Excerpt from Little Panic, Grand Central Publishing, 2018
From the time we’re small, we’re all taught how to see and think. Advanced study will teach you how to look at scholarly work as a pattern that can be taken apart and studied. While being able to know what we think about the things we read and see are obviously critical, the more dedicated we are to the mind, the less connected we become to ourselves. In my writing class, I am going to teach you what school never did: how to feel.
In Writing Complex Emotions, we are going to learn how to feel our somatic sensations; to identify the splashes and pulses trapped beneath years of avoidance and academic discourse, and learn how to capture their textures on the page.
Whether you’re a literary wonder like George Saunders or a beginner, understanding emotions aren’t enough. You must feel them. Let me show you how.
This is a 4-hour workshop, split into two sessions. I am charging just $50 for this first two-session workshop. If it goes well, I will move the price to $100. So, if this interests you and you want in on the cheap price, please sign up now!
Email email@example.com with the subject line EMOTION.
Payment via Venmo, Paypal or Zelle.
THIS CLASS MEETS VIA ZOOM on MAY 16th and 17th from 10 am-12 pm. You will get a private Zoom link the day before the workshop.
Feelings are hard to describe, much less write. Most writers rely purely on the physical to get their emotional point across. To indicate loss to the reader, the writer might rely on subtext, and by doing so they write about things on the surface: a bereft father catches sight of a man swinging his young daughter around on the beach. We understand and feel the gulf between what one man has lost and the other takes for granted. The more details we provide about both of these men and their daughters, the more we will feel because these details will signal the weight of absence. Often, in literature, what’s seen represents what’s not there.
Writing emotion through staging and subtext works to elicit the appropriate feeling in your reader, but sometimes that isn’t enough. What if your aim is to offer readers articulation for the unsayable? Instead of nodding toward the gulf, how do we describe what the gulf feels like inside our bodies?
In this class, I will take you through methods that will teach you to identify and write all possible emotions. You will learn how to drop inside your body for exploration, pulling the somatic sensations into your throat and onto the page. I will also teach you how to create emotion in the atmosphere. At the end of this class, you’ll have learned how to elevate not only your prose but your communication skills.
When you have anxiety as a child, you lack the words for what you feel inside your body, and what you feel inside your body is so acutely awful, so wretched and horrifying, most anxious kids will spend their time actively looking for ways to avoid feeling the percolating dread filling their chests, bubbling into their throats and tingling down their arms.
The more they turn away from their own feelings, the more they suffer. If no one intervenes, they grow into teenagers who can easily find unhealthy ways to numb their suffering (which achieves their goal of avoidance) through alcohol and drug use. By now, these kids have gone so long trying to avoid what’s in their bodies, they’ve grown to fear not just the feelings, but the bodies that contain the feelings. They can’t drop down into their feelings, so they rise up and get trapped inside their heads.
This disconnection between head and body makes ignoring your body easy. When they grow into adults, this separation can be so acute that in order to actually feel their bodies they need to overeat or undereat to the point of discomfort. They drink to excess or rely on drugs to either numb or amplify their terrifying feelings. Their relationship to their body becomes dysregulated and they’ll spend years trying to work through it all.
If you have children, how do you prevent all this from happening? Well, you must start teaching your child how to listen to her body. When she’s angry, ask her where she feels it and what it feels like. Don’t let her get away with “I don’t know” or “You’re so annoying.” Make this question a habit. Ask her to point to where she feels her sadness, her gladness, her laughter.
If we can begin to train our children to listen to themselves early, we have a much better chance of reaching them when they’re teenagers. And they have a much better chance of developing a healthy relationship with their body.
I’ve had a hard time writing blog posts about mental health this past month. There’s more than enough to write about, but I’ve been feeling overwhelmed by reality.
Anxiety is basically a fear of feeling fear, which means it’s a fear of experiencing and facing reality. And the reality of living in this world is very hard to face, even if you’re not the one in the direct line of suffering.
It’s hard to write blog posts about mental illness when kids are being separated from their parents at the border when black and brown people are killed because they’re not white, when white supremacists are bringing back the Swastika, when women’s rights are still up for debate, when patriarchy is still our default mode, when discrimination leeches its way through every category including gender, when the president of the United States is a white-nationalist leaning sociopath.
Our systems and institutions are so dysfunctional and dangerous they give rise to mental instability and it’s us, the people, who are persecuted for these structural deficiencies.
All this is to say, hi. I’m still here. I’ll write more soon, I promise. I’m just taking a mental health break from my mental health blog to shore myself back up.
Sorry for the silence, I’ve been…overwhelmed.
I am overwhelmed by the large things that loom, the various and tedious tasks linked to each large looming thing, the subtasks and those subtasks, the accumulating emails, the highly un-editable online W-9 pdfs, this side hustle, that side hustle, the newest side hustle I agreed to before thinking it through, the following through, the reaching out, the unaggregated notes written in a variety of places offline and on, the labyrinthine hell of trying to get a refund, the children, the children, the parents separated from their children, the children, the children, the children.
In the past year, while I’ve been traveling and talking about my memoir LITTLE PANIC and my life long panic disorder, I’ve noticed something interesting: a lot of people claim to have something they don’t actually have.
Do you have a panic disorder?
Do you have an anxiety disorder?
A panic disorder is the chronic suffering from repeated and frequent, unprovoked panic attacks. There are no triggers. It’s not anxiety a person feels in those periods of time, it’s pure, unadulterated panic. Life-threatening panic. I lived for 25 + years with a panic disorder. My life was interrupted by frequent seizures of unprovoked terror. The distinguishing feature of a true panic disorder is a person’s fear of having a panic attack. This fear becomes so intense that the sufferer will go to great extremes to avoid suffering from a panic attack. Their lives get very small, and often people become agoraphobic.
It becomes an untenable way to live, and often, depending on the type of person you are, the will to be freed from fear’s dictatorship, forces a person to make a choice: succumb or fight back. I fought back, only after succumbing.
It’s not a badge of honor to claim something that you don’t suffer from, but for some reason, many people claim to have a panic disorder when they don’t. This makes it harder for people who truly suffer to be seen and heard, and taken seriously.
So…you might have occasional panic attacks, and you might have a ton of anxiety, but unless your life has been altered daily by frequent bouts of panic, you, my friend, are in the clear.
And you know who else is in the clear? Me. I still have panic attacks, but only about two a year. I am in remission. I’d like to get clear about who suffers and in what way so that we don’t muddy the waters for those who truly need care. So, the next time you have a panic attack, you don’t need to worry that you have a panic disorder. You probably don’t.
BUT…if you do have frequent and chronic panic attacks that interfere with your everyday life, please go see a psychiatrist and a therapist. No offense to primary care physicians, but I find they don’t take mental illness as seriously as those in the mental health business.
Slate has a new parenting advice blog. In a recent post, a mother wonders…
“Should I Tell My Daughter About Her Dyslexia?”
She explains “I don’t want her to feel different, but does she have the right to know why she struggles where others don’t?”
Obviously, the question enraged me. But what enrages me, even more, is that it’s 2019, and parents are still wondering whether to treat their children as human beings.
So, as a person with very little patience for this kind of bullshit (my patience goes exactly where it should–to children, all of them, any age, all the time) I want the opportunity to answer it my way.
LADY, OH MY GOD, WHAT THE FUCK? Should I tell my daughter she has dyslexia?? Does she have the right to know?? First, fuck you. Second, she already knows. Your daughter knows she has Dyslexia, she just doesn’t know what it’s called because you are holding her hostage from her own reality. She is eight years old! Her problem isn’t that she has learning disabilities; her problem is you.
PARENTS! PLEASE, CAN I HAVE YOUR ATTENTION! Your children are human beings. You are afraid to fuck them up so you withhold the truth of who they are from them, and you withhold the truth of the world. You want them to continue being wholesome, innocent creatures, and you’re afraid that by telling them the truth you will corrupt them. The truth doesn’t corrupt them. Lying corrupts them. By not telling them what’s going on, ESPECIALLY WHEN THEY KNOW SOMETHING IS GOING ON, you are lying to them.
We protect our children, not by hiding the world from them, but by teaching them how to handle each hardship the world hands us. You want to raise healthy, strong, vibrant children and you want them to one day leave the bubble you have created for them and thrive, but for some reason, you don’t want to teach them how to face adversity and grow. You say you’re parenting, you insist that you’re a good parent, but parenting is teaching your children life-skills. It’s showing your children who they are, and who the world is, and then modeling for them how to manage these truths. Parenting is teaching your children to live independently in this world without you.
So please, I beg of you, do not coddle your children in this way. Do not hold them hostage to the world by keeping who they are from them. My entire life I was tested. Those results were withheld from me, and when I asked what was wrong with me, I was told I was a “slow learner,” and to this day, in my 40’s, I have trouble believing anything else. But I am not a “slow learner.” No one is a “slow learner.” The paradigm that exists to teach children is a one-size-fits-all model, and I am not “all.” I am me, and I learn through experience, not by sitting in a chair and listening to a teacher who is clearly bored by having to recite the same shit every day.
What was wrong with me was that I had a panic disorder, and I didn’t learn that fact until I was 25 years old. If at 8 years old, someone had told me what was wrong with me and had helped me learn how to manage it, I would not have suffered unnecessarily for a majority of my life.
So, my eight-year-old self is begging all of you to be honest with your kids. Tell them who they are, because they already know, they just don’t know what it’s called.
(here’s the original post from SLATE: https://slate.com/human-interest/2019/05/when-to-tell-children-about-disability-care-and-feeding.html)
Whenever something feels off in my body, it’s cancer.
Whenever someone says they “have to talk to me,” they’re going to end our friendship.
Whenever something even slightly out of the ordinary occurs, I respond the same way–with an automatic over-reaction. This is anxiety. It’s the most reliable feature of my personality and if you have anxiety, it’s familiar to you, also.
Last week, I gave a big talk and was interrupted from the audience, by the woman running the show, telling me to hurry up and finish because people were walking out (actually, two women were just going to the bathroom). When the event ended, I was rushed out of the hall by another woman and into a smaller room to record a podcast. No one said thank you. No one emailed me the next day or the day after that. Obviously, they hated my talk and they hated me and I should just impale myself on something so that I am unable to ever travel and give talks again.
Not once did it occur to me that their behavior was unprofessional, or even–the horror–rude! Nor did it occur to me that not everyone is gracious, or even good at what they do. Nope, it was me. It’s always me. ME ME ME ME ME. I’m the worst. I’m the ugliest. I’m the dumbest. I’m the most pathetic. These are my first reactions always, and they are not healthy or good for me, and they are never correct (but they sure are narcissistic!)
Anxiety is all about the first reaction, and that first reaction is often never right. And that’s why creating a second response to every situation is important, because most likely the second response is the one that’s more accurate.
Here’s an example: have you ever run into someone you know who has to hurry away, or can’t stop and say hi, or just waves and keeps going and you think: shit, what have I done? Then you worry all day that this person is mad at you for reasons you cannot guess, but you know MUST exist? And then you get an email a day later from the person apologizing, and explaining that they had just left therapy, or had been broken up with, or got rejected from law school or were withdrawing from meds or a hundred other things that happen to us on any given day.
Think about all the times you went to a fantastic party, sang its praises to everyone for weeks after, but for some reason never emailed the host. You didn’t hate the party. You were so caught up in the post-party reverie, it slipped your mind. There are so many things that we let slip that hurt other people and we don’t even know. Just how we become gripped by anxiety at other people’s foibles, so too are we causing others to feel anxious. We just don’t know about it.
Building a second response is fairly easy, and here’s how it’s done: Start writing down all the times you thought something was your fault and it ended up not being your fault (they weren’t mad at me, they were heartsick!) Write down every time you were wrong about why someone was late (they didn’t die! They were just on a stalled subway!) After a while, you’ll see that your reasons and the actual reasons don’t line up, and you’ll come to accept that there are tons of reasons why things happen and you are almost always wasting your time guessing.
Next time someone snubs you, or turns up late, or calls at you from the audience to tell you that people are leaving, you’ll have an arsenal of options for what might ACTUALLY be going on. First responders may be heroes, but for people with anxiety, second responders are who we want to be.
This is a quick one because the paperback of LITTLE PANIC comes out tomorrow and I’m juggling a thousand tiny things.
Anxiety in kids manifests in a variety of innovative ways. I want to go over some of them so you know what to look for. Some of these ways don’t register to parents as anxiety because not everyone knows what to look for. So, here is your cheat sheet for some obvious expressions of anxiety in kids. (This is a VERY ABRIDGED list. I’ll add to it in time!)
Your child doesn’t want to leave you
Your child is stuck in a rumination loop, and won’t stop asking you “what if” questions
Your child is always worried
Child complains of headaches and stomachaches on the eve or day of any large or small event
Your child won’t let anyone come for a sleepover
Your child clings to you and cries when one of you has to leave
Somatic symptoms like heart flutters in their chest and stomach, sweaty hands, dry mouth and a sense of being distant or far away.
NOT SO OBVIOUS:
Your child becomes extremely quiet and withdrawn
Your child throws temper tantrums
Your child is profoundly self-critical
Your child has very low self-esteem
Your child doesn’t try if there’s a chance they might fail (also known as a perfectionist)
Self-grooming behaviors (picking at skin, biting fingernails, toe-nails, hair pulling)
They suck their fingers or thumb and have trouble stopping
They have trouble focusing
Your child perseverates under stress
Your child’s voice sounds strangled, choked, more high-pitched than usual or tight.