas in my head. Unless stopped, they will often weave their way into full-blown, worst-case-scenario stories. I will very vividly visualize the horrors each one would rain upon me. A pit forms in my stomach. I can’t stop seeing the worst.

As much as I love stories, as much as I’ve been focusing my life on storytelling, I see now that sometimes my own stories hold me hostage.

I used to see Panic as the monster who would come and get me. That’s an apt metaphor much of the time, and sometimes my panic attacks will come out of nowhere, with no decipherable trigger. The problem with that image, though, is that it means I have no agency with my anxiety. Sometimes I don’t– sometimes it just hits me like a ton of bricks, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

Over the past few weeks, though, I’m beginning to see the ways I have, perhaps, let anxiety come to run parts of my life. I have become so accustomed to weaving tales that, sometimes, I’ll follow the yarn of a question all the way around and around until I weave myself into a web of despair, unable to claw my way out.

I am trying to get better at pulling myself out of the web. Instead of wriggling around, further entangling myself, I am trying to stop, breathe, and re-evaluate the situation. Often, though, I have someone who can help me start finding my way out.

Now, though, I am sitting in a dorm room thousands of miles away from the people who love me, with no one but the mountains and trails to help me find my way out.

So, at first, I was terrified by this.

But this morning, I woke up after very little sleep (Helena is currently in an unseasonable heat wave and our dorm room unexpectedly lost air conditioning, so little rest was had). I was tired and moody. I missed my partner. I missed air conditioning.

Then, I decided there was no one to cry to about it (literally, as I was the first person in the seminar to arrive), so I better just go out and do something else. I hiked up the 1906 trail to the summit of Mt. Helena. I saw nature like I never had before– endless sky and mountains covered in more evergreens than I could ever imagine. I was welcomed and helped by friendly strangers and their dogs. I ran down trails that looked like the ones I have dreamed of.

Then, I bought myself some chocolate milk, did some work, and watched the rain fall outside while listening to some Jazz music.

I’m currently going through a bit of a mind-shift, I think. As I’ve been asking myself what I really want, it also means coming to terms with the things I actually need– not just of other people, though, but of myself. What do I need to do to bring happiness into my life? How can I stop letting anxiety write the story that I should be writing myself?

I look out at the sunset, breathe, and remember the joy I felt this morning running along a lonely trail. Surrounded by trees, I felt so blessed just to exist, on my own, in such a beautiful space. It was a complete 360 from the despair I felt this morning. It was seeing that with each footfall I took, on my own, I was slowly stepping out of the web and back into myself.

And that’s where it begins, I think. As much as I love and need the support of people in my life to help me manage my anxiety, I need to be the one to break out of the narrative and back to the blessed reality that I am loved, supported, and incredibly blessed. People can tell me that as I further entangle myself in darkness, but ultimately I have to be the one to believe it. I have to be the one to set it down in ink on my heart so I don’t lose sight of it.

No one can write my story but me.

I Am Not Okay; I Will Be Okay – An Admission

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?”

He smiled.


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.

The Audience

I’ve been looking through old writing, and I found this. In a desperate attempt to stay fresh, I did some editing, because writing is rewriting and repurposing, yes?


It starts by willing yourself out of bed.

I’m not trying to trivialize that. It took what seems like years to get here. You have spent hours wrapped in sheets, unable to get up from the crushing weight of yourself. When you flip onto your back– the first movement you’ve made that hints that, just maybe, you will sit up this time– a rolling pain starts behind your eyes and down your back. It hurts. It paralyzes you for a moment, as you try and breathe past what, rationally, you know is not there.

The expanding of your rib cage hurts. The balloon of your stomach hurts. Blinking hurts. Everything hurts. It hurts enough for you to consider rolling back into the fetal position. You are tempted to throw an arm over your face like a boxer in a losing match– please, please, just stop hitting me— closing your eyes and trying to make the world disappear.

The thing is, depression is the quieter cousin of anxiety, and you’ve been dealing with this pair for years. They have been slipping into your bedsheets and sliding next to you in bus seats since you were an adolescent. They have wrapped your hand around razors and your body in blankets. They have convinced you that the world outside the life raft of your bed has waters far too dangerous to explore and watched as you did not eat, nor sleep, nor talk to anyone for days in fear of it. They have made you think that sitting with them in the darkness while they silently hold your hands is your only option.

And, years later, you have learned that this is a lie. You know, deep down, that staying with them only begets nights much darker than the one you are in right now. Wisdom teaches you that you have to get up. The rational part of yourself– a minority voice in the chorus of your aching mind– grasps desperately at that wisdom: You have to get up now. You have to get up.

You take a deep inhale, and sit up, a body rising from the grave.


I haven’t been able to stop writing in second person lately. It’s a bad habit of style, I have no doubt. We always teach against the second person; the constant use of “you” can come across as preachy or pedantic, and no audience likes to be told what they feel. It is difficult to do well, and I am no Junot Diaz.

I’ve been desperately trying to break out of the pattern. I start pieces with “I,” feverishly forcing myself to read down a mental list of the feelings I could tell you about, the dynamic verbs my body could be doing, or the thesaurus-long list of words that better describe how I could “say” any of this (‘I mutter,’ ‘I gasp,’ ‘I scream’).

Then, I realize that I have no idea how I feel. I have no idea what I’ve been doing. I am secretly in crisis mode, my brain the burnt out rubble of a war zone at the end of a long battle. I am glassy-eyed and shaken, triaging each moment like a trauma nurse on the field. I am figuring out what needs to happen so I can take the next breath. Sometimes it is stumbling through the motions because it feels like there is nothing else left to do.

And I see myself doing that. I see myself wander through the wreckage of my own being, unsure how to rebuild. At times, I can convince myself that the destruction will warrant whatever new creation I put together.

Sometimes, though, I am so paralyzed with fear that I can’t think through what comes next. Trying to figure it out hurts. Instead, I see myself go glassy-eyed and back away.

So, sure, I am partially writing like this in a desperate attempt to help you understand what I’m feeling. I am trying to unstitch and open myself, let you slip into this world for a moment by narrating what it feels like.

I understand now, though, that my audience isn’t just the reader anymore. My audience is myself, wandering that wreckage shaken and unsure. I am watching this version of myself try and figure her way out of the rubble. I see her sit down and bury her head in her hands, wondering what she should do next. I slam my hands against the screen, desperately trying to get her to hear me. I am writing her letters and stories, telling her that I understand, that it’s okay, that it won’t be this way forever. I want to jump in next to her, throw my arms around her, and then shake her by the shoulders.

You have to get up now. You have to get up

Perpetually Broken, Perpetually Healing

First, you have to acknowledge the lies.

Panic is good at lying to you. It’s a tricky bitch. It will wait till your defenses are already down– you are already tired from long nights of insomnia, exhausted from trying to parse through the millions of thoughts that won’t stop racing through your head. Then, Panic will slip under your covers like the tenderest bedfellow. It will wrap its arms around your stomach and chest and hold you close and validate everything bad you’re feeling. Then, it will begin whispering lies to you.

I will never go away.

You look around, shake your head and readjust yourself body, ignoring the voice because you know everything must end and you’re sure this will too.

But Panic knows your weak spots. It knows how to make a bad thing worse.

I will never go away. And no one is ever going to put up with that.

Panic feels your stomach clench under its hands and smiles.

Yeah, you know it’s true. You’re so fucking annoying when you’re like this. You don’t even like yourself. Why would anyone put up with you?


Normally, when I storm and rage through an anxiety attack, it’s a solo adventure.

It hits me in cars or on runs. Sometimes in the quiet of my room. I’ve normally sensed an attack coming from miles away, and when the time comes, there’s nothing to do but wait for it to pass.

This time, however, was different. I thought I was fine. I thought I had gotten it out of my system a few days ago. I had a crying jag on the bathroom floor while my boyfriend was asleep, wiped my eyes, nodded my head and shook out my shoulders. Yeah, okay. I’m good now.

This night, though, I should’ve seen it coming. The inability to sleep. The desire to drink (nothing crazy, but when I go from drinking once a week to having a drink a day with dinner, I can tell something is up). The fatigue. It hadn’t really gone away. I was moody and tired and picking unnecessary fights, but I was so caught up in my own head that Panic blindsided me, that bitch.

Here’s the thing I don’t talk a lot about: While I have acknowledged my own struggles with anxiety, the shame hasn’t fully gone away. Even years later, I still feel incredibly judgmental of myself about my anxiety sometimes. Poor spoiled you, my brain snarls at me, What gives you the right to cry about anything? Why are you being such a whiny bitch? Who would ever put up with this? You’re pathetic.

So, I sit there, sniveling and helpless and hating myself. I sit there until it passes. But normally I sit there alone so that I can wallow in my own self-loathing without witnesses. When Panic rips you down the back and makes you crumple to your lowest self, you’re not looking for spectators.


Like I said, I’ve been dealing with Panic for a large portion of my life. I’m not scared of naming. I can identify the signs. I know I will live through an attack.

I guess I’m starting to see where the work begins now. I won’t always be alone when I have an attack. I can’t always get in my car and try and drive away from the problem. Sometimes, Panic will show up and I won’t be able to throw myself down the dark well where no one can see me.

The thing is, shame is a choiceGuilt is a choice. While the initial feelings can’t be controlled, whether or not we wallow in those emotions is inherently up to us.

We can listen to Panic’s lies that we are unlovable and unworthy. We can see our struggles as all the ways that we are “broken” and hide those flaws, ashamed that we are not as “strong” or “complete” as we think we need to be.

Or, we can realize that broken and healing are two sides of the same coin. They are different perspectives on the same state of being, really. What matters is which side we want to focus on. We can focus on the frustration that we are perpetually broken, or see the grace that comes with knowing we are perpetually healing, stronger than we were before.


After you acknowledge the lies, you have to beat Panic at its own game.

When it slips next to you, wrap its arms around your chest and neck, take a breath. Remind yourself that you can’t make it go away, but you can reframe the way you see its presence in your life.

And when it whispers, gently, into your ear, I will never go away.

Turn around, look it right in the eye, and say, “I know. And I don’t really care. I’m stronger than you, anyway.”

Intersecting Stories

There are two stories I want to tell you.

The first isn’t really a single story, but a collection of them. It’s from the first three days of my classroom, and of being in the fifth-year of my teaching.

There’s the story I want to tell you about what it felt like to hit my stride. There is a moment where body, spirit, and mind connect and there’s a momentary, explosive bloom, like watching stars explode in space— it’s not violent, but graceful.

I turned towards my students on a too-warm August morning this Monday, started talking with them and thought, Oh, this is it. This is what I’m meant to do. My chest opened and the tension of uncertainty that summer brought melted away. This is it.

There are the students, who are already making me laugh harder than I have in weeks, whose stories are already burning so brilliantly inside them that I see sparks of them a few days in. It is the pop-crack of first flame at the campfire; it is the first rumbles of thunder in the storm waiting to break for hours. It is wild and unfettered.

It is perfect.


There’s another story I could tell you.

It’s about the fact that Panic is a sneaky bitch.

I think I’ve outrun him— taken every self-care precaution, immersed myself in joyful work— or kept him at bay. I’m so sure that I can sense his arrival, I let my guard down. Oh, I know he’ll show up, but I figure I’ll hear his footsteps down the hall, see the flashes of his fingers at the corners of my mind.

So, when Panic hits on King St. late on a weekday night, on a day where, for all intents and purposes, things are fine, it’s a little jarring. Panic does all the normal things he does— squeezes my chest; makes me cry; reaches down my throat and plays my vocal chords like a harp so I make squeaky, whimpering animal noises while I try to keep him at bay. I grip the steering wheel hard and grit my teeth, trying to ride the wave of his terror out, playing the scared bystander-under-desk to his Godzilla-rage.

I finally make it home and sob in my car harder than I have in months. There is no reason to it. The detailed inventory of my life is, at least, joyful. You’re fine. You’re fine, I think to myself, desperate to use that as an anchor to some kind of rational-self.

There is no logic to it, though.  There is just loud, unabashed wailing, each cry letting some of Panic’s power out of my system. I let myself weep in hopes that the more I let this wild rumpus continue, the longer I will be free from it.

The two stories seem juxtaposing, but they are not parallel universes. They intersect within me. They are consistently warring, forcing me to walk a tight-rope, a knife’s-edge worth of stable ground amidst two worlds that, if I am not careful, could swallow me whole.