When The Cracks Start To Show

(I am not taller than Erin. This photograph lies.)

On Me: Jumpsuit via Rent The Runway

On Erin: Mango Pants and Turtleneck Zara Slides

For day two of our book tour, Erin and I headed into East Hampton for an event hosted by BookHampton at Calypso St. Barth’s, where I discovered that there are entire communities inhabited by people with better hair than me. You know, that kind of thick, healthy hair that you only get to have if you are very, very wealthy, related to a Kennedy, and/or an equestrian.

There are three Ralph Lauren stores in East Hampton. On one block.

We went to a diner for lunch, and then, mid egg-salad sandwich, I lost it.

I’ve written before about the panic attacks I suffered from for years; if you’ve never had one, they’re sort of hard to understand, mostly because they just sound so crazy. Personally, I know one is coming on when a song – it doesn’t matter what song – starts playing in my head, so loudly that the sounds in the “real” world get muted. Everything suddenly looks very far away. The world moves slowly, and I get the sense that I may be dreaming.

According to my therapist, this is called “dissociation,” and isn’t especially uncommon. When I’m in the middle of a panic attack the inside of my head feels like absolute chaos – loud, unmanageable, even insane – but people who’ve seen me having one have told me that I look and sound perfectly normal.

For me, panic attacks rarely arise because of something concrete – they’re sometimes tied to a performance or speaking engagement or other understandably stressful event, but they’re not *about* being nervous, exactly. I can know that there’s nothing to be panicked about, I can be absolutely certain of this…but the thing about panic attacks is that they have nothing whatsoever to do with logic.

I sat there, eating my egg salad sandwich and feeling like my head might explode right there in the middle of the diner – but pretty certain, based on the fact that everyone around me just kept on doing what they were doing, that it didn’t seem like anything was wrong with me. So I leaned over, looked Erin in the eye, and said, “I am not okay.” I asked Erin and her mom to watch my daughter while I went outside for a few minutes, and went and sat on the cement outside and tried to make my head stop screaming.

After awhile Erin came out too, and we walked and walked and walked and I tried to put a finger on what was going on. We talked about the sense of having to feel “on” all the time – which is something I feel generally, and of course feel even more in situations where I technically do have to be “on” (like, say, when I’m in the middle of a book tour). We talked about the fear that we’re just faking it, all of this – being a parent, being a writer, being a with-it human being, being a person who anyone should listen to about anything at all. We talked about how sometimes it feels like we’re just slapping on band-aid after band-aid and hoping nobody else sees the cracks. While we walked back to the parking lot outside the diner, Erin told me about impostor syndrome. She said that just because something seems true to you doesn’t necessarily make it so.

“Jordan,” she said. “You’re allowed to feel your feelings.”

So I sat in the car for awhile, drank a glass of water, and cried. And then, when I was done, I got up and did my job.

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jordan reid author of the big fat activity book for pregnant people

  • Sarah Arnold

    Oh man. I hate panic attacks and have had them for about 20 years intermittently. My doctor told me long ago that they frequently arise when a stressful situation is over. I find this is true with me. I can get through the immediate stress of a situation, time, etc. It’s when the peace comes that my brain will go into chaos. The worst thing, is I tend to get them on the freeway. Not real safe which only exacerbates the panic. Although, as I get older, I find that I can just recognize it for what it is and know that no, likely I am not dying right now even though I certainly feel like I am.
    I’m so sorry you have to deal with these too.
    Oh, and the losing stuff. Yup. I have had periods like this too. Like what in the actual F? My last one, I lost my whole wedding set without even leaving the house.

  • I’m sorry! It’s so sucky and always inconvenient on top of the feelings. i remember my first panic attack. i thought I was dying and didn’t realize it was a panic attack! the first one is pretty scary. now when i’m in the throws of one, I know at least on deeper level, that i just have to wait it out.

  • I feel ya, lady. What good friends you and Erin are to each other. You guys are right though – we’re all faking it. We’re all imposters and we’re all living our truths at the same time. Sending hugs.

  • Chantal

    thanks for being honest about your anxiety. this could have just been a post about an event — you both look great and you can’t tell that earlier you had a panic attack. i was really struck by your description of how you felt like your head was screaming and NO ONE noticed. i think that is the scariest thing about anxiety and panic attacks. it’s not like a broken arm or a bloody nose…no one knows unless you tell them and of course you don’t want to tell them because it isn’t logical or rational or visible. but good for you for saying something because talking about it does help. i’ve always viewed my anxiety as the metaphorical elephant in the room — the more i try to ignore it, the bigger and meaner it gets. good luck with the book and hope you get some rest (panic attacks are exhausting)! xo

  • Rachel

    Kudos to you for sharing this. I think we forget sometimes that we are all human, even when we seemingly have it all together. Whatever that is supposed to mean 😉

    Thanks for showing the cracks when you certainly don’t have to. It’s brave and refreshing.