How does a person go from hardly being able to spend the night with her best friend to deciding she should move to another country for an entire year? Some of you know my journey through anxiety, fear, and panic attacks, but many of you probably don't. I think it is appropriate to begin my next major adventure by explaining how I came to this point in my life.
I began having panic attacks at age 8. This resulted in a childhood in which I had great difficulty spending the night with friends, really until well into junior high school. I did successfully stay all night at some friends' houses and birthday slumber parties, but I also often called my parents in the middle of the night to come pick me up because I "didn't feel good." I have never been a consistent sleeper, and once the fun was over and it was time for bed, I panicked.
One major breakthrough occurred in 6th grade, after my best friend Sam moved to Abilene. I went to stay with her in Abilene for a week. The first night there, after everyone else went to sleep, the panic set in. I called my mother, who politely explained that she could not come pick me up because I was three hours away. I woke up Sam and her mom, Amy, and we waited through the night until the panic passed and I slept. After that, I realized you can sit with the panic and fear, breathe deeply, and get through it without bailing out or running away.
After several successful church camps and trips away from home, I decided to move away for college. I went to University of North Texas in Denton, about 5 hours from home in Lubbock. I think close friends and family were somewhat surprised by this seemingly daring decision... It was scary and I did struggle. I even called my mom a few times in the middle of the night, just so she could sit with me in silence on the phone while I had a panic attack. But like that night in Abilene, you work through it, survive, and move on.
During the summer of 2009, the summer before the final year of my undergraduate at UNT, I found myself signing up for a study abroad trip. My college roommate, RachelGaddie, encouraged me to go to the informational meeting and then to put down our deposits. She was confident and certain, so I figured I could be too! The morning of our flight, I woke up in total panic. I lie there, cold and sweaty, paralyzed with fear, trying to decide if it was too late to call it all off? How mad would my parents be if all the money we had paid were wasted? I would be so embarrassed to tell everyone I panicked at the last second. I knew I would regret it if I didn't go. I sternly told myself to SHUT UP, get in the shower, and start getting dressed for the day. It's time, and you're ready, and you're doing it.
Of course it was the best time of my life, and also of course I had a lot of anxiety and fear while we were there. I'd learned by this point that fulfillment, joy, and fear were not mutually exclusive. My friends, RachelGaddie and Dave, were patient and helpful, taking cabs when I couldn't get on the metro because it was too loud and too fast, and holding my clammy hands to guide me across scary sky bridges. I returned home in awe of the fact that I had accomplished such a feat.
All these years later, I've moved from Texas to Arizona to Georgia to Colorado. All without fear or trepidation. I do still struggle with panic attacks and anxiety, but I've learned to feel it and then let go of it. And so when the opportunity to apply for a 10-month fellowship in Germany, as well as other travel grant opportunities, presented itself, I did. Did I panic when I put the application in the mail? Absolutely. Do I sometimes think I've lost my mind when I think about what is to come? Of course. But I'm also certain it's the right thing to do. And I'm confident that I can do it. And I know that I will love it.
In my wedding vows, I told Jeremy that he made me feel confident and calm in situations I had not always. Through many moves, new jobs, and different opportunities, that has always been true. He has such an unwavering confidence in us, our lives together, and in me. My whole family has jumped on board, signing up for Skype, looking up facts about Germany, asking questions about what I will do there, and listening to my plans. My dissertation adviser, Corine, and her research partner, Volker, have invested their time and energy to help me organize and prepare myself for the trip, making contacts for my research, helping me navigate transportation options, and being available around the clock to answer my questions. So- on Monday October 19 I will fly to Germany, where I will do dissertation research and live life until September 30, 2016.
That is how someone who used to be afraid of spending the night at a friend's house down the street comes to believe she can live abroad for a year.