Anxiety. Or rather, ANXIETY!!!!!!!!

Anxiety. I never claimed this word as my own. On the subway, when I’d look at the advertisements for churches, medication and hotlines, I’d  answer their question “ ARE YOU FEELING DEPRESSED?” with an honest “yes.” When the same question was asked about feeling anxious, well, I didn’t even bother reading the full question.

I’ve had a couple of panic attacks before, sure.  But that’s normal, right? There was that time my parents took me to the hospital because I thought I couldn’t breathe and my oxygen levels turned out to be better than average, but that happens to everyone, no doubt. That same week my parents took me to a hospital because I was having an allergic reaction to watermelon.  Once the doctor  administered steroids,  I screamed  “it’s making it worse!”  and almost jumped off the bed. That too, I’m sure is an embarrassing story everyone carries with them. More recently I began to suspect that I had spinal cancer and lung cancer and months before that, had my first mammogram because of an ill-fitting bra. Also, I can never sleep with my left breast directly against the mattress because I can hear my heart and I start thinking that it might explode. All normal things.

What I also thought was that there was something inherently wrong with me, obviously not because I had an anxiety disorder, but because everyone was feeling just like me but somehow still writing books, having healthy relationships, going back to work after a death and generally conducting their life as if they weren’t wading through honey all the time. If everyone felt threatened every second of every day but still managed to do stuff, why couldn’t I?

After a diagnosis of a Generalized Anxiety Disorder, I now know that not everyone thinks they are dying all of the time. Or that their boyfriend secretly wants to leave them. Oh wait. That was actually my intuition kicking in. Can I tell you something? That’s the worst thing about anxiety –  sometimes your fear voice speaks just as loudly as your inner guidance. It’s like they’re twins, except one of them starts screaming “FIRE!!!” whenever she sees a spark in a boy’s eye. And you never know which one is screaming, the one who’s always lying or the one who has never lied to you before. They both claim to be truthful, pointing a finger of blame at the other. They’re hard to tell apart and that’s so dangerous for someone like me, a person who lives by the rules and the pathways her heart whispers about. How can you even hear a whisper with all that crazy screeching?

A friend was telling me about a misunderstanding with her partner yesterday. “It’s like I put 1 and 1 together and got 43.” Add “???!!!!!” to the end of that 43 and you have the anxiety formula, at least my anxiety’s formula.

It’s just the worst. And it’s the worst when it’s piled up on top of grief. And it’s the worst when that grief feels like you’re a child whose parent just left, rather than an adult whose adult friend left because you have so much unresolved trauma.

But, (there is always a hopeful but in my world, no matter how dark it feels) I get giddy when I think about who I am underneath all of the trauma and grief and anxiety. Who is this girl when she’s not stuck in a pool of honey? As the healing begins, not just from the break up, but all of the other things, what will she do? What is she capable of? Time and lots of therapy will tell.

The Voices In My Head.

You’ll get him back.

You’ll never get him back.

He’s gone.

You can get him back if you try really hard.

Fuck it, you don’t want him back.

Yes, you do. You really, really do.

Why did you fuck this up? You KNEW how important this was.

I did the best I could, as a terrified mouse who feels like the entire world is one hungry cat, I did the very best I could.


He’s right, you just don’t want to see the truth. You never would have made it.

I’m right, we were meant for each other, we have so much more to gain together. 

He’s your soulmate.

A soulmate wouldn’t leave you.

So that means he’s coming back. Because he’s my soulmate.

Soulmates is not a real thing.

Yes, it is. You know this. Tie him up in a chair with soft, satin ribbons and show him how wrong he is. Make charts, a slideshow, do whatever it takes but don’t let him leave until he believes you.

He’ll meet someone better.

No one is better for him than you.

I’ll meet someone better.

There’s no one better.

You’re missing the point- you have to learn to be alone.

I’m already alone.

I love him, I love him, I love him.

He loves you, he loves you, he loves you.

He’s never coming back.

Returning to Istanbul

I am back in Istanbul and it feels so right to be here, at the epicenter of my greatest joy and my greatest pain. Getting here was not easy. It took two panic attacks at the airport in Amsterdam, an excruciatingly lonely flight, two hours of holding back tears in an endless line at passport control and finally walking out after customs, his face missing from the crowd at arrivals. I knew he wouldn’t be there, why would he be there? Still, I hoped.

I think I’m almost done hoping. Almost. Today I went to therapy. I’ve been so mad at the universe for doing this, but I have finally given in. I asked for one thing only. “If you are insisting that I take this shitty road, at least clear out some of the thorny branches ahead. Make it easier for me to walk. You can start by sending me to a therapist that will actually help me.“ And I think I was heard.

I have figured out so much about myself these last three weeks and I have never worked this hard for anything. I needed to show a stranger who I am, or rather the things that I have done or have been done to me that I thought were who I am. I needed to have the courage to ask someone who isn’t my friend or my family to see me. I want to be seen so badly, but I have been so afraid of being unacceptable. Today my therapist saw a glimpse of the worst and the best of what I carry, and she looked back with compassion, not judgement. And somehow that brief exchange, felt like getting the next number of a code that opens the lock. I hadn’t mentioned any of my pilgrimages and my obsession with walking. I came into her office today and said I need you to help me learn to suffer. She listened and then she offered up this, “Maybe what you need is someone to walk beside you through the suffering so that you’re not alone anymore.”

I am home and I am safe.  This city, as my friend Katie said yesterday “requires a blood sacrifice,” but it gives back so much if you can stand the suffering just a little bit longer than you thought you could. If you surrender to it just a little bit more generously than you want to.

I feared that losing him meant losing everything that I love. And it finally doesn’t feel like that. I saw a friend the other night for the first time since this happened and I was scared of how he would be around me. What if he was uncomfortable and distant? They were friends first, they work together, and because they are Syrian they share a loss that I will never be able to feel, no matter how much I try. How could I not be edged out? But he held my hand and asked me why I had to go to Amsterdam to be with family, when my family is here too. “We need you. We’re Syrian, think of what we’ve lost already- we can’t lose you too.”  I am home and I am safe.

Dental Floss and Other Things I Don’t Understand.

I’m not a regular flosser, although I’ve always wanted to be. Flossing my teeth is something I do on special occasions, like last February when Claire and I flew to Bulgaria for a weekend. It felt appropriate to start (and stop) flossing in a new country. Sometimes I floss when I make the decision to turn over a new leaf and become something. I celebrate this new person I am about to become by taking care of her teeth.

It’s really important that you understand how little I actually flossed. You need to know that it was never something that appeared on a shopping list. “Can I get you something from outside?” he would ask and I might say  milk, coffee chicken for our cat, Daddy. And he would say “Write it down.” And sometimes I would, and sometimes he would forget anyway. What’s important is that in the almost two years that we shared shopping lists and brought things home, like toothpaste, soap and milk, not once did I ever ask for dental floss.

Two days before we broke up, we were lazying together at home when I got the urge to floss my teeth. I brought out the little plastic container into the living room, so I could be close to him.

“Shit,” I said, “I’m out of floss.” The little plastic container was empty and I threw it away without a second thought.

The next day, on what would be our last day together as a couple he came home from a supplies run and handed me a container of floss. My heart filled with love for him because he remembered something so forgettable. And then he left.

And I don’t understand. Two weeks before he left, while I was in Russia he sent me a message  from the same small village on the Black Sea where he would end our relationship. “I am at our restaurant in Kiloys and everything reminds me of you.” And I don’t understand.   Two days later while I was stuck in the immigration line at Ataturk airport I sent him a message- “I need coffee.” and he wrote back “I need you.” And I don’t understand.  When I finally made it back from the airport he couldn’t stop kissing me at the bus stop. It was like I had been away for months rather than two weeks. He was so happy, so relieved to have me in his arms again.  And I don’t understand.

When I offer up this evidence to him, he says he was faking it. And I don’t believe him. He says he was scared to acknowledge what he was feeling, that he wanted out, and I believe him a little.  

“I know you love me,” I cried a week ago, my finger poking him in his chest “I live here, in your heart, you know this. You love me.”

“Love is not enough, “ he said. And I don’t understand.

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