Category: General Anxiety

My Civic Duty

First and foremost, I’ve noticed a few new people have recently subscribed to my blog.  I don’t know where you’ve come from or how you’ve found me, but I thank you for your interest and hope that my future blog posts will not disappoint.  Welcome aboard my journey!

Now, buckle up for the wild ride I like to call: “That time I almost served on the jury of an extremely high-profile court case.”

Lately, when I see a spider (or, more likely, THINK I see a spider and it turns out it’s just a hairball), I scream.  But the rest of my body doesn’t have time to react.  There’s no heart pounding, just floor pounding.  I don’t sweat.  And I’m not in a panic, just momentary terror followed by the discovery that either I am really brave and protected myself from the wrath of a centimeters-large arachnid, or that I’ve just killed a multi-legged piece of fuzz—and killed it a lot.

But a couple of weeks ago, I found high anxiety in the most unlikely of places for a law-abiding citizen such as myself:  the Superior Court of Los Angeles.  Ah, jury duty.  That white number 10 envelope most dreaded by Americans, regardless of age, sex or socio-economic status.  When we’re in a bind, we want the law to work in our favor; when it comes to repaying that debt, we want to run and hide; we delay; we make excuses, and we try to get out of it.  It’s shameful, really, and I have no shame, because that’s exactly what I tried to do.

I marched up to the Juror Waiting Room, a letter from my doctor tucked confidently under my arm.  An employee of the court gave me directions for the building in which I’d have my medical excuse interview.  Clutching my papers tightly, my laptop case banging against my thigh, I briskly walked down the street, crossed it, found the entrance and rode the elevator up to the 12th floor.  Panting, I dutifully took a number and waited, thinking about how wonderful it would be to drive in to work late and have a short day.

But like my workday would have been, this feeling was short-lived.  I was denied being excused from jury duty on the grounds that I had not had my doctor include her medical license number on the letter.  Defeated, my laptop still banging against my thigh, my upper lip moistening and my shirt becoming itchy, I rode the elevator back down 12 floors, crossed the street and promptly got lost.  Were it not for the friendly cyclist who noticed my direction deficiency, I may not have returned to the courthouse in time, angry, and profusely sweating.

Okay, whatever, I thought.  All my friends have served.  And it’s a Friday.  There’s no way I’m getting called for a jury, and they’re going to let us all go early.  I turned on my laptop.

“Ladies and gentleman, we have a panel to call,” the voice said.  And just like that, I had to pack up my laptop and serve.

Once outside the courtroom, I—and 36 or so of my new friends—waited a very, very, very long time for someone to tell us what was going on.  And then, She emerged.  She who remains nameless told us that because of the length of the trial, we’d have to be sure to fill out hardship forms and explain in detail what, if anything would require us to be excused from the trial—financial hardship, medical hardship, childcare needs, etc.  Great, I thought.  If they wouldn’t excuse me based on my doctor’s note, would my financial status be enough to excuse me now?

I turned to my neighbor and instantly said, “This must be a murder trial.  What do you think, two weeks?”

About 20 nerve-wracking minutes later, we were invited inside the small courtroom, and the judge began to outline the case.  “This is the trial of AEG Live versus Katherine Jackson”—sounds boring, I thought—“in the wrongful death suit of Michael Jackson—“

“Oh my God,” I said.  Out loud.  In front of the judge and lawyers.  I covered my mouth in embarrassment.  But I couldn’t contain myself.  I mean, sometimes I forget I live in L.A., but Michael Jackson’s wrongful death case?  What are the odds?

Well, apparently the odds for getting called this month were pretty great because the trial was estimated to go 90 days or longer, and thankfully the court was sensitive to the fact that most people cannot leave their jobs for that length of time…so they screened hundreds of potential jurors.  Maybe even thousands.

When the hardship form graced my lap, I began scribbling like a maniac.  “Work only pays 7 days,” I wrote.  “Exorbitant medical costs for Crohn’s disease.  Crohn’s disease requires that I’m in the restroom frequently and would interrupt the trial.  If I get even a cold, I must go visit a doctor immediately.  Pre-planned vacation in May and pre-scheduled doctor’s appointments.”

There, I thought.  That should be enough.

I turned my form in and took my place outside the courtroom with my 36 or so new friends once again.  And there we waited.

And waited.

And waited.

My mouth was drying up a little.  The perspiration was beading up.  And my heart began to pound.  And I’m not talking metaphorically.  I mean, I could hear the beat in my temples; I could barely breathe.  The afore-mentioned unnamed court employee began reading the numbers of the jurors who were to be dismissed based on their hardship form responses.

Five numbers were called.  Ten.  Fifteen.

My eyes widened.  My heart beat faster.

Twenty names.

Somewhere between 20 and 25, my number was finally called, and once again I couldn’t contain myself.  “Oh thank God,” I blurted out, heading back down to the Juror Waiting Room.

That was real fear.

Now, I’ve actually gotten some flak for wanting to get out of this trial.  If I was retired or unemployed and not immediately in need of work, I probably would have done it in a heartbeat.  It would have been interesting, and some of the witnesses are famous musicians.  But I wouldn’t have wanted cameras following me around afterward.  I wouldn’t have wanted the Jackson family mad at me.  But could I have made a nice piece of chump change writing a book afterward?  Sure!

However, I am the average citizen.  I am not rich.  I have medical necessities that would have been extremely difficult to account for in a 90-plus-day continuous trial.  And though I’m in a union and probably couldn’t lose my job, my job would be forced to hire a temporary replacement, and I would miss out on at least 83 days of pay, which helps fund my condo, my dog walker, the food we eat, the insurance that helps me pay for my medication, and much, much more.  So for all those of you who criticized me, shame on you.  Put yourself in my shoes!  Could you have afforded 4 months off of work?

The next time you’re afraid to serve jury duty, just think—it could’ve been worse.  You could’ve served on the king of pop’s wrongful death trial.  You could’ve been haunted by Michael Jackson’s ghost, and if your verdict did not please him, I don’t think a simple “Beat it” would do.







I am NOT claustrophobic!  I may have a lot of fears and anxieties, but one place these things don’t come out to play with my mind is in small spaces.  I once had an MRI, but the scariest part for me was not knowing how the injection of radioactive material was going to feel (it burned).  I’ve been in numerous caves during family trips to Tennessee and Missouri, as well as some pretty confined spaces in an archaeological site in Israel.  I often sleep with covers over my ears and sheets tucked around my body, only releasing my sockless feet once the temperature rises too high. 

I’m not scared! 

You know what else?  I’m not afraid of heights!  During a field trip to the Sears Tower as a kid (what’s this Willis nonsense, now?), I rode the elevator up to the observation deck and was only scared when I temporarily lost my sense of hearing from the abrupt change in air pressure.  I pressed my body against the glass window and looked out onto the miles of cityscape countless stories beneath me.  I like the window seat on planes the best.  In college, when no one would climb the rickety ladder to the ceiling to put a gel over a light in the TV studio, I volunteered.  I drove lifts that extended high into the trees when I worked as a stage hand, and I even bravely walked over catwalks with no safety to catch me if I’d fall – okay, I admit THAT was a little scary.

I am NOT afraid of heights…but that doesn’t mean I’ll jump out of a plane.  Ever. : )

I also love thunderstorms.  The bigger and louder the better.  I was afraid of them when I was really young and I don’t quite recall when the sound of a storm began calming me down instead of riling me up.  But for years, I’ve loved them, and ever since moving from a very stormy state to a state that institutes severe thunderstorm warnings in the morning mist, I’ve really missed thunder and lightning.  Somewhere, I’ve even got a CD of thunderstorm sounds, sans music. 

Last week, I was reminded that even though I’m afraid of a lot, there are a few things that will probably never faze me.  And as a self-described scaredy-cat, that’s really nice to know!

Full Disclosure

Sure, I’ve been writing a blog about fears that people in other cities, states and countries have been reading.  I’ve talked about my fear of ziplining, my fear of insects, my fear of driving fast and my fear of throwing up.  And everything I’ve expressed has been true, personal and honest. 

But I think thus far I’ve really only been spewing out fears that I know many people can relate to.  They’re common fears and it’s easy for me to write about them here, without judgment, because in the moment that my words are coming across the page, no one is trying to make me do anything about them.  I can’t see the odd looks on my friends’ faces or hear the creeped-out whistles or have anyone giggle at me and point.  You can only read and listen and I can feel proud that I’ve gotten the words out on the page, no matter how much hemming and hawing preceded them.

But this week I think I truly realized how hard it is having one fear in particular exposed.  Folks, I’ve got a fear of deep water, and perhaps, underneath all that, a slight fear of drowning.


My parents are not to blame.  They forced me into swimming lessons as soon as I was old enough, and at the age of 4 or 5, I wouldn’t put my face underwater…not for a long, long time.  I jumped off the diving board at our community pool only once because my swim instructor PROMISED me she’d catch me at the bottom.  Only she didn’t.  I yelled at her and cried.  How can you break a little kid’s promise when they’re TERRIFIED???  It isn’t like riding a bike.  You can see the sidewalk and you know what will happen if you fall.  But the depths of the rippling pool beneath me were too much to bear.

Despite that event, I continued to go to the pool with my family, even jumping off the side of the pool into the shallow end (frowned upon by many lifeguards).  I continued taking swimming lessons and had perfect backstroke form, even perfect breaststroke form.  There was just one problem:  I couldn’t breathe.  I was told to blow bubbles out of my nose, but no matter what I did, I couldn’t get enough air out, and when I came up for air, I had to exhale before inhaling again, which tired me out after only a few strokes, and I’d have to stand up and start again. 

The result?  I can’t REALLY swim.  And it wasn’t for lack of trying.  I think I was in swimming lessons for 5 or 6 summers, but I could never advance.  And once my instructor told me I needed to start shaving my legs, I was done.

Still, my friend taught me to turn flips in the pool.  Once I learned that trick it’s all I did in a pool…that, and play catch and dog paddle around and float on my back.  I never even learned how to properly tread water.

The Event that Scarred me for Life

One summer, I was entertaining myself in the pool and my mom was sitting over on the lounge chairs reading a book.  I flipped underwater and opened my mouth by accident…and inhaled water.  Instantly my nose and throat began burning and when I surfaced I. COULDN’T. BREATHE.  I coughed and coughed but no air was getting in.  I thought I was going to drown.  I somehow got myself to the side of the pool and eventually choked up water.  But you know what?  NO ONE SAW.  No lifeguard came to my aid.  No other kid in the pool alerted anyone or swam over to me to make sure I was all right.  And I think that was scarier than nearly drowning…the fact that no one was watching.  It’s why I don’t really like swimming in lakes or oceans to this day.  People get immersed in their own thing and even if you’ve got a swimming buddy, they may not notice in time that you’re in trouble.  The thought of knowing that you can’t breathe, that you’re going to drown and someone is within earshot and you can’t call out…honestly, it’s just too much.

To top it all off, a young child drowned while in the kiddie pool at my swim club, just 12 or so inches of water with parents all around.  Years later while in a writing class in high school, one of my classmates wrote a poem about his baby brother and how he drowned.  It was the same kid, and I always thought about him, even though I wasn’t there that day at the pool, even though I didn’t know him.  I just couldn’t believe that in the midst of lifeguards and adults, some poor little boy could have suffered and drowned.

High School Humiliation

Like most kids, I dreaded going to gym class.  The ugly uniforms, the public display of my unathleticism and the daily dance of trying to hide my body while changing in the locker rooms…I think I’ve mostly blocked the shame and embarrassment out of my memory. 

But the dread was worse when I became a junior.  You see, juniors and seniors had to enroll in one swimming class per semester, and not only was I going to have to figure out how to hide my body while getting naked and putting on a swimsuit, but I was going to have to swim.  In front of others.  In a pool that was mostly deep end. 

I was a really good student.  Raised my hand all the time in class.  Participated in tons of after-school activities…speech team, theatre board, plays, band, orchestra…you name it, I was doing it.  I was good at a lot of things, and the things I wasn’t good at, well, I could fake them.  Except for swimming.  My face flushed the first day our gym teacher had us swim laps.  I couldn’t.  With the way I breathed, I didn’t have the stamina.  I didn’t know how.  I was the only kid hanging out with a special instructor in the shallow end.

For an assessment, I actually tried as HARD as I could to swim a lap, but during the test I kicked so hard that I started having a major muscle spasm in my leg and had to stop.  My teacher accused me of just trying to get out of it.  I got a note and limped to my next class, and THAT teacher accused me of faking being late.  She hated me, but that’s another story.  It’s just all part of the gym class swimming humiliation.

No, I Don’t Own Water Wings

I currently have a pool downstairs at my condo that I have, on occasion, taken a dip in.  But I stick to the shallow end for the most part.  I’m NOT afraid of the water itself.  And I’m more comfortable in pools than I am in actual bodies of water with roaring waves to unsteady my footing.

Last year, my husband and I took a trip to Hawaii and decided to go snorkeling.  I pushed that thought to the back of my mind.  Because not only would I be wearing a bikini in public for the first time, not only would I be swimming in the ocean, not only was I going to have to breathe through a snorkeling tube and put a mask on my face, but I was going to have to swim WITH FISH. 

I am not AFRAID of fish.  I think they’re pretty; I also eat sushi.  But what if I touched one?  Ew ew ew ew ew!  What if it brushed against my leg?

All of this and more came to a head at Hanauma Bay, the premier place for snorkeling on Oahu.  I put the mask on, waved to the camera, floated and — NO!  The minute I felt water touch the tip of the nose part on my mask, I was up.  Clearly it was going to go up my nose, I’d inhale it, choke and drown.  I tried again and again and again.  It took me nearly an hour to finally realize that that loud sound coming through the tube was normal — it was not Darth Vader; it was just me breathing air.  Not water.  The cold water outside my mask was just that — outside.  And I wasn’t going to drown in 4 feet of water at low tide. 

Once I got the hang of it, it didn’t stop me from having panic attacks.  The safety video we watched before snorkeling warned us to stay off the corals.  However, it was nearly impossible not to swim over them at low tide and get stuck while trying not to injure the colorful stripey fish.  I had constant panic attacks where I needed to stand up and catch my breath above the surface.  Sure, I pushed through my fear and was proud, but that doesn’t mean I “got better.”  I am not miraculously cured of the fears associated with snorkeling.  I can’t make a panic attack go away or stop hyperventilating within the mask and tube once I start.

Do I WANT to go snorkeling again?  Sure!  But on my terms in a place where I can be comfortable and secure in knowing that I can stand up, pop my mask off and calm myself down again.

For those who have major anxieties and fears, I am sure that even if you’re a great swimmer and don’t fear anything to do with the water, you can agree that your fears are your own.  And you might not want them out in the open, discussed, and probed.  You don’t want to be pushed into doing things that make you uncomfortable; if you choose to conquer your fears you’ll do them on your own terms in your own time. 

This past week, I was a mess over having my fears of deep water and snorkeling exposed to just a few people…and I’m pretty sure they all knew about my water insecurities already.  But here I am sharing them all with you.  It’s not funny that I never became a strong swimmer or never figured out how to breathe properly (I DID find out I have a deviated septum that might make that more difficult, by the way) or am afraid to have fish touch me underwater even though I was totally cool swimming with a dolphin in a pool.  And it’s not sad.  You don’t have to feel sorry for me.  I don’t feel I’m missing out and MAYBE one day I’ll learn or conquer that fear.  And just because that day is not today, it doesn’t mean I’m a failure.  I might just be the bravest person you’ve ever (or never) met.

Perhaps a Little TMI

I’ve grown.  You only need to look at the events of the past week to see how.

First, let’s start with my mild emetophobia (fear of throwing up).  The last time I violently emptied the contents of my stomach was at 15 years old after getting food poisoning from a bad burger at my high school.  I was so viciously ill – not to mention seriously grossed out about the epically foul patty – that I didn’t touch ground beef at all until about 2005.  And for whatever reason, the powers that be smiled down on me and decided I’d had enough and I didn’t toss my cookies ever again…until Tuesday. 

Normally, Mr. Upchuck is preceded by minutes or even hours of nausea and sweating, and for me, thick swallowing, crying, digging toes into the carpet, whining, panicking, palpitations and praying that either it will happen RIGHT NOW or never.  Bless those powers that be though for making this unpleasant event occur without warning.  Granted, this created a much bigger mess that I was then forced to clean while my insides continued to clean out with the help of 4 liters of sodium bicarbonate prescribed so that I could endure what is known in the gastrointestinal world as a “double whammy” — an endoscopy and colonoscopy.  Fun stuff, let me tell ya.  But hey.  At least I wasn’t sitting in a puddle of fear waiting for the inevitable.

Anyways, sparing you all the gory details, is it pathetic that I’m actually proud of myself for making it through?  I threw up, so what?  It happened and now I don’t have to worry about it anymore.  I had a good streak going there for 16 years…maybe I can go another 16.

Secondly, I had to undergo the afore-mentioned invasive procedures as part of routine maintenance for a suspected mild case of Crohn’s Disease.  If you’re not really sure what it is, don’t worry.  I’m not 100% sure either, except that it involves swelling in the colon and can cause narrowing of the intestines and can be really painful, embarrassing and make you feel very abnormal in the abdominal region.  I’ve probably been living with this (or IBS or IBD or all three, or colitis or a number of other issues) for years but this time around we’re hoping for a definitive diagnosis. 

I’d previously had two colonoscopies and one endoscopy as well as an MRI, several blood tests, and even a test in which I had to drink something weird and blow into a machine every fifteen minutes.  So this wasn’t all that scary for me…except the part where I had to drink the massive jug of metallic salty-tasting solution designed to shrink your stomach to the size of a pea, give you a supreme case of the shivers and keep you on the toilet till midnight.  I was so dang nervous about drinking that stuff because it makes me gag and dry heave…but not at all concerned about getting knocked out or about what they might find.  I’m mostly okay with needles, so the IV was a cinch (except for the part where they couldn’t find a vein, but what else is new).  Nope, it was the drinking that I was afraid of…that and the fact that during my last colonoscopy 4 or so years ago, I just so happened to wake up during the procedure.  (shiver)  But I requested that my doctor give me extra anesthesia this time so I was out like a light, and even once I woke I continued to act so drugged that I asked Greg the same question no less than four times in the space of about ten minutes.  Hilarity! 

So, for drinking MOST of the 4-liter jug of sodium bicarbonate and living through the yucky gastrointestinal procedures, I must pat myself on the back again.  I faced these challenges with dignity, tissues jammed up my nostrils so I couldn’t taste the putrid liquid, and my favorite fuzzy bathrobe, and only whimpered and moaned a few hundred times.  I was a champ.

Now, while awaiting my -oscopies, the hospital was running seriously behind.  I was told to check in at 9:30 am, so we left the house at 8 (hey, rush hour traffic on LA’s infamous 405 South is nothing to scoff at), got to the hospital by 9 and proceeded to wait…and wait…and wait some more.  I was not called back till about noon, when my initial appointment was scheduled for 10:30 am.  I had hoped to be leaving the hospital for home by noon.  So besides proving that waiting is the worst part of any medical test, a new fear sprouted in my mind.  Our dog Brody was at home alone with full run of the living room, dining area and kitchen for the longest time since he’d eaten an eighth of his weight in dog food just two weeks after he was adopted.  Since the incident that dragged us to the animal emergency room on Valentine’s Day 2010, Brody had been crated.  And my four or five replacement pairs of shoes had been happy.

However, lately we’ve been leaving Brody for up to 3 or 4 hours uncrated as an experiment.  With nothing out of place, we figured leaving him for the morning would be fine.  What we didn’t expect was that we’d be getting home 6 hours later. 

All signs point to Brody having slept all day, so feeling oddly confident, I suggested leaving Brody uncrated for seven hours while we were both at work on Friday.  This was completely out of character.  For the past two years, I’ve been the worrywort.  I always knew that at some point I’d be ready to leave him out of his “house” (partially because he was destroying every last towel we put in there) but I didn’t know I’d be ready now. 

So that’s the third thing I’m proud of this week.  Plus, I’m very proud of Brody for being a good boy and not touching a thing!  My shoes and I profoundly thank him.

As a side note, I apologize for being a bit too busy these days to write or to accomplish any crazy fears, but as you can see, I’m still working on my anxieties…even the little ones.  So I hope you’ll continue to support me on my journey!

Can’t Make Up My Mind

I’ve been dragging my heels on making a decision.  I don’t usually hem and haw over things so much.  Just a few words into Greg’s original JDate profile, I was hooked.  Thirty seconds after meeting Brody, I knew I was taking him home.  Twenty minutes into reading about UCSD’s Copyediting Certificate Program, I resolved to sign up—though I put it off and ultimately got waitlisted for the winter session, leading me to believe I may have a slight fear of actually succeeding – but more on this in a future post.  I pick out my own clothes, decide on my own hairstyles, and write my Facebook status updates according to however I’m feeling at the moment.  All of these things are hilarious, too, because they make me seem spontaneous, when what I really am is a hardcore planner.

Here’s the background on my impossible, yet somewhat trivial, decision.  I’ve started doing a little more freelance work and thought it might be a good idea to have a business card.  I’ve only ever had one business card when I freelanced for a small non-for-profit, and I was very hesitant to hand it out.  It seemed like an odd thing to bring up in conversation – “oh, by the way, I write eco-friendly enewsletters and you should sign up.  Here!”  There was no motivation for me to network.  I was already getting paid generously per article and having more registrants wasn’t going to directly benefit me.  It also wasn’t my passion.  Sure, I like to recycle and conserve energy and resources as much as the next guy, but I wasn’t gung-ho about it.  It was just a freelance gig I’d somehow managed to nab by writing a silly little rhyme about water conservation.

This new business card would be for ME.  I’ve started helping people out with their resumes a little bit and I’d love to gain more (aka PAYING) clients.  I have a passion and a knack for this and really feel great about helping people find work, particularly when they’ve been unemployed for an extended time or are new to the city, or even new to the whole “earning their keep” thing.  I’d love to suavely hand over a business card after freshening up their resume so they’ll keep in touch or pass my name along to another potential client. 

In addition, I’m doing more freelance work in general.  And though it’s making me just a teensy bit insane, I like it.  I like to be busy, and being busier keeps me more focused so I’m less likely to procrastinate or melt into the couch to the tune of Teen Mom reruns and Kitchen Nightmares marathons.  Knowing that I’m contributing to our savings by putting in a little extra work and effort also makes me feel proud in a way that I just don’t feel working at my full-time job.  Odd, I know.  But who doesn’t like making money?  We start as little kids.  First it’s the Tooth Fairy.  Then the lemonade stand.  I also recall trying to sell greeting cards and friendship bracelets in my neighborhood.  Money used to be about Garbage Pail Kids cards and candy, but these days, money = medical and financial security, comfort, food, seeing my family, vacations, clothes, gifts for others and the occasional splurge.  So if I have to work a couple more hours a week to get all that, is that really such a struggle?

There’s also a small business in my neighborhood that had a totally useless website filled with lorem ipsum text (the Latin placeholder words people use to determine layout in documents, for the web, etc.) for half a year.  I continuously emailed them to offer my services (even for free) in creating engaging brand copy to help market their café.  But I never heard back.  Maybe if I’d walked in with a business card, that opportunity would have panned out.

Also, I like free lunch.  And many restaurants offer free lunch and other items through monthly drawings – if you drop your business card into the fish bowl.  It just doesn’t seem fair that because I don’t happen to have a business card, I can’t get free food.

So, for all of these reasons and more, I’d love to legitimize and validate myself as a writer, and maybe even get a little better at that whole networking thing by ordering business cards. 

Last weekend I designed an inexpensive card online and showed it to Greg, who, just before I was about to click “order,” suggested that I grab a website domain.  BWAH???  Put my work out there?  Actually show my writing?  Gain clients and exposure?  Hold on, buddy.  I just wanted a free lunch. 

I mean, not that I’m not excited about the prospect.  Last year I began this blog and I’ve enjoyed the limited exposure and sharing my writing with friends, family, and quite a few strangers from across the globe that seem to have an obsession with desert blond tarantulas and spiny stick insects.   (My WordPress Site Stats don’t lie, you bug fanatics!)

But I can’t decide on the website name.  I’ve narrowed it down to my top two candidates, and though some of you have already voted, I really need your help.  This website would appear on my business card, and possibly even be added to job inquiries, future cover letters, and more to link to my resume and examples of my writing, including short stories, this blog, reviews and other articles I’ve penned.

I’ve already posted the vote on Facebook, but people are divided…and so am I!  Is it better to keep it professional and simple and have my first name in the URL, or do I want to be quirky so people will remember me?  What do you think?

Please vote by commenting on this post.  The top two contenders are:


Help me decide and get over my weird little fears of making a decision and putting myself out there—give me solid reasons as to why I should use one over the other for a professional site.  I promise I’ll make a decision soon, because if I wait too long, these names might get snatched up by someone else!

Thanks in advance!

The Smell of Fear

It’s been said that out of all the senses, scent has the most powerful influence over your memories.  In fact, just the other day, I stepped into a parking garage elevator and got a whiff of some powder that immediately brought me back over 20 years to my days as a clumsy little ballerina/tap dancer.  Before recitals, some of the older girls backstage would always put make-up on us – blue eye shadow, red lipstick and rosy blush.  Honestly, I don’t remember powder being added to my face, but I remember that smell as I sat cross-legged in my tutu and tights, confined in a quiet narrow hallway, allowing a super-cool babysitter to make me look like a model. 

Literally, I closed my eyes and took several giant inhales as the elevator took me up to my car on the fourth floor and down memory lane.

Continue reading

Ever had one?  You may have had one without even knowing it.  One website I found estimates that approximately 2.4 million adult Americans suffer from panic attacks.  I’m not sure how they measured this number, but I’m willing to bet it’s much higher.

Some people have recurring panic attacks due to stress.  Others have them in response to a scary event or a thought they can’t shake.  Still others think they are having a heart attack, a seizure, an allergic reaction or that they’re choking, and they are never able to identify that what they experienced was momentary, irrational, and due to anxiety, whether or not something scary at the time brought it on.

I’ve had panic attacks.  I’m not sure when I had the first, though maybe it was while being prepped for an invasive outpatient medical procedure about five years back.  The nurse left me alone and I couldn’t tell whether I was having an allergic reaction to something topical or if I was having a panic attack.  Here’s what happened.  My heart began beating VERY very fast.  So fast that I could barely breathe.  I thought I was going to die.  I writhed, touched my face, my chest, and tried to take deep breaths through my nose to slow my heartbeat down.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t call for a nurse in the position I was in and was too afraid if I screamed I would stop breathing, so I closed my eyes, continued breathing and prayed the nurse would come back in before I died.  A few minutes later, it was all over.  Lesson learned – whether I’m nervous or getting any kind of new medication before a procedure, I’m never letting the nurse leave again.

I realized that I was for sure having panic attacks a few years ago.  I had just found out that an old college friend had passed away alongside his girlfriend after their car was hit by a drunk driver.  It’s important to note that we weren’t close; hadn’t spoken since the end of my sophomore year.  He was two years ahead of me, and I would never have known him if I hadn’t tried out to be a writer for the campus sketch comedy TV show – and failed.  He was the director at the time, and I was encouraged to audition to be one of the show’s actresses instead.  Because of him, I ended up finding my college niche.  Thereafter I spent nights and weekends surrounded by a talented and devoted group of comedians and filmmakers, as well as enthusiastic crew members who just wanted to be a part of the family.  We were like a family, for sure.  It was not without drama; some didn’t always get along, me included.  It was stressful at times.  But I have memories to last a lifetime, songs that remind me of scenes I helped edit, quotes that still sneak up on me today as inside jokes…it was my college life, and this friend gave me that gift.  If it weren’t for NSTV, I’m not sure how my college experience would have panned out.  I may have floundered, trying out different student groups, but I’m not sure any of them would have been my home quite like NSTV.

Sam (that was his name) had moved out to L.A. just like I had.  I often thought about getting in touch with him, but to be honest, I wasn’t sure he’d remember me, and wasn’t sure we really had much in common anymore without the cloak of NSTV.  So I never found him on Facebook.  And a part of me regrets that, though it’s not like we’d have formed a new friendship or bond.  I’m just sad at how things turned out.

I attended his L.A. memorial service which definitely gave me some closure, but after that, I had these horrible images in my head that I couldn’t shake.  Did he see the car coming?  Did he try to swerve away?  Was he in pain?  Did he know he was going to die? 

For reasons I still can’t explain, I requested to be Sam’s friend on Facebook after his death.  I knew the request would never be accepted…I guess maybe I wanted him to know, wherever he was, that he was not forgotten and that his life, and the very brief moment I was in it, meant a lot to me.

The panic attacks started after that.  I’d be driving on the freeway, thinking about Sam or not thinking about anything at all, and there’d be this flash, like I’d blacked out for a second, and then I’d start sweating; my heart would beat fast.  Sometimes I’d think part of my face was going numb.  I’d get “dry mouth” and then I’d find it hard to swallow.  I’d become hyperaware.  One time, I actually called my husband Greg when I got home to tell him I couldn’t swallow and was looking at my throat to see if it was swelling.  The sad part is that I was pretty sure I was having a panic attack.  But I became irrational, lost in the swirling whirlpool of my fear, and I couldn’t fight my way out.  I watched TV till Greg came home and the feeling went away.  But every so often it returned, always while I was driving.  For a long time.

Sam’s death also made me afraid of car accidents.  I might have been afraid of them before, but the feeling intensified.  I don’t like going fast.  I like leaving space between me and the next guy.  Bluntly put, I don’t want to die in a car accident, and I don’t want to take anyone else’s life that way either.  And I’m afraid of it because I saw firsthand just a portion of the lives that Sam affected – at least a hundred or more – and how sad they were.  I know many accidents are just that – accidents.  No one’s fault; a split-second mistake.  Not intentional.  Just a thing that happened.  But how many lives that affects…the very thought makes me panic.

I haven’t had a panic attack while driving in a very long time.  I think talking to my parents (while using my Bluetooth, of course) helped distract me from my thoughts and enough time has passed that the images in my head of Sam’s accident have dwindled away. 

But for those of you who have suffered from panic attacks, know that you’re not alone and you’re not crazy.  It IS possible to talk yourself through it, and one of the best remedies I’ve ever heard is to wear a rubber band around your wrist.  The next time you feel a panic attack coming on, snap it.  Your brain will focus on the pain and you may just snap out of it.

I was once completely paralyzed by my fear.  It started in my toes, like a slow tingle of electricity, then jolted up the small of my back to my shoulders and zapped the part of my brain where logic is stored.  It robbed me of my strength and intelligence and instead turned me into a shaking mess with a four-year-old mentality, if that.

The sad part is that I wasn’t staring into the barrel of a gun or watching someone break into my house.  I wasn’t being cornered by flesh-melting flames; wasn’t fleeing from a pack of blood-thirsty wolves. 

It was summer.  I was about 15 years old.  And I was getting dressed. 

My favorite jeans were in the laundry room downstairs, so I made the descent into the deep dark dungeons of our basement where I once roller-skated and even learned to ride a bike.  My basement had been the scene of countless birthday parties over the years, transformed into a charming Italian restaurant, 50s café or Mexican fiesta by my dad.  My imagination blossomed downstairs while watching movies with friends and having sleepovers.  And it sheltered me, calming my nerves when bleeping tornado warnings threatened to wipe the upper levels of my house away.  In other words, I was in no way afraid of my basement.  It was one of my favorite places, and there, I felt safe.

On this fateful day, I grabbed my pants and headed back upstairs to change, never once thinking I was about to lose my marbles.  While standing up, I eased one leg into the jeans, then the other.  As I pulled them up my to my thighs, I watched the folds unwrinkle one by one with their gentle cotton choreography.  It never crossed my mind that they were about to reveal one of my greatest fears.

It’s hard to say what is actual memory and what continues to trick my mind from this day, but what I can make out of the fog is that it was fuzzy, slinking with great speed up my pant leg, its long antennae and hundreds of legs forcing me to leap in my invisible Air Jordans as my piercing scream rang out.  Pantsless, I scrambled on top of my bed and danced as if my life depended on grape stomping, slapping my legs and thighs to make sure the thumb-sized millipede was no longer attached to my body.  And I watched in horror as it flew across the room under some furniture. 

One thing was for sure, I couldn’t stay in the room with it, so sans pants, I leapt from my bed to the door and slammed it shut behind me.  Then, like anyone would do, I called my mom at work.  And although my voice shook and I was nearly in tears, I was pretty sure she didn’t fully understand the seriousness of the situation, because she told me to trap it in a cup.  Um, a cup?  Over the course of five minutes, the beast had surely ballooned to the size of my entire hand; it would never fit in a cup, and besides, I wasn’t putting my hand anywhere near that thing.

I hung up in defeat, pantsless and alone.  Hoping to snatch a pair of shorts as quickly as possible, I crept back towards my room, foiled by my own idiocy.  In my feeble attempts to trap the millipede within the confines of my bedroom, I’d forgotten one thing:  there was at least a one-inch crack from my door to the carpeting.  And that’s where I found it, scampering hastily back towards me.

My dog, Buddy, perked his ears up and ran towards it, but I knew what would happen if he did.  He’d get eaten. 

I screamed bloody murder and my dog cowered underneath a table as I ran for the living room, hopping aboard a chair.  I needed a weapon.  So I grabbed the first thing I saw.  Not a shoe or a book.  No newspapers in sight.  Nope, what I held in my hands was likely the deadliest weapon within 50 feet:  an antique decorative iron that weighed at least ten pounds. 

And there I sat, wide-eyed, clutching the iron for at least an hour until my mom came home and found me there.  I’m lucky she didn’t check me into a facility that day.  We never did find the millipede, causing me anxiety and insomnia for at least another couple of days.

We tend to refer to this as “The Incident” or “My Episode.”  In retrospect, I should have let my dog eat the giant millipede, but I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that it wasn’t poisonous or painful or six feet tall.  I let fear get the best of me and without realizing it, I kind of made a promise to myself never to let that happen again.  Mind over matter, right?

These days, although I’m still obviously afraid of many things and have been involved in a number of emergency-type situations, I use my fear.  It snaps me into action.  Like the time that I was working at a summer camp and an older man riding by collapsed on his bike and began seizing.  I immediately called 9-1-1 and gave them all the pertinent information without hesitation.  It’s like the fear tapped into my logic instead.

The same thing happened last night, when my husband called me over and I nearly tripped over my feet to get to him, knowing that something in his voice wasn’t quite right.  Sometime between eating dinner and returning home to rewatch Harry Potter 7:  Part One, his lip had swollen.  My heart beat fast, but we quickly realized he’d taken Motrin for a backache so I kicked into gear and hit the Internet to find the number for the nearest 24-hour pharmacy.  And within about 4 minutes of Greg’s discovery, he was talking to a pharmacist who told him to take Benadryl – already in our cabinet, mind you – which, incidentally, is the first thing I thought of, but wanted to be sure it was recommended by a professional. 

Once that fear had subsided, I turned to find Brody lying in the over-sized furniture foam-filled bean bag chair we know as the Love Sac, his head cocked at an unnatural angle, his eyes glazed over, the tip of his tongue sticking out of his mouth.  I called his name once…no response.  Oh my G-d.  “BRODY??” 

Thankfully, his eyes focused and he wagged his tail in recognition, otherwise my house would have contained one husband with a fat lip, one dead dog and an unconscious wife.  And that was just really not on my Saturday night agenda.

My Last Meal

7:17 pm

My husband has gone to pick up sushi for dinner on my request.

We both looked at each other at the same time and laughed about how that was my “final meal”.

In reality, I’m not sure it would be.  If I knew for sure I was going to die, like the death row inmates, I’d have some pretty crazy requests.

First, they’d have to get me a slice of Lou Malnati’s pizza, with mushrooms.  Then I’d want a giant bowl of cream of chicken rice soup from Beef & Brandy, a restaurant in my home town where I have a lot of family memories.  A leg of fried chicken from Brown’s Chicken in Chicago, and a side of crispy garlic chicken wings from Wokcano here in California.  The Genki Roll from Niko Niko, my favorite sushi place.  An antipasto salad from Micelli’s Italian Restaurant.  A pint of Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked and a warm chocolate chip cookie, just out of the oven (preferably my mom’s).  POSSIBLY a side of McDonald’s french fries. 

I mean, if you were going to die, wouldn’t you want comfort food?  I love steamed broccoli and salmon, grilled veggies, chicken, etc.  But if it was my last day on Earth, I’d request all my favorites, because if you’re going to die anyway, who cares about the calories?

Since I know I’m not actually going to kick the bucket tomorrow, and because of my latest diagnosis, I’m just going to stick with the sushi.  And maybe, maybe if my husband took my hint, a pint of Ben and Jerry’s will just happen to show up too.

Why is it that so many of my fears come out to play when I’m walking my dog?

We’d just rounded the corner and come out of the first fire door in our condo when I saw them.  Nope, not a swarm of malicious freaky-legged wasps.  Not a pair of skittish mice or giant roaches laughing in my face at my inability to destroy them. 

What I saw with my still-focusing eyes was a pair of human legs lying on the floor at the end of the hall, a periwinkle nightgown spread over them, rubbery tan-colored shoes on their feet. 

I was certain that one of my several elderly neighbors (who often grimace in my general direction) had collapsed. 

My heart reminded me of its powerful presence, drumbeats echoing in my ears as I snapped into action, hyper-alert.  I grabbed the dog and propelled myself forward.

I made it no more than three clumsy paces before I realized that the periwinkle nightgown was a pair of periwinkle pajama pants.  And those periwinkle pajama pants were attached to a pair of bronzed legs upon which a pair of manicured hands absentmindedly texted away on a smart phone.  And those absentminded hands belonged to a young neighbor of mine (who was very much alive and well and propped up against the wall).

Which begs the question, why wasn’t my teenaged neighbor at home in bed at 6:30 in the morning during summer?  Although an investigation is underway, I fear we’ll no more find out the answer to this than the age-old question of how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop.  (Hint:  the answer is not three.  The owl was sadly mistaken.)

I had another good reason to be nervous this week.  It seems that mere days after admitting my fear of choking, someone decided to play a cruel trick on me.  Now before you get your tightie-whities in a bunch, let me assure you that I didn’t choke, not for real.  But when you suddenly feel like you’re swallowing over a lump in your throat and you’re not sick or crying, it’s pretty hard not to worry.

You know how when you swallow a pill sometimes it feels temporarily stuck down there and you have to drink a whole bunch before it gets pushed down?  That’s what it felt like.  Only I hadn’t taken a pill.  I had just eaten a dinner in which it was highly unlikely there were any tiny bones, and no chips or sharp objects were involved to scratch my throat on the way down.  I wanted to cough, clear my throat, burp.  But nothing moved the lump.  I felt momentarily nauseous, and then my whole esophagus felt tender and warm.

It got worse yesterday, and not being one to wait around, I raced out to an Urgent Care Center near work, where I feel the receptionist should be reprimanded for her inappropriateness.  Let me preface this by saying the lady was very nice.  However, when someone comes in and says, “I feel like I’m having trouble swallowing,” you do not respond by telling them your husband had that same problem and ended up hospitalized for several days with a tumor that was biopsied for cancer.  Bwah?  Are you seriously employed in the medical profession?  It’s not that her little story made me think that would be my own fate, but come on, you should be taught to remain professional and keep your mouth shut, no matter what you’re thinking.  (sigh)

In any event, it turns out I’ve got (drum roll, please) acid reflux, to add to my laundry list of gastrointestinal issues.  Hooray!  The lump in the throat should go away soon and with Prilosec firmly set in my purse, I will proudly head out to the zip lines tomorrow sans heartburn.

Is it wrong that a part of me was hoping this medical issue would be an excuse not to go?