So yesterday, talking to my sister, we made the connection between my writing and my panic attacks. Yes there are all sorts of other anxieties but we can’t ignore the fact that on Saturday I printed off and read through the first 100 pages of my early memories, and on Sunday I was a wretching shivering mess of panic.
I have been writing about snippets of my childhood on and off for years, a loosely connected set of stories of my life growing up in the Moonies. I started this year with a plan to compile it into a concise piece of writing, and after an excellent course by Cara Jones on Untethering My Voice, I’m at the stage where I’ve nearly got a first draft.
The connection to the anxiety is not obvious. It’s always something else that triggers the panic attack, but there seems to be a pattern of panic very close to specific breakthroughs with my story.
And talking to my sister yesterday, when we made that connection, I realised I might just not be mentally strong enough to do it. I could power through, crumpled up and crying, and just endure the crippling emotional pain to get this thing out. But is it worth it?
How much of my soul will I sell in order to get this sense of connection and purpose I’m craving that I think telling my story will achieve?
Just like when I was a moonie. You sacrifice pretty much everything you have – money, time, skills, choices, romance, your thoughts – in exchange for this magical sense of belonging and meaning, and that your life is valuable because you’re making a difference, helping to save the world.
And now here I am still craving belonging and meaning, and trying to package up and literally sell my soul to achieve it. Sacrifice my privacy, safety, peace, time, anonymity for a chance at connecting, being approved by and meaningful to a load of strangers.
And now I consider, for the first time, just not doing it.
And then what? Find another way to make my time on the planet useful? And if someone needs an inspiring heart-wrenchingly beautiful account of a moonie girl who grew up and got out of it then they have Cara or Lisa or Yolande or all the many others from the other groups, eloquently described in books like Educated, My Life in Orange, Not Without My Sister, In the Days of Rain – there’s plenty – and maybe it’s OK if I don’t add to that list.
And then why do I cry now? Is it relief? Or grief?
I’ve always tried to package the concept of my story into the category of service to others. Others may benefit, other young women may need this story, need to see the journey articulated and presented and then travelled through successfully to the other side. The ironic annoying thing is that I’m not there yet. I’m still gripped by panic and anxiety, and I haven’t made it safely out yet.
So what service am I? And is it even about others or is it just about myself? My little 6 year old self is saying, ‘Well this is shit. I need to tell someone. I need someone to reach into my confusing lonely world and take me away and say, what happened love? Why are you crying? What do you need?’
Is it just the unheard cries of this little girl, and the even more confused 12 year old, and the intensely unhappy teenager, and the frightened guilty uni student, and the bereft failure of a woman sobbing her eyes out after another heartbreak in her thirties? Is it just that I want someone to know? To hear? To give me a hug and say I’m still loved?
Is that what all this, the last 12 years and 300 thousand words of writing are for? Just to say in grown up book form what my sparkly gorgeous little neice says with giggling ease and confidence every day: ‘I’m HERE!’
Without the project of my writing what do I have? Just my little town council job and my gorgeous man and my beautiful friends and family. And maybe that’s enough? Is it OK if I don’t achieve some great thing in my life? Is it OK to just enjoy each day, delight in the autumnal sun on the dhalia petals, the happy stretchy sense of calm in our online yoga class and the melted cheese on my jacket patato? And that I’ll be OK without a paper encapsulation of my soul on some people’s bookshelves?
It is a big fucking thing to admit if this is true, and I’ll just sit here with these tears a while to try to make sense of it.