Tonight, I had a panic attack. “Attack” may be an understatement. I had a full-on, twenty minute freak-out about my life, my hair and the French Revolution. Not kidding. It was a 2am blue period coming three hours earlier, the likes of which I haven’t seen since at least high school. Except for that time last year when Jude had to find a paper bag for me to breathe into at 5am when I’d pulled an almost all-nighter to work on a project. I couldn’t sleep, my chest was tight, I had one image in my head (Inexplicably, Calista Flockhart and the cast of the melodramatic tv show “Brothers and Sisters”) and I was mentally and emotionally stuck on a merry-go-round run by a sick, sadistic clown who really likes to toy with the frail emotional state of a college student facing exams. Needless to say, it was not the most pleasant of sensations.
As a junior in high school, I used to say that I didn’t feel right unless I had something to worry about. I realized later that this isn’t the healthiest of mindsets. For many reasons, only some of which I have identified at this time, my junior year of high school was the best and worst of times. It really lived up to the “second time around is always the hardest” rule I’ve believed in for quite some time. And junior year is also the year where everything counts, so no pressure! I had panic attacks all the time and for a good two weeks in October, I had trouble eating without wanting to throw up. But with some counseling and prayer, I got through it.
And now I’m at the end of another “second time around”. My sophomore year of college has been fun, stressful, pathetic, exciting, lousy and brilliant—and I still have five weeks left. And once I come out on the other side, my life just keeps on changing.
I’ve never been good with change. I hate it. I really do. I like things to stay the same. I agonize over decisions or I make them really quickly so I don’t have time to go back on them. And that’s what I did on Wednesday. I made the decision to get my hair cut into a pixie. The last time my hair was this short, I was in kindergarten. Everyone tells me it looks great, and most of the time I believe them. Sometimes I even think so. But it’s just so different that I’m having a hard time with it. The thing is, it will grow out. I know this to be true. Hair grows. Hair changes. That’s life. But I’m having a Jo March moment. Jo cut off her hair to help her father, to be brave, to serve her country, to help her family. I cut off mine to be bold and brave, to try something different. She cried to Meg the night after, saying that she missed it, although it grew into a “curly crop” that was described as quite boyish and attractive. I don’t particularly want to look like a boy. For a lot of my life, I’ve equated “pretty” with long hair. But now it’s time for me to get rid of this thought. Look at Julie Andrews! She’s clearly pretty and she’s had short hair for much of her career. Also, Halle Berry. Duh. So I’m going to get over myself and rock this look. No matter the length, my hair will grow, just like I will through this trauma experience.
Second thing that caused the panic: my summer internship in Williamsburg. For the first time in my life, I’ll be living in a different state, all by myself, without my parents, and without my friends. My closest relatives are about 2 hours away, so I won’t be utterly alone, but it is a step. A big one, one that’s only just started to sink in. Another fear: the fear of the unknown. I don’t yet know the particulars of my internship. I know the building where I’ll be working, I know the person to whom I’ll be reporting. I don’t really know what I’ll be doing, although I imagine I’ll be filing, and numbering, and fetching for most of my days. Once I know what I’ll be doing, I know all this uncertainty will cease with time. And sleep. But the fear of the unknown can be overwhelming, paralyzing. It gets me every time because it’s not something I can control. There’s that whole riddle: Would you rather fight the monster in the dark or in the light? In the dark, you can’t see anything, so you don’t know what you’re fighting. In the light, you can see everything but that might be scarier. I, personally, would rather not fight the monster at all, which I’d guess is most people’s response. But here, the monster shouldn’t be so terrifying. I’ve had a job before, so I know how the whole going to work and doing stuff thing works. I’ve lived away from home, so I know what it’s like to not know anyone and to live in an unfamiliar place. When I went to college, I did both and so much more. So, here, I’m actually doing something I’ve already done, just differently.
As for the French Revolution, it ended over 200 years ago. It’s clearly not going anywhere. My paper isn’t due for another 11 days. There’s plenty of time to figure out what the Church was supposed to be going around that time. Besides, I don’t have to survive the Terror of the 1790s; I just have to write about it. This is already such a positive thing. I really need to just count that as a blessing.
Fear is such a funny emotion. It’s less of a single emotion than a whole bunch of emotions wrapped up and presented to you for silly reasons or at the most inopportune times. As FDR said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” I get this, I do. But I wish he had offered some ideas about how to not fear at all. That’s probably asking too much, though. The thing is, none of us know how we’re actually supposed to live our lives. We discover that we should probably try to live compassionate, grateful, fulfilling lives, but no one ever tells us specifically how to do that. “Follow your dreams!” “Do what feels right to you!” “Do one thing every day that scares you!” “Strive to be happy!” But what does this all mean? What dreams are we supposed to have? Is there some sort of life catalogue where we can pick out our hopes and dreams and wishes and goals and then they’ll arrive in 5-7 business days so we can finally start to live our life? But there is no manual for life. I’m just feeling around in the dark, with guidance from many sources, of course, playing a never ending game of Marco-Polo, where I’m Marco, and I have to distinguish that one Polo that seems to be the most worthwhile to try to catch right now.
The important thing to remember is that it’s going to be okay, no matter what happens. Like George Michael and a bunch of other people have, you just gotta have faith. And faith I’ve got. I know that everything will be okay
“Fear is just your feelings asking for a hug.” –My Name is Earl