Greetings From the Suburbs of Sanity

A couple of days ago, I was cheering to some friends that my therapist will be back from maternity leave soon. A friend responded, “Party down to sanity town!”

OK, but I feel like maybe I’m really more stuck in the suburbs? There are a lot more people who live in the city, but the suburbs of sanity aren’t so bad.

Even after 3.5 years of therapy, I occasionally get a little lost in my suburb and start to get nervous. On really bad days I feel like I’m stuck walking back and forth down the same scary alleyway. It is easy to see how someone could panic that they will be trapped there forever. Those are the days when I am sure my brain is just irreparably broken. The days when Zoloft isn’t enough and I start to contemplate the Ativan in my purse.

What therapy has given me is the ability to see that the rest of the world is still out there and that maybe my GPS is a little faulty sometimes, but it is possible to find my way back out. I’ve gotten to see how many of us really live outside of the city. Most important have been the repeated reminders of all the things to love about my suburb. All the things I would miss if I lived in town.

For instance: I am a fantastic problem solver. I have spent so much time trying to find ways through anxiety that I had to learn how to put the pieces together in interesting ways. Sometimes it means obsessive-compulsive disorder and sometimes it means getting shit done when others stand there all confused like they’ve never heard of Google. It means making a lot of lists. Obsessive determination at the cost of outsider expectations. It’s a give-and-take of creativity and fear.

One morning, a few months after I had finally gotten the courage to talk to my therapist about OCD, she admitted she was a little stumped on how to best help me. Would it be all right if she consulted with a local OCD expert she knows? Speaking of conflicting emotions — the competitive part of me was a little bit impressed to rock OCD so hard that my therapist needed another therapist, while the anxious side of me was sure it meant she wanted to fire me as her client. Which is stupid. Jenny Lawson always says, “depression lies.” But I’m pretty sure anxiety loves to act stupid.

Instead, she came back armed with some ideas but also with reinforcement of something she had been telling me for a while: my brain is sometimes a really noisy and overwhelming place, but the best we can do is teach me to deal with it. Even if we were able to take that noise away completely, we wouldn’t want to. My first reaction to that is always, the fuck you say. But when I can step in front of my snark and sarcasm, I suppose I can see her point.

I am not my anxiety, but my anxiety is a piece of what makes me… me.

I spend a lot of time shouting into a chaotic storm of noise to try to just make my brain shut. the. hell. up. for a minute, but it has also given me the ability to work out answers on my own, a certain amount of independence, and an inherent creativity. So it’s not all bad here in the suburbs. Sometimes we have art and festivals and sometimes we hide in our house with our arms protectively over our heads.

The long overdue decision to find a therapist was, without a doubt, one of the best decisions I have ever made. I was going to make a joke about it really being made for me by my friends who were pretty clear that I needed to see someone. But while I will never discount their importance, maybe I do need to give myself more credit. Making that phone call was hard. Walking into that office was hard. Opening my mouth to speak without melting into a puddle of embarrassment was hard.

During the last three years, I’ve dealt anxiety, depression, Rowan’s premature birth and the trauma and fallout and sleep deprivation, OCD, SAD, and more anxiety. I argued with her for months, saying anxiety wasn’t my issue. People with anxiety avoid everything! They are shaky and unsure and … different than me!

Except, sometimes anxiety is something that comes out in weird ways.

For the first several years after I got my driver’s license, I refused to get gas at any station other than this one specific station near my house. I was too scared of the gas pumps with all sorts of digital buttons. GET OFF MY LAWN.

So many of the things that I did as a kid and young adult that were “weird” were directly related to anxiety. I still do weird things as a result of anxiety but now I can own that. I’m not as scared of the idea of being anxious.

If you had told me that 3.5 years later I would be counting down the minutes until I get to go sit in my therapist’s office again, I would have looked at it as some sort of failure. I should be fixed by now. I did not understand that the point was never to be fixed, but rather to patch the broken areas with a little bit of acceptance and patience. It’s a task I fumble with and maybe always will.

Sometimes I feel like nothing has changed. But then I step back and look at the bigger picture and realize everything has changed. Difficult moments are not any less difficult, but I have so much more perspective and ability to deal with things head on.

In 39 hours and 1 minute, I will be back in her office. I’m going to have to drive farther to see her, at her new office. And yes, my brain has gone through a million scenarios of how I could embarrass myself. What if I can’t find the front door of this new office! What if I get lost! What if I don’t know where to sit! What if… what if… what if I just accept that even the worst that could happen is not really so bad. What if I just go and enjoy the feeling of someone listening to me, and only me, for 55 minutes.


38 hours and 45 minutes….


I had this wall and what I knew of the free world
Was that I could see their fireworks
And I could hear their radio
And I thought that if we met, I would only start confessing
And they’d know that I was scared
They would know that I was guessing
But the wall came down and there they stood before me
With their stumbling and their mumbling
And their calling out just like me

-Dar Williams



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