Open and Honest

One area in my life that I’ve been pushing myself to improve is my total lack of social skills. I am an introvert almost to the extreme, and often find myself content with no other company than my few closest friends. Building new relationships is excessively difficult for me.

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I think one of the reasons I find it so hard is that I kind of hate myself. I see myself as a whiney and annoying person with nothing intelligent to add to a conversation and a waste of space in the room. I labor under the assumption that pretty much everyone else secretly agrees with my self assessment, but are too kind to tell me they’d rather I left. So I leave without being asked. I slip away to be by myself where I’ll read or write or knit or whatever.

Most of this self abasement was encouraged in my upbringing by the way the household was run, and during the darkest periods of my struggle with Depression have led me to some very ugly thoughts. Today, the people closest to me often tell me that I hate myself more than anyone else in the room. I question the complete validity of this statement, but I see what they mean anyway. It would seriously be hard for anyone to dislike me more than I do.

Building relationships with the mental handicaps of Anxiety and Depression, along with my severe introversion, is a steep upward climb, but I recently had a breakthrough that I hope will become a new pattern.

My husband and I have changed churches. Again. These past two years have been the most up, down and unsettled period of my life. Though Timothy keeps telling me that now it’s safe to settle for at least the next three years, I haven’t seen enough in writing to convince me to unpack my emotional suitcase. So when kind and friendly faces in our new church body opened their arms to welcome me, I wanted to walk into them, but also wondered what was going to happen to their presence in my life come September. How much do I open up to these people? How much do I fight against my fears of rejection, only to meet with loss on the other end? Because one thing I’ve noticed in the last few churches we’ve gone to, is that once you’re no longer a member, the people who seemed to care don’t care anymore. It’s like you’ve switched from the goth click to the cheerleaders and you’re dead to all that’s past. All the trying, all the fighting against myself to get close to strangers becomes another example of people not actually caring about me, another example of my not being worth anyone’s time.

But what I’m now realizing is that I’m half the problem, maybe even more than half. My fear of rejection keeps my relationships shallow. Why should anyone miss me when I leave the room? They don’t know me, because I fear being known.

And here I am, standing in front of a woman who wants to get to know me, and I’m stuck. Yes, I’d love to go for coffee with you. It would be good for me in so many ways, and you’re being so loving and kind, but how do I tell you that, despite my being an adult, I don’t often drive places on my own? How do I tell you that I have such crippling anxiety disorder, that I’m afraid to schedule coffee with you on a day when I can’t rely on my husband to be around to prevent me coming home to an empty house?

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My new solution. I just do. I just say it, and hope that, if you really want to get to know me, you’ll help me think of another way. So instead of just telling her the easy bit about not having access to a car, I hear myself admit to her, “I have anxiety disorder, and driving is one of my triggers. I don’t really drive more than 20 minutes by myself right now.” And she says, “I’ll pick you up.” And she says, “I can drive you to the church where your husband is.”

Another falsehood I was taught as a child was that I was never supposed to talk about my mental health issues. It’s a secret that I’m ill, meant for just me and my doctors. So the worse my condition got, the more my relationships withered, the less I wanted to try. People don’t understand, I thought. I’m in the way. They must hate me. I’m such a nuisance. I wish I wasn’t me.

The thing I’m learning, a lesson I can take with me even if we do switch to another church in six months, is that a lot people are willing to help and want to understand, but they can’t do either if I’m not willing to be honest.

Honesty. It makes sense, really. Isn’t honesty a foundational pillar of any lasting relationship?

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Being Brave and Letting Go

Brave art is beautiful art.

My husband reminded me of this after I bemoaned the increasing number personal elements that seem to be creeping their way into the short story I’m handing in for my Fiction Writing class. About an hour ago, I finished my third draft and had so much of my own self and struggles leaking through my fingers into the keyboard that I literally started to cry.

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No, I screamed at me in my head. No, you can’t do this. You know why? Because what if they hate it? What if they say, “people don’t really do that” or “this scenario is so unrealistic”  or “why is she so upset about something so minor?” You know you’ll just run from the room sobbing. You could barely control your emotions BEFORE pregnancy. Now? Now you cry when Han Solo says, “I know.”

I know.

It’s like when that quiet girl from the back of the classroom stumbles in late to Intro to Creative Writing with a tearstained copy of her latest poem:

It’s Over

Weep, weep, weep
Weep on my unrelenting river of tears
Stream that red, red, red
from the bloody bleeding heart he left behind.
We’re done.
I’m undone.
My bosom is heavy with an empty chasm for a heart
Tears, tears, tears
I’m such a miserable fool.

Suck or not, who has the heart to tell her to trash it when you can barely hear her read it over her piteous wails. I mean, look at her bloodshot eyes! Do you really think she slept last night? *The moon shakes it’s head, for it has born witness to her lonely howling.*

Granted, my story isn’t so overt, and thank God I’ve not been told I must read it aloud, but I’m in there. I’m screaming through the characters mouths. I’m laying curled up beside the abandoned child, grasping and clutching at that empty pocket of warmth left behind in the blankets. And it’s scary to be so seen in such an unseen way. No one in my class knows me. No one will see me there in those words. Nothing will hold back their “this sucks” or “what the *&%$ is this #$%@?” That’s good in a way. I mean, the truth needs to be told to me, or I’ll never improve as a writer. But even as healthy as the truth is, it can also be terrifying and humiliating.

Maybe that’s why I hated this story so much when I started, because I always knew it would turn into something more.

Come Friday I’ll have to let it go; I’ll have to watch it fall from my fingers into the hands of 15 strangers who will be reading between the lines of my life armed with a red pen.

This is terror. This is bravery. This, I guess, is art.

So It Begins…

After months and months of nerve induced procrastination, I have officially sent out my first query letters for Us.

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I sent them out last week. My husband wrapped his arms around me, we counted down, and clicked the send button together. Sharon was a major help to me that day, sending me constructive criticism on my pitch which I truly think made it infinitely better. This whole situation is simultaneously exciting and terrifying. I keep reading things that say, “It’s never your first novel that gets published.” Maybe that will be true, but I’ve started putting myself out there and that, for me, is a huge step forward.

Though I did a thorough copy edit of my manuscript before I started querying, I am still printing out drafts and combing over them looking for errors. It’s a little disconcerting that I keep finding errors, but at this point I just correct them and move on. As I wait for rejections responses to come in, I’m digging into my next novel, because if it isn’t this one that gets published, it may be the next one. Thusly and thereforths, I need to keep working.

This road may be long and hard, but I love writing too much to just walk away without trying. And now that I’ve started, there is no way that I’m going to give up without a fight.

A Road Trip with Neil and Charlotte

A few weeks ago, I posted about my struggle with anxiety disorder and depression. After which, I mentioned how I’ve been  pushing my boundaries, forcing myself to stand against the things that most frighten me

On this list is the gradual expansion of my forty-five minute radius safety bubble. I was sitting at about two and a half hours when my in-laws invited us to ride with them to Williamsburg, Virginia, six hours from home.

I’ve always wanted to see Colonial Williamsburg. I love history and museums and I’ve heard that it is super pretty. Another bonus incentive was that the first days’ drive ended after 4 hours, in an overnight at my brother-in-law Ben’s house, to visit with him, Chelsea, and the kids. They have invited Timothy and me down to see them many times, but I was wasn’t ready for the drive. I hated myself each time I said no, especially since I could see how badly Timothy wanted to go. So this time, I took a deep breath, swallowed, and said, “Sure, why not.”

Driving through Pennsylvania
Driving through Pennsylvania

I spent the next few days just blocking the whole thing out of my mind. And on Friday morning, I hopped into the car with my laptop and sat there tapping away on my project for NaNoWriMo, knowing that I would probably only manage a few hundred words for the next 3 to 4 days. The ride was fairly easy, simply because I refused to think about it. I listened to Walter Isaacson’s biography on Steve Jobs in my earbuds and before I knew it, we were sitting in front of Ben and Chelsea’s beautiful Yellow house.

Then I exploded.

I feel bad, because we were only there overnight, and I was like a zombie. I felt like Bilbo Baggins when he said, “I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.” I hardly interacted with anyone and spent much of the time alone in our room. I stole away my husband for a while and wet his teeshirt with my tears of exhaustion. He kissed my forehead and whispered to me about how brave I was. I was so gone I barely heard him; all I could think about was the 2 to 3 hour drive we had tomorrow.

Though numb and frightened, I managed to begin a chronicle of my journey. That night, my journal entry began with this quote from Neil Gaiman’s, “Coraline.”

Because, she said. when you’re scared but you still do it anyway, that’s brave.

I was not relaxed when I got in the car Saturday morning. I managed to reject Ben and Chelsea’s sweet offer to end my journey there, and wait until Mom and Dad came back through on their way home. I dropped deep down inside my head, to that place where I didn’t think about what was happening. It was harder to find it this time. I held to Tim with my right hand and had my friend Steve in my left, who I texted on and off the whole trip discussing distracting nonsense like what edicts he would pass as the first global dictator. Mom and Dad were off to a wedding, so they left us at the hotel. Tim and I dropped our things and walked a half mile to Colonial Williamsburg.

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Path from the hotel to Colonial Williamsburg

I lived in each individual second, busying myself with the joy of being in a place I’d never seen before. We had a lovely walk together and ate at one of the pubs, before we went back to the hotel room. That was when it got hard. Honestly, that nice little room was the hardest place to be the whole trip. It felt like I was in the waiting room of a hospital, cold and half naked in my dressing gown, waiting for the beginning of major surgery; that surgery being the six hour ride home on Monday.

That night I opened my journal entry with another Neil Gaiman quote. This time from, “The Graveyard Book.”

Face your life, its pain, its pleasure, Leave no path untaken.”

Sunday was the hardest day. I didn’t sleep Saturday night. I was too anxious. And this is not meant to imply that Sunday wasn’t fun; it was lovely. But once daylight faded to nighttime, I fell into pieces in that hotel bed. I cried and shook and paced the floor. Timothy held me and my friend Steve threw me occasional texts, asking me if I was okay. I wasn’t okay. I just wasn’t. What little sleep I got was filled with nightmares about car accidents and eternal loneliness. That night I was too screwed up to write anything in my journal.

Monday morning came. I made my journal entry early that morning, mixing quotes from Neil Gaiman and Charlotte Brontë. A fitting mixture of past and present. I read Neil Gaiman’s “Neverwhere” about a year ago, and since then my love for his writing has bordered precariously on obsession (Not in a creepy stalker way, but in a buy-all-the-books-in-multiple-copies kind of way. The way most authors want to be loved. 😉 ). I can’t help it really. He’s a genius. He has a way of making me laugh and cry and want to be brave all at once. I’ve had that experience with other books, but he is one of the only authors that gives me that experience so consistently. And as for dear Charlotte, I often attribute my love of fiction and literature back to when she blew open my literary world at 9 years old with, “Jane Eyre.”

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Page from my journal

I did not know when we drove away at 10:45 that I we would not get home until 8:30. And it wasn’t until Tuesday that I really had the energy to fully comprehend what I’d done. I’d driven further from home than I’ve been since I was fourteen. I finally saw Colonial Williamsburg. I’d finally seen Ben and Chelsea’s house. It made me feel strong, like a warrior who cleared a battlefield of the enemy and now, weak and bloodied from the effort, silently absorbs her victory from a distant hilltop. I survived and I feel more alive than ever.

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Text Timothy sent me on Monday after I fell asleep in the car. It was a nice thing to wake up to.

© Rachel Svendsen 2015

Presumed Perils and Prevalent Pleasures of the Outdoors

Growing up, my mother used to tell me stories about people who went on nature walks. They usually ended with small children huddled together against the cold in an abandoned car, while the parent wandered boldly to his death in the mountains, searching for help. These stories were probably meant to instruct me to make wise decisions. Instead they created in me a festering fear of anything hiking. If someone said to me, “Come visit me in North Carolina. We’ll go hiking. It’s absolutely gorgeous here,” I would titter nervously while I silently imagined myself wandering half starved through the trees, my voice too hoarse to scream for help.

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I’ve been on a journey during the past year of facing my fears head on. I started small and have been gradually building up. Tuesday, October 20th was the day Timothy and I tackled my fear of hiking. We packed up my lime green backpack with three water bottles, charged our cellphones so we could take pictures, and filled a ziplock baggie with snacks. I laced up my new black and hot pink sneakers, waved goodbye to friends and family, then hopped somberly into the car. We drove 50 minutes to a trail in the Delaware Water Gap called “Tumbling Waters.” I’d never seen a real waterfall. I mean I’ve been to Niagara falls, but to me that hardly counts. Niagara is a deafening deluge of power. It needs a name bigger than waterfall, like Grandiosely Majestic Deluge Of Death Or Something (GMDODOS for short). Basically, I had never seen a naturally occurring stream trickle magically down into a pool of shining water. I hoped this light at the end of the tunnel would provide me extra incentive to complete the three mile loop.

Notice the Lime Green Backpack

It was a perfect day; too warm really to need a sweat shirt, but cool enough that we weren’t wiping sweat from our eyes. I didn’t see a single insect. The sky was cloudless and the sun was bright, shooting rays of light through the trees to illuminate the acorns, pine needles, rocks, and fallen leaves. Autumn is my favorite season and it was still early enough that half the trees had yet to turn. This made the landscape a delicious pallet of orange, yellow, red, and purple to accent the fresh green of life. The air smelled clean and fresh and of dirt and late October. I heard blue jays and saw chipmunks.

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And I got so freaked out I nearly turned back…

About a mile in, I began to get dizzy. Not an oh-no-I-think-I’m-sick dizzy, but an oh-no-I-can’t-see-the-road dizzy; an oh-no-are-you-sure-we’re-not-hopelessly-lost-ohmygoshIcan’tbreathe dizzy.
I swallowed and said in a chipper voice, “Buppy? You said the waterfall is the half way point, right?”
He smiled at me, “Yep.” He was totally in his element, arms swinging merrily at his sides. Outside, fresh air, exercise, and my hand in his. What more could a man want?
I nodded. “So…uhh…how much farther to the waterfall?”
“We’re about halfway there.”
“How long have we been walking?”
“About thirty minutes.”
My head began to spin and my breath quickened. Visions of forever wandering in the barren wilderness began to dance in my head. “Can we sit down for a minute?”

“Of course.” We plopped onto a nearby rock and I broke down. I said many things, but the gist of it was, “I’m scared. Are we lost? How can you be sure? Can we go back? Take me home.” Timmy held my hand until the panic attack passed. I swallowed my fear and told myself that I could do this and if I didn’t I was just feeding the lies that had taken root in my brain.

We got up and finished the hike. I managed to keep my fears at bay, only regularly reminding Timothy to look out for rattlesnakes and copperheads. Now, I can’t wait to go hiking again. I loved it. All of it. Including the panic attack. 😉

All of the photos here are from our trip. I’m not a photographer, but sometimes nature is, in and of itself, so photogenic that no matter the angle, or how inept you are, the image is still spectacular. Here’s a few more of my favorites.
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babbling brook we had to cross on rocks
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my first “real” waterfall
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This is probably my favorite picture from the trip. My mother-in-law said it looks like the path to Middle Earth.
© Rachel Svendsen 2015