Friday, February 28, 2014

On Secrets (Or, I Am Not In The Illuminati...)

So a new post about the ongoing saga of CDog vs. Raging Driving Anxiety is in the works. It's very thrilling. There are jaywalking old ladies and billions of cyclists and lots of hills. And bison. Seriously. Golden Gate Park's bison have been weaving their way into my life with startling regularity lately.

But all that's going to have to wait, because I have a thing to say.

I began the month with a deeply personal post, and I'm going to end it the same way. There's no significance to the day outside of that. Just...I'm feeling determined, and I'm wearing a fabulous bow tie, so why not sit down and let you in on my last big secret?

That was a big set-up. It shouldn't have been. I'm not about to drop some Illuminati surprises on you or anything. Look, if you know me personally, you know I kind of just put it all out there. I do my best to live a good life in a way that feels right and authentic to me, and I don't really make space for anyone who feels like telling me I'm doing it wrong. That was one of the best pieces of advice I ever picked up at a comic book convention - the panelist, without malice, said, "If there's anybody in your life who doubts you, who tries to convince you that you should  give up and do something else, you need to cut them out, because that's not going to work." It was a response to a question about writing, but it kind of applies to everything.

I haven't been living authentically, though. Not completely - not the way I want and need to, and it feels like the only reason is because I've been worried about what other people would think. I don't like that. It's a bad habit to get into, and I'm not going to let that be a thing.

So let's not have it be a thing: I'm bisexual.

Right? It really didn't need a big set-up. It's probably not even that surprising - I've known for a long time. I've even sort of said it to a few people, but in a pretend, non-committal, I-didn't-really-say-it-so-what-just-happened-probably-nothing kind of way. All of that amounted to just building a custom closet for myself to hide this piece of my identity in - roomy, sure, and full of fun stuff, but a closet nonetheless.

It wasn't an earth-shattering revelation when I figured it out. I was irritated, more than anything, because I felt like I was suddenly in a category that didn't fit anywhere - not straight, not gay, just there. Growing up, even in San Francisco, I remember the idea of bisexuality being met with derision and scorn - at best, you were in denial; at worst, you were hypersexual and untrustworthy. I absorbed these things that eventually turned into the message that who I was - who I knew myself to be - was not real and would not be accepted.

Instead of saying, "Whatever. That's not me, and if people don't realize that's not me, that's their problem," I got scared. And I stayed scared, and silent, for a very long time. Friends in situations similar to mine came to me for advice, and I told them exactly what I myself would've wanted to hear - you're you, and that's 100% rad, fuck anybody who says otherwise, and tell them I said so. But I couldn't find a way to apply that to my own life.

I didn't want to be the bi, vegan writer from San Francisco who dresses like a hipster professor and is in therapy for chronic anxiety and depression. Say all those things together and tell me it doesn't feel just a little bit ridiculous.

But the longer I sat with those things, feeling like a raging stereotype of the west coast lifestyle, the more it occurred to me that I was absolutely unwilling to change any of them. I love my bow ties and cardigans - wearing them makes me feel fantastic. Going veg is one of the best decisions I ever could have made for my life. Writing is the only thing that has always made sense to me. And I can't change who I'm attracted to any more than I can change the way my brain is wired or where I was born.

I've spent far too much time being a hypocrite over the past few years, encouraging the people around me to live fully while refusing to do so myself.

This is me undoing that, the only way I know how: clumsily, via the written word, in a vaguely public way. It's one of those things that changes nothing and everything - it's already who I was, but I'm finally free from the silence of it.

I'm not in denial. I'm not confused. I like guys. I like girls. That's it. That's my truth.

I'm me, and that's 100% rad. Fuck anybody who says otherwise, and tell them I said so.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

On Driving, Part 2 (Or, Step One All Over Again...)

Welcome back.

When last I left you, the exploratory period had ended. All non-practical steps forward had been taken: a driving school had been found, an inquiry was sent, an instructor contacted me, and (far more quickly than I intended) an appointment was made. I already had a permit that had been sitting quite uselessly in my desk for the better part of six months. There was nothing left to do in the matter but drive.

And drive I did.

I promised that I would be candid about this process - the good, the bad, the whatever - and I intend to keep that promise, whether the end result is me gaining a license or lighting the aforementioned permit on fire and dancing on its ashes while loudly and ritualistically forswearing automobiles forever. I'm starting to get the sense that I may be more inclined toward the former, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

On Driving, Part 1 (Or, The Journey Begins...)

I feel like we're really getting to know each other, guys.

When I fired this bad boy up a couple years ago, I had no real directive. My earliest posts are certainly indicative of that, full of deliciously self-aware meandering toward sort-of-maybe-conclusions. And let's be real - there's still no theme here. Posts about making vegan banana bread or whatever will follow ruminations on religion, and that's kind of how I like it. But I feel like I've settled in now - getting personal feels more comfortable than it did before.

In the spirit of that comfort, I'm going to tell you a thing.

I can't drive.

I know, it's not really a secret. I've mentioned it before - in my last post, as a matter of fact. However, I've never really gotten into why I don't know how to drive, and as I **spoiler alert** start the process of learning, I feel like it's important to get a grip on what exactly has been holding me back.

Let me give you a hint: starts with "a," ends with, "nxiety."

Here's the thing: life as a chronically anxious person isn't all panic attacks, all the time. That's the limit, the extreme (at least for me). Mostly, it's a daily practice of facing situations and deciding not to be afraid of them. It's a learned skill that I've come to really value, and even pride myself on - the ability to actively decide that I can do things that terrify me. As awesome as it is to do things you know you love and are good at, there's nothing quite like the feeling of empowerment and accomplishment that comes from doing (and perhaps discovering that you love) a regular, not at all threatening activity that once made you feel as though you were marching toward your doom. I've lived a better life since acquiring this ability.

But I can't drive.

It never felt like something I was actively avoiding. I grew up in San Francisco - public transportation takes time, but it can get you everywhere and you don't have to worry about gas or parking. Done. My parents offered to give me a car if I stayed in state for college, but I wanted to go to Seattle, so forget that. Then it was back to San Francisco, where my first rule still applied. Never mind that, as an adult, I was starting to feel confined by the borders of my city and the limited reach of buses and trains and ferries to points beyond.

There was always an excuse, a reason to put off or delay, until finally - under pressure from my parents - I got my learner's permit. My aunt took me out to an empty parking lot to practice for the first time, and on the way, I got to work with the self-talk: I told myself that I would let go of being nervous and listen to everything I was told. And that worked for a little while - until we tried moving from the parking lot onto the real people street. Instant, pervasive, muscle-obliterating panic.

After that, I suddenly didn't have time to practice. I let my permit expire. I got crazy defensive whenever the issue came up. All hardcore, giant-sized steps back.

Maybe a year ago, I was visiting my sister in L.A. We were having lunch, and she gently inquired about my driving progress. All my old standby excuses came pouring out, but instead of fighting with me about them, she said, "Okay. And do you think it might be something you maybe have some anxiety about?"

To my own surprise, I almost immediately said, "Yes."

She's a tricky one, my sister. It's starting to occur to me that I give her far too little credit when it comes to understanding me.

If you read my last post, you'll know that this came up when I was in the middle of getting my head around a lot of stuff, but I put a pin in it (I know, I'm sorry) so that it wouldn't get lost in the shuffle. When I finally started seeing a therapist, it was one of the things I brought up as really wanting to work on, and we started off great. I took my permit test again. I started exposure therapy - sitting in the driver's seat of a car, putting my hands on the wheel. But that's as far as I could get. The thought of actually driving ramped me up from zero to losing it in seconds.

That's where I am now. What started as a fear has taken on the additional burden of shame and frustration. I don't love being twenty-seven and still bumming rides from people without being able to return the favor. I don't love planning my life around bus and train and ferry schedules. Perhaps worst of all is the thought that I've found a fear that I can't conquer, that will control me and restrict my life while everyone around me passes me by.

A chance conversation with a friend on Saturday lit a fire underneath me. Some well-chosen words and shared experience busted through my self-doubt, and a little seed of excitement was planted. Because you know what? That's not me. I'm nervous and I'm phobic and I somehow always manage to very publicly spit out my breath mint while trying to have professional conversations, but I don't back down from challenges. So I took that feeling and researched driving instructors on Sunday. I found a school with specialists for adults with driving anxiety and panic disorders, and I contacted them on Monday.

An appointment has been made. The journey has begun. And I'm going to share it here, step-by-possibly-painful-step. You'll never know the specifics of my appointments or tests or anything else in advance, because I don't need the added pressure, but I'll for sure be coming by to fill you in after the fact.

And posting vegan banana bread recipes in between.

Buckle up.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

On Getting Help (Or, Stuff That Can Happen in a Year...)

I don't talk about my feelings.

It's not the model I was raised with. That's not a slam on my parents, whom I love very much and who I know love me, just an observation. I was with my dad and one of my sisters recently, and he commented that my niece and nephew make him feel like he's on his death bed because of how much they say, "I love you." My sister turned to me and said, "Now we know why we're so uncomfortable expressing that." It's true: we're an emotionally reserved family.

I had my first panic attack just after my fifteenth birthday - 'cause, I mean, what do you get the girl who has everything? It was mid-November. I was a sophomore in high school and it was the night of one of the performances of our fall show. In a freak accident, a friend of mine had been injured during one of her scenes. Most of us had been down in the greenroom when it happened and didn't find out about it until we were about to go onstage for the finale. Adrenaline pushed me through the curtain call, but when I got back downstairs, the room felt like it was crushing me. I was hot, my heart was racing, everything sounded like I was underwater but I felt like I was on fire, and I couldn't breathe.

And I don't talk about this in detail. Really. Ever. I'll say, "I had a panic attack," and move on. Typing all of those words just now made me ridiculously uncomfortable. So forgive the lack of eloquence that may occur as we progress, because I don't know that I'll be able to go back and make adjustments.

The anxiety storm that led to this first explosion had been building since September, something that I touched upon here. My brain's inability to process that didn't absolve it of the need to do so, and I think that this incident - this chance occurrence of injury being done to someone in my life (obviously - and thankfully - with much less lethal stakes) pulled every thought and feeling and worry that had been spinning silently in my head for months together into a single ball of awfulness that I couldn't contain anymore.

It's not my friend's fault that it happened. I don't think I ever actually told her that. We're not really in touch anymore, and I'm sure she knows it, but it absolutely wasn't her fault. If it hadn't happened then, it would've happened another time for some other reason.

Fifteen. That was my introduction to my issues with anxiety and depression, but I didn't feel I was allowed to take ownership of those words. It wasn't because of the stigma that's so often and so unfairly attached to them. Naively, I thought that because I hadn't reached an extreme - because I wasn't suicidal or afraid to leave my house - I didn't have the right to say I was depressed or anxious. Which was dumb. But we're all dumb sometimes, and I didn't know how to ask for help yet.

I'm going to make a long story slightly shorter: it was a long, long time before I figured out how to ask for help.