When The Cracks Start To Show
Ever feel like you’re just faking it? Like, all of it? Yeah, me too.
The other day, sitting in a diner with an egg-salad sandwich in front of me, I lost it.
I was in the Hamptons with my two-year-old daughter and my writing partner, Erin, on a tour for my new book. It was a beautiful day, Erin’s mother had joined us for lunch, my sandwich was delicious, and my daughter was happily involved in the task of smearing a pickle on her cheeks. There was absolutely nothing to be upset about.
Except anxiety does not give a shit whether there’s *actually* anything to be upset about.
I’ve written before about the panic attacks, insomnia and anxiety I suffered from for years; how I finally got them under control with medication and therapy. If you’ve never had a panic attack, they’re sort of hard to understand, mostly because they just sound so crazy. Personally, I know one is coming on when a song — any song — starts playing in my head, so loudly that the sounds of the “real” world get muted. Everything suddenly looks very far away. The world starts moving slowly, and it occurs to me that I may actually be dreaming.
According to my therapist, this is called “dissociation,” and isn’t especially uncommon. When I’m in the middle of a panic attack the inside of my head feels like absolute chaos — loud, unmanageable, even insane — but people who’ve seen me having one have told me that I look and sound perfectly normal. This seems impossible to me, but there you go.
For me, panic attacks rarely arise because of something concrete — they’re sometimes tied to a performance or speaking engagement or other understandably stressful event, but they’re not about being “nervous,” exactly. I can know that there’s nothing to be anxious about, I can be absolutely certain of this…but the thing about panic attacks is that they are stunningly unconcerned with logic and reality.
So I sat there, eating my egg salad sandwich and feeling like my head might explode right there in the middle of the diner — but pretty sure, based on the fact that everyone around me just kept on doing what they were doing, that it didn’t seem like anything was wrong with me. So I leaned over, looked Erin in the eye and said, “I am not okay.” I asked Erin and her mother to watch my daughter while I went outside for a few minutes, then sat on the cement outside and tried to make my head stop screaming.
After awhile Erin came out to find me, and we walked and walked and walked and I tried to put a finger on what was going on. We talked about the sense of having to feel “on” all the time — which is something I feel generally, and of course feel even more in situations where I technically do have to be “on” (like, say, when I’m in the middle of a book tour). We talked about the fear that we’re just faking it, all of this — being a parent, being a writer, being a with-it human being, being a person who anyone should listen to about anything at all; how sometimes it feels like we’re just slapping on band-aid after band-aid and hoping nobody else sees the cracks. While we walked back to the parking lot outside the diner, Erin told me about impostor syndrome. She said that just because something seems true to you doesn’t necessarily make it so.
“Jordan,” she said. “You’re allowed to feel your feelings.”
So I sat in the car for awhile, drank a glass of water, and cried. And then, when I was done, I got up and did my job.