Friday, February 22, 2008

Some stuff from my journal, I'm being surprisingly open tonight, take advantage of it

August 2, 2007

I received a letter today. Snail mail from a former camper, needless to say, I was ecstatic. I never receive mail other than credit card statements and advertising circulars; so when I got a handwritten, personally addressed postcard with my camp name on it, I began jumping for joy. This means I really did make a difference in the life of a camper. However small, this makes me feel really big.

All my life I have looked up to my teachers. It would be safe to say that my teachers were my Gods. Never having been to church as a child, I always felt like I needed some form of guidance and leadership. It would also be safe to say that I feel like I’m lacking that leadership now that I’m in my mid-20s. I have come to depend on it, thriving with deadlines, school assignments, editing on papers, and just generally someone older and wiser to talk to.

This lack of guidance, I believe, is at the core of my self-imposed quarter-life crisis. This is a crisis that began at the end of my senior year of college. I was student teaching after choosing the highly practical early childhood education degree from the University of Georgia. I loved children, and believed that I could make a difference with my camp experience and the fact that I loved school myself.

I think, though, that I only loved the idea of school. When I needed to be in charge, I fell apart. I could not handle the responsibility. I wanted someone there always to check to make sure I was doing this right. The only thing that was wrong with me was my total, utter lack of self-confidence. That, and I always gave myself these negative messages.

I came to find out a few years later that what I was suffering from was a severe anxiety attack, followed by periods of depression. Then I began thinking that even this was a cop-out answer. No one else has problems like this. Why do I need to even see a counselor? I hated my first therapist. However, I needed someone to talk to desperately.

First panic attack at camp. Chestnut gait, I had just come back from taking my teaching certification exam in Atlanta and it was the beginning of our first session. It was also the beginning of my first session in charge. All of the counselors living with me that session were new; I was the only returning and the oldest. It was up to me to make sure the unit didn’t fall apart. The first night I woke up and couldn’t breathe. Every breath hurt every time my chest rose. I thought I was dying. I thought I was having a heart attack. I didn’t know what was wrong with me and it scared me shitless.

It was also 2am on Monday morning. My roommates were asleep and I needed to talk to someone. So I walked the half-mile on the dark trail to the office. I went to wake up one of the support staff. (The one I liked.) She woke up the camp director and the three of us said if I was having trouble breathing it would be best to go to the emergency room. I panicked at the words and off we went. 3 am and with strangers, feeling so alone.

At the ER after waiting until nearly 6am, the technicians took my vital stats and determined there was absolutely nothing wrong with me. I was too young and in too good shape to be having a heart attack. Of course, this made me feel even worse. I was not making this up. They told me that I most definitely pulled a muscle in my chest wall and that this was what was making it hurt to breathe. Oh. Ok. Answers. It made me feel better to know that I wasn’t making this up, even if I never knew that my chest had a wall and that this wall had muscles I could pull. I justified this thought with the thought that I had just finished taking an 8-hour test, and was extremely tense during the whole process. I must have pulled something while tensing my shoulders writing that damned essay.

When it happened again that summer, I knew something was up, but didn’t know what. When I left that summer to student teach in the fall, I would have several more of these episodes where I would just cry for no reason, in front of anyone. I would then shake uncontrollably, and my breathing would get very fast.
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