I have done a lot of crying lately. Unfortunately, it has mostly not been the good type of crying and, for anyone who knows me, you probably know that I hate crying. So mostly, I've been crying a lot at home, and in the car, and once in the bathroom stall at work.
I tell you this because, as always seems to happen, when I feel I am just barely holding it together, people start commenting: "You look so great lately!" "You just look so happy." "Have you lost weight? You look fantastic." "I don't know what it is about you, but you just look amazing."
And not just people I know, either. I kid you not, I was at Barnes & Noble last week, and an older gentleman stopped me to tell me how lovely I looked and that he appreciated my smile. Not more than 15 minutes later, some lady stopped me to tell me that she had been admiring my haircut and how peaceful I looked as I browsed the poetry section.
I said thank you, of course, and I smiled and looked oh-so-serene, and then I went to my car and I cried, because fuck serenity, y'all. The whole reason I went to Barnes & Noble was because I couldn't find enough oxygen in my house, and there always seems to be more oxygen somehow when I'm around books and strangers who mostly don't want anything from me.
Yesterday, I was listening to "The Moth" podcast in the car. The final story in this particular episode was by Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber -- which was cool, because I am currently about three-quarters of the way through her book, Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People. I like her -- I really do -- and I like what she stands for...but for an agnostic reader, there's a whole lotta Jesus in this book. It's good for me, I think. It's always good to read things that make you uncomfortable. I like reading things I don't agree with to find the passages I find Profoundly Beautiful, and there is much in this book that is uncomfortable, and also Profoundly Beautiful.
What's ironic is that I started this book about 4 months ago, put it down, haven't touched it since October. Friday night, I picked it up and read the chapter "Panic Attack in Jericho."
Saturday afternoon, Rev. Nadia comes on the podcast...telling the story of her panic attack in Jericho.
I clearly needed to hear this story.
(You can, and should, listen to the story here: https://beta.prx.org/stories/167147 . It starts at about 37:00).
The story is basically this: Rev. Nadia goes on a trip to the Holy Land with "20 super nice Lutherans from Wisconsin." She prefaces the story by saying that the worst thing someone could ever call her is "needy." She is strong and independent, and never wants to rely on anyone. So on this trip, she doesn't want to socialize with the group, she doesn't talk to them, she doesn't want to look at pictures of their grandchildren, and she definitely does not want them to know about her fear of mountain roads. Then, the group makes a trip from Bethlehem to Jericho down a road on which Rev. Nadia is afraid of traveling. On the trip back to Bethlehem, the bus fails to make one of the hairpin turns, and everyone has to evacuate the bus...and Rev. Nadia has a panic attack, right there, in front of said super nice Lutherans.
In the podcast, she says, "I have a full blown panic attack in front of 20 super-nice Lutherans from Wisconsin...which is basically the worst thing that could ever happen to me. And I don't even know when she came up to me, but all of a sudden I realized that Sharon's hands were on my shoulders, and she was saying, 'you're okay. I'm right here. You're okay.' And she was keeping the lid on for me so something didn't escape that I needed like my sanity or the ability for my body and mind to be in the same place at the same time. And she was so strong and calm and amazing and everything I want people to think I am and everything I wasn't in that moment. And she was exactly what I needed, and like an asshole an hour earlier, I had a hard time knowing her name."
And, even though I knew this was what happened because I had just read the chapter in the book not 24 hours before, something about this broke me inside, and I. just. cried.
See, I like to have it together, and even when I don't have it together, I like to fail at having it together perfectly. I like to be in control of not having it together so much that I can make it beautiful. I turn it around, I make it into gratitude, hiding the full and ugly truth of it. I do my hair, and I smile, and I look serene in the poetry section, and no one knows that I cry in my car. I try to find the pieces that I can name Profoundly Beautiful -- like the fog in the streetlights during the walk I took this morning when I woke up at 3:30am and couldn't breathe.
Because for me, much like for Rev. Nadia, the worst thing would be vulnerability in front of others. To be vulnerable -- like truly vulnerable -- to need to trust or rely on someone else....it would be my Worst Thing. It would be my panic attack in Jericho.
In the past year, it's gotten so much easier -- to trust others and to open my heart. But when things get hard -- not just hard, but a specific kind of hard, like they are right now, when my body seems to be asking "...but are you SURE we'll survive this?" it feels like the Worst Thing is happening, or could happen, or might happen. So I want to not show up. I want to be the asshole who just disappears from friending for a while.
I think my breakdown in the car yesterday came because I realized that I really do have people who are helping me keep the lid on...or, who are willing to help me keep the lid on if I let them. And this -- this simultaneously feels like the Worst Thing and the Profoundly Beautiful Thing. I don't understand how it can be both, but it is. It just is.
I cannot do this on my own, and this has been the cause of many, many tears over the past week. When I can't figure something out, when I'm confused, when I need to ask questions, when I need someone older and wiser than myself to offer me advice...it has all felt like a potential Worst Thing. When I have asked, there have been people willing to listen, and proofread emails, and take walks and remind me that I can do hard things. And each time I ask, it feels like vulnerability. It feels like it could be a step towards my panic attack in Jericho. It feels like, maybe, I don't actually have a hold on that lid after all. And each time, someone has been willing to put their finger on that lid and say, "Hey. You're okay. No, really. You're okay."
So here's what I'm doing: I am working so hard to keep doing this Worst, Profoundly Beautiful Thing of letting people sometimes help me to keep the lid on because I can't do it alone. I keep trying to do it on my own, and every time I do, I end up walking the neighborhood at 3:30am, or crying in my car.
This week -- I will survive this week, in spite of what that bitch Anxiety says. I can do hard things.
Even if the lid comes off.
Even if I end up having a panic attack in Jericho.