almost panic attack

Penelope Trunk keeps telling me to write shorter posts. She yelled at me (over email) about how long the one was. That was not my fault. But this stuff is, so I’m going to try:

I think I almost had a panic attack the other night. Which is lame, because it wasn’t even. It was just almost. But almost, for me, is pretty bad.

I don’t know what happened. That’s the thing. I really don’t know.

The piece had just gone live. My bio wasn’t on it, and I upset, because WHY WASN’T MY BIO ON IT? There were only fourteen comments so far. WHY WEREN’T THERE MORE? I wasn’t even reading the comments. I knew they’d mostly be angry and mean. But I wanted them anyway. What if it flopped? What if no one read it?

But it wasn’t even that. I’d met a girl earlier that day– someone who reads my blogs and wanted to meet me. She was nineteen and totally self-possessed. She was about to embark on this adventure– traveling around the world while working whatever jobs she found and improving her language skills. She was articulate and motivated and clearly unfettered. She was clearly going to be happy no matter what. I am clearly not going to be happy no matter what. I am good at plenty of things. Being fundamentally, consistently happy is not one of them. And I really wish it was.

I think I had a moment of “why do I want the things I want? Do they even matter? Are my priorities all wrong? Do I know anything about life?” I think. I’m not sure.

But suddenly, I was sitting in the corner of the couch, and my heart was pounding so hard I couldn’t imagine it slowing down, and my mind was like fireworks, exploding over and over. I had fallen down into something very dark and deep. And I couldn’t tell Bear, who was already asleep, and who had a really important business meeting the next day. I couldn’t tell him because I didn’t know what to say. I felt shockingly alone. I felt stupid.

And I still don’t know why.

But I thought of this: when I was a kid, I wanted to be a concert pianist. I wanted it so bad that sometimes, when some other kid won a big piano competition, I cried. I wanted to play Carnegie Hall by the time I was sixteen. That was my goal.

That didn’t happen. But by the time I realized it wasn’t going to happen, I had stopped caring about it. Life moves on. Once I sang at Carnegie Hall, in a choir. I was laughing at myself the whole time, because I was standing on that stage, and I didn’t even care.

I have always wanted to prove myself. But when you always want to prove yourself, you sometimes don’t have space to be happy with what you have.

When I got my diploma from Columbia, I walked away, holding it, thinking, “Not like this stupid piece of paper means anything.” I worked so hard for that stupid piece of paper. But once I had it, it didn’t matter. In fact, things suddenly felt worse, once I had it.

I might be wrong, but I think I almost had a panic attack because I realized something about myself. I realized that I am dangerously close to never appreciating the things that I do. I am dangerously close to  pushing myself forever, without being satisfied.

And that is a terrifying thought.

(I still play, but never classical music. I can’t face it again yet. Instead, I write my own stuff. Source)

*  *  *

Unroast: Today I love the way these earrings STILL look. Yup. It’s been three days. Not taking them off. It’s kinda fun to see how they work with different outfits. With all outfits.

P.S. I’m also over on The Frisky, talking about my buzz cut. If you really feel like reading more about my hair.



Kate on October 13th 2011 in being sad, fear, life

42 Responses to “almost panic attack”

  1. Kimmy Sue Ruby Lou responded on 13 Oct 2011 at 1:04 pm #

    once again, your honesty astounds me…and you are way too hard on yourself. have you started that yoga practice yet? :)

  2. Kate responded on 13 Oct 2011 at 1:06 pm #

    This is funny, because when I had breakfast with a friend the next morning and told her what happened, she said, “I’ve got to get you to yoga!”

    Since I’m being honest– no. But I’ve found the place I want to go. And I’m planning on starting in a week or so, when I’m back from a trip. So, almost!!

  3. andee responded on 13 Oct 2011 at 1:41 pm #

    I ventured over to Salon and read your piece and it is FAN-FRIGGIN-TASTIC! You nailed it. I wish I could find your music teacher and tell her whats what. I was homeschooled too, and it was the best most effective education I could have had. I seriously LOVE reading your articles about homeschooling. Seriously thank you so much!

  4. San D responded on 13 Oct 2011 at 1:45 pm #

    I don’t think happiness can be sustained or metered out like a time release capsule. You take it when it comes, like when you catch a glimpse of a small child smiling, or when your husband helps you with your earrings, or when you blog gets responses. I have always said artists keep on painting (sculpting, writing, dancing, acting, etc) because they are in the constant search for that one moment that they are in synch with the universe and they can sit back and say “YES!” I just saw the deKooning show for the second time, and you can see his thought processes in his work, how he reworked ideas, how he reused colors, how he combined old and new ideas. You can tell his search was “on” for the perfect moment. In the meantime we all have to catch what happiness we can in small doses and not rely on one big explosive event, that like the diploma from Columbia, which may not be the happiness and satisfaction we really seek.

    unroast: love that my curly hair is making a comeback

  5. Kate responded on 13 Oct 2011 at 1:46 pm #

    It sometimes seems like people are totally opposed to it unless they are it, though! It’s always a little surprising to me just how angry people get about people who do things differently…

  6. Liz responded on 13 Oct 2011 at 1:53 pm #

    I actually wanted to read more so that I could understand unschooling better! Great article, Kate!

  7. Faye responded on 13 Oct 2011 at 2:07 pm #

    Panic attacks happen. It’s going to be okay, and you’re definitely not stupid or alone. Promise.

  8. Jen responded on 13 Oct 2011 at 2:15 pm #

    This post connected with me. I always felt like I have had something to prove. Like the only way people would ever respect me is if I did this great thing. I often wish I could go back in time and say to young me, Look one day you are going to be middle class and average and that is okay, in fact it is more than okay it is awesome. Maybe then I would have appreciated what I had more instead of always trying to escape it to this fantasy world of awesome.

  9. katilda responded on 13 Oct 2011 at 2:27 pm #

    i have lots i want to say about all of the above, but instead i will settle on sharing that i am laughing because i have also been wearing the same earrings for 4 days. it’s amazing how many things gold dangly earring will go with.

  10. Deanna responded on 13 Oct 2011 at 2:44 pm #

    You are a Type A and you are hard non yourself and I suspect you Hang with a lot of folks who are just like you. You feel like unless you succeed in something amazing, you’ll just be blah and ordinary. I know this because I sense we have similar personalities. For me having long suffered with an ugly complex, I felt I always had to be smarter, richer, more talented and better to make up for not being a beauty.

    My sister is very different. She cannot understand why I push so hard. She is perfectly happy being ordinary. I know many people like that and I think the sell acceptance of those who don’t feel the need to excel are more content.

    As you get older, you’ll find yourself accepting yourself more. I know I do. I still feel a twinge of competitiveness when I hear about some super mama who raised three kids, wrote a bestseller, ran a marathon and is also a gourmet cook. But with age I also realize that we don’t always know the whole story and perfect people really do not exist.

  11. Deanna responded on 13 Oct 2011 at 2:45 pm #

    Please pardon iPad typos. I seem to struggle with those!

  12. Kate responded on 13 Oct 2011 at 2:52 pm #

    I often find myself feeling jealous of the people who are content with, well, just life. Who are satisfied with regular things. I have so much respect for that outlook.

    And yet I can’t do it!

  13. jss responded on 13 Oct 2011 at 3:07 pm #

    I relate to this article…a lot. I relate to your worrying about the lack of comments on your article and being fearful of even reading the comments because you’re afraid they will be hateful. I don’t have a ton of my writing online, but I do this even with e-mails. I proofread them about 10 times before I send and 10 times after I send them, and then freak out that I said something stupid/bad/offensive if the recipient doesn’t respond within 10 seconds. It sucks. I have some very strong and carefully considered opinions…but I feel like crap if anyone disagrees with them. Not a great combo, so I totally get your near panic attack over the Salon article.

    As far as comparing yourself to other people, please try not to. I was pretty much perfect (on paper) throughout high school, then took 8 years to get a bachelor’s degree because I had serious medical problems and kept having to leave school. And now, the few people I keep in touch with from high school have high-paying jobs or just graduated from med school – I went to a health care-oriented magnet high school – or are working on some esoteric Ph.D. dissertation. Sometimes it makes me feel like crap, but, really, I’m still pretty young and have plenty of time to do what I choose with my life. Also, no amount of obsessing will cause me to have gotten my B.A. at 21, like I was “supposed” to.

    And, finally, I wish you could appreciate the things you do. A lot of people read this blog, for instance. I personally check every day or so to see if you’ve written something new, and I can almost always relate to what you’ve written.

  14. Kerry responded on 13 Oct 2011 at 3:23 pm #

    Kate –

    Jumped over to Salon to read your article and loved it. Then I read the comments and wanted to cry because of the unnecessary vitrol – but I just laughed instead. Laughed that people would take the time so say some of the things they said, and to type ugliness as though you walked through their front door and tried to re-write their own experiences, and their future children’s, too. I’m sorry for the ridiculous things they said about you, but that article made me even more proud to be a follower of this blog. You are brave and dammit, I like you!

  15. Harriet responded on 13 Oct 2011 at 3:28 pm #

    Thought-provoking and well-written post, as always. And I have to disagree with Ms. Trunk–I love the fact that you write longer pieces.

  16. jss responded on 13 Oct 2011 at 3:51 pm #

    P.S. I just looked at the article, thought it was great, and was infuriated by a lot of the comments. The people who called you “self-absorbed” seem to back this up only by saying that you wrote in the first person and expressed something controversial. (Oh, no!) I saw a few commentors who did research on you and managed to draw conclusions about your economic status. I find the whole thing very curious. I mean, people are free to disagree with you, but the vitriol and curiosity about your personal life is beyond my comprehension. The phrase “Get a life.” comes to mind…

  17. Deanna responded on 13 Oct 2011 at 4:05 pm #

    I think Kate we are who we are. I know that my ‘being hard on myself’ nature is something I have to work on and something I also have to accept. Like you, I don’t think I could be happy being mediocre or ordinary as I would always feel antsy and unsatisfied.

    As far as writing articles. I wrote an article once about marketing in my business. One lady who was apparently very successful in this business really gave it to me telling me I must be a useless cow for having to resort to such marketing tactics. I almost cried. I was furious! I wanted to punch her in the face.

    The nice thing was that many people wrote me to tell me my article was very good and that “Louise” was a self-centered idiot. It made me feel much better.

    What I like about your blog is that you talk about things that people won’t talk about. Your honesty is refreshing. Sometimes I feel you tone it down a bit in an effort to put a positive spin on your blogs or to be less direct, but I say go for it. It’s obvious your readers really like you. If I had a blog like yours…I probably get a lot of negative press. I tend to be a bit much when something really bothers me.

  18. Kate responded on 13 Oct 2011 at 4:14 pm #

    @Kerry and jss
    Thank you for the support. And Kerry, you’re right to laugh! They aren’t worth getting upset about. It’s so easy for people to type a quick, cruel message to someone they don’t know on the internet.

    And yes, jss, they should get a life! Insulting someone’s life in the comments section is a seriously sad way to express yourself. Especially since I’m not reading them! :-)

  19. Kate responded on 13 Oct 2011 at 4:16 pm #

    You’re right, I try to keep things fairly positive. I sometimes feel guilty for complaining. I also feel more vulnerable when I write about feeling bad (of course).

    There’s always a Louise out there. I’m glad you got other responses, too! I hope they drowned her out.

  20. Michaela responded on 13 Oct 2011 at 5:14 pm #

    I like your long posts!!

  21. San D responded on 13 Oct 2011 at 5:15 pm #

    I went over to the and read your piece. I was fascinated with the comments, they have generated a life of their own, sort of like the “thing” out of the swamp! You, my dear, and your post, were left in the dust, as the commentors went on and on and on and on…I was particularly fascinated by those who did web searches on you and then stitched you together using a bit of their imaginations, and I think some spit. There’s a lot of baggage out there.

  22. blackdogramona responded on 13 Oct 2011 at 5:37 pm #

    I love your blog and have never wished a post was shorter, only longer!

  23. Ali responded on 13 Oct 2011 at 5:38 pm #

    I always love reading about your hair!

  24. shana responded on 14 Oct 2011 at 8:26 am #

    I liked the homeschool post!

    Also, you’ve inspired me with the un-roast! I looked in the mirror and thought, today week I like how I looked in my teal flats :)

  25. midnightsky responded on 14 Oct 2011 at 9:55 am #

    I thought your homeschooling post was a fine length. I’ll disagree with some of your opinions (as a former homeschooler), but as for the format/length, I think Penelope needs to cut you some slack. :P I like long articles; they get to go in depth.

    I think it’s very sad how we just accept the idea that we’ll give up our huge dreams as we get older. Why don’t you still want to be a concert pianist? You’re never too old to try. Is it because it was a “kiddie” dream? Or because you think that since 99% of people can’t do it, neither can you? What reason is there, for you to not believe the same kinds of goals that you did before the world tried to smack your brain around and tell you to be a “Real Adult”?

  26. Deanna responded on 14 Oct 2011 at 10:59 am #

    I tried to see the comments but it would not let me on. Any suggestions? I think there are people out there who use the Blogosphere to work out anger and aggression. I think that the topics take such a turn from the original that they no longer make sense.

    As far as length. Can she not edit it if she is not happy with the length?

    By the way, there is a video on Facebook (look for me…you know my name) that talks about our beauty culture and how harmful it is. If I can I will link it for you.

  27. Rachel responded on 14 Oct 2011 at 11:19 am #

    I think some people are much better at having the appearance of happiness than others. True happiness cannot be measured, really expressed, or really known for sure, but it touches us all and is what gives us part of our will to live. For me, it typically comes at moments when no one is looking.

    This is part of why I love Curb Your Enthusiasm. You can read on the Wikipedia page, that part of the meaning behind this title is that excessive outward displays of enthusiasm, excitement, and happiness are just other, creative ways in which to brag about one’s own life…I love that!

  28. Kate responded on 14 Oct 2011 at 11:19 am #

    Please link it!

  29. Deb responded on 14 Oct 2011 at 11:20 am #

    My husband and I talk often about our tendancy to always look toward the next thing instead of enjoying what we are doing right now. We suffer from The-Grass-Is-Always-Greener syndrome and have realized we need to make a conscious effort to stop. We are robbing ourselves and our kids of being in the present. It’s a hard thing, to change a mindset.

    I read your Salon piece yesterday – and I plowed my way thru all the comments. I was SHOCKED at how hateful some of them were, especially one commentor in particular who apparently spend the last three days formulating mean responses to everyone else. Some of the criticisms were downright laughable – calling you self-absorbed for telling a story about your own experience, whilst simultaneously using a story about THEMSELVES to negate what you said. Ridiculous. I felt pity for some of them, how awful to be so closed-minded that you can’t stand to see someone do life differently.

  30. melissa responded on 14 Oct 2011 at 11:26 am #

    That’s very interesting, I think I do the same thing. Every day I wish I could be a successful enough artist (or even a home cake-maker would work) that I could earn a living on my own, without the uniform, without the filth and humiliation, without taking orders from illiterate employers…

    … but every fun step I thought was “unlikely” or “impossible” suddenly doesn’t seem so awesome when it actually happens. I had a painting in an art gallery and while the first couple of seconds were fun, after that I thought “Well whatever, it’s just a juried show. ANYONE can do that.”

    Must be a grass-is-always-greener problem.

    Will it always be like that? Is there a purpose to setting goals if we will never be truly satisfied with them?

  31. Suji responded on 14 Oct 2011 at 1:07 pm #

    Kate, I’m a homeschooling mom of a 9 year old boy. I wanted to thank you for writing the Salon piece. I haven’t read the comments and don’t want to. I’m sure there will be some nice folks who comment but on the whole, there are petty people out there and I could find other uses for my time than read their drivel. I think you write beautifully. We don’t unschool exactly, we use a mix of methods that work best for my son. We hope we’re doing the best we can because the schools definitely will not serve him best. I wish you all the best, Kate. You seem to me an admirable young woman and I think your parents must be awesome folk. Good luck!

  32. laurabalaurah responded on 14 Oct 2011 at 5:13 pm #

    “I realized that I am dangerously close to never appreciating the things that I do. I am dangerously close to pushing myself forever, without being satisfied.”

    That. I am so dissatisfied with myself right now, and it’s a relief to hear someone else vocalize this so honestly. And, as usual, I am my own worst enemy. The person who is in their own way.

    How do you even begin to change that? How do you stay out of your own way?

    Your Salon article was such a breath of fresh air. The description of your parents reminded me of mine…believing that kids are naturally smart, with a desire to learn what they need to know. Thanks for so bravely and articulately writing about your experience. Reading the comments, however, makes me incredibly aware that people are terrified of what they don’t understand and haven’t experienced. Oh, people…. You are wise to not bother with such people and their words. And, I call bullshit on Penelope’s comment.

  33. Lili @ Relatable Style responded on 14 Oct 2011 at 7:25 pm #

    One of the very many clever things my dad teaches is “You have to set your goals in a way that you can recognize when your goal is reached”. I think this is a very important step in being satisfied once in a while: Konwing when you got there.

    Relatable Style

  34. Twyla responded on 15 Oct 2011 at 9:22 am #

    I am happy a lot of the time. It is just my nature. And sometimes I want to cry and hibernate and never deal with the world again. But it takes a world of people who are different to weave the web of life. You are part of that web; perfect in your imperfection, just like everyone else. And even though it may be frustrating and hard to hear comments from people who have different realities, they are only filling their world with what they know. Contributing to this mystery we call life.

    It was truly lovely meeting you. Sometimes I feel like I shouldn’t be so happy all the time. And it is refreshing to experience your honesty.

  35. Marie responded on 15 Oct 2011 at 10:41 am #

    Amen, sister.

    I am a composer – and let me tell you a secret about Carnegie Hall. If it’s what you want, it’s never enough. I played there once last year, and it wasn’t enough. I’m doing it again next month, and it’s not enough. I constantly have something to prove – to myself, my family, my audience. I suppose it’s the same as writing – when you write one book you feel the need to write a second, and so on. At least for Type A workaholics like us :)

    After reading your post I said to myself several times “you have nothing to prove”. I experience so many losses/rejections that I sometimes get wrapped up in that and it’s hard to get out. Even in the face of a major success, it’s still in the back of my mind that there’s so much I could have gotten but didn’t. It is what it is. I’d like to think I’m getting better at it :)

  36. Kate responded on 15 Oct 2011 at 1:31 pm #

    I’m glad you’re happy! It’s an amazing way to be!

  37. Mallory responded on 15 Oct 2011 at 8:57 pm #

    The Frisky is a site I usually hit after I read my usual blogs (yours included), so when I came across the article about why a girl got a buzzcut, I didn’t click on it like I usually would, cause I immediately thought of you and your blogging on it and thought, “nahh, no one will be able to write about it like she did”. Kind of amusing, since it WAS you who wrote about it haha!

  38. Kate responded on 15 Oct 2011 at 9:08 pm #

    Made my day!!

  39. people are confused about happiness « Skipping School responded on 16 Oct 2011 at 6:35 pm #

    [...] I catch myself getting seriously stressed out. I wrote about one time in particular here, on my other blog. I’m ambitious. I’m one of those people who has a hard time with weekends sometimes, [...]

  40. Sooz responded on 18 Oct 2011 at 8:34 am #

    jeezzzz…sometimes it’s eerily weird how much your writing sounds like the thoughts in my head…..

  41. Adrienne responded on 25 Oct 2011 at 7:34 pm #

    As a fellow panic attacker, I really appreciate your willingness to share.

    I’d been having them for over a year and thinking, “Was that a panic attack? It couldn’t have been. I’m not that screwed up!” Then, about a month ago, I finally looked up the symptoms and realized they were, indeed, panic attacks.

    It’s scary. All the heart-pounding, shallow-breathing, mind-racing, pacing and palm-sweating. Again, thanks for sharing.

  42. Paysh responded on 04 Dec 2011 at 3:07 pm #

    I like your post lengths just the way they are. I like your posts the way they are. I like you, even though I don’t know-you-in-real-life-know-you. Maybe posts should decide for themselves how long they should be? Concluding when they feel kind of satisfied (enough) with themselves… Kind of like the way fingernails decide what shape they should be, although you file (or clip) the tops. In a sense. Just a thought. But, this stuff you probably know.