On Getting Lost and Found

IMG_0499I’ve always been afraid of getting lost.

I don’t mean just a little afraid. I mean the kind of afraid that sits in my gut and makes me want to run and hide. Sometimes it feels as though I can’t breathe. Thoughts race through my mind resulting in confusion. I don’t know what to do. Driving in a place I’ve never been before, I’ve sometimes had to work hard to keep my cool and keep going, rather than freezing in place.

My panic attacks can happen anywhere. They can arise in a crowd of people as I’m being pushed, shoved, and bumped along. I’ve had them walking through Times Square in New York. I once had one at a wedding where I didn’t know any of the other guests. Traveling to places like Greece and Portugal where I didn’t speak the language have also been times of panic for me.

These seemingly uncontrollable reactions seem to be about my fear of being abandoned, of looking stupid, and my having a low sense of self esteem. They’re about getting lost in life … fear of the unknown, of being alone and unable to take care of myself.

As a kid, I rarely felt capable of doing anything right. My parents were very critical. I never mowed the lawn properly, or got the dishes as clean as they wanted them to be. And I rarely got the perfect grades they wanted me to get in school. Getting a C on a test was like flunking in their eyes. I didn’t think much of myself either. I followed the rules, tried my best, but always felt like a loser. Sometimes I just plain gave up trying.

As a result, I’ve wasted a lot of time and energy searching for things I didn’t think I had … approval, love, and a purpose. Without them I was continuously lost, unsure of myself, and prone to painful moments of panic.

Part of the problem was that I didn’t know what approval, love, and purpose looked like. I was too busy watching my back, or preparing to run or fight back, to see that I was loved, that many people respected me, and that I was not broken.

A year or so after I was married, I was parked diagonally in front of a pharmacy where I had to pick up a prescription. While I was inside, the person who parked next to me opened his car door, slamming it into the side of my car, leaving a huge dent. After we exchanged insurance information and I was on my way home, I started to panic. I was convinced that Bill would be mad at me for putting a dent in our newly purchased car. I was expecting his reaction to be like my father’s would have been … blaming me for “letting” this happen by parking to close to the car next to me.

By the time I got home I was in tears. When Bill came out to help me carry packages in from the car, I tearfully started apologizing for the dent. He calmly asked me how it happened and when I told him, he held me in his arms and told me it wasn’t my fault. He asked, “How could you think that?”

After our son was born, I spent a few months battling postpartum depression. When I saw a therapist to get help, he realized I was suffering from something more than mixed up hormones. His big question to me was, “What are you so afraid of?” My response was, “I don’t know.”

But his question began to haunt me and I began the slow process of trying to find the answers to his query.

As I examined old memories and explored the road I had been traveling, I found the cloak of victimhood I began to wear as a child and tore it to shreds. I started taking responsibility for who I was and what I did. I began to see that my parents had done the best they could … that they had their own difficulties to overcome … that I didn’t have to live by their rules or limit myself to what they would approve of.

Fear still occasionally jumps out of the shadows, finding me vulnerable, and sometimes ready to run. But it’s more easily banished now. I know what love looks like, and that the only person’s approval I need is my own. I’m no longer afraid of getting lost. If I don’t know where I happen to be at any given time, I know that nothing terrible is going to happen, and that I’ll soon be back on track in the direction of where I want to go.

Being Left Behind

DSCF1059Just two days ago I was feeling envious and abandoned. Bill went off to music camp to learn more about playing his uke in the mountains of North Carolina, very close to where our daughter and grandkids live. He’ll be gone for two weeks with one or two other adventures added on to his agenda.

Besides that, my next door neighbor, who always keeps me laughing, is away for the summer. And special friend, Sharon, with whom I talk on a weekly basis is in Taos, New Mexico, on a writing retreat led by Jennifer Louden. That is where this whole crazy writing project began in 2010, and where I met Sharon and a whole bunch of other great women. I kind of wish I was there right now.

“So why didn’t you go to Taos or go along with Bill and spend time with the grandkids?” you ask. A few months ago when I felt my memoir beginning to take shape, I decided I would dare myself to have my first draft done by September first. It was a test of sorts to get myself to either put up or shut up.

I knew that if I really wanted to write my memoir, and get the first draft done on deadline, I’d have to stay home and do the work. I wouldn’t be able to do any traveling. I figured that if I gave in and said yes to a few friends who wanted me to join them in Taos, and/or go off on some other adventure with Bill, I would know I wasn’t serious about my writing project. Conversely, if I stayed home and did what I promised myself I would do, I’d feel very proud of myself and believe in myself a whole lot more than I used to.

So here I am at my computer and writing up a storm. I’ve written two chapters over the last few days and the words keep coming.  I took a break Sunday afternoon and went to a movie.  It took a good twenty minutes into the film for me to shut off my writer’s mind and begin  enjoying “The Way Way Back.” Later, I spent another couple of hours writing. The dogs were asleep at my feet and I was flying in a world of winged words. Oh how good it felt.

For now my envy and abandonment issues are gone. I suppose they could return, but I know I’m where I’m supposed to be, doing what I want to do, and being true to myself without regret. I’m happy that I held myself to my word. What could be better?

I’ll get to play later on. I’ve added another month on to my deadline. I’m shooting for October 1st.  After that, I’m off on an adventure in London. When I return, the editing and rewriting begins. Great thing to do during a long, cold winter.

By the way, if your looking for a fun movie to see on a hazy, hot and humid afternoon go see, “The Way Way Back.” It’s full of good laughs and made me feel very happy.