Wednesday, June 26, 2013

In Which I Share Personal Information in a Misguided Attempt to Help Others

A couple of posts back, I discussed the fear of writing. What I didn't tell you then is that much more was going on in my life when I "froze up," as I described it. Below, I go into detail about what happened last summer. Though I tend to focus on writing on this blog, I hope you'll all bear with me for this (painfully personal) entry.

I. I Pay a Visit to the Hospital

In the course of my twenty*cough*mumble* years, I've made eight separate trips to three different emergency rooms (twice for myself, six times for others). On my most recent foray into the strange epicenter of a hospital, I learned a few things.

1) My first doctor could totally have been David Bell's younger brother, in looks but not sense of humor; he didn't seem to appreciate my attempted jokes, but at least he was competent.

2) Not all ERs are made equal. This one was nicer than the others I've seen.

3) The floor there was exceptionally unattractive, and I say that as someone who lives in an apartment tiled with bland linoleum over concrete.

4) The scent of the soap in their bathrooms was reminiscent of backyard fireworks--the kind you buy in a 24-pack at Meijer's in the summer. This was perhaps the strangest discovery I made.

5) According to the male nurse that night, the cartoon character is Kung Fu Hooey, not Hong Kong Fooey, though I suspect that would have been a different show altogether.

6) There was an incredible amount of lag time between when nurses left the ER dispensary and when the door closed behind them. If my night had taken place in an Angelina Jolie flick, she'd have had no trouble sneaking in and gathering medical supplies for her next Super Secret Spy Mission (TM). 

You're wondering where I'm going with these tidbits, right? And also why I was in the emergency room in the first place? All right, well, here are are some things you should know about me:

1) I hold two degrees in creative writing. The fact that I collected this information (and, in fact, composed a significant chunk of this post while waiting for a meeting with the doctor that night) is indicative of how I live: constantly observing and reporting, or else stowing things away for future reference.

2) By the time I made it to the hospital, I was deep into my second day of a severe, extended anxiety attack.

II. I Tell You Things You Don't Need to Know

I don't spend much time discussing my personal life online. That's not my M.O. However, after feeling alone in my anxiety for many weeks and reading a post over at The Blogess in which Jenny Lawson was frank in her description of the onset of a depressive episode, I decided I wanted to reach out to my own readers and, just maybe, help them the way Lawson helped me. 

So. Here is that post, almost a year after I should have made it.

I suppose I should start at the beginning. If you were a faithful reader of my now-defunct first blog, What We Covet, or know me personally, some of this information will be familiar.

1) I work multiple jobs.

2) I live in North Carolina; most of my family lives in Michigan.

3) I recently completed a graduate degree.

4) I'm kind of uptight. (Many people can vouch for me on this one.)

Without offering too many gory details, let me say that for the past three years, my life has been busy and crazy and other words ending in y. Anyone would be stressed out by the situations I face, and for months, I believed myself to be that--stressed, and nothing more.

Until June 2012 rolled around and I broke down so badly my mother insisted on taking me to the local emergency room at 2:30 in the morning.

It started on a Friday afternoon when I had a mini-crisis around lunchtime and cried so hard I had to curl up in the fetal position to comfort myself. After awhile, I felt better and was able to eat dinner with my parents, then watch a movie.

The movie ended. I burst into tears again. I was afraid of myself and my emotions to the point where I told my mother I thought I was going crazy. We discussed it, I calmed down, and everyone went to bed.

On Saturday, I was still leery but my hysterics didn't reach their Friday night levels. I was able to do some work and chat with a friend. That night, I tried to sleep but couldn't. I cried and shook again. That's when Mom made an executive decision: we were going to the hospital.

III. The Professionals Are Surprisingly Chill

To their credit, no one in the ER flinched when they asked what was wrong and I replied, "I think I might be crazy." In fact, when I voiced that fear to a therapist, he assured me that no one has ever entered a psychotic state due to anxiety. However, there are some clear symptoms of anxiety:

- the fear of going crazy
- a feeling of losing control
- tachycardia
- trembling and twitching
- chills or sweats
- nausea
- difficulty concentrating

And those are just the ones I exhibited in the days leading up to or following my medical treatment. But through the skilled intervention of medical personnel, I started down the path to treatment. Except for one social worker, no one recommended institutionalization. Everyone was sure to explain medications and symptoms. My therapist, in particular, was good about reminding me that anxiety is in no way a death sentence, and that it was a perfectly normal reaction to the issues at hand. The internist I saw as a teenager was kind enough to fit me into her schedule, and when I saw her, the even-keeled way she spoke to me was so comforting I almost hugged her. (FYI: I do not hug people under most circumstances.)

These people have my everlasting gratitude, because I was anxious enough for an entire city and they lessened that feeling by approaching me with unfaltering wisdom and unfailing grace.

IV. Things I Learned During This Ordeal

1) Jenny Lawson wrote, in the aforementioned post, that depression lies. She's correct about that, and I think it's equally true of anxiety. Anxiety will tell you terrible things are about to go down. This is not accurate.

2) My aunt taught me a useful acronym: fear is f(alse) e(vidence) a(ppearing) r(eal). 

3) I have some supremely awesome friends. Of course, I knew this before I had a terrible summer. But my belief was renewed starting in June. Kate, Maria, Melissa, and Candice were fabulous throughout this process. Maureen was supportive in her own way, sending me a superb drawing of a beaver and wishing me well.

4) Eddie Izzard said in a documentary about his life, "You've got to believe." The things I have to believe are that I will be better and I will be successful. It's difficult to remember those on some days, but I have to keep doing it.

V. Unintended Side Effects of the Recovery Process

Awhile back, I realized that a few great things have happened to me as a result of my anxiety. Yes, I had a shitty summer last year and yes, I am still working through my issues. But then these things went down, too:

1) I decided to live my life the way I want to live it. Sure, I try to set a good example, but because I want to. There are certain things I will always do. But now I'm living for me.

2) No one is going to push me around anymore, at least not in my personal life. Allowing others to do so contributed to my anxiety, and I don't want to go back to that.

3) I'm closer with my parents now than I was before the Great Anxiety Attack of 2012. They were ridiculously great, sitting up with me nights, accompanying me to appointments, and letting me know that I'm going to be okay.

VI. I Thank People

The following medical staff were instrumental in helping me through my anxiety attack:

- Joanne
- Julie
- Teresa
- Rachel
- Mario
- Meredith
- Peter (RIP)
- Dr. H
- Carol
- Charles
- Dr. W
- Dr. F
- Carole
- and three ER doctors whose names I can't remember

I appreciate the efforts of everyone named in this post. They may never know how essential their support was to me. 


I've taken a certain risk in posting this information. Now the cat is out of the bag and people will know all about the crazy girl they are acquainted with/work with/try to avoid anyway. After much soul-searching (there's a reason it took me over a year to finish this post), I decided that the risk is worth it. I can only hope that no one will hold it against me, or at the very least that I can help someone out there with my words here. If you or someone you know is dealing with anxiety--or depression, or anything else--don't hesitate to reach out to me, because the best thing I can think to do is help others like a group of people once helped me.


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Review: The Bees Are Waiting

Karina Borowicz

The Bees Are Waiting
Marick Press, 2012
90 pp./69 poems

From the very title of The Bees Are Waiting, the reader knows that Ms. Borowicz will have a certain natural bent in her work. Individual poem titles such as “Feathers,” “Beetle,” and “Cut Flowers” further this notion. There is an abundance of imagery such as water, birds, deer, and bees to pull the reader into a sort of homemade preserve. These moments often prove lovely, as in “Visitors,” in which foreign exchange students experience snow for the first time. The poem serves as a reminder to the reader to find wonder in the things around us, even when they seem commonplace--in other words, to see the world through new eyes.

Rather than focusing only on the physical world, however, Borowicz also concerns herself with human nature. She compares the human experience with that of animals in “All Hallows’ Eve” to illuminate the ways in which we have lost touch with our more primal side: “[…] our eyes got used to looking / at fire, you say, and we were tamed.” This tendency to reflect on our bridled existence crops up a few times throughout the collection, often in ways that read as specific but feel universal. A shining example is “Closer,” in which a good description, however brief, of the preparations one must make for impending disasters has the potential to speak to those facing cancer, divorce, job loss, or any other roadblock.

Some of the best moments in The Bees Are Waiting have less to do with humans on the whole and more with that subspecies known as Writer. “Black Earth” is perfect insomuch as it gives voice to every writer’s wish: to take the world and rearrange it as he or she sees fit and “A Small Notebook” discusses the loneliness and solitary nature of a writer’s life. Tangentially related is “Paradise Farms,” a fine example of obsession. This is a poem that could stand in for any infatuation: the urge to create (by writing, painting, and so on), the need to nurture, et cetera. Similarly, “The Noodle Maker’s Shop” is a one-track mind showcased in thirteen lines: the way we can bury ourselves in something so completely that no one else can see into our lives, an idea everyone can appreciate whether they make noodles or not. This, then, is a great strength of Borowicz’s: tuning her instrument finely but not so much that each reader is unable to connect to the words on the page.

If Borowicz fails at all, it is in her choices to eschew punctuation in certain poems. Although this strategy works well in “The Weather Is Still Here,” where the speaker is rushing to say something she does not want to say and is eager to change the subject, on the whole, it is an unwelcome poetic tic for this reader. Of course, it is an old-fashioned preference, but in some cases, I believe the work suffers when thoughts are not fully separated.

Otherwise, The Bees Are Waiting is an admirable collection. Consider reading these poems when you rise from bed, because, as Borowicz writes,” “In the cool morning air / they could afford to be fierce.”

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Fear of Writing

Just over a year ago, right before I finished grad school, I kind of froze up. After two years of writing and revising until I developed chronic dry eye (I'm only half-joking about that), I could not write anymore. I was afraid of what would come out--i.e., crap. More than that, I was afraid that NOTHING would come out. As a result, I put the notebooks away.

I didn't want to quit, exactly. But I was paralyzed.

How did I get over it? The truth is, every time I sit down to write, something of that fear lingers. But in order to reach the point where I could sit down at all, I had to stop listening to the part of my brain that kept sending out warning signals.

Because if I hadn't, I wouldn't be much of a writer, and everything I've worked for these many moons would mean very little. And that's how I conquered this particular phobia.


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Adventures in Rejection: Multiple Rejections

When I stick to my plans (which I have trouble doing), I send out three submissions at a time, and recently, I've tried to do this at least twice a month. Of course, it's the best way to do things, right? Getting your work into the world is half the battle? 

The problem with this is that I've gotten more rejection letters than I can handle.

Once a week or so, I find a self-addressed, stamped envelope in my box or an e-mail waiting for me. The news is rarely good. As an editor myself, I know it's not personal (Okay, sometimes it IS personal, but that's another post altogether.) That doesn't make it any easier. Even though I've been doing this since my undergraduate days, rejection still stings. I want my poems to be published. I don't like being told no, damn it.

Knowing other writers face this same hurdle provides a small bit of comfort, because it's another badge we can share with each other, another scar we can discuss in our works. Unfortunately, we cannot know how many times we will each encounter rejection. I suppose it's the possibility that we might someday hear that wonderful word yes that keeps us going.