Tag Archives: anxiety

Leaps and Bounds


Peter Pan Syndrome. I haz it. Most kids can’t wait to grow up–behold! unlimited cookie dough and choose-your-own-bedtime. Not me, though. I cried when I outgrew my favorite pair of shoes (red with rainbow-colored fruits on them) and battled puberty every step of the way. It didn’t help that everything came early for me. I needed a bra at eight (but managed to convince my mom to let me go without one for three more years) and got my period at eleven (while my best friend, that lucky bitch, didn’t get hers until, like, sixteen). By the time I was eighteen, I decided I’d try to grow up all at once, which ended disastrously–but that’s another story for another post, one I still haven’t figured out how to write. After that, I kept on as I always did, stripey socks and handbags made from stuffed animal carcasses. I smile when people tell me I don’t look my age, and I have one-hundred percent decided that I don’t want children because that’s a straight shot to grownupsville.
But…somehow it happened anyway. On approximately February 22, 2015, at the age of thirty, I became an adult. It occurred in the most random of places, really: a checkout line. My husband had recently changed jobs and switched to the graveyard shift. He decided he needed a particular appliance, one that neither of us wanted, to help him stay awake at night. So, we were standing in line together with this unholy thing in our shopping cart. I was staring down at it thinking, ‘well, damn it, I’m officially a grown up now’ when the husband turned to me and said the exact same thing out loud.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how a coffeemaker stole my childhood.

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High Anxiety: I’ve Got Mail

Right now, there is an email sitting in my inbox. Seeing it there makes my. It’s not from a lover (or a hater), not from my mother, or someone I’m specifically trying to avoid because I said something that made her mad, or he said something that made me hate him a little bit. The email is from my thesis supervisor. It will be a small email, quite short I think, because she is busy and has other students to tend to. I haven’t opened it yet. But I can read the beginning … “my main suggestion would be”

My body takes up the tension like a sponge. Would be what? To just scrap the whole thing and start again? To just be better? To just give up? I am too proud for this, and my pride makes me anxious.

Deep breaths.

It’s just an email. It’s just words. Just pixels on a screen. Word are my friends, and so are pixels. No, words and I are more than friends. We go way back, back to when my father gave me my first note book and pen and told me I could write whatever I wanted in it. That was the root of it, the feeling I had when he gave me that book, when he gave me that freedom to create. It is the root of why I am still writing, of why I am am doing this stupid thesis in the first place.

But I am the worst with emails. I have deleted emails from people who have hurt me, and are trying to apologize. I’ve deleted emails from people who I’ve hurt, and cannot bear to read how and why. It is a sick coiling in my gut, to read those first few words, and only those, to scroll through the possibilities of what they could mean, and settle on the worst one. It is cowardly to obliterate their carefully thought out lines, and the time they have spent crafting them. Now they are just floating through space, unread, like unseen stars, and even the thought of that makes the bile bubble up.

Maybe I’ll walk to the Blackheart and Sparrow, buy myself one of those nice imported beers, the ones they keep up the back, and cost the same as a whole bottle of wine. Maybe I’ll take it home, maybe I’ll sit at my desk, maybe I’ll take a long sip before I open that email.

Maybe it won’t be as bad as I think. Maybe this is just a chamomile tea situation.


Deep breaths.

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Star Wolf

Star Wolf & Cosmic Crow by Jilly DreadfulI am a wolf made of swirling galaxies and I am in search of a pack. The constant search for wolves made of similar stuff has been wearisome on my wolf bones. The pads of my wolf feet are dry and cracked from miles of searching in the snow—snow that goes on for infinity in all three dimensions of cubic volume. So it comes as no surprise that the trails I once found have long since grown cold. It comes as no surprise that I have lost the scent of creatures made of the same star stuff as me.

But then there is a crow. He is white as the snow I trudge through, and I can tell he relishes the surprise he causes me by undermining my expectations of what a crow should look like. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect a crow to be made of the same density of blackness as myself. The crow enjoys the way he stands out in the murder of other crows—at once, accepted as part of the collective, but, also singular in his peculiar color.

My heart is made of dark matter, and it’s comes with its own gravitational pull, and although the crow is curious about my orbit, he is wary as well. And he should be. I am made of the crushing force of a thousand collapsed suns. What creature could possibly withstand the catastrophic force of a star running out of fuel and condensing into a black hole shaped like a wolf?

It is better to not be curious about such creatures. It is best to make my bed in the snow and sleep and sink into an event horizon of my own making.

But the crow’s curiosity follows me, outweighing his natural impulse of wariness. He makes wide circles at first, creating his own apogean path, giving me time to decide whether I trust the crow to come any closer, giving him time to decide whether he trusts my jaws to be still.

I stay still. I don’t snap my teeth, I don’t even howl, even though the moon is bright and full, and I can feel her yanking on the tides of the planets that swirl inside me. The moon makes me want to run; not in fear, but to run for the joyful crunch of paws on snow, and my particular ability to melt into the night.

When the crow swoops toward me, he conjuncts my heart and flies right through. He isn’t bound by my gravity. He isn’t bound by the orbital path I would’ve expected my dark matter heart to force upon other creatures who dared to venture too close. The diving conjunction gives the crow his own momentum, and he flies the highest I have ever seen a crow fly. So high that the moon is able to lean down and give the crow a kiss, and moonbeams bounce off his back.

Seeing him fly in such a way gives me hope that I, too, can survive as a star wolf, with swirling galaxies, but without a pack to call my own.

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“the shades and shadows undulate in my perception”: [sic] musings on shadow

This one was tough. I thought I had all these great ideas but nothing was working right. It all seemed forced or contrived. Then, I found myself in the dark, thinking about everything all at once, and the succubus known as anxiety came to sit on my chest. She peeled herself off the walls and became everything. All I had to alleviate the burning hot coal in my chest was my pen and my journal.


thick brown curtains,

elegant and unassuming,

block out the sun

cocooned in black

the air itself is a shadow

looming over me


blackened fingers of night press

firmly into my chest, pry

open my rib cage

with each breath, a


indentations and

claw marks on the muscle

each score

a concern, a


a fear that

trickles down


lungs stomach liver


sloshing as the depths

consume me and i am

no longer woman

no longer

human no

longer anything but

fuel for the


This is when  things eased up a touch, and I was able to breathe. An exorcism? Hardly. More like a desperate prayer. I keep moving, keep trying, keep working.

I turn my face to the sun.

As always, mood music.



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The Dangling Conversation.

It is remarkably silly that I suggested last week’s theme, sage, and am only responding to it now, a day overdue. It turns out that the biggest reason I chose that word – that it is full of possibilities – is what has held me back most of all. There is just so much to write about! When I think of sage, I consider my mother’s home in the high deserts of New Mexico, my favorite pizza at the place where Dylan and Baez used to sing together, my first year of college when a friend used a smudge stick in her room – something I should have done that year, even though the green linoleum and cinder blocks had made everything seem all the more hopeless. The word came to me as I was trying to think of ways to purify and detox different aspects of my life – the way I eat, naturally, but also in my habits as a writer, as a student, as a sometimes insomniac, and as a grown-up (a title I will have to live up to one of these days).

In an effort to home in on an aspect of sage that inspired me to share something here, I looked up the healing properties of the herb. A homeopath might recommend it for any number of my chronic physical complaints, but what struck me most of all was what it can do for the mind. It is an anti-depressant, it eases the pain of grief, it calms a hyperactive mind. And it’s used in all different ways to heal wounds, physical or emotional – as a tincture to be taken, a scent to be drawn in with a deep breath, and as a salve spread on a burn.

In my life what I have used most to calm my mind is music, and these days the music that works the best feels like a salve. I love music that washes over you, tingles, massages the scalp in slow ripples. A friend told me not long ago that my taste in music is too slow, boring. And, barring the fact that he ignored my penchant for 60s pop and anything good for dancing like a fool, I can almost see where he’s coming from. But he doesn’t need to be entranced in a beautiful sound that is almost as natural is nighttime rain on a window, or lyrics that are as musical as the instruments that accompany them. When I need to be calmed I listen to Andrew Bird and get lost in his labyrinthine words, or I listen to Nico and imagine the shadows of the clouds over the heathered hills of Tralee.

When I lived in France, I came home from a long trip to Scotland and felt broken. That’s how homesick I was. And I felt so helpless, and no matter how anxious and sad and useless I made myself, I couldn’t bring myself to sleep. Until I listened to Simon and Garfunkel.

When I listened to them at first I was brought back to those nights when I was 13 and just started slacking off in school, almost always feeling like my mind could be read. The anxiety that I put myself through then so that I would have more time to – not do homework, at any rate. I drove myself crazy, afraid that I would be found out, as a liar and a constant daydreamer, all the while listening to what is still my favorite of their albums, “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme.” The effect of songs like, “For Emily, Wherever I May Find Her” was the same as what I look for now when I have a glass of wine and stare into the fire after dinner. It washed away the gadflies of the day, and propelled my daydreams upward with a buzzing hopeful feeling – all mental flight.

That blanket of a Lyonnais January, unseasonably cold and grey and sparse, was sometimes hard to endure, but that loneliness and uselessness was salved by a healthy dose of acoustic guitar and hushed harmony. And from listening to Simon and Garfunkel I progressed to watching Woody Allen movies, laughing, pining for New York if you can believe it, and from there I could start to plan my next adventures – Ireland, and home. School, and the writing that I had ignored that whole year.

And so this week when I think of sage it is only natural that I think of Simon and Garfunkel. And I leave you with what I still think is one of the loveliest songs ever written.


by | January 22, 2013 · 9:00 pm

Week 3: Sage


To propose a theme so early in a project such as this is nerve-wracking.  Ashley told me not to overthink it, to which I responded, “but that’s what I do best!”  And I’d like to say that I was half-kidding, but I wasn’t.  I am an expert in overthinking.  More than once in the last week I found my thoughts racing, swarming.  Something like this:

HOORAY I get to choose the next theme! We have had such good themes so far! I get so excited when it’s time for a new one!  And now it’s time for mine! And everyone will be so excited for my theme, which is…which is what?   Oh no, which is what? Thinkthinkthinkthinkthink.  Come on, Mullen, pull yourself together.  I mean, we had been talking about doing themes that were more like object writing, I mean this is object writing, sort of, but I’m thinking of objects – ocean, dolls, horses, glasses.  I did kind of like that idea, but I also like these broader, deeper topics, too, which are almost as flexible.  Well it’s my turn, I can choose dogs or headbands or telephones if I want, but we’re already on a roll with this broader, deeper stuff – do I really want to break that streak? But maybe other people would like to write about more concrete stuff, too.  Maybe they just need a voice.  But maybe they don’t! Maybe I’m the only one who feels this way! Maybe…

At about this point I would breathe into a paper bag.  In my mind.

This morning, I was reading “A Writer’s Book of Days” by Judy Reeves, and one word stood out to me as the solution to all my indecision.  On this week’s topic, anyway.  As you may have gathered, I am lousy at making decisions of any scale.  This word, which was not part of her prompts, allowed me not to decide.

The word is sage.  I’ve posted a picture of the sage in Taos, New Mexico, but sage can be so much.  A plant, yes, and a cooking ingredient, but also a wise person, a word describing a wise person, and so on.  This is a word that has such a broad spectrum of meaning in so few letters, and I want you all to run with it.  Sagely.




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I am on a hillside.

My, but I have struggled with this theme.  Then again, I’ve been struggling with this idea for a while.  So often one is told to “be here now,” but there was a time when I needed help leaving “here” for someplace better, calmer, in my mind.

I was afraid, terrified, of the dentist.  With children, dentists often try to hide what’s really happening in children’s mouths with the hope of getting the job done before the kid even knows what’s happening, and as a kid I knew that.  As a result I was painfully anxious at the dentist’s, constantly asking questions that were taken for distractions and delays.  In fact, I just liked to know exactly what I was getting myself into before surrendering to the picks, the needles, the dental dams they called “raincoats”.  Pediatric dentists aren’t really into that.

One time I gripped the arms of the chair so hard my hands began to sweat, and gradually they slid down until I almost lost my grip altogether.  I jerked my hands back, the rest of my body stiff as a board, trying to catch my grip.  What my dentist said was partly true: I did hit him.  He could have hurt me with whatever instrument of torture he held in my mouth.  He yelled at me.  He lost it.  I really must have been a trial.

On another day, after I spent some twenty minutes writhing in the chair, crying, calling to my father as he sat in the room, helpless, twisting his magazine into a tight roll, my dentist asked my father to leave.  Naturally this made things worse for me – who would protect me from the anguish of getting a cavity filled?  My dad tapped my knee with the magazine and said, “Be good, kiddo,” before I let out another wail.

A few weeks later it was decided I needed to go to therapy for my dentist anxiety.  I had gone to play therapy when I was very little, while my parents were going through marriage counseling.  I didn’t like it.  They would tell my mother I drew a witch and said it was her.  They would tell me that I couldn’t see white crayon on white paper.  What was the point?

Still I went to see Dr. Noonan, who I know I would recognize if I saw her.  I cannot for the life of me describe anything about her.  For the most part we played Battleship and chess, trying to unearth some reason for me to react to the dentist as I do while part of my mind was occupied with strategy.  It didn’t help.

Later she recommended I listen to music – the Beatles, of course – but when I tried to bring my discman into the dentist’s office they were not pleased.

Back in Dr. Noonan’s office the following week, she asked me if there was anywhere I liked to go for fun.  At nine years old, there was nowhere I went alone.  “Is there anywhere you’d like to go?”

“Ireland,” I said, without hesitation.  I had never left the country.  I was obsessed with my Irish heritage.  To me it had everything I thought I could want: horses, rolling hills, Sinead O’Connor, an ancient language that you could still hear sometimes, age.  Dr. Noonan asked me to lie down on the couch.

She told me to close my eyes, and I did.  I did everything she said.  I concentrated on my breathing, which made me feel short of breath.  I felt the weight of my arms and my legs grow heavier, but as she spoke I could almost feel myself lifting off the couch.  She told me to imagine Ireland, what I saw, what I smelled.  She told me to put myself in that place.

And at first what I saw was a vast green hill.  I saw myself lying with the grass growing up around me, all different shades of bright spring green. I saw another hill rising up beyond.  And as I let myself go I could see nothing, but I knew what was there, as I felt the grass tickle my neck.  I was present in this vision, the sun was warm on my face, and I could feel every freckle get darker on my nose.  The grass felt cool, it smelled cool, and sweet.  I heard birds and I saw things fly over my closed eyes as the light changed – perhaps they were birds, or butterflies.  A light breeze blew my bangs to one side, then the other.  My arms were outstretched in Ireland, as if to welcome it all in, to fill myself with this image, this feeling, this crisp taste in my mouth.




“Now open your eyes, Jessica,” she said, and I awoke to find the dingy ceiling tiles.  I rolled over a bit and saw the grey carpet, my sunken battleships, some dismantled Cooties, and Dr. Noonan.

She suggested I try this at the dentist.

When I was old enough to make my own dental appointments I took a long time to get back in the chair, and even then it was because I was looking for a dentist who sedated their patients.  With the laughing gas I can deal with the whole experience much better.

Around that time I learned that my childhood dentist had suggested that my father abused me.  He had seen the rolled-up magazine and the warning to be good and thought that I was beaten at home.  That was why I was in therapy.  Self-hypnosis or whatever you might call my mini-vacations to that Kerry hillside were a last resort because Dr. Noonan was supposed to unearth some confession of abuse.  But there was no abuse to confess.

It boggles the mind that a person whose job it is to stick sharp metal objects and vacuums and mirrors into people’s mouths can’t imagine that they are capable of frightening a small child who  is holding onto the last shred of control she has.  Doubtless I was the worst patient he had ever seen, but I couldn’t have been the only bad one, could I?

At least there’s that.


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