Tripping alone

Road-tripping, anyway.

With any luck — and with the mercy of my ability to stop hitting the snooze button — I’ve hit the road as you sip your coffee and shake your head at my questionable stability on this fine Tuesday morning.

I’m DC-bound for now — just me and my eternal hope that my car won’t break down. Thursday, I’ll leave DC for NC, where perhaps I will have some sort of life-changing epiphany as I watch the sunrise over the endless blue ocean. Or I’ll just get sunburnt.

I have a boatload of time off to use, and some stress-induced dermatitis that yoga and hydrocortisone just can’t kick.

Besides, if there was ever a week I didn’t want to be in Pittsburgh, it is this godforsaken week in September.

It has been a long 14 months (the last time I took a day off). I have thrown myself into school and into work, into running and reading, into various causes and concerns. I have tried on outrage and apathy. Most recently, I’ve thrown myself into (and mostly off of) rock faces.

Now it’s time to figure out which, if any, of those things truly makes me happy.

It is a trip to relax, and a trip to celebrate still being a sane human being at the end of the day. But it will also be a trip of introspection. Searching for what is that actually makes you happy is exhausting. Maybe slowing down and looking inside will prove more fruitful.

Or maybe I’ll just get mugged at the Tidal Basin or step on a jellyfish.

In which I talk about some heavy stuff. And my chest.

I have a tendency to wear my heart on my digital sleeve. It’s a problem to an extent, I’m aware, and I’m trying to stop it because #Adulthood and such. But blah blah Millennial blah blah blah.

That’s not the point right here, but rather a preface, because I’m about to drag out some pretty heavy shit on this here blog of mine (read that last part with a WashCo accent). But it’s some heavy decision-making that I need to work out with myself, and the only way for me to work it out for myself is to force my over-thinking and over-analyzation on everyone around me. (Sidebar: Spellcheck says “-analyzation” is not a word. I disagree. Spellcheck also says “spellcheck” is not a word, so shows how self-aware Microsoft is.)

My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer at the tail end of 2004. She had a lumpectomy on Feb.17, 2005 and underwent chemotherapy and radiation throughout the entire summer. It was harrowing and terrifying, and that’s just from my perspective – she is the strongest woman I know. She has been cancer-free since then.

She had just turned 42 at the time. It was her first mammogram.

She hates me sometimesShe hates me sometimes. Also, I’m ridiculous.

Her mother had cancer. Her sister had cancer. Breast and ovarian cancer trail through my lineage, making heartbreaking and terrifying stops along the way. I am aware of what this means for me, though I feel as though I’m diminishing their stories by making this about me. It’s something I can’t ignore though, because science won’t let me.

The average risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer as a woman in the United States is just about one in eight. For those of us with a first-degree relative who has been diagnosed, the risk doubles. The farther under age 50 that first-degree relative was when they were diagnosed, the more the risk doubles.

Forty-two. Forty-two, by scientific standards, is young. The risk that a woman will develop cancer between age 40 and 50 is 1.47 percent.

I know these statistics by heart. I know when studies indicate changes. And I know my own risk, and I know that it’s high.

What I don’t know are my genes.

We’re all aware of the BRCA 1 and 2 mutations, and if you aren’t, well, you know how to Google. I do not know if my mother carries this gene. Only about 10 percent of women who develop breast cancer carry either of them.

I also don’t know if I carry one. Or both.

Women who carry the BRCA1 mutation have a 50 to 70 percent chance of developing cancer by age 70. BRCA2, a 40 to 60 percent chance. Some of you are journalists, so let put numbers in perspective.

If you gather up 100 women with BRCA1/2, between 40 and 70 will be diagnosed with breast cancer by age 70.

My odds are not good if I do not carry one or both of the gene mutations. I don’t want to calculate my odds if I do have the mutation.

Which brings me to the Heavy Shit I said I was going to trot out: Do I want to know? And do I want to know now?

Do I want, at age 24, to possibly be faced with the knowledge that there’s a really friggin’ good chance I develop cancer at some point? I’m aware that I very well may not carry these mutations. That, of course, would be a small peace of mind for me, though my risk remains high, and it’s been recommended – close to demanded – by medical professionals that I begin getting mammograms by age 30. That’s 20 years before it’s recommended the average woman start.

(Sidebar2: I’m really sorry we’re sitting here discussing my chest. Really, I am. I know it’s kind of weird. But it’s been kind of hindering my peace of mind for about a decade and has the potential to play a really big role in my quality of life in the future.)

I want to know. But I don’t. Because the decision that could come with that knowledge, depending on the test outcome, is really god damn big. What do I do if they tell me yes, I do carry this mutation? I legitimately do not think that’s a decision I could make right now. I can barely decide which route to take when I run, which shoes to put on in the morning, which brand of pasta to buy.

At first glance, the obvious answer is “yes!” Why wouldn’t you be proactive, find out and take preventative steps? But think about the implications if I do have these broken genes running through me.

Think about the decisions that come after that.

Not just “What do I do?” but “When do I do it?” I’m twentygoddamnfour.

Do you really want to know the odds if they’re already that stacked against you? (Edit: Holy hell. Absolutely no pun intended.)

This is Maggie.

“This is Maggie,” I say, pointing to the picture taped to the side of my computer. Some people have photos of their kids, families. I have none of the former and few of the latter. Even fewer that I actually like.

20131031-224649.jpg

“That’s Maggie. She’s my dog.”

That is an outright lie.

She is not my dog.
I am her person.

“I adopted her about two years ago,” I tell anyone who will listen. I pull pictures up on my phone like a parent pulling school photos out of a wallet.

But no, that’s not right either. She adopted me. Her big brown eyes conned their way into my heart and my apartment (which is also now hers rather than mine. She is kind enough to allow me to still sleep in the bed, which is also now hers, as evidenced by the coat of fur my comforter now wears.)

She is a mutt – the most ridiculous-looking mutt. Her proportions are all wrong, and she cannot sit properly because her legs are too short for her long, long body. Her toenails don’t curl under, so they are constantly too long. Her toes are webbed, but she cannot will not swim. We tried once. She still hasn’t forgiven me, and it took two of us to pull her back onto the dock – her little T-rex legs were too short to reach it.

unnamedMaggie Mae had three homes and at least one litter of puppies before she adopted me. She was pregnant the first time she was brought to the shelter. She found a home, but their other dog wanted to eat her. She went home again, but her inconsistent house-brokenness got her sent back.

She’s still not entirely housebroken.
We have good days and bad days.

I think she was abused. Any decibel higher than a normal speaking voice sends her rolling over into a submissive position. No living thing has ever looked so hurt as when I yelled at her for eating my red shoes.

I don’t yell at her much anymore.

She likes to snuggle, and if you stop petting her before she’s done being petted, she lets you know. She makes strange noises – moans and groans and whimpers and cries, usually for no reason. She grumbles and sings. It’s all very bizarre.

Sometimes, she snores.

She is afraid of cats and vacuum cleaners, but not thunder or lightning or the freight train that rolls right outside our apartment. She loves every single living thing she meets (aside from the cats).

If her papers are correct, she turned six last October. It scares me that she’s that old already.

She has taught me patience. She has taught me to take joy in small, quiet moments. She is one of the few constants in my life.

She has taught me unconditional love. Not just how to give it, but how to get it. I have smacked her nose for eating shoes pants books pillows and she has run to me – the one who caused the pain – for comfort.

She lets me bury my face in her black coat when I need to hide from the world. She has lain on the floor and licked my tears as I’ve questioned every decision I’ve made in my life.

She has made an irrevocable pawprint in my life and on my heart, and I am forever a better person for having walked into Animal Friends that day.

She is, right now, curled on the left corner of my bed, where she sleeps and waits for me. There is a 50-50 chance she has used my bedroom floor as a bathroom. But it doesn’t matter, because she’ll leap into my arms when I get home, and I will remember how dearly I love this dog and how I cannot imagine my life without her.

She is not a rescue dog.

This is Maggie Mae, and I am her rescue human. unnamed2

I think I know

I am pretty sure that I am good at what I do. Most of the time, I know that I am good at what I do.

And I know that I can be great at it with some time. A little time, I hope.

But sometimes, what I know and what I think don’t match up. I know that I’m good at this. I like to think I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing otherwise.

But then there are the doubts.

It’s late. Much too late, after this type of Monday, to be conscious let alone thinking, wondering, worrying. My red glass lamp puts a soft red glow across my bed. I love it because it is so soft — it counteracts the hours I spend in front of a screen. I’m curled up, falling asleep on top of “Telling True Stories.” A 13-hour day capped by a four-hour meeting and an hour to drive back, write it and drive home. I have an early doctors appointment in the morning.

But sleep won’t come.
Because what if I’m wrong?

There need not be a seed of doubt planted. Rather, it’s something that sneaks up on you. It doesn’t happen often, and it doesn’t have a reason. It doesn’t even last that long. It comes softly. It comes in a way such that you don’t notice it until it’s right there, on you, feeding off your confidence.

Because if you’re not good at this, what the hell else are you going to do?
What the hell else would you even want to do?

It is like a leech. It is like a dark cloud. It is like someone whispering in your ear while you’re trying to work, to sleep, to live.
What if you’re wrong?

What if I’m just not good at this and no one had the heart to tell me?

I know that to be untrue. I know it. In my head, in my brain, it is something’s logical that I know. But that doesn’t stop me from feeling when that shadow of doubt grabs me from behind.

I know it doesn’t make me weak; I know it makes me human.

But what I know and what I think, like I said, are often two different things.

Above water

So I went swimming Friday.

Those who know me are laughingly aware of the fact that I don’t actually know how to swim. I never learned, despite growing up with a pool in the backyard.

I can tread water like a champ, though.

That said, I need a cross-training exercise. I can’t ride a bike, I don’t like stair-climbers, and I haven’t yet pinned down a consistent racquetball partner.

So why not do the one activity that, with my lack of knowledge, can actually kill me?

To die will be an awfully big adventure.

So, to the Oliver Bath House, which in itself is appealing because of its history. Public pools, however, are much like the county fair: the bring out some interesting subsets of society. Yikes.

Swimming and, in turn, drowning, are cliche yet strong metaphors, I think.

Kind of like how the rest of the world learned how to swim and I didn’t. Or, at least, that’s how it seems. Constantly treading water and struggling to stay afloat — to keep my head above water — while everyone else leisurely coasts by.

It’s incredibly frustrating and absolutely terrifying.

Sometimes people don’t help out for fear you’ll pull them under. Sometimes you don’t accept help for the same reason.

Sometimes people promise they’ll teach you to swim and then leave you treading water.

Sometimes you find yourself at Oliver Bath House feeling like your legs are made of lead and oh my god, I’m never going to walk again and “low-impact” my foot.

But I swam laps for half an hour on Friday, and no one ever taught me how.

Treading water is all well and good, and it keeps you above water and, thus, alive, but moving forward is a lot more fun, I think.

Like riding a bike

I haven’t ridden a bike in about a decade. At least a decade. Probably more than a decade. I used to ride around the block and such at my grandfather’s house in Ellsworth, riding past the older-boy-I-liked’s house, hoping he’d come out and play Wiffle ball (wiffle ball? Wiffle Ball?) with me.

He used to throw snowballs at me. He might be in jail now. Not entirely sure.

The point I’m trying to make is that I haven’t ridden a bike in, like…a really long time. Someone thought it a good idea to say that you never forget. I’m not sure where this came from, but I don’t believe it. If I were to get on a bike right now, I’d probably immediately fall over and injure myself. I mean, let’s be honest. I’ve twice in two weeks fallen down my deck stairs. Let’s not push our luck.

But you know what is “like riding a bike?”
Running.

I started running at IUP, and for a while, I was good at it, kind of. I didn’t race or anything, but I ran most days, and I had a good pace and could do five miles on the Hoodlebug Trail easy – and enjoy it.

Then I decided to take 21 credits my senior and be EIC at the same time. Then I didn’t run so much.

Then I moved to Pittsburgh and I started to run again, but it’s funny how a depressive funk can kill any and all enthusiasm for…everything. Like getting out of bed and putting on shoes.

Then last spring I started again for real. I was getting back into it. I finally bit the bullet and signed up for Alex’s five-mile, some 5Ks and mud runs and my first half.

Then, the Great Tendon Destruction of 2013. I might have actually tried to amputate my right foot at one point. It hurt to exist. Happened during my first race of the summer. Full of common sense and logic, I then proceeded to run three 5Ks in the two weeks following the injury.

I’m an intelligent person, I swear.

Five months later, I was able to walk, run, move, exist pain-free. And so I started running again. It’s ridiculously hard to get back into after having not done it religiously for more than a year. I hated it. It was a chore. I didn’t want to do it, but I stupidly signed up for the Pittsburgh Half in May, so I’ve got  no choice but to get my shit together.

But as it turns out, god did I miss it.

Steady. Rhythmic. Soothing. Nothing else.
Step, step, step, step.
It’s a lullaby for a mind that never shuts off.

I run with music, but I don’t think that makes me any less of a runner. It just helps me focus on the footsteps. Background motivation. Fort Minor and Tom Petty on repeat.

Last night was the best run I’ve had since starting back up. It was only just over two miles, but I felt good the entire time. Not good as in “I didn’t feel terrible,” but as in I actually felt good while I was running. Which is kind of remarkable considering it was 23 degrees.

Step, step, step, step.

I haven’t started practicing hills yet. I need to get my pace down and my distance up first. Even slight inclines give me trouble – it hurts my knee (an old war karate injury).

Sometimes hills need a mantra.

Step, step, step.
love.your.self.

Shut up. It works.
And it’s something I need to remind myself sometimes.

I run a lot, but this running is for me and me alone.

Run to Carnegie. Run to the office. Run up against deadline. Run from borough to school board. Run to the store, run to my mom’s. Run out to buy dog food. Run out of hours in a day.

Then run for me. Just for me.

When I started again, I wasn’t entirely certain it was going to work out. I’d fallen out of my love for blindly putting one foot in front of the other. It was something I didn’t want to do. Something I had to force myself to do.

Last night, I didn’t want to, but somewhat on autopilot, I put on my 27 layers and ran. And enjoyed it. Without forcing myself to enjoy it. (Reminder entirely for myself: Buy reflective tape, self, before you get hit by a car.)

Step, step, step, step.

Thirteen miles is a lot of miles. I mean, that’s a lot of miles to drive, let alone run.

My pace is terrible. Does anyone want to be my pacing partner? It’ll be easy – I’m slow right now.

Thirteen miles, Jesus Christ.

I think the biggest challenge will be to be alone with myself for that long. I’m looking forward to it.

Step, step, step, step.

Charlie Joseph was a barber.

Charlie Joseph was a barber in Heidelberg for more than 60 years in the same block on the same street that his father had run the same business since the 1920s.

He never wanted to leave Heidelberg, and he never wanted to do anything different with his life. At 93, he ran the shop four days a week. He liked old movies, especially musicals.

Much of the equipment he used predated anyone reading this.

On the day he died – the day before Thanksgiving – he had bacon and eggs for breakfast and spent the morning in a chair in his daughter’s living room fixing the hair of his adult children.

Charlie Joseph’s story is remarkable and ordinary. It is the story of a normal man and his normal life, and that is what makes it exceptional. It is his story. His history.

Writing about Charlie Joseph, talking with his daughter in the shop where he spent so much time – even a month after his death – is grounding.

It reminded me why I liked writing obituaries so much.

It sounds morbid, doesn’t it? That I enjoyed calling people on the worst day of their lives and poking around in their pain.

That’s how I looked at it the first time I was told to do it.
It was horrifying.

But that’s now how they view it. That, as far as I have found, is not how the living – the grieving – feel when I call them and ask them about their mother father brother sister grandmother grandfather so on.

They want to talk. They want to remember. They want to tell you about how extraordinary this ordinary person was.

The nurse whose greatest pleasure was helping others, who rallied through chemotherapy but ultimately lost her battle.

The retired police chief who loved his family and his country and never sat still.

The woman who spoke Slovak, drew, danced, cooked and played the accordion and won prizes with the orchids she grew.

The veteran who began a whirlwind romance with a British damsel, who he then brought back as a “war bride.”

Ordinary people with ordinary stories who are absolutely remarkable. I remember their stories and their names. I remember hearing their loved ones smile through the phone as they talked about their lives.

They are stories. Each one unique. Everybody has one.

It is a fact I often forget in a job where I am speaking with a whirlwind of people day in and day out.

Charlie Joseph reminded me that these people have stories. They have histories.

The borough mayor with no political affiliation and two teen-aged sons, just trying to do what he thinks is right for his town.

The retiring township commissioner who spent 25 years – 25 years! – on the zoning hearing board, complaining about the elected officials before she “decided to put her money where her mouth was.”

The high school valedictorian wise enough to realize she still has the whole world in front of her and that her story is just beginning.

What do I want my few inches in the newspaper to say? It might seem a morbid thought, but…really. By my own definition of these people’s lives, my own life is extraordinary. But we don’t think of our own lives that way, do we.

Perhaps that we cannot think of ourselves as remarkable in turn makes us remarkable.

I know. I went all meta and inception on that shit.
(Thing my obit will not say: “She was eloquence personified.”)

My point here is stories. Charlie Joseph had one, and it was ordinary and incredible and deserved to be told and I’m glad I could do it.

It is a pleasant reminder that there are always more stories to be told. Colum McCann has a wonderful, beautiful, semi-related quote in the preface to “Let the Great World Spin” (which you should go read right this very minute).

“Literature can remind us that not all life is already written down: there are still so many stories to be told.”

 

Fine stories

I tell people I read.

What I should really say is, “I used to read.”

Don’t get me wrong. I buy books more often than I buy food. I hit used book sales – especially bag sales – like some people thrift shop. Some people take thrift store clothes and make them new. I take thrift books with the intent of reading something new.

But I never do.

The number of books I have read in the past year is shameful – probably in single digits, which disgusts even me. I was a voracious reader growing up (says the girl who still has a lot of it to do, but that is a different blog post), and somehow, I got away from it.

Perhaps I found other (better? doubtful) ways to escape. Perhaps I convinced myself there was no time. Perhaps I busied myself with other recreations.

All I know is I all-but-stopped.
And that is a tragedy.

Not just because I write for a living, and we all know that the way to become a better writer is to A) keep writing, and B) read good writers. And bad ones.

Perhaps one of the most meaningful pieces of writing I’ve read in my life is, all too clichély, “How to be Madder Than Captain Ahab,” an essay from the love of my life Ray Bradbury.

“To sum it all up, if you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling.

You must write every single day of your life.

You must read dreadful dumb books and glorious books, and let them wrestle in beautiful fights inside your head, vulgar one moment, brilliant the next.

You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads.”

(I cannot find the full text of the essay online, which is sorely disappointing, as it is a brilliant piece of writing. Like most things Bradbury. Look it up. Read it in bits and pieces across the interwebs, if you have to.)
(If someone can find me the full text online, I will owe you all the favors ever.)
(Well. Maybe like, three.)

But no, not just for that reason. Because I miss it. I miss reading and sharing ideas and book and getting lost in stories and thinking about things that do not necessarily have anything to do with my job or my life or anything in reality.

So I’m going to read 100 books next year.
Because why the hell not?

I got the idea from a blog I recently discovered – a journalism professor with a blog who is every single thing a good journalism professor should be. And she’s not an old white guy who hasn’t worked in the industry in several decades, which is, you know, refreshing.

Anyway, in 2013, she challenged herself to read 100 books – she still being the voracious reader I used to be. She did it, with books to spare, which is ridiculously admirable, because I’m scared to do it and I don’t have a family to care for – just my job and my dog. And Maggie has no qualms with curling up under my electric blanket with me while I read.

(Yes, I sleep with an electric blanket, because I am 60 years old on the inside. I don’t go to bed at 8 p.m., but I do enjoy hot tea and “Frasier” reruns, so…)

So I’m going to read 100 books in 12 months, which is an intimidating task.

That’s roughly eight books a month plus four more somewhere in there.
A little less than two books a week.
A book every 3.65 days.

That last one makes it sound scarier.

I have approximately 15 shelves across four bookcases, all full, so it’s not like I’ve got a shortage. Plus ALL THE USED BOOK SALES EVER in April and May.

Here’s the thing, though. Someone should do it with me.
I don’t care what books you read. Just read 100 with me.
I’ll never do it if someone doesn’t hold me accountable. Just like I don’t vacuum unless there’s someone coming over. I mean, wait…what?

Come on. None of you will be my running buddy/pacing partner, so at least read with me, huh?

I’ve picked out eight books for January. Trying to start off gently as I ease back into being an avid reader. Trying to keep a balance of trashy fiction/fiction/non-fiction. I buy mostly non-fiction, but I find it takes me longer to read as I try to digest everything. And I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t harbor a secret love for trashy chick-lit.

image“The Secret Lives of Fortunate Wives”? “A Disobedient Girl”?
I’m such a girl sometimes.

So. Find me on Good Reads. Read with me. Open invitation.
And, go.
May we live with hysteria, and out of it make fine stories.

I don’t wanna have to click my heels

Penned last night in an empty steno on my coffee table waiting to be filled with notes for a soon-due project I haven’t started yet.

                                   

This was in a package I had delivered to my house late last month. Something I ordered or whatever — not important. It’s been sitting on my kitchen table ever since. I see it every day, every time I walk past – when I leave, when I come in, when I occasionally make dinner. I haven’t moved it, but I haven’t been able to ignore it, either.

home

For about a month, I had the overwhelming urge to leave. I don’t mean that figuratively, so don’t call in the professionals. I mean literally. I wanted to be anywhere but Pittsburgh, but Allegheny County, but Pennsylvania. But North America, even.

I needed to leave for South Africa. To Cambodia. To the United Arab Emirates. To somewhere that wasn’t here. That didn’t take me through the North Side, down East Carson Street, to the office or up my stairs and into my apartment.

I needed to pretend this place never existed. That it wasn’t a part of me.

And for a while, I did. I let myself think this wasn’t home anymore. And I was miserable.

It is a thought that has been on my mind for more than two months now, and it was a thought that I was going to have to make a concrete decision on. Because sometimes you do dumb things when you’re sad – like convince yourself you need to leave.

Nowhere has felt like home since I was 19 and forced out of the house and yard and woods I grew up in – my rope swing and swimming pool and the place where my cat and hamster were buried and the back roads I grew up racing down.

Nowhere had felt like home since then. I lived in my parents’ new house and a college dorm, an apartment with my high school best friend and my aunt’s basement, and a house with three other people, one of whom went on to throw a cookie sheet at my head and kill me off in her ‘novel.’

Then I moved to Pittsburgh – really moved to Pittsburgh. Like, into the city with a real city address and nowhere to park and a city councilman down the street. It still didn’t feel like home.

But then, it did.

Because I stopped being sad and scared, and I talked to people and fell in love with them and this city and the place I get to work at every day. I got a dog who is my soul, and I met people who changed my life and me as a person. Into my life came people who look out for me and worry about me and cheer for me just because they care – just because they care unconditionally.

It’s an unfathomable phenomenon for me, to be honest – for someone to throw a rope just because they cared enough to do so.

It’s something you become cognizant of when you think about leaving.

And so it all came to a head as I sat around realizing that these people in my life don’t just accept me, don’t just tolerate me, but they like me and kind of actually want me around and sort of maybe even enjoy me as a person. And it blows my mind, because family is something that is more difficult to come by in my life than others. It’s not a feeling I’m used to. It’s not a “woe is me”-type deal – it’s just a fact.

I hurt and I wanted to run away from it to make it stop. I won’t pretend that wasn’t a part of everything that has gone through my mind in the past two months. It was. A lot of you know that.

More of you than I like to think, really, because let’s be honest – most of the people in my life are journalists.

And also not stupid.

But what’s done is done, the past is past, ashes to ashes and every other cliché. We’ll pretend I’m fully over it, but we’ll know I really will be someday soon. I see that now.

And so I looked around at all of these people who like me and care about me and worry and go to bat for me, who want me to succeed just because they do and who buy me drinks and listen when I talk and talk to me like a real person, not a kid or an intern or a student or someone just to be tolerated.

Some who, I would like to think, would miss me if I was in South Africa or Cambodia or the United Arab Emirates. Maybe.

How could I leave that.

I don’t wanna have to click my ruby shoes and wish I was home (doesn’t help that Maggie ate my red flats and the others I wore through a flood) – I want to be home, even if it’s a place that hurts sometimes, and even if some places in it still make me sad. Because it’s home.

Because it’s home.

PA. Not the state.

Let’s talk about something that everyone seems to think I shouldn’t talk about –that it should be kept quiet. A secret.

I have panic attacks.
I’ve got some anxiety things going on.
It also doesn’t affect my ability to live my life or do my job or be a normal, functioning human.

Have you ever had a panic attack? Like, an actual panic attack? Probably not. It’s not being really stressed out. It’s not feeling overloaded with work. It’s a physical, emotional and mental reaction to a danger that doesn’t actually exist.

And there’s nothing you can do about it.

It is something you cannot stop or predict or control. There are coping mechanisms, but no way to make it go away.

And the first time you have one, it is terrifying, and you will think you are dying.

Sometimes it’s not just the first time. Sometimes it’s more than two years after they started.

Most of the time I can just breathe through them. Racing heart, clammy skin, ringing ears, dull, pounding headache, shortness of breath. The fight and flight instincts battle each other out. It’s a different combination every time. It’s something I’ve learned to breathe through, to get through, to work through. Tonight was different though. I couldn’t breathe, period, let alone through it.

This has been a part of my life for years. I know the different types I have. I know the things I need to do to get past them. Most times, I can have one at work at no one would know.

This was different. This one went on for hours. This one scared me. This one was bad enough the I decided, on my own, that I needed to get to the hospital.

Most if the time they don’t have a specific trigger. The one today did, and I know what it was. But I don’t want to talk about that.

What I want to talk about is the fact that I want to talk about this kind of stuff. I don’t care if people know that this happens to me or even when it’s happening to me. It’s not something I want to be made to feel like I should hide or worry about people knowing, because it has no effect on my ability to do my job or live my life.

I will tweet about it like I tweet about hockey or running or my dog, because it is just another part of my life, like hockey or running or my dog.

I want people to know about it and ask questions or whatever, because while it doesn’t define me and doesn’t happen very often, it’s still a a part of me. And I want the people I love and care about to know all the parts of me. I’m tired of compartmentalizing.

Some people have told me I shouldn’t talk about this on social media because people will use it against me. I say try it.

People talk about mental health like it’s a taboo subject. That is why there are so many people who don’t get the help they need. The stigma surround mental health issues is sickening. If I can just make one person pause for thought, then putting everything out there is well worth it.

(Blogging from my phone; typo amnesty is appreciated.)