Thursday, March 1, 2012

On anxiety and contentment in this beautiful world.

We show great loyalty to the hard times we've been through.
-The Mountain Goats, "Riches and Wonders"

It's four in the morning and I can't sleep.
When recently getting to know someone new, I recounted one of the most troubled times of my young life. I don't remember how it came up, but the story of these few months always seems to resurface as soon as I begin to let someone in emotionally. This turbulent time from a few years back shapes my current mental landscape. Anxiety creeps back in and I am facing it head on.

In the summer of 2009, I was living on a dude ranch in Colorado. This summer was most adventurous and exciting. I hiked every week. I had an amazing guide horse named Josie. We reached an agreement that if I didn't kick him and gave him granola bars, he wouldn't run away from me when I dismounted to check my riders' saddles. I met some of the most fantastic women I'd ever met and made a few lifelong friends.

Pretty Josie.
Despite all the positives of this experience, at the end of the summer, under external physical and self-inflicted emotional duress from circumstances I needn't go into, I was enveloped by my first full-blown, crippling panic attack. Strong, confident me was now a crumbled mess, completely weak and petrified of the future. Thankfully, a group of heroes from Minnesota drove through the night to come rescue me. For that, I am ever grateful. I do not exaggerate when I say that I believe those men, especially one, saved my life.  Two weeks after this event, I moved to London to study abroad with my Guthrie classmates. I was not physically, emotionally or intellectually prepared to leave the country, my family, my boyfriend. Something had ruptured within me, a valve had broken loose and the weight of the world was now flowing through my veins. For two months abroad, I was miserable... and for no real reason. When I look though the photos of my first few weeks in London, I see a sad, shadow of myself. I look so lost.

One day, during that time, I ended up crying at the doorstep of Catholic church, where I met Father Tom. Father Tom was a charming, quirky old man, he invited me in saying, "Well, start at the beginning, dear, because you've just dropped out of heaven and I have not a clue who you are..." He made me tea and gave me a biscuit, which is required by British priest law. I told him everything, how delusional and afraid I was and how I wanted to go home. I wanted to give up the two years I'd trained in the program I worked so hard to get into. Although I'm sure he didn't fully understand what this hysterical American girl was saying, he gave me two pieces of advice which I never will forget:

you have one million dollars in your hand
and you are about to drop it to reach for a paper clip. 
Don't let your emotions get in the way of reality.

So I stayed. And on October 28th, I woke up and I felt better. Not perfect. But better. I traveled to Germany, France, Austria, and Scotland. I became friends with Tina Le and Anna Reichert. I crafted my mantra (My mission is to be humble and good.) The magic came back into my eyes.

This is all backstory to my original question: Why am I so loyal to this time? It is a time that I feel is vital to understanding the person I've become. But what is it that I am sharing... my weakness? my fears? Just so you know, this one time I lost it!

Lately, some of these panicked, anxious fears have returned to me... which is, of course, natural as I am 23, single, trying to make it as an actor, experiencing a brother just return from a war which has been going on too long, living in a new city, dealing with minor health issues, during an election year for a country with a financial crisis. But I never want to go back to that dark place, those fearful months when nothing was wrong but I couldn't smile. Someone told me yesterday that happiness is overrated; that may be true, but contentment isn't and contentment is a gift we can give ourselves every day.

I don't think it is wrong that our difficult moments define us... just so long as the jubilant, triumphant ones do as well. And so, if you see me and I look worried, put your thumb on my third eye and tell me to relax my brow. Tomorrow will worry about tomorrow. As my character Meg in Crimes of the Heart says after thwarting her sister's suicide attempt, "We've got to learn how to get through these real bad days... I mean, it's getting to be a thing in our family."

Lately, contentment looks a lot like this.


  1. This made me smile. Thanks, Maura. I still remember the day you had your panic attack. Ashley and I were packing up our things. I just wanted to give you hug:-( That was definitely a difficult summer. My second summer was MUCH better. I enjoyed this post.

    1. MJ,

      You are one of those wonderful wonderful women I had the pleasure of meeting that summer. I don't even really know what happened to me that day and the says leading up to it. But I know that the experience has made me a more humble, understanding and stronger person. Thanks for your continued support and friendship.


  2. Don't know what happened (and still don't) to turn an apparently idyllic summer into a nightmare. But whatever Father Tom told you...whatever counseling he gave you, obviously worked. We all, at times, stoop to pick up a paperclip and, in doing so, manage to let a million bucks slip through our fingers. Whether that "million" is money, or a love that we let go of much too soon (or held on to a little too long), a lost opportunity (job, school, personal), or (and this one strikes close to my heart) the loss of one's "true north"...the guiding star from which we take our moral/physical/psychological steering...that singular one which, when properly aligned and attuned, always brings us safely home.

    I am always here to listen if you need someone to hear you. UB

    1. Thanks, Uncle Ben. It's important to keep our eyes on our true north. And to be patient with ourselves when we don't know what direction north is. Lewis Carroll said, "If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there." We must better ourselves every day. Us artistic souls do that by writing, performing, practicing every day. Each day has it's own legacy.