PAPER BAG, BREATHING

I always forget that I have an anxiety disorder. Bet that’s something you never thought you’d read. But it’s true. Ask my therapist for my file and it’ll tell ya one main thing—Generalized Anxiety Disorder—and a few other small things but I don’t like you that much so stop prying. But I’ll throw you a bone: one small thing is that I don’t like being told I have a disorder—because I’m fine and good as is, obviously—but I also desperately want an answer to what’s up with my brain.

Disorder was a word I’ve always hated (until I broke it down). In my definition, it’s merely a state of being apart or away from (dis) your normal and controlled way of existing (order). Not so bad there, is it? The Generalized Anxiety bit however, means that I can have a wave of panic over anything—or everything—at any given moment for any particular reason. Yikes.

So back to me always forgetting about my anxiety disorder. I’m a very composed individual (to the point that at times it’s slightly unsettling). I’m strategic, my wits are in order, and I am incredibly in-tune with my Self (consciousness, soul, mind, heart, and body included). Lest you think I’m a robot, I’m incredibly empathetic, and also empathic (they’re different, I promise) and keeping the innate harmony of a situation, environment or relationship is very important to me. So, it’s safe to say that I can rationalize myself out of a large majority of uncomfortable situations. Until I can’t. Like, capital-C-Can’t, where the heck is this coming from Can’t, everyone around you is incredibly surprised at your lack of composure since you never—hardly ever—lose it Can’t.

Can’t is when I temporarily forget that it’s not the coffee that’s making me jittery and making my heart leap around, because I only had two sips. Or when I temporarily forget that it’s not the temperature in the room that’s making me feel itchy —because it is freezing—it’s me having hot flashes. And also when I temporarily forget that it’s not my average workplace blues or frustrations that’s making me want to go for the jugular whenever anyone annoys me, it’s that I am losing control of my emotions and I feel restless and defeated like a caged lion.

Can’t happened today. And as usual, it took me by surprise. You should know that I’m (surprisingly) rather hippy-ish and granola, so I abhor unnecessary medications. Worth noting: I deem largely all medications unnecessary, with the notable exception of Excedrin. So even though I know that a tiny little dose of Xanax, et al, would largely do me good, that composure, awareness, and strategic nature of mine keeps me from Saying Yes to the Scrip.

So instead, I have friends who love me (even when I snap at them because their advice is a little too heavy for me at the moment) and safe spaces to go (like ones featuring lapping water against sand, yes it’s called a beach) and unsafe songs to listen to when I’m tempted to just own the semi-not-really comforting feeling of meaninglessness and ride out the wave of anxiety (like Holocene, but it’s my ringtone because I also appreciate irony and de-sensitization to your own personal triggers) and safe songs to listen to when I know I’m in over my head (like Elevate because it makes me feel like I’m in South Africa watching lions run while teasing my hair 1980 style).

And I also make mistakes like sending a flood of anxiety-induced messages to one person—and then the screenshots of those messages to those aforementioned friends who try to not say, “Oh my god, what did you do?!” even though I know they’re thinking, “Oh my god, what did you do?!”. Or like spending a bunch of money on food or clothing or drinks because I didn’t want to deal with anxiety that day. Or even inadvertently distrusting those aforementioned friends by firing off a quick, “I shouldn’t have told you that” or “I can’t deal with this conversation anymore,” and walking away.

You see, I think it’s easy to forget that you have a disorder when you’re so used to that just being your way of life. I know that I battle with anxiety. I know that I talk myself down from tiny situations that could cause it to escalate at any given moment of the day because consciously I know that What it Seems Like to Piglet Brain Me* isn’t always What it Is to Non-Piglet Brain Me (can you tell I was a CBT patient because #CopingMechanisms and #Strategies). But most people don’t know that I have anxiety. So I “forget” along with them until something happens that reminds me—and shows them—a brief glimpse into the minute-by-minute experience that is my life and I desperately want to pull the curtain back over but I just Can’t. So I wear it like a badge of honor for a second or two and then She comes back—the strategic, composed girl who has her wits about her and is aware of her body—and it’s gone

(until next time).

*Piglet is my favorite Winnie the Pooh character. Yes, I use the phrase “Piglet Brain” to describe when I’m having an anxiety attack—small and afraid, am I right?—but Piglet is also one of the bravest characters in the entire series. Why? Because overcoming your many fears and doing the life thing anyway is probably the most wonderful thing ever.

SAY YOU WON’T LET GO

I fell in love with you in a second.

You were wearing a black sweater and tweed pants. I can’t remember your shoes. Shocking, as I usually affix on one’s shoes but they were inconsequential at that moment. Your hair was wildly curly but somehow tamed for the environment, like mine, and you wore glasses with black acetate frames. Just like me. Except you weren’t. Just like me, that is.

I remember this acutely because I was enraged just seconds after meeting you. Okay, it might’ve been hours but to me it felt like seconds. I saw you, you who had invaded my previously perfectly professional place with your you-ness, and that was it. K. knew that I had, probably a few days before that, expressed visual interest in a guy whose name I can no longer remember who worked in a different department. As I was shamelessly looking at the back of your head as you situated yourself into your new cubicle she said, “He’s working here to save up money to propose to his girlfriend.” I was immediately outraged. “He’s engaged!?” I fired back. And K. went, “No not him, him!” Except she didn’t say that second him. She said the name of the guy who is apparently inconsequential as I no longer remember his name. Only his dirty blonde mop of hair.

Regardless, back to you. Whom I fell in love with. In a second.

I felt it even though I gave absolutely no indicators that I did. Had you been more acutely attuned to the inner workings of a one Allison Jones, as you came to be over the coming months, you’d have seen right through me and my false sense of bravado. But you didn’t and so the story continues on.

There was just something about you. I remember the first time I made you coffee. It was probably terrible, as it came from a Keurig, but you were a good sport and even took a sip. Poor soul. I was earnest and so you indulged me (as you always did).

Dear God, this is harder to write out than I imagined it’d be.

So I made you that terrible coffee and because I felt a literal spark on my skin when I accidentally grazed your hand when passing it to you, I ignored you a little more. Because I was a Good Christian Girl, and you were too cool, and too confident, and too casual, and too un-Christian for me to indulge in. So I pushed you away. Until I couldn’t any longer.

So then there was sangria.

Wait, your birthday came before the sangria. I made you a card and you became obsessed with my handwriting—you still are—and kept it hanging in your cubicle for months to come. During the times we weren’t speaking (I’ll get to that later), sometimes when I’d pass by your cubicle I’d quickly take a peek at the wall you hung it on to see if you’d written me off forever and taken it down. You never did, that is until we all left and had to take things off the walls. But anyway.

Back to that sangria.

I sat across from you as we shared the pitcher I practically forced us to share and looked at you with a puzzled look on my face like “Really? This guy?” and it was just bizarre to me that I felt myself compelled to love someone I never thought I’d be compelled to love.

You were Jewish. And kind of debaucherous. And you wore sneakers and sweatpants with sincerity. And you collected figurines (not dolls or toys). And you were slightly uptight and regimented in your. own. way. And I liked it. No, loved it. All of it. Truly and sincerely, not just in the way you love something someone you like does or is or likes.

I also liked, no loved, the steady pace with which you, and I, abandoned our respective tweed pants and pencil skirts and loosened up our wardrobes. The steady pace with which you, and I, cared little about our respective “supervisors” and threw stress balls across the room while learning random tidbits about each other. The steady pace with which you, and I, attracted attention to our budding friendship and shot it down with coy looks every chance we could.

And then there was Maureen’s Kitchen.

I was so excited for this. I remember my exact outfit: white t-shirt, navy shorts, tan wedges, that necklace that my ex-boyfriend’s mom gave to me but it’s totally not weird at all that I still wear it because I’m legitimately obsessed with it.

We met in the parking lot and awkwardly hugged each other. This was only the second time we saw each other out of the office. You were wearing basketball shorts and I, in heeled wedges, immediately felt as though I had to have misread the situation and that this was most certainly not the date I wanted it to be.

I don’t really remember what I ordered or really anything minus the cow prints everywhere, the smell of bacon, and my incessant questioning on whether or not this was a date. I ruled that it wasn’t, met my mother at Target afterward, and probably cried myself to sleep out of embarrassment some 12 hours later.

And then there was the Promenade.

The date that almost didn’t happen because it almost happened and then you cancelled on me last minute. But when we eventually made it there, I blew up on the inside because for once in my young “adult” dating life—which we were 8 years into at this point—someone actually knew what would make me swoon. It wasn’t flowers or music or anything conventionally romantic.

You made me feel as though I was part of something. And you made me feel as though I was incredibly small. It was the most beautiful thing one person could’ve done for another. It’s hard to describe exactly what happened in my heart that night but I knew instinctually that I was forever changed. The lapping water against the rocks, the rumble of the subway above, the smell of your cologne, the feeling of your soul just inches from mine. It was all too much, just enough, and too little all at once.

And then there was Yogurt Crazy.

You’d just taken me on what likely felt like our 170th Most Chaste Date ever. I appreciated your respect for my boundaries and hated that I had them to begin with all in one breath. I hadn’t felt that steady slowness since I was a teenager and it meant more to me than I probably ever expressed that it did. I was bad at expressing my feelings then…not that I’m all that much better now. Our date came to its reluctant end and you walked me back to my car and what followed was the most intimate and passionate first kiss that I’d ever—and still have ever—experienced in my life.

And then there were those times we spent not talking.

The first stint was 6 months. The second lasted just over a year. The third lasted nearly 2 years. Each spent with someone, or something, distracting me. A boyfriend, a new apartment, bed bugs, school, work, the lack thereof, more “boyfriends” with quotation marks very much needed. The first boyfriend made it obvious I wasn’t over you. Not directly, but subconsciously. I only admitted it in the written form, in poems no one would ever see. The subsequent “boyfriends” pushed you further down into a larger pit of general heartbreak. Little did I know they were just piling on top of you, not erasing you as I thought I intended. Oh how I hated you then(s).

And then there was the ultimate breakthrough, though it was later than I had hoped.

I blame those days we spent in our cubicles laughing amongst ourselves. And in the board room. And in our cars. And everywhere else. We were kind of a team, you and I. I think everyone noticed but respected us enough not to ask. Or they were too jaded and oblivious to notice. Or both. I can’t help but think if they had called us out things would be different. But that’s not the point.

And then there’s the realization that this whole ordeal is more beautiful this way.

The way it played out; painful though it has been. Who am I kidding? It still is in some ways. The ways in which old wounds don’t heal quite as soon as you hope they would. Like that scab you want to rip off but know you can’t because it’ll start bleeding again.

Either way this story is getting long now and I only had one singular point to make from the jump and that is this: I fell in love with you in a second on that day when you showed up in those tweed pants. And I have loved you—in some way or other, by comparison or deep-seated wounds, reluctantly or gleefully—ever since.

The (beginning’s) end.

NOON SUN (AKA: MY INNER STRUGGLE WITH LETTING PEOPLE MAKE THEIR OWN MISTAKES)

“Are you sure? You’re sure you didn’t do anything wrong…seriously?” – Me, in a booth in a restaurant after work with friends chatting about life

If you took a quick poll of the people who know me well, exactly zero of them would say that I shy away from confrontation. In fact, depending on the situation, I relish it. That sounds harsh. What I relish is the responsibility and high level of concern that I feel to the people I love to keep them honest and living authentically. And we all know that one of the biggest killers of authenticity is lying (to yourself and to others).

So as I was dunking artichoke leaves and sipping rosé in the seat across from my dear friend in that booth and heard her say, “I don’t really think I did anything wrong,” fire crackled behind my eyes and flushed my cheeks. This Leo pulled all of the heat and searing light from the sun and pointed it at her friend until she relented into the truth. Because I viscerally couldn’t tolerate hearing those words because I knew she didn’t believe them.

It’s been days since that confrontation and I still can’t fully explain why I felt so personally offended at my friend’s choices—aside from the fact that she (and others) teasingly call me mom for a reason—but I knew couldn’t break eye contact until I felt her slide out of the defenses she had built around herself. I couldn’t allow any sort of cloud to diffuse the heat of that sun until I knew she faced her truth. And immediately then, when I felt it all slide away and my friend—my real friend and not the facade friend I had been facing just a minute earlier—returned, I softened my harsh noon sun and let it fade like a sunset as I listened, encouraged, and strengthened her post-confessional self alongside our far more earthly friend who is cool and soft like a forest after rain.

AUDACIOUS, FICKLE, AND ALL THE FRIENDS IN BETWEEN

This is one of those posts where a bold title came to me before anything else. I’ve since forgotten the exact event that made me muse on friendships, as this had been a draft for quite some time now, but I’m sure it was an occasion where I read a situation to have way more a precarious nuance that most people would dismiss or not catch alltogether. 

Regardless, I still find value here so let’s chat about those we allow closer to us than most others: our friends.

I don’t know about you but I happen to be an audacious friend. I hold no qualms about calling out those I love, questioning their intentions, and challenging them to grow through their periods of stagnation. I’m not a warm fuzzy blanket of complacency and I’m certainly not the friend cheering on your bad decisions from the sidelines. I dig even deeper when it starts getting messy and I still stay through the inevitable cleanup. I love hard and intensely, and though my delivery is characterized by the flowery languages of love and respect, the intention behind it is strong and fierce.

But even I have fickle friends. The ones that are around because of habit, because of comfort or because you don’t want to be mean or dismissive for “no real reason alltogether.” The ones you can’t help but agree to do things for because they’re lovely but your heart isn’t all there. It feels wrong, surely, but it’s hard to stop something like that. 

The fickle friend offers a levity to the audacious friend. It’s a space where it’s strangely okay to care a little less. But as that’s the nature of the audacious friend, surely it’s damaging to engage in such a relationship. Right?

I don’t know. But as soon as I figure it out, I’ll let you know.

KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES

It’s slightly after midnight.

I’m sitting at a sturdy kitchen table in a relatively new house in a relatively affluent suburb. As we speak, I’m tapping relatively advanced words into a relatively advanced web-based blogging platform on a relatively new laptop.

I don’t know what the outside air feels like, because I’m cozily tucked away from it, thanks to the relatively new roof above my head. I’d guess that it’s beautiful outside because of the relatively nice climate that I live in now that it’s nearly spring.

I’m warm, and fed, and clothed in relatively new business casual-style clothing. There’s a relatively new Michael Kors watch on my left wrist and there are relatively new silver bead earrings from Tiffany & Co. pierced through my ears.

By this description, you’d guess that I’m relatively affluent. And that would be a relatively accurate guess. I live in a safe neighborhood in a good state in what most would consider one of the best countries in the world. I was raised by two hard-working parents—more on that later—who afforded me every possible opportunity I wanted to pursue. With the exception of one biggie—more on that later.

I am educated far past most but less than some. And so I am affluent (on the surface).

Let’s address the more on that later’s. College was one thing that my hard-working parents never had the opportunity for. And college was the one opportunity that my hard-working parents couldn’t actually afford to give me, even though on the surface it seemed they could. Not attending wasn’t an option. Because it was unattainable to them, its importance and status was elevated—far beyond its actual merit—for me. So this nerdling researched, and hunted, and visited, and pro/conned until her heart was content.

There was a private college that caught my eye. Of course, right? It felt like home. It felt as though it was the hub of every possible opportunity I could ever want and I could have all of them if I just went there. My parents agreed. My high school guidance counselor agreed. The college itself agreed. Heck, even the banking institutions agreed. And so I went.

Chase and Sallie Mae became my best friends because FAFSA was my worst enemy. Like an ox, I piled years worth of tuition upon my debt-free, credit-virgin shoulders. I had a blissful experience—deferment is a beautiful thing—until reality set in. End grace.

That reality brings us back here, to the current scenario of just past midnight at the kitchen table in my parents’ relatively new house in our relatively affluent suburb where I will live for the next God knows how many years because I can’t afford to live on my own. Before we go any further, you should know that I feel like an ass. So it’s okay with me if you think I sound like one.

I was raised to be a strong, independent woman. I was raised to value education and hard work. I was raised to be successful, to be more affluent than my relatively affluent parents. So now, I want things I can’t have. I want the things I was raised to want.

But I made a choice at 17-years-young that took away what I value above all else: freedom. And it is that choice, and that subsequent lack of freedom and independence, that led me to strike up a conversation bemoaning my privilege to a man (my father) who still to this day, most likely, wants what I had. What I got. What I now regret.

So I feel like an ass. Because I regret going to college. Because I can’t be on my own. Because I need help from people (namely my parents). Because I struggle to experience more than what is currently around me because I can’t travel or afford much of anything that isn’t a necessity. Because I’m jealous of my peers whose parents set aside money for their college educations. Because no matter how hard or how many hours I work, I’m still financially behind. Because people have it worse off than me and I’m sitting here bemoaning my privilege. Because I sound insensitive, out-of-touch, and unconscionably bratty even though I’m not. Because last week I snapped at my mother for inferring that starting young adult life out at zero and alone was worse than starting out surrounded by loved ones and educated but thousands of dollars in the red. Because I have moments like this. Because people justify moments like this. Because young Allison didn’t have a more solid understanding of interest rates. Because bitter, jaded, financially strapped and stifled, clipped wings Allison just wants to be more legitimately on her own two feet already. Because I should be. Because I’m 26 and a half years old. Because…because…because.

And so my father—my hard-working father who is incredibly proud of me because he, as a parent, is validated through my successes despite not having the same opportunities as me because my relatively affluent life is relatively better off than his relatively humble one was—upon hearing me say those unconscionably bratty words that felt gross coming out of my mouth stood up from his relatively new chair across our sturdy kitchen table in our relatively new house in our relatively affluent suburban neighborhood and said, “Goodnight Allison.”

And it sunk my heart.

WHAT WAS IT LIKE?

I wonder what it was like inventing romance;
to be the first to put your hand in someone else’s;
to touch a bit of their life;
to invent holding hands.

I wonder what it was like to first think,
“What if we held each other for a short period of time?”
to invent hugging.

I wonder what it was like to first wonder,
“What would happen if I put my mouth to yours?”
to invent kissing.

I wonder what it was like to feel so strongly about someone that you figure you love them;
to invent pouring your heart out.

I wonder what it was like to be the catalyst behind art of so many different forms.
to have invented love.

A BATTLE OF CONSCIOUSNESS

“Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt personally victimized by Regina George.”

Jokes aside, let’s talk about egos. The creators of black and white thinking, us versus them, and all other me-centric fear-based behavior. The ego smashes happiness, creates a toxic environment where love cannot grow, and keeps you away from living the life you deserve.

I’ll offer myself up as an example. I have been on-and-off blogging since my junior year in college. [That’s 4 and a half years, for those of you not privy to my age.] You’d think that by now, I’d have a consistent following and/or thousands of posts. But alas, I do not.

Not for lack of time. Not for lack of insight or grievous grammatical errors or an empty wellspring of ideas. Quite honestly, I often find myself on the brink of a great idea, midway through a post deleting the draft and closing the window or attacking every phrase with the backspace button. But why?

The sad truth is that the only reason I do not write regularly is entirely due to an over-infestation of ego-based thoughts roaming around my subconscious.

Let’s use the thirty minutes prior to posting these very words as an example:

Ego: I have nothing to say.
Truth: You’re constantly ruminating on life and the human experience. You have, at the very least, one poignant conversation a day. The posts that begin in your head only seem inadequate to take up space on this infinite home of ideas, 1’s and 0’s we call the Internet because your ego says they are. The idea’s point of origin finds it quite remarkable. Write furiously…and do it now.

Ego: Who am I to write like I’m some sort of expert?
Truth: No one knows your life better than you. You are an expert on you. And after all, we all only write about our own thoughts, be they imagined or about life that is unfolding in the physical realm. Your experiences have the power to meld with another person’s experiences and create an amazing chain reaction of life, love, light, and beauty. Who are you to hold back such potential wonder?

Ego: No one will read it.
Truth: The person who needs to read it most will stumble upon it in the most miraculous way. Have faith in the flow and just write.

When we live our lives based on what our ego tells us, we deprive ourselves and others of the gifts and stories we possess deep within.

Moral of the Story: As a collective whole, we need to say, “Oh ego, just relax. Shush with your tiny mad ideas. I’m going for it.” a lot more often. Let’s begin to silence fear and jump on board the Love Train every day. After all, it’s due time we got on board.

MY FATHER, OUR FATHER

When I was younger, my daddy was my hero. He bandaged my knees and taught me how to ride a bike. He consoled me, answered my incessant questions, and instilled in me values of honor and respect. He provided for me and my family and loved me even when I disappointed him.

He was the best. But it’s not the past any longer.

From where I stand today, my dad feels more like a familiar, steady friend. He challenges me and expects honor and respect. He provides for me and my family, consoles me, and pushes me when I am tempted to settle for mediocrity. He answers my incessant questions and reminds me that you can only go as far in life as you’re willing to take yourself. He assures me that nothing is impossible if you have the courage to pursue it. He trusts me, and the job he did in raising me, enough to let me fly free.

My dad demonstrated just how wonderful it is to have a loving Father. He showed just how wonderful it is to have someone who will let you dance around on their shoes and be carried around the house clutched to his leg, sitting on his foot. 

As I reflect back on my life as his “little one”, I praise God for how much He blessed me when He placed me in my dad’s care and with clear eyes I see just how much my dad’s love prepared me for a relationship with my Heavenly Father. 

I can trust God’s words because I trust my dad’s words. I can fearfully respect the Lord because I reverently respect my dad. I don’t doubt that God will provide because my dad continually provided for his family. I know the Lord will answer my incessant questions and comfort me through my doubts because that’s what my dad did. I know that He won’t send me down a path without leading me first because my dad always, always, always led his family. When the road was easy and sunny, my dad led us to rejoice and be thankful. When the road was windy and tough, my dad taught us to value what we still had, to rejoice and be thankful. So I can be certain that whether the road is easy or tough, the Lord will always, always, always lead His family.

I know that there is nothing I can do to make God love me any less simply because there’s nothing I could do to make Him love me more. My dad loves me simply because I am his daughter, just as God loves me because I am His daughter.

And there is nothing quite likes the steadiness of a Father’s love.

On this day, as I celebrate my dad and give millions of hugs to the wonderful man who raised me, I praise God because He is the one who created him.