Tag: anxiety

20 Inches Under the Sea

When I was a kid, my favorite ride at Disney World was always 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I loved it. There was something wonderful about voyaging under the sea. Maybe it was the water, the colors, the fantastical ruins of Atlantis, or how my heart would race as the giant squid wrapped its tentacles around the Nautilus and all seemed lost before we wrestled free and triumphantly made our way back to the serene beauty of the tropical lagoon.

The Nautilus - 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Ride - Disney World

The roomier and more stylish Nautilus of my youth

As a parent, I wanted to share this adventure with my young son. As we prepared for our trip to Disneyland for his 5th birthday I was thrilled to discover that while 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ride was gone, they had kept the subs for the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage. Awesome. We watched videos of the ride on youtube and I waxed poetic about my childhood memories of a similar ride and told my son just how much fun it would be.

Once we were in the park, I couldn’t wait to get to that submarine ride. I skipped through the line and gleefully climbed aboard what seemed to be a much smaller version of the submarine of my youth. Hmm. It was then, about 5 seconds later, that my excitement quickly faded. As I climbed into the now tiny submarine and sat on the little stool by the minuscule window and the employee on the outside shut the door and locked us in the miniature submarine… that I suddenly realized that I no longer wanted to ride inside this teeny tiny little metal box that had no discernible opening from the inside.

I have always believed that life is all about learning and growing, seizing opportunities to learn more about ourselves, our likes and dislikes, who we really are. Well, this was one of those times. This was the moment that I realized quite clearly, that I am fucking claustrophobic.

Not wanting to immediately ruin this experience for my son, I took a deep breath and tried to relax. I did all the normal stuff to calm myself: I told myself that Disney employees do this all day long, I reminded myself that there were no skeletons on the sub, so obviously people got off eventually, I noted that we weren’t actually 20,000 leagues under a sea, I listened to the happy voices of the children, I looked at the smile on my son’s face… Yeah, none of that crap worked.

I don’t know if you’ve ever had a panic attack, much less one that you are trying really really hard not to have, but for me, I had a feeling of creeping coldness that started at my feet and was spreading upward. I was certain that if that cold feeling made it all the way up to my head, I was going to do or say something super embarrassing. I tried to take my mind off of it and I started thinking about all the jobs and adventures that I was no longer interested in attempting: Deep sea diving? Right out. Exploring the Mariana Trench? Hell no. Marine biologist? Nope.

I tried looking up where the “captain” was standing thinking that the employee surely had an escape hatch. That made it worse. He was in a sealed dome. I swallowed a scream.

I attempted to be poetic and thought how I was the personification of the nautilus and the actual nautilus that I was riding in was now my giant squid. I was gasping for breath trying to stay calm.

I started to wonder what would happen if just freaked the hell out. What If I started screaming and demanding to be let off? Did they have sub marshalls to tackle me?  Surely, I could not be the only person to get claustrophobic in that itty bitty sub. Did they have some sort of crazy person freaking out back up plan? I was dangerously close to finding out.

I then started to wonder what would happen if I tried to pry open the lid and jumped out to swim to shore. I only stopped myself because I knew that the temporary thrill of being free would surely be replaced by the shame of being banned from Disneyland for life. I wasn’t sure I could afford the inevitable therapy bills for my son after that. Also, I really didn’t want my claim to fame to be “that crazy lady that scarred all those children” at Disneyland.

Finding Nemo - Packed in like sardines and leaving the pitch black cave

Leaving the cave and I was really ready to get out.

Soon we entered into the cave and things got more awesome. Because what could be better than being trapped in a tiny submarine and pretending to not have a panic attack so that you aren’t freaking out all the small children crammed next to you? Doing that in 30 seconds of absolute darkness. I was so stressed out that I wasn’t following the story. At one point, I heard my sweet little 4 year old son’s voice drift through the pitch black to ask me, “Mommy, are we in a shark?” To which I’m almost certain I said, “Yes,” which was an awful thing to say. Yes, my dear little child, we’ve been eaten by a shark, but isn’t this just sooooo fun?

Eventually we got out of the shark’s stomach or whatever was actually happening in the story and made our way back out to the sunny lagoon. I was done, really done, ready to get back to my life on land and leave my underwater adventures behind. And we were there, the home stretch, I was a few glorious minutes from getting out. I had made it. And then…

OF COURSE our submarine comes to a stop in a spot that I can tell is near, but not near enough to the spot we will exit. I am trembling from anxiety, but I know that if I can just hold on for one more minute, I’ll be okay… and that’s when Captain Nemo up in his little bubble dome announced that due to a boarding issue with the boat ahead of us, our ship which I have now dubbed the USS GET ME THE HELL OUT OF HERE, would be delayed from deboarding… but hey, we should just sit back and relax. Well, of course, I was on the inner row of the submarine staring right into a cement wall.

There I was, the most claustrophobic person in the sub, stuck staring into a wall. I was tempted to laugh at the situation, but my anxiety level was so high at that point, that I was certain it would come out as some sort of crazy hysterical cackle. For the next 15 agonizing minutes, I took deep breaths and continued to remind myself that I probably wouldn’t die there. Probably.

And while this ride was not the magical experience I hoped it would be, it was a valuable learning experience. I learned 3 important things:

  1. I am seriously claustrophobic and I should probably see about getting that shit fixed.
  2. You can never go home again: experiences from our childhood do not always translate well to our adult lives.
  3. (The one I am actually proud of) I will do anything for my son. Even if that thing is swallowing a massive panic attack and not shoving small children out of my way in order to forcefully bust out of a submarine ride and swim to shore.

So, while I still have fond memories of my youthful voyages aboard the Nautilus, I have decided that, for now, my undersea adventure days are over and it’s probably best if leave the wonders of the Disney lagoon to braver souls than I.

I told this story as part of the A Night of Squid benefit show produced by Max Langert. Proceeds from the show went to benefit the Autism Society of Central Texas.

Contemplative Ennui at the Blanton Museum of Art

I am standing in a museum surrounded by marble statues of people from worlds long gone; they are echoes of some other unreal time. History is like that to me, it never feels real.

I pick a bench in a sunny, windowed corner to sit and write. I’ve come here to try to dispel the dark clouds that have been chasing me this week… to try to numb the swollen ache in my heart. I thought the art might help, that it would give me something to look at so I could get out of my head for a little while. Maybe, it would ease some of this ridiculous pain. Instead, I feel every piece. It’s like they’re all playing on the same vibration as this depression; each one feels like a thumb pushing on a deep bruise.

The Blanton Museum of Art - Austin

I am mourning an inexplicable loss, something that doesn’t exist, has no resolution, and I am powerless to make myself feel whole. I’m a control freak, so this kind of thing sucks. All I can do is wait it out.

Is it her? Is that what they like? I compare myself to every woman who walks by and every piece of art. Notice how imperfect I am. I have a thing for perfection, or rather for being perfect.

Recently, I started to people-watch and noticed for the first time in my life how men will stare at certain women. Grown men will slow their cars to watch a young woman in shorts cross the street, a woman in a dress walking past the entrance to West Elm causes a conversation to halt while the three men crane their necks to watch her walk by. It is creepy, this level of unabashed focus that I’m seeing men devote to a woman who is merely crossing their path. I’ve never paid attention to it before, and now I can’t unsee it. It’s everywhere and I feel like I’m losing a competition. I’m pretty enough, but my strong suits have always been humor and intelligence… not the kind of things that random men notice when I walk down the street.

The modern art made me sadder. I can’t really explain why. I stared at the replicated cardboard box, sleeping bag, pack of cigarettes, marble sculpted trash bag. A marble trash bag… that’s what I feel like sometimes… a waste of materials and talent.

I can’t let go. The sky is divided – filled partially with angry sun and heavy, dark clouds. They tease rain, but won’t let it go. It is both sunny and potentially stormy, I’m caught in the tension.

The statue in front of me has no head or arms, and is missing its legs from the knees down. Incomplete or damaged, I don’t know. It’s only a replica, so I feel nothing when I look at it; none of the artistic energy of the real one is there.

I whisper to the universe, If you ever loved me, let the rain fall.

What about that statue, the topless one. I wonder if they prefer the curve of her breasts; if she meets the standard. I wonder how many would turn to look at her in a crowded restaurant or bar.  Even minerals are my competition. I stare at her breasts and feel a sense of loathing for her – for her perfect breasts, their shape and lift, for her look of contentment. I feel an alliance with the male statue across from her: poorly endowed, exposed, and forced to stare forever at her ample perfect chest.

I am not enjoying marble today.

I leave and enter the calm quiet solemnity of the masters – perfect imperfection – ample bodies and vacant empty stares. I stand for a long time in front of a Flemish portrait of a man with a curved mustache. His look is so sad; he’s pale, anemic. He stares at me while I examine his facial hair. It’s so realistic; I can’t even see the strokes. I want to climb into the painting and touch his mustache.

It’s cool and dark in here which matches my mood. All around me are paintings of saints and sinners. I’m stuck, standing still in front of The Visitation. I think it’s about the Virgin Mary but all I can focus on is the donkey in the corner staring at me, upstaging everyone else. He’s looking at me as if to say, “Pfft, I know, right?” I nod. I like this room, everyone in the paintings looks like they’re rolling their eyes.

I walk a few steps, but I’m stuck again, this time in front of another portrait of a man with sad eyes and a mustache. Maybe I stop here because he’s looking at me, while everyone else is looking off to one side – like they know they’re in the painting, but want to act casual. This guy though, he looks right at me, and I can feel his hurt or maybe he feels mine… or maybe his collar is too tight.

I leave the dark cool space and find myself in the hallway, assaulted by sunlight. The clouds look like they are giving up and the sun is claiming the sky. I feel heartbroken by the brightness, I turn and give one last look at the donkey who still gets me, scoff warily at the giant reproduction of a milk carton near the entrance, and head towards my car to find that despite the sun, one cloud – one persistent cloud – waited for me, and gives rain to blanket my path.

First Day of Summer – Pale Girl Edition

Seeing as how today is the first day of summer, I feel it would be appropriate to celebrate this day by saying, omg, I can’t stand summer.

I’m not a fan of summer for a lot of reasons, but mostly because I get SAD in the summer.

Summer SAD Homer

Seasonal Affective Disorder (or its cutesy acronym SAD) is depression that occurs during certain times of the year.

Most people who have the disorder get it in the winter because it gets dark and they get mopey and are all,

Maaaaaan, I miss summer,

and I’m like,

Whatever losers! Woo Hoo! Dark and cold rocks! Let’s run naked through the woods!  – right in their sad faces.

Now, however, it’s summer and I’m sad and moody and the rest of the world is like,

Yay summer! A million degrees! Sweating! Pools! BBQ’s! Mosquitoes trying to eat off our faces! or whatever. (Also, I am very sorry about getting all up in your faces last winter.)

So yes, most people who get SAD get it in the winter, but there is a summer version and it is the more rare form of an already rare disorder:  “About 5 percent of adult Americans are thought to have winter seasonal affective disorder; researchers estimate that fewer than 1 percent have its summer variant.”  Or so says the New York Times.

I’m one of those less than 1 percenters…  because I’m all pale and mysterious so I get cool disorders that make me hide away in my dark house most of the day… and when I do venture out I’m withdrawn and moody, wear big black sunglasses and sigh dramatically.

Researchers are still unsure if it’s the heat or the light or a combination of both, For me, it’s not so much the heat (though omg it sucks), it’s the light… more specifically the WAY the light is shining. It’s too bright, it’s coming in at a weird angle. I feel out of sync with the rhythm of the planet at this time of year. My circadian rhythms are off, I feel out of sorts. My pockets hurt.

It’s like my brain is now cued for sunset instead of sunrise. I feel “weird” all day and fight off melancholy, and then as the day wanes and the light shifts, I feel okay again. Usually around 8 pm every night I start to feel the depression lift and I am suddenly and inexplicably myself again.

Off and on for the next few months I will battle this depression, and it sucks.

On the one hand, at least I know what it is. On the other hand, I hate knowing that it is a real thing and not just my imagination. Honestly, I think that this disorder affects more than one percent of the population. My facebook, twitter, and blog feed are filled with friends talking about feeling down for no reason right now. It almost seems that as a society we’ve become so desensitized to the seasons and nature that maybe we aren’t aware that as the planet moves, as the seasons change, that we, too, are affected.

Unlike the winter variant which involves staring at a lightbulb (or something), there is not a lot to help with summer SAD.

Summer Sane Homer

So, I fake it and make myself shower and work and all those normal human things even though I am totally not feeling it. I try to avoid pacing. I try to make myself sleep like a normal human. I watch Doctor Who. We pick our Halloween costumes and start working on them. We begin planning our big fall vacation. And when I feel like I can’t breathe, when I feel like this will never end … I will stop and breathe and try to remember that this will pass. It will take a few months, but it will pass.

Needless to say, our family will be hiding inside most of the summer, at least during the day. And when you invite us to your “It’s a million degrees – Let’s sit in direct sunlight and get sweaty – We love summer extravaganza!” parties… and you will… I will smile politely, thank you enthusiastically, and then silently count the days until fall. Oh, and next winter, when the tables are turned, I promise not to get all up in your sad face again.