|Mid-August|Be Here.

I run my hands down my own waist, catch at the curve, arms akimbo. I wear shirts that match my eyes, but it’s not enough to hide what I thought would never happen to me again. Six months ago this space was beginning to take shape, beginning to not be the first thing someone noticed about me. 


I pass blue, wonder about so-and-so. Six months ago, I wouldn’t hesitate to pick up the phone and shoot a text. 


Scroll through my email, pass over the spaces social media apps used to take up on my phone.  


Pass over places we used to go, use the wallet she bought me for my birthday. Listen to music we used to listen to, think about the nights of emotional breakdowns and believing lies–remember the fallout, the angry tears, the Facebook deleting and overreacting. 


They call me Amanda here. They don’t know any different because I never asked them to know any different. When I’m honest with myself, I know how weird it feels to be called Amanda but I know I can’t be Mandie. Not here. What no one told me about branding myself as the funny, self-deprecating, please-affirm-my-existence girl is that people hold you to it. They start spurting out half sentences like, “I know you, Mandie.” They brand you with words of their own. No one tells you it hurts. No one tells you that you won’t sprout iron nerves just because you want it. Eventually you have to close your doors. Eventually you have to stop going to the same wells of affirmation and find it in the worth you already have. It doesn’t make them bad; it doesn’t make you weak. It means things have to grow to survive.

But the good thing about a nickname–physically or metaphorically– is you can always go back to your roots. You can always go back to your original self and grow it. Never be afraid to grow yourself.

I dress in business casual these days. I stick a temp badge with a bad, non-smiling photo of me to the door and it lets me in. I keep the badge pinned to my pants–flipping the card face-down again and again throughout the day. There’s a guarded-faced security man who I already want to figure out–the guarded faces always tip me off to fascinating stories and broken hearts. We nod to each other occasionally, say hello. I like to think we’re both respecting the others’ privacy–I see you, but I won’t ask you to tell me what you’re hiding hauled-up in that heart of yours. I’ll be passing right by every morning if you ever need me.

I’m sitting in class, glass-faced–trying to absorb as much information as I can. “Sorry,” the bearded guy says to me, munching on a snack. He always talks to himself during training, always asks me if I want chips or a cookie or a piece of gum.

“For what?”

“Talking so much. I get the feeling you don’t like to talk much.”

I smile, say, “You’re fine.” For the first time, I’m not scared of being the quiet girl–I’m not scared of being mislabeled. Maybe growing up means growing into old fears and realizing they never were a thing to begin with–you can still be seen and be the quiet girl. You can be the quiet girl and still find places to call your own. And so, I sit. I do what I’ve always done in classrooms: I pick up on the annoyed looks the trainers give each other when that kid in the back won’t shut up and note the nonverbal communication buzzing all over the room and pick out the people who struggle with anxiety. Including myself, the tally is up to 4.

I’ve had two borderline panic attacks in this building–pressed up against the bathroom stall, crying my eyes out and envisioning God grasping me by my two shoulders, whispering, “Shh. Shh. Shh.

My mom says, “You have to figure out how to calm yourself down in those situations.”

And my dad pauses, says, “I don’t know the answer to that,” when I ask him the hard questions.

I hold broccoli and cheese soup addictions–bread in the bag, to-go please. And…how much is water? Free? I’ll have twelve, please.

I listen to songs I know will make me cry–when I’m in my car at lunch–because I know that’s the only time to let everything out. Because when we break for lunch, the knot in my stomach disperses for a moment and rebuilds over the hour.

Me and my anxiety–we’re pals now. I know it’s my brain’s way of trying to stay in control of all the internal/external stimuli it’s processing–we’re learning to work in the same space and get along. It tells me when something’s frightening me and I push back, make notes, take deep breaths, refuse to give in. Not here, not now. Not here, not now. It’s like emotional weight-lifting and I know I’m getting stronger: I just keep going. It’s simple, but don’t let anyone tell you it’s easy; don’t let anyone say you won’t feel the pains of getting stronger even when you’re on your couch, sipping coffee. And so I tell my anxiety stories. I talk to myself, write notes to myself, say the words I’d breathe to anyone else:

Hey babe. Your responsibility is to learn. You’re here to absorb and apply–ask questions as you go. It’s okay. You’re okay. Just sit down. That’s all you have to do in this minute.  Look right at me, hon. Right at me.

I sit at a desk. My name is placed on the wall, typed on a piece of paper like it’s been waiting for me to arrive. My office buddy is an I-something personality type and saves my butt exactly 100,000 times per hour. I tap him on the shoulder, ask where the mute button is. In the moments I most feel like an idiot, I almost blurt out, “I’m a writer and right-brained and I’m sorry!” but then I bite my tongue, fight the old ways of wanting to be known and understood.  I try to contain the drops of Stress Away when I’m just trying to breathe through the nerves, try to pace my questions and cringe when he says, “You got it, Amanda?” Because we both know I don’t. But we have a system: I get flustered and do something stupid and he raises an eyebrow and locks my computer when I forget for the tenth time.

After work I sit in her office some Wednesday evenings, settled right around the corner from the building I want to turn into a bookstore and half a mile from ghost lane. I breathe deep and let go. I explain, let my side be known in hushed corners–hushed tones, colors and hues that remind me of fall and being at ease. She tells me she doesn’t want to fix me, that I already have all I need to do everything I want to do. She takes notes while I talk, looking for themes and interjecting on occasion for clarity. I tell her about dandelions and childhood and legalism and boys who never looked twice when I just wanted them to stay. She tells me about the research that indicates how every memory is different each time we remember it–even if just a little bit–and she tells me she wants to hear how I remember things happening because that’s what I’ve been carrying emotionally.

I breathe. I unpack. I leave empowered and hopeful.

I’m still hashing out Charlie’s story. I’m writing fear in as a character, but I will not give him a face. Fear doesn’t get a face.

This is where I’ve been. It’s gotten easier since I first wrote this. This season I’m in is stretching me in every way possible. It’s growing me. But it’s beautiful. I’m here, beginning again and breathing slow. Always slow.