me and my lifelines, denise, jen, thea, (my other lifeline Jonatha taking the pic) Canon Rebel Xti
I think Ben felt it before I did. The anxiety I mean.
I was rocking him down to sleep the night before I left and it took hours. I missed him so much already and I kept squeezing him and whispering I love you Ben. He started repeating it back to me in the same whisper, “I love you, I love you, I love you…” If he was trying to make me stay, he was doing a really good job of convincing me. It was 10pm before he fell asleep.
I was very excited to come to Squam. When Elizabeth asked me to teach early this year I was ecstatic. Even though I had never taught before it was an easy yes. It felt like the next big step for me creatively, professionally and personally. So what if it was a little scary? I was totally up for the challenge, and I would have my awesome ladies right by my side.
I could never have predicted what actually happened. I was having the nervous jitters on our layover in Phoenix but it was all very manageable and normal. My nervousness kept amping up though and by the night before the first class I was in full blown panic mode. My heart was racing (as was my mind) and sleep wouldn’t come. By 3AM I was shaking from cold, sick to my stomach, throwing up, heart thumping out of my chest and WIDE awake. All night I kept thinking, if I can just get to sleep, I can teach tomorrow but I never did.
I had never had a panic attack before and honestly I had no idea how horrible they are. (My heart goes out to anyone who has ever experienced this) The heart palpitations, the nausea, the vomiting, the shaking, wondering if it’s ever going to end or if you’re going to survive. Mix that with being away from home, away from your family in a bed out in the woods. (Oh yeah, and the teaching 6 hours a day for the next three days.) I have never been so afraid. Thank god for Jen Gray who stayed up with me, drew me a bath, explained what was happening to me and that I wasn’t completely insane.
My angel girl Jen Gray, red coat in the woods, Canon Rebel Xti
This went on for almost 3 days and nights. It was like Groundhog day. Every night it would come back again and I would think, I just need to sleep… and of course I wouldn’t. At that point I was so scared of the panic that it would double back on itself and the cycle would continue. (I can see those of you who know this experience nodding in agreement)
What it took for me to show up to class those first couple of days was nothing short of superheroic. I have never been one to compartmentalize (in fact I am used to using how I actually am to help further the conversation and intimacy in a space) but I knew that I needed to show up for my students and bringing my drama with me wasn’t going to serve any of us. I went into full blown coaching mode. This is the space of managing what you are bringing personally (your stories, your struggles, your boyfriend just breaking up with you, whatever) and just being totally present for the person you are working with. It is about being laser focused, and completely listening and serving the person in front of you. It is 100 percent not about you.
Teaching became a kind of meditation. I loved every minute of it. I loved hearing the students share and unfold, I loved seeing them play and take portraits of each other, I loved seeing them get to know themselves and each other more deeply. What an honor, truly. We laughed so much and got to see one another as well as experience being seen.
Jonatha Brooke with a wig in the woods, we had some very silly fun, Canon Rebel Xti
And as if that wasn’t enough, there happened to be a piano in our classroom and we closed every class with Jonatha singing a gorgeous song. I wish all of you could have been there…
Jonatha at the piano, Canon Rebel Xti
The evening before my final class I was walking by myself and had my first good thought of the week. “If I don’t sleep again tonight it will totally suck, but I’ll be able to teach either way. I’ve proven that. We’ve had two amazing classes and I haven’t slept at all. I can do it on empty. Everything is going to be okay.” And with that, I felt lighter, and I think I began to breathe again for the first time in 3 days. This thought set me free. I guess you could say I did the proverbial letting go we all long for.
I am still figuring out what this experience has to teach me. I know it is complex and rich and ultimately good. But right now I am still sitting with the grief of it, making peace with the ways it didn’t turn out how I had hoped. I am having to forgive myself for all the ways I wanted to be but couldn’t. I am making peace with a new kind of vulnerability. Letting my friends and my community see me when I was at my messiest and most broken was incredibly hard. I am lucky for who I have chosen to surround myself with.
And that means you too.
I was blown away by all of you who were there. In a lot of ways you were representing this community as a whole, and I am in awe of who you all are. Even if I didn’t meet you this week, I know better who you are and I look forward to the next opportunity. You were a safe, strong circle for my maiden voyage. Thank you…
Superhero class, Day 3 on top of the mountain, Canon Rebel Xti