RECIPE OF AN ANXIETY ATTACK

Stick the landing. Always stick the landing.

You’re in the process of reconstructing your identity and everything you found safety in from the ground up, but don’t skip a beat. Don’t falter, don’t mess up, ever. Don’t look at the warning signs, they’ll only slow you down.

Go to work every day, embrace the extra hours and effort of the side hustle. Bright, perfect, productive, organized, happy, put-together.

Devastated yet friendly and patient.

Exhausted yet your performance remains flawless. Keeping it up rips away pieces of your soul, but you’re used to burning.

Capable, necessary, punctual. The list only grows longer, harder, more complicated, but no one will be able to tell you’re consumed by panic. You’ve been doing this for so long it’s an art form.

You can’t accept the alternative, so you choose self-destruction over mediocrity.

You fear that you can’t rely on anyone. Love is convenience. If you want something done right, do it yourself.

You left fundamentalism because you wanted to be human.

But this doesn’t seem much different, does it?

You’re still trying to be a machine.

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A/N: Bad habits die hard, and had to face a few of mine this week.

DECONSTRUCTION JOURNALS VIII

This week, I faced a spike in financial and housing stress. In the grand scheme of things, it was negligible. It was more likely a product of incompetence, and doesn’t at all spell my immediate eviction, but that’s what it felt like in my body.

For two full days I vibrated with stress, anxiety, and rage, struggling to let it go even after doing everything in my power to advocate for myself. I felt at once helpless, and also capable of burning down the whole world, of exploding my pattern of conflict avoidance and unleashing my righteous, inconsolable fury on the first person unfortunate enough to answer the phone. Having worked at a call center in my past, I tried very hard to be calm and amiable, despite the oppressive pounding in my chest, and cloud of prolonged anxiety attack swirling in my brain.

The problem’s not much closer to being solved due to a negligent corporate landlord, but I chose myself over my fear of getting in trouble for not throwing money at bogus charges. Then I struggled a lot with shame and intrusive thoughts about my anxiety, and whether it makes me broken or crazy. But now that a lot of the cortisol has worn off and no one’s come to kidnap my pets over my outstanding balance, I’ve become curious about my reaction to the situation.

For those two days, it immediately burned up whatever peace and joy I’ve built, like I’ve been walking around covered in gasoline this whole time. And that’s what really upset me the most.

When I step back and take stock, my life is generally trending positively. I’ve done so much inner work, and I’m finding more connection in my relationships, better health, success in my day job, and branching out in my creative work in a way that’s more life-giving than my previous social media slavery.

Yet there’s this dark cloud hanging over my life I can’t seem to shake. I always feel like I’m on a razor’s edge, on the verge of losing everything, of finding out I was never worth anything at all. Things I felt secure in have been upended, and I’m reckoning with my hard won self-confidence becoming dangerously unmoored. I find myself subconsciously braced to be rejected, isolated, and exploited despite reality actively pointing toward the opposite. And no amount of talking about the private circumstances that ate away at me last year has seemed to chase away the paranoia that I am too hard to love.

It’s made any amount of waiting in uncertainty intolerable. But isn’t life just a never ending series of change and waiting in uncertainty?

I cope by trying to do and be everything, but that’s not much of a solution. I locked something down deep inside me trying to survive a situation that’s now passed, and untangling that’s still a tough project.

I’ve come to a point in my journey where I want to spend more time looking forward and embracing what’s next, rather than looking back.

DECONSTRUCTION JOURNALS VII

I recently re-adopted my old childhood stuff from a closet in my parents’ house. As I work my way through it, sorting, cleaning, throwing away, the assortment harkens back to an innocent, boundless way of moving through the world I often struggle to access as an adult. Old water damaged drawings, stapled original comics about bugs, dinosaurs, and space aliens. Beads from broken necklaces made at vacation bible school, jars of rocks and shells from who knows where, tarnished silver tea sets, three huge storage bags full of stuffed animals. (Still figuring out what the heck to do with those stuffed animals. Goodwill or trash seems too harsh a fate…[I blame Toy Story for this angst.])

There is so much about my childhood that I loved, and that shaped me in positive ways. As I sort through my various emotional dysfunctions, I’m finding myself better able to reconnect with the joy and gravity of those moments, mementos, and the people I love.

Among the miniature dragon hoard of old gadgets, trinkets from the dentist office prize bin, and gymnastics medals, I found a pink music box. Years ago, the tiny pink ballerina that spins delicately to the music snapped off. The lid was separating in places. I had never stopped to look at it long enough to even consider that it could be fixed.

I realized I had the tools on hand. I opened a miscellaneous drawer in my kitchen, found super glue for the ballerina, and craft glue for the box. After reattaching the broken pieces, I sat holding them together until the adhesives could set.

The box has stayed mended. My solution, so simple, yet one step outside my usual cognitive patterns, had worked.

I have since learned how to mend other neglected things: how to get the stubborn mothball smell out of new jeans, how to clean the sticky plastic residue off older electronics, how to remove oil stains, or sap from car windows…

It’s unexpectedly empowering.

Each new repair I learn reminds me that I have the ability to improve my life. That I’m not at all confined to the tools, the weaknesses, the identities, I started out with. If I don’t have the tools, I can gather them. If I don’t have the knowledge, I can learn.

I’ve begun to wonder more and more what aspects of scarcity and struggle in my life lie just one step, one tool, one tablespoon of baking soda outside the way things have always been.

deconstruction journals vi

Today, deconstruction feels like searching for safety amid gentle knocks on locked doors by well-meaning lovers, reverberating through the dim, stale hallways of the labyrinthine fortress I created.

I pick at the rusted locks wanting to let them in, insomnia and nightmares in my patient, scratching despair. None of the locks have keys or combinations. The terrorized adolescent that made them never designed them to open.

It was all supposed to make sense someday. The logic of my body was built on the fear of certain destruction, as the empire intended.

Was there something very wrong with me, I wonder, that I played its game so well?

twenty-nine

Unless I numb myself,

with work, exhaustion, dissociative social media scrolling,

I will have to face the open wilderness of me.

How deeply loneliness wounded me.

How much of me I cut off, silenced, and contorted trying to become easier to tolerate.

How broken and ugly and unworthy of connection I feel in its wake,

inhibiting my ability to embrace the affection that has entered my life.

I survived my twenties by riding an endless river of “somedays”: academics, rough drafts, the religious promises of heaven.

I found safety in a perpetual state of becoming, in devaluing my present for an idealized future I would never have to prove or fail.

Now that I have regained some sensation, “someday” has become a bitter black hole.

I am no longer interested in “someday.”

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A/N: I turned twenty-nine a couple weeks ago, and, naturally, had an identity crisis. My life is changing a lot, and I’m attempting to take it day-by-day, to be worthy of the good things, and to hold grace toward the hard things.

I am learning

to welcome the soft animal of my body back into my life.

In a culture that punishes limits and demands an increasingly lethal level of productivity, I learned to live in shame that I could never be good enough. I learned to believe there was something wrong with me because this sickness never felt like home.

I learned to fear the myth of my soft animal, the inner demon. Yet when I crept to the hollow tree where she lives to meet her for myself, I was surprised to learn she doesn’t want laziness and destruction.

Mostly, she wants vegetables. She wants exercise that excites and interests her. She wants play and novelty and safety, companionship and sunlight.

And I realize these desires are offensive. To the industrialized machinations of our culture. To the systems that we were groomed, but never built, to serve.

It has taken me a long time to learn that those things that are offensive to power, in fact, point toward freedom.

To my teenage self.

You are not a monster.

They were lying to you.

This body is good. It is yours. Its shape is home.

You are your own, and always have been.

They may say you’ve become the boogeyman,

the failure, the sellout.

They won’t understand.

But in adulthood, you will only become more of who you were meant to be. More of what you love about yourself. More of the joy you’re currently too afraid to hold,

too afraid of being scorched by it,

of losing control.

You are holding your breath, but one day,

you will set yourself free.

Stoke that light.

Stir it up, share it freely.

It matters.

It always matters.

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A/N: The Roe v Wade stuff in the news keeps taking me back to being fifteen, being made to feel like an absolute monster for being female, and having to go through puberty anyway. I know better now. I have language for my experience and I know I’m not alone, but wow, does my body remember.

To all the ex-vangelical/ex-cult folks out there, who intimately know the dystopian experiment attempting to force itself on the entire nation, I see you. You’re the bravest, toughest people I know. Be gentle with yourselves, okay?

Banks-vernonia

The air is cold but the sun is warm. I’m bundled up from head to toe, determined to break my distance record. Despite every anxiety that previously kept me within biking distance of my home, I managed to struggle and swear my bicycle rack onto the trunk of my car, mount my bike, and drive it safely to a paved, remote trail I’ve been dreaming about riding since I took up bicycling a year ago.

As I double check my gear at the trailhead, grief and anger tinges my excitement. I had hoped to experience this with a friend months ago when the weather was warmer, because it was important to me, and I was uncomfortable striking off miles into the woods alone. But I’ve since learned that the journey of the last year was always mine to make alone, that it’s natural to lose relationships on the road to healing, even though it’s been painful. I finally decided the first taste of this trail would me mine, at my pace, on my terms.

Invisibility has been the strategy of my life. A helpful ghost. Supportive, convenient, and never asking for reciprocation.

I mastered it, as it turns out, and the outcome was bitter. People I loved ignored the parts of me they didn’t understand or didn’t approve of. Which, these days, is most of me.

Pushing beyond the way things have always been is bewildering and exhausting. The territory is all new.

Bicycling appeals to me, because the prevailing question it asks, drummed into my soul with every turn of the pedals, is: “Will you keep going?”

I break down and lose heart and want to write off the whole world, but I keep going.

On this chilly December morning, I come across other hikers and bicyclists on the path. If I were truly alone, I would be the only one here, but there are many of us. Driven, intense, and expansive, our hearts made of the same substance. We exchange a greeting or a smile as we pass each other.

Among the forest spirits, the old growth, muddy trails, and sylvan quiet, we exist.

I exist, too.

I make it to the ten-mile marker. Sunlight beams on the top of the hill. I am suddenly removed from everything, the steady, grinding darkness that threatens many of my days burned off by the sun. I have claimed something I don’t fully understand.

After a short rest, I turn around and head back for home. As I fly down the hill I painstakingly climbed, the mossy trees and mulch whipping past, those two simple words well up from my spirit and fill every inch of me, as if they have never once occurred to me before. I find myself repeating them, mist on my breath, the cold stinging my face.

I exist.

I am not an anomaly, a disappointment, a defective convenience or idea. My spirit is a river, my body fire. It doesn’t matter at all if people can’t hold space for me. I remain tangible, undeniable.

I exist.

I exist.

I exist.

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A/N: A piece I wrote back in December, but had originally deemed a little too self-pitying to post. The current phase of life I’m in and the things I’ve been processing have made it difficult to decide which thoughts are worth sending out into the world, and what should stay in my private journal. My relationship with my art is changing again, and I’m trying to figure out where it fits.

On Recovery from Disembodiment, an autobiographical comic

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A/N: I’ve been spending most of my time writing on other projects, but wanted to stop by to share a piece I made visually! This process has been a tough road, and it often feels like I’ve lost more than I’ve gained, but I know in my heart I have to keep pressing forward. Little by little, I can feel my health returning, and I am finding myself becoming energetic, brave, and most importantly, resilient. I had thought I was doomed to disconnection, but turns out I get to be free.