I’ve been having a hard time doing much of anything as of late. It’s not that I am uninterested. It’s not that I don’t care. I’m just so anxious that I am seizing up; so tightly wound that I can’t do anything but shrink inside myself. Talking feels too much, though I do it. Same with playing, eating, moving, watching TV. I can’t do it and, yet, I must do it. So, I do.I’ve mentioned that I am an anxious person in the past. This is what I look like when severe anxiety takes over. I get heart palpitations. I can’t think. I can’t even be in the world without feeling a sense of dread at every turn.

Do I share this story? It’s kind of embarrassing. When I was younger, I had this car. It was not a great car, but it was a god car. It was a little black Geo without power steering. I had a terrible track record of taking care of this car. I would forget to put in gas. Forget to check fluid levels, the air in the tires. And especially, I would forget to get oil changes. One night, on a deserted stretch of a road, the engine seized up completely and then kind of exploded. Hot, filthy oil went everywhere. There was nothing I could do to start the car, move the car or otherwise solve my predicament. I basically killed the poor thing.

Before heading to the great junkyard in the sky, the car let off this really loud, really pitiful sound. It was almost as though it shouted “GOD DAMMIT, I CAN’T TAKE THIS ANYMORE. I’M DONE.”  Shortly thereafter, it was though I could feel the engine seizing up. Everything was suddenly very hard to maneuver and  then it went silent and unmoving. I sat there dumbfounded in the seat for a bit, then walked – alone, in the dark – to a gas station a mile away to make some phone calls.

All that right there? It’s how I feel right now. Like the engine AND the witness to some colossal mechanical failure. I am seizing up from within and I am also observing it as it unfolds, powerless to stop it.

Why do I feel like this? This is how I get when faced with a task that is, to me, so important and so monumental that I just don’t want to fuck it up. I want to show that I can do this and do this but good. I want to show that I can give it the time, attention and smarts that I know I can, while holding back the limitations that would otherwise sabotage my efforts. Namely inattention, disorganization, lack of focus and boredom.

There are few things in my life that are met with such a response. In the past, it may have been the first semester of an academic program (I’m looking at you, Fall of 2004 and Fall of 2006). It may have been a very important work project (I’m looking at you, heroin paper). And now that thing is this dissertation proposal. I tell people all the time that it is making me miserable, but I don’t think they believe me. Maybe because I never turn dour. Impatient and irritable, yes. But then I just get accused of waking up on the wrong side of the bed. Only, it’s not that. Make no mistake – I am miserable. This task asks so much of me that it leaves me a depleted husk. That’s kind of a miserable feeling, you know?

There is a plus side, though. I always manage to find one even in the worst of times. What I am feeling now goes a long way to explain how I was feeling in those first months after Penguin was born. I beat myself up for being a shitty mother during those earliest months because I felt so locked up, powerless and inept. I was shocked at how infrequently things were NOT coming naturally to me. I felt like I was forgetting everything, all the time, and as a consequence, there were many days that I wanted to run and hide. I called it postpartum depression, and there may have been a touch of that in there, but what it really was is this that I feel now. An overwhelming anxiety that froze me into place and prevented me from being the mother that I had envisioned myself to be. I’m amazed that it took me this long to see it so clearly, but then, I didn’t have a really great comparison scenario until now. The feelings, the ambient stress, the desire to shout, angrily, “”GOD DAMMIT, I CAN’T TAKE THIS ANYMORE. I’M DONE!” It was all there then as it is all here now.

I don’t really know what to do with this information yet. On the one hand, I think it will go a long way towards that final piece of healing I need to undergo to fully put Penguin’s (and to a smaller degree, Owl’s) earliest months of infancy behind me. On the other hand, I think I need to ignore this insight for a little while because I just can’t take it on now. It’s a good thing, but a heavy thing, and I need to save what little buoyancy I have to keep me from sinking during this stressful time.

Will I be OK? Of course. I always am. I don’t know from whence this resiliency came, but I seem to be able to work it to my advantage. But, if you get it in your head to ask me if I am OK – and if I am feeling really honest in the moment – the answer is “No.”  Not a troubling, lie awake at night, fretting about my safety “no.”  Think of it as a pragmatic “no.” A matter-of-fact “no.” A tis-what-it-is “no.” A resigned, the sun-will-come-out-in-April “no.” Because it will, and it will feel glorious.

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