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.

Conversations with Me and My Monster

This weekend, I had a panic attack.

Now, panic attacks aren’t new to me. I’ve had them in my life– while running, in the classroom, just in life in general. It happens. I remember once, when I was seven, a bout of panic and anxiety left me motionless and sad on the couch. My mom asked me what was wrong, and the only way I could describe it was, “I can’t stop thinking about all the sad things that I think about.” She sighed, and said it would pass. It did. It always does.

I guess, in some weird way, I am still susceptible to the “I’m fine I’m fine I’m fine” trap. It’s been many moons (months, maybe?) since my last panic attack. I credit this to a lot of self-care, being more upfront with people in my life, a job I love, and just generally being happier with my life. While, it’s true, panic and anxiety do not have a direct correlation, I know that I am generally less likely to have panic attacks if I manage my anxiety.

So, after months of finally feeling stable, the notion that an attack was brewing wasn’t even something I actively ignored, it was just an honest misunderstanding between my body and I. The post about being grumpy? That probably had something to do with it. I had felt moody and gross, but assumed it was hormones, or the winter doldrums or post holiday blues.

So, I tried to take care of it in all the ways I normally would. I ran, exercised, I napped. I did my best to take care of myself. I drank more wine than I may care to admit. Rationally, I was sailing smooth, and I was doing everything right.


green_baby_monster_by_misstemprament-d52z3lnThe problem with Panic, though, is that it’s not interested in what’s rational. Panic doesn’t care about all the days it’s been that you felt fine.

I often think of Panic as the angry monster that sits waiting in my brain. It’s frustrating and irrational and needy, like a big dumb bully. And what Panic wants is for you to explode. It wants to feast on all that delicious anxiety and flight-or-fight chemicals it knows your brain will produce, if only you let it. Panic doesn’t want you to sail smooth. Panic wants to enjoy your (perhaps inevitable) explosion. Sometimes, you beat Panic, and you get it to settle down. Sometimes… not so much. Continue reading