Can’t get away from myself

I frequently find myself thinking of things that I should tell a therapist or psychologist, if at some point I’m ever able to get an official diagnosis, things that seem to be examples of whatever the condition is that I need diagnosed. Because one of the hallmarks of my anxiety is that I can never just be my own thoughts—I am always simultaneously my audience as well. As I think something, I am thinking about the fact that I am thinking about that thing, what that might mean or say about me, and what that would make someone think about me if they knew it. One of the reasons I am so insecure is that I can never be unobserved in my life. No matter how safe the environment is, even if I am completely alone in my own house, I can’t stop watching my own every move in real time, seeing it from the perspective of an audience. Pausing to think about this just now, I realize that even if I had the superpower of invisibility, I could never be completely, one hundred percent comfortable—because think about it—the thing that happens in nearly every movie in the world is that no matter how impossible something is, it happens in the first twenty minutes, and now that’s what this movie is going to be about. Picture it: you’re the Invisible Person, unseen by the entire planet until one day, someone sees you. Because my brain has seen that scenario enacted, because the possibility exists in my memory, I would know that was going to be me.



I feel like I’m imploding in slow motion. Like for the first 25 years of my life, I had this exoskeleton, a shell that forced me into an unnatural shape but was somehow propping me up as well. And then I blew it up, and the explosion gave me momentum for a few years, but now I’m collapsing in on myself. I have no church inventing structure for my life, no social structures steering me toward certain paths, no safety net of family and friends to give me the Heimlich when I’m choking. I can’t even blog about it properly, because I’m almost physically incapable of opening up, my brain will not allow me to put it all in words. The inside of my head looks like a swirly, slow-moving galactic whirlpool, and the funnel that turns it into language is pinched shut so only the tiniest, most suffocated trickle can get through. There is just






















too much to articulate,

too much to process,

too much to handle,




It feels like everything in the world is just wrong, like there are so many things wrong that I could never get to them all, a hundred thousand new leaks for every one we plug. I feel like my life has gone off script from the very beginning, like none of it was supposed to happen this way, I shouldn’t even have been born here, I shouldn’t have the family I have, shouldn’t have taken any of the paths I took. But you can’t go backward, obviously, and with every year the paths ahead dwindle, fading, overgrown by impenetrable forest so I know that even though other lives are only a few feet from me, I could never get through all the thorns. And now I’m Alice in Wonderland, looking down at that fucking dog erasing the path out from under her feet.


I just need so . . . so much. Desperation is the theme of my adult life. I’m an empath, I feel EVERYTHING, and I can’t get it out of me. I have permanent writer’s blockmy entire life I’ve felt myself to be a writer, tried to write but just . . . nothing . . . comes . . . out. I’m actually an excellent writer when I have a prompt, and I have so many feelings and thoughts, all I ever fucking DO is think, but I can’t get out of my head, can’t do anything with it. I have so many thoughts, and so many needs, and one of the things I need is someone to reflect me back to myself so I can see who I am. I’m just realizing that this is why I feel so unfulfilled in my friendships, why I need so hard to find a friend who is exactly like me. It’s because . . . I have no fucking idea who I am. How much of me is the anxiety? How much of me is all the garbage bullshit I was taught growing up? Therapy, and probably medication, would help answer this question. I’m hoping to be able to do that someday soon. But in the meantime, fuck, I just don’t know what to do.

My family is finally taking that trip to Israel we’ve spent literally our entire lives talking about. I don’t even want to go anymorethe shine came off the rose of Israel when I grew up and realized my family were Zionistsbut on the other hand, the shine has not come off my need to take my first trip outside the godsdamnedfucking United States. And on top of that. We might go to London, too.

If there is a place in the entire world that I feel most perfectly represents all the everything about my life that is so completely wrong I can’t put it into words, it is the United Kingdom.

To me, the UK is all the things my life should have been. I used to fantasize about traveling constantly; I have so many notebooks full of plans and research, and not one of those trips has ever come into existence. I stopped doing it several years ago because god, I just couldn’t bear the intensity of that longing with no possibility anywhere in the remotely near future. But since there’s an actual real plan to go later this year, I thought it would be safe to start researching again. I spent a couple hours today online, looking up all the places I want to go.

It wasn’t safe. It broke the fucking dam, and now I am desperate again. I don’t know how to stand not being in London right. now. I don’t want to go there for five days and then leave. I want to be there, permanently, immediately. That might not be the place I want to stay for the rest of my life; I desperately want to see so many other places in the world, too, and maybe (though it sounds like idiocy to say it) I won’t end up fitting in the UK. But I need to have the chance.

I was desperate already, and I’m not handling this new wave well. For the past seven months I’ve been counting down the seconds until I find out whether or not I’ll get the job I’m hoping to getthe one job that is a small, small possibility of improvement in our current situation, the job that will maybe give us the stability we need to get out of the tractor beam that has been our suffocating life for the past ten years. My anxiety is constant and nearly overwhelming. I’ve never been suicidal and I don’t think I ever will be, but I can feel myself getting closer; like not sharing someone’s views, but being able to see their point. Before the past year or so, deep down, I always had a sort of naive Pollyanna optimism about my future. Now I realize how little reason I have to hope.

I’m turning 32 in a couple months. My twenties were already a waste, and really, so was everything before that. I’m not having children, so at least I don’t have a deadline on living life. But if my thirties are another eight years of this . . . I don’t think I’ll make it. I’ll collapse in on myself before then. The implosion is already happening.

Matilda, Mara Wilson, and Me

I started out writing this as a review for my book blog, but it turned into (1) a pretty personal post that is also (2) not at all a review. I know I have severe anxiety, but I hadn’t realized how many specific things I would have in common with Wilson. Not being in a great place lately, I am much less articulate than usual, and I’ve had this draft sitting for close to two weeks while I figure out what to say; so I decided the best way to express what I felt is just to quote everything that stuck out to me while I was reading.

Thoughts would pop into my head sometimes, and I didn’t understand why. They were bad thoughts, about people getting hurt or embarrassed . . .

Out of nowhere I would think of something horrific, and it would be so intense and detailed, so much scarier than the horror movies I was too scared to watch, it would leave me shaking. These waking nightmares always seemed to be about the people I loved most.

I don’t know how far back it started, but the first time I remember sobbing alone in my bedroom because I couldn’t stop imagining my youngest brother (seven at the time) getting hit by a car was in ninth grade. I often get freaked out walking down stairs, because I’ll imagine myself falling and snapping my neck. I can’t delete even the most mundane voicemails from Mike because I worry that I wouldn’t have any recordings of his voice if he died. Etc. I am actually not a worrier, usually, and I’m a germophobe’s nightmare. This is a very specific kind of fear that should be unusual for me.

The first time I got an answer wrong on a spelling test, I started to cry, and [my teacher] pulled me aside. “You know,” she said gently, “it’s okay to make a mistake.” I nodded until the encounter was over, then shook my head. I knew it wasn’t.

I had the same encounter in fourth grade.

“You don’t need to write so hard,” [my tutor] said once, noticing I already had a writer’s callus on my middle finger at age seven.

I’ve always had one. I didn’t know until reading this that it was a thing (although of course, since I’m not a K-12 student in the 90s anymore, I do much less writing and the callus has gotten much smaller).

My friends would talk about getting songs stuck in their heads, and I knew what they meant; I had “It’s Raining Men” stuck in my head for most of my preteen years. It wasn’t just songs in mine, though: words, phrases, names, and quotes all seemed to get stuck, too . . . They didn’t bother me so much, just stuck around like background noise that would come to my attention now and then, like when you suddenly notice a clock ticking.

This is a really big one for me, and I’ve never known that this was a problem other people deal with. I react really aggressively when I hear a song that gets stuck in my head, because it is so impossibly difficult to get rid of it once it’s in there. Even just mentioning Sara Bareilles, while listening to other music as I type, I am struggling not to let my brain start hearing the song that plagued me absolutely incessantly after I heard it once on the radio. I wouldn’t even let Mike listen to the similar-sounding Katy Perry song for over a year, because the risk was just too great.

It happens with words and phrases, too. Today I checked out a book called They May Not Mean To, But They Do, and walking out to my car after work, I found myself repeating the title over and over in time with my footsteps. Words can get stuck in my head even without a tune, particularly if they have a catchy rhythm.

Possibly worst in this category is the fact that certain conversations from various points in my past are just frozen in my head, popping up randomly or whenever I think of something related to it. It’s like there are thought grooves dug in my brain, and whenever I touch one of those ideas, my thoughts can’t help but fall into the same groove. Specific childhood arguments with my parents, a particular criticism I received from a teacher, a fight I had with my sister; and no matter how many years it’s been, I feel the emotions again almost as strongly as when it happened.

A few years ago, for a slightly silly example, I told someone at workthe head of a different departmentabout how messy the library shelves were, because we’d been so busy all summer long we hadn’t had time to shelf read. She responded a little condescendingly, “That’s why you’re supposed to do it as you go.” I was still relatively new to the library at that time, and I don’t do well with even that minor level of conflict, so I didn’t say anything. But now practically every time I shelve, I replay that conversation in my head, frustrated that I hadn’t pointed out how we were severely understaffed and so far behind that it was all we could do to get books out of the workroom—or at least just said, childishly, “That’s easy for you to say.”

I would tap out syllables of songs or quotes on my fingers repeatedly, until the last one landed on my pinkie, but it wouldn’t make me physically uncomfortable if I couldn’t.

Ever since my keyboarding class in junior high, I’ve done a thing where I tap, in the air or on a table, whatever I’m hearing. If I’m having a conversation, I tap out the words on an invisible keyboard. If I’m listening to music, I play the tune on an invisible piano. I don’t do it on purpose, or for funit’s a subconscious thing, and the only time I really notice it is if the music doesn’t line up properly to end on my pinkie; then it bothers me and I try to redo it so it works.

In sixth grade I spent a lot of time alone, racked with panic, crying in bathroom stalls.

It was eighth grade for me, because that’s when I started having orthodontist appointments during the day. If it was early enough that I had to go back to school afterward, I couldn’t bear to walk into my classroom and have everyone look at me, so I would sit in the bathroom instead until the class ended, trying to work up the courage. I think this is different from Mara Wilson’s issue, but spending a lot of time holed up in bathroom stalls is definitely something I understand. Also, in elementary school, I was almost always late to class. I was so mortified about walking in late that I would wait outside the door until they did the pledge of allegiance, then walk in, stoop to “tie my shoe” until they were done, and then sit down with the rest of them. I tried to believe that no one noticed me doing this.

I hadn’t been a good student for years. I got distracted by my own thoughts, and gave up too readily. Being smart felt like all I had, and if I couldn’t get something right the first time, everyone would know I wasn’t. If I couldn’t do it perfectly, I didn’t see the point of doing it at all.

I actually wasn’t a good student in high school or college, though I got decent grades because I was smart. I was in Gifted and Talented programs from second grade through high school, and all my friends in high school were the “smart kids.” Math was traumatizing for me then, because we were in the same AP classes in every other subject, but when they were taking calculus, I was struggling with pre-algebra. I was mortified anytime math class came up, so embarrassed for them to know that I wasn’t as smart as they were. Being smart was the only thing I had going for me, and I had impostor syndrome hardcore.

The kind of headache that comes from crying too much can’t be helped by Advil.

I have had chronic headaches my entire life, and I found out only a few years ago that I also have migraines. I know many types of headaches, and this is one of the worst.

[Mara] means ‘of eternal beauty’ in Gaelic, but my parents named me the Hebrew one, which means ‘bitter.’ Being bitter was my birthright.

My first name is Miri, also Hebrew, also meaning “bitter.” My siblings all have Hebrew names, and theirs are lovely and significant. Bitter was my birthright, too, and I did not appreciate it.

The ones who scared me, who still scare me, are the girls who see all other girls as competition, who see themselves as the persecuted ones, the ones whom the pretty and popular girls hate. When you believe you’re persecuted, you will believe anything you do is justified.

That last line! This quote doesn’t fit with any of the others; it’s just such an astute observation that I think applies to all humanity. In the United States in particular, this is an issue, with Christians and “Men’s Rights Activists” abusing everyone who dares to suggest that they stop dominating the rest of us. It’s the same with religious fanaticism; no one is as terrifying as a person who believes God is directing them.