The Fear of the Blank Page

“Every poem, every page of fiction I have written, has been written with anxiety, occasionally panic, always uncertainty about its reception. Every life decision I have made—from changing jobs, to changing partners, to changing homes—has been taken with trepidation. I have not ceased being fearful, but I have ceased to let fear control me.”

–Erica Jong

Tell me about a time you were afraid, but acted anyway.


  1. Cynthia says

    It has been long time since I’d been to therapy. When I was struggling in my marriage I started going to make sure I wasn’t crazy. I found out I wasn’t. I continued to see this particular social worker as I worked through my marriage and divorce issues. She was a gentle soul, reminding me cautiously about my patterns, but yet, still validating my feelings and concerns. She never really questioned why I behaved the way I did, or answered the questions I had about myself, like why do I seem to choose unavailable men? Hers was a listening role; she helped IDENTIFY what it was I was feeling, not figure out WHY I was feeling it.

    Now, almost 15 years later, I am going again. This time I chose a PSYCHO-analyst. I haven’t told my (second) husband. He’s a fixer and will immediately think it is something about him, and try to figure out (while pushing me to tell him) what he can DO to “make me happy.” I’m not unhappy, I’d tell him, I just need to figure out why I feel so angry sometimes. Why do I have few friends? Why do I prefer a good book to a room full of people? How can I live the last few decades of my life to the best, to the fullest? Or, even scarier–do I have any pathology?

    I’m not unhappy. I just want to figure some stuff out. Afraid yes, I am afraid. I want to get to the root of these gnawing feelings that seem to be holding me back. I do want to change how I think, how I respond, in a way that keeps the negative feelings at bay and encourages me to take a risk. How much of this will require acceptance? What will I find out that won’t feel so great? Did my parents mess up somehow? They are both gone now for more than 20 years (how I miss them!) How much of it will require…God forbid, action?

    I’m not unhappy. I need need to figure some stuff out. I need to update my Bucket List and add “Get rid of the demons” to the top of the list.

    My next appointment is Friday.

    • says

      Dear Cynthia,

      Welcome to the Roadmap Blog and thanks for posting this honest portrayal of the dilemmas and questions you are facing about your life at this point in time. You are courageous and brave–willing to step out of your comfort zone to ask questions that need to be asked, to seek answers that will lead you in directions you cannot predict. I hope you come post again–and stay as an ongoing member of our community.

    • Karla says

      I like the way you capitalized “PSYCHO” in psychoanalyst. LOL. I also liked the way you described the difference between the therapy you did 15 years ago and what you’re looking to do different now.

    • Hazel says

      I found this piece to be very well written and it gave me something to smile about. First you say, ” I started going to make sure I wasn’t crazy.” Then you to saying, “I’m not unhappy” three more times. I love this last time: “I’m not unhappy. I need need to figure some stuff out. I need to update my Bucket List and add “Get rid of the demons” to the top of the list.”

      I know these feelings well; I’m not unhappy, but I could be happier. And, my appointment is next Wednesday.

      Thank you for sharing, makes me feel less crazy.

    • Judy says

      Hello Cynthia and welcome to this supportive writing community. I like your well crafted piece. How it’s shaped and the use of words. Especially this line, “she helped IDENTIFY what it was I was feeling, not figure out WHY I was feeling it.” (PS: I’m not unhappy either, just figuring stuff out and my appointment’s are on Tuesday.)

  2. Karla says

    I do not live a life ripe with bravery. I don’t prosecute war criminals, engage in international espionage, or try to evade raging bulls that I red-flag for attention. I avoid roller coasters, water slides, and hot air balloons. Not a thrill seeker, I have never bungee-jumped, zip-lined, or water skied. Hang gliding, sky jumping, and cliff diving are most definitely not on my bucket list.

    Fear is the trained monkey on my shoulder who is, for the most part, a civilized companion. He observes absolutely everything, and his position as a lookout is enhanced because I am pretty sure that he can swivel his head 180 degrees in both directions. He chatters away, occasionally gesturing towards shiny things that capture his interest. Once in a while, he gets triggered and then he starts flinging his feces around the room. I can usually clean it up before other people notice.

    When fear just exists as part of your world, it’s slightly more difficult to isolate events that make you afraid. If I always acted in accordance with my fear, I’d be an agoraphobic living alone with an abnormal number of cats. Let me make it clear that I do not live in a war-torn country, a dangerous neighborhood, or a violent home. The fears that I feel are cooked inside my own head, transformed by isolated ingredients only barely hooked into my experience or environment.

    What I would name as the time I was afraid but acted anyway is a repeated event that takes place in the context of my work, anywhere around six to a dozen or so times each year. I’ve been working for twenty years in jails and prisons with women who have acted on their fear in order to save their own lives—from the abusive partners who have repeatedly attacked them. It is not my clients who I find frightening, as being alone in a cinder-blocked room with them has never evoked concern for my safety. The institution of the prison is scary, but not for the reasons you might expect if you watch shows on the Lifetime TV Network, which appear to suggest that women’s prisons are more predatory than a college fraternity party or a night out at an urban music club. I think that the statistics bear out the conclusion that women’s prisons are safe places to live and work.

    It’s the getting into the prison or jail that always pushes my fear button, and the moment that highlights it is after I have been “processed”—paperwork completed, briefcase searched, patted-down, scanned for drugs and explosives via metal detector and puffer, stamped with invisible ink and handed a security badge that reads “visitor.” I am buzzed into an airless vestibule with the lingering scent of perspiring fear and no way out once the heavy door automatically thunks closed behind me and I’m facing its identical, industrial grey twin right in front of me. I have a few moments—if I’m lucky, once I was trapped there for what was the longest 12 minutes of my life, where the minutes seem to expand exponentially as I struggle to keep my shit together—to contemplate what it would be like to be stuck there during an earthquake or a fire or a flood. Usually the door to the inside of the prison buzzes open before my imaginary selfie is consumed by fire or gasping for air, swimming near the ceiling. Sprung from this potential death trap, I walk lightly towards the work that is my calling, pretending that I don’t have to leave the same way I came in.

    • says

      Karla, this was a very vivid description of your fear. I loved this: “Fear is the trained monkey on my shoulder who is, for the most part, a civilized companion,” as well as the image of him flinging feces around the room. And this: ” Let me make it clear that I do not live in a war-torn country, a dangerous neighborhood, or a violent home. The fears that I feel are cooked inside my own head, transformed by isolated ingredients only barely hooked into my experience or environment.” But what was most amazing to is that having met you and knowing what you do for work, I never would have expected that your inner experience would be like this. I loved being surprised–I’m not happy you suffer like this–but the complexity we all carry as human beings never ceases to amaze me.

      • Karla says

        Hi Laura, I appreciated your reaction to this piece and to me. Not to get all Buddhist-y about it, but I think I have come to see this fear not so much as something I suffer through, but as part of the gift of doing this work. I think if I didn’t have some personal understanding of what it’s like to be afraid, I wouldn’t be able to understand anybody else. I think nowadays, I more observe my own fear than live in it.

    • Hazel says

      This is a very well written piece. I hear your voice reading it in the writer’s group. I don’t think one ever gets used to hearing that gate slam or the lock turned on a locked facility of any kind. You have so thoroughly summed up the feelings in this piece.

      I am thinking back on the times I worked on locked wards in psych hospitals, and in Canada where I worked on wards for the criminally insane. I never found the patients as scary as going through those locked gates.

      One time when I was at the very end of my rope with physical pain I called the Suicide Hot Line and soon after found myself on the other side of a locked door without a key. I was at first terrified the very angry. They gave me happy pills and I was soon out, but I will never forget that feeling.

      • Karla says

        Thank you, Hazel. I am sorry that you understand what it’s like to be “locked up”, but very glad that you found your way back.

    • Wendy says


      When I read this piece, I felt like I went on a journey with a very experienced guide. And, yes, my fear often feels like a trained monkey on my shoulder. My left shoulder, the one that aches. Thank you very much for this piece.

    • Judy says

      Karla, what lucid writing you share with us once again. I was hooked on this graph, “Fear is the trained monkey on my shoulder who is, for the most part, a civilized companion. He observes absolutely everything, and his position as a lookout is enhanced because I am pretty sure that he can swivel his head 180 degrees in both directions…..”

      I’ve heard that buzzer, horn or whatever, when I bailed someone out of County Jail, so I totally got this line, “It’s the getting into the prison or jail that always pushes my fear button…”

      Thank you for sharing so openly both your experiences of fear and the hard work you are doing to with your clients and with yourself. This piece is a gift. Thank you.

  3. Lee Xanthippe says

    “Then she says, ‘You don’t read women authors, do you?’….I say, ‘I read Erica Jong’”
    –Bob Dylan “Highlands”

    I read the Erica Jong quote–not the quote above but Laura’s Jong quote about the pain and full-on anxiety of writing–and I blurt out, “That’s terrible.” I, who have much too much fear, also don’t think I could write if writing was so fraught with anxiety. I write to get away from the anxiety or sometimes to take my back into the anxiety so I can understand, deconstruct, get some distance from the tensions of life.

    That is the dance, I suppose, moving close to things and then away. Delving in and looking at from a distance.

    “Tell me about a time you were afraid but acted anyway…” says Laura.

    Tell me about a time, haha, a time…my life is daily full of such times—I suppose there are also two kinds of fear—the everyday soft fear that I am used to taking a breath and moving into, perhaps even enjoy in some way. No, there are three kinds of fear—

    1. The soft everyday fear that I no longer recognize as fear because I move into it without thought almost, but with a breath—small or deep, always. A small steeling of myself which actually also moves me into a flexible what-the-hell-ness or going for it.

    2. There is, “there is”—I am distancing myself?
    Rather, I experience a more conscious fear or rather tension of moving into a situation—performance or going to someone’s house with a stack of my poem that I will read aloud and someone else will read aloud and everyone will read on the page. An undressing of sorts—this is my mind and body and this is the way I play and create. This is what I fear when I see the heavy shovel so close to my thin front window.
    Here too, I take a breath, but somehow the breath only partly calms me and the energy rizzes in my body and I have learned that this is fear and this is being alive and this is the risk I want to take to…get better…to test what I may put out into the larger world.

    3. And then there is the all-too-familiar flooring dread fear that can be all along a continuum but this is the fear that kicks my butt and I am learning to learn how to deal with. This monster that wants to devour me, sits at the door of real danger and at real pleasure. Oddly the same fang-dripping furry, growling thing sits there—I must placate him or else understand him. Sometimes he’s there to truly protect me. Thank you, Grizzly Monster Thing! And sometimes unwittingly, he is pawnfully there to keep me from living a full life of adventure, travel, yes, pleasure and daring, of putting writing, my voice, my strength and weakness out into the world, of making my messy beautiful mark upon the world. The Monster wants to stop me from fully being in this world, but I am, I am in this messy world, of this world, for this world—all of my individuality and everything I have in common with you.

    • says

      Lee, I love the way you differentiated between the three kinds of fear. And I also really like the way you personified that latter kind as the Grizzly Monster Thing. And yes–he is there to protect you, but sometimes you need to tell him to “f-off,” so you can have have the full throttle adventurous life you desire.

      • Lee Xanthippe says

        The “I” who wrote this piece is not telling the Grizzly Monster to f-off. The “I” tried that and that didn’t work at least not for this Grizzly, but the “I” did find it so useful to befriend this Grizzly in some way. To confront this Grizzly with “Who are you? Why are you here? What are you trying to do? What do you need? That I can give you, yes. That I cannot give you, no. Wow, those fangs scared me, but now that I am here a little closer, I realize your fur is also so soft. You are on my side even though sometimes it doesn’t seem like it. You are a lot like me. You too get a little freaked out. You know how to protect but sometimes you come on a little too strong. Yes, you are a little like my mother but not so much, but what do you expect a New Yorker to be like. You are bold. I am bold. You are soft. I am soft. When you are close to me and when we talk, I cannot hold this tension any longer, you are a lot less scary. I can breathe easier now. Yes, you will scare me again but I know when I am a little calmer again, I can talk to you and ask, Who are you?

      • Lee Xanthippe says

        Thanks, Laura, for your response!

        (More below on the conversation the “I” has with the Grizzly and what the Grizzle responds to or not. After all, Grizzlies have feelings too!)

    • Hazel says

      Thank you. Thank you for sharing your monster.

      I believe we all have very “messy worlds.” Here were are sharing them, but we also share how we have been able to clean them up a bit which in some respects, I’m sure, have given others the courage to do the same, or at least to not feel so alone in their process.

      “Tell me about a time, ha ha, a time…my life is daily full of such times—” I’m right there with you on that one.

      Well written and thoroughly enjoyed.

    • Judy says

      Lee, I love this writing, clear, clean, captivating. Your descriptions of the three fears has the ring of poetry. Thank you. I find such wisdom in this section, “of making my messy beautiful mark upon the world…” And, this line, “Thank you, Grizzly Monster Thing!”

      Now, tell him to put that baggage over there, cuz you got a world to see!

      • Lee Xanthippe says

        Thanks much, Judy, for reading and for your insightful comments : )
        Oh, and the Grizzly Monster knows that in his baggage is both the gold and the shit and he knows that in the shit is the gold and when he’s done with the shit, he will, wash off the gold for days on end, polish the gold and wrap it up as a present for one who goes looking. But to find it, one must follow the scent of gardenias lightly on the air, sometimes jasmine, crushed lavender. And hidden under these, gold.

        The Grizzly Monster doesn’t like the tug-of-war and doesn’t heed demands. Gentleness, gentleness and time, clear the air for new breathing.

        I am wary of letting things go before their time. And weary of demanding things where gentleness creates more ease, more full breath…

        Again, thank you : )

        • Judy says

          Love this line, “I am wary of letting things go before their time. And weary of demanding things where gentleness creates more ease, more full breath…” My tai qi teacher says, be a willow and use internal smile therapy. Ahhh, yes, all things in their time.

          • Lee Xanthippe says

            Thanks Judy!
            I think I might be a pillow and use my external smile therapy!

            Yes, there is a time for this, a time for that, and to everything, change, change, change… : )

  4. Lisa says

    Fear seems to be the back-drop of my life. No longer the main act, not even a supporting actor but just the background with which I have to work.

    Some days it is minor trepidation, merely a minor screen to step around. Other days, I feel like I am scrabbling at the edges of the pit. The stage has slipped away, my fingertips scrambling to catch hold of rotting wood, desperate not to drop into the darkness below.

    Today is one of those days where fear barks at the door just waiting to be let in. As I lay in bed preparing to face the day, the fears began to swirl and muddy my thoughts making it seem much harder to put my foot on the floor for the first step of the day.

    Every time I write, I battle the fear of its reception as well as facing the reality of peeling back the onionskin of who I am. Writing for me has been therapeutic which is rarely easy. Writing in a public forum, while rewarding at times, also exposes me in my most vulnerable moments to the outside world. If I allow fear to culminate here, I will be stagnant and begin to deteriorate.

    Looking in the rearview mirror of my memories this week as I visited several family members, I am having a difficult time refocusing on the view ahead of me. Traumatic memories have a way of sucking you into a vortex of misery. If I allow fear to culminate here, I will drown.

    Creating art is also not without tackling fear. As with writing, I risk its reception upon completion. I have to defeat the thinking that if what I create is no good, then I am no good. If I allow fear to culminate here, I will lose myself.

    And then there are the worries of daily living – parenting, marriage, health, finances, career, concern for the people I love. If I allow fear to culminate here, I will lose the gratitude I have for each of these things.

    I have to leave the house today to run errands. The past few days, it has seemed more difficult and the longer I put it off, the more difficult it becomes. I have to reach out and be part of the world but I fear its rejection, condemnation and judgment. Yesterday, I found excuses not to go anywhere and today it seems that much more difficult. Irrational fear is the root of agoraphobia. Acting on what you know despite what you feel is the mountain that needs to be climbed to combat it. Some days I feel like I am climbing it alone… on my knees… in the rain…

    So I start the day in prayer. God, please help me face this day. Please help dispel these fears.



    Prayer doesn’t get much more simple than this, nor as desperately heartfelt.

    He answers my prayers by not removing the fears but by holding my hand as we weave through them. He pushes them to the edges so I can better sift through them one at a time. He leads me to calmer waters so the storm isn’t so terrifying. I can look at each fear and tackle them one at a time, doing what I can, asking for help where I need to and leaving the results in His hands.

    Throwing the blankets aside, I put my foot on the floor and take the first big step.

    • Hazel says

      I found it interesting that you have written this whole piece with “I” and then for one sentence you switch to “you”. Here: ” Acting on what you know despite what you feel is the mountain that needs to be climbed to combat it. Some days I feel like I am climbing it alone… on my knees… in the rain…” I can definitely relate to the last sentence in this paragraph: “Some days I feel like I am climbing it alone… on my knees… in the rain….”

      I really like the way you went through the fear of getting up and going for the day and then planting your feet on the floor. I can relate as every day I wonder if my knees will walk, or my words will float.

      Thank you for sharing.

      • Lisa says

        Thanks Hazel,
        I’m afraid that is just poor editing on my part. I also have to watch for passive writing when I review. This piece didn’t get edited really well, as it was spur of the moment.

    • Judy says

      Lisa, What a powerful opening graph–hooked me immediately. The image of fear barking at the door and this line, ‘Irrational fear is the root of agoraphobia’ truly hit me in the gut. I hope to see you in this supportive writing community often. Thank you for a vivid posting.

  5. Hazel says

    Last October (2012) my daughter told me she had just signed up for a writer’s retreat at the beach near San Francisco and that it would really be great if I would also go. It wasn’t until the middle of July so I would have lots of time to pay for it. She gave me the link and I looked it over. It sounded great. She had gotten the last place so I put my name on a waiting list and was assured that I was the first name on that list and usually someone always drops out before the actual date of the retreat. So I paid the initial fee. I was all excited and called my daughter to tell her the news. We talked excitedly about how we could meet, how great it will be to spend time together, how wonderful it will be to get away for a bit on our own, how much fun we always have when we are together. I hung up the phone.

    What had I done? How would I ever manage my luggage at the airports? How could I manage the shingles pain? How would I get enough sleep, as I get so-o-o tired? As time went on and my concerns loomed larger and larger, like the Rockies I would have to fly over to get out of this God forsaken place, I received an e-mail saying that a place had become available for the retreat. I called my daughter again. Are you sure this is a good idea? I have to make flight reservations soon, am I going to fly to San Francisco or are you going to meet me in Sacramento? She vacillated. Was I coming back from Sacramento? “Why don’t you come home with me and I will take you to Bend and you can visit with your brother and fly home from Redmond?”

    Oh, crap! Now it was getting complicated! I would be so tired after the retreat and she wanted me to go to Oregon and visit after that. This might be the last time I would have the chance to do that so I should take it. The arguments went around and around in my head. Finally I agreed and between us we got all the travel arrangements made. And, going and coming home I would have people meeting me at connecting airports with wheelchairs to take me from one gate to the other, it would be easy.

    I hate being in a wheelchair with someone I know pushing it. What would it be like with people I don’t know? Damn! Did she have any idea how humiliating it feels to have to be pushed around in a wheelchair? Did she know how people talk down to you? Did she know how it is to be treated as “less than?” I HATE THAT! I can walk a little way but not across a crowded airport so I just had to suck it up if I wanted to go. Hell, yes, I WANTED to go, there was no question there. I remember voicing my concerns a couple of times and was met with, “Mom, it will be easy and they will take good care of you.”

    We continued to talk and plan, she would bring some of the things that were hard to bring on the plane so I would have room for more in my suitcase and so on. Then came the day. I got up early and caught my first flight. That was easy and just as planned when we landed at Denver there was a person waiting to take me to my next flight. We landed in Sacramento, right on time. I anxiety ran high as I walked down the hall to the lobby, would she be there?

    “Mom, Mom,” there were so many voices, then, “Hazel.” I sighed with relief, it was her. We had a long hug. So far, so good. We caught up on news, shopped a bit, enjoyed a great evening and a good nights sleep at a hotel in a vineyard at Nappa, then were off to “The Retreat of Your Dreams” at Commonweal located at Bolinas, California.

    We were enjoying ourselves as we always do when we get to spend time together. The retreat was so peaceful and renewing. Laura gave us our assignments; we wrote much of the time, met other writers, made new friends, and shared our writing. The sound of the ocean was a constant, reassuring and giving rhythm to our writing. The fresh salt air gave strength to our lungs. The smell of the ocean gave a sense of the beginning of time as we wrote, and we shared, and we wrote. The fantastic food prepared with garden fresh vegetables picked only minutes before the meal and salmon caught the evening before, nourished our bodies; the preparation was done by others as were the dishes after the meal, and we were doing “writing practice.” What more could a writer ask for?

    I always have more fun than I ever could have thought possible when I am with my daughter, she is a delightful, amusing, and a brilliant middle aged woman whom I love doubly, because I lost her once. The trip to her house was a whole other adventure which ended up with her acquisition of a four month old German shepherd puppy named Alieshka. She was anxious to show me her house. She and her boy-friend had constructed it all out of the clay/mud and straw on their property and now have finished most of the interior. It is an amazing accomplishment.

    My daughter took me the last eighty miles to see my brother. I am so glad I went, he is dealing with is wife of 35 years who is in the last stages of Alzheimer’s. He looked so old, I couldn’t believe it, he is two years younger than I. Alzheimer’s not only destroys the person it inhabits but those who love and care for the person that was. He held my hand tightly as we sat together on the sofa and at dinner he sought out the seat next to mine. I knew he was glad I had come and clung to me.

    The next morning his daughter took me to the Airport in Redmond, Oregon. I was exhausted and glad to be going home. At each airport my transport persons were there to wheel me from one gate to the other, and I was thankful. Each of my flights were on time and my husband was there to meet me with our two terriers, kisses all around, then I was home. Home, with my stuff, and my mind full of things I want/need to write about.

    I might take this chance again. It was easier than I had thought. The retreat is still fresh in my mind. Vivid images of my fellow writers come to life as I see their names here on the “Writer’s Journey.”

    • Karla says

      Hazel, as one of your fellow writers at Commonweal, I had no idea that you had to go through so much to be able to attend– because you were so vivacious and engaged at the retreat. I have so much respect for what you have been through, and I want to keep reading what you write, always. Thanks for being here.

    • says

      Hazel, I agree with Karla. I really didn’t know what a massive and courageous journey this was for you. I’m so very glad you took it and that we got to be together this summer in Bolinas. You were a wonderful addition to the retreat.

      • Hazel says

        You, my dear Laura, were the star.

        Thank you so much for all you put into that retreat. It was really worth it! And, thank you for your encouragement in the writing process.

        Thank you Karla. It was such a joy to know you.

    • Judy says

      Hazel, what a touching read. I smiled. Shed a tear. Then smiled again with this line, ‘Vivid images of my fellow writers come to life as I see their names here on the “Writer’s Journey”.’ It will be great fun to to meet you at one of the retreats. And, it is an honor learn more of your journey through your vibrant writings. Thank you.

      • Hazel says

        Thank you for your comments. I am looking forward to meeting you also. I’m sure we will become great friends.

    • Lee Xanthippe says

      Thank you, Hazel, for all the details! It is so easy to gloss over the details once people have succeeded in what they attempted, but I really enjoyed the slow way you caressed the details and showed us what was involved in this undertaking and it clearly came through that it was worth it, but also that there are many concerns and worries that go through minds.

      I enjoyed the way this piece took us step by step through the journey and how you quickly painted a picture with a few details in each place–the musings and feelings about being in a wheelchair, visiting the brother and the aging and situation, the fresh food just picked and salmon just caught, the writing and what was taken care of by others, the time with a daughter (and the intriguing line about her being loved doubly and why…
      Thank you, Hazel!
      (I felt like this journey touched on universal feelings especially for those of us who experience hesitation or fear…and also this journey was very specific and unique..thanks!)

    • Wendy says


      I was very intrigued by the notion of losing someone once and now being in a solid relationship again. I loved when you talked about how it feels to be in a wheelchair and the meeting with your brother. There is a lot here. Thank you for sharing.

      • Hazel says

        I was not easy to have a solid relationship. It took several years to rebuild a base of trust and 30 more to work on it. We both wanted it to be so we both put away those things we could have said that were hurtful. But, even yesterday we were talking and my daughter brought up something she felt hurt about that was a complete misunderstanding. So it goes on, but LOVE & friendship is stronger.

    • Diana says

      I love the story of your journey. The paragraph about being in a wheelchair resonated with me. How unconsciously many of us interact with people in wheelchair by “talking down” to them. I ‘m glad you braved all the potential problems and enjoyed your adventure.

  6. Wendy says

    I was in college. I don’t remember how I got to the radio station. Did I see a flyer? Did I talk to friends? I remember sitting around a table with these friends at the station. I don’t recall if there were any other women there. There was a program director who acted smooth in an insincere way. He was the type of person who I didn’t know how to engage. I think you engaged him by also being a person who didn’t engage. I was shy. I often didn’t know how to engage, or I got freaked out by engaging, but I craved people who wanted to be real with me, and that was far down on this person’s playlist. This was some sort of organizational meeting. I think I may have talked to him on the phone before, and, according to my ears, he had said that I could be on the air. I could have a shift. This felt like a pony for Christmas to me. But that day, at the table, when I talked to him, the story changed. Things became much more vague. And somehow I was able to stand up for myself. I was able to talk to my friends, people who were well respected in these circles, who had clout, and I was able to say, “Hey, you said I could have a shift,” and after some hems and haws, I got my slot, once a week, Friday night, two to six in the morning. Then I was afraid. This was free form radio. I knew I loved music. I didn’t have encyclopedic knowledge. How was I going to fill the time? How was I, a known klutz, going to be able to handle the logistics? How was I, a mumbler, someone who constantly had to repeat herself in order to be understood, going to be a radio personality? It was a time when my friends rallied around me. They sussed the situation. I didn’t even have to ask. “We’ll hang out with you,” they said, “Just in case you need anything. We’ll be there.” And they were there for three shifts. Each time I went early. I had stacks of records, lists written out. I came prepared and I did it, but I could look up and see them watching out for me. When I started, I could barely speak. So I had very long sets of music. Early on the program director took me aside and pulled out some jazz records and modern European rock. He told me to lighten up on the Hank Williams. But we only had twelve country records in the whole studio. We had walls of jazz, and everyone was playing Annette Peacock. For someone so progressive, in this world, she was a cliche. So I learned about jazz through jazz vocalists. I got at it through words and eventually fell in love with instrumentals. To this day, this experience is one of my most precious times in my life. It felt daunting and almost out of reach, and if you looked at it objectively, I probably was not qualified to do it. But I had the internals for it. It was a good thing to pursue.

    • Hazel says

      This piece, this one paragraph, takes us through your trepidation to your accomplishment. You have shown the naivete of your “I” person very well. “This felt like a pony for Christmas to me. But that day, at the table, when I talked to him, the story changed. Things became much more vague. And somehow I was able to stand up for myself. I was able to talk to my friends, people who were well respected in these circles, who had clout, and I was able to say, “Hey, you said I could have a shift,” and after some hems and haws, I got my slot, once a week, Friday night, two to six in the morning. Then I was afraid.”

      I felt glad that your “I” character had the “internals for it” I also felt like “it was a good thing to pursue.”

      Thank you for a story well told.

      • Wendy says

        Thanks, Hazel. Once I posted it, I realized it was in one paragraph. I was mildly horrified. I’m glad you enjoyed the piece.

    • says

      Wendy, I love this piece and how much you were able to overcome to discover something you truly loved. I did community radio as well for a number of year–I know how much fun it can be.

      • Wendy says

        Laura, I miss radio. The friends I made there continue to be friends today. Someday I would like to go back to it. In the meantime, I form sets in my head.

    • Judy says

      I like the flow of this piece, Wendy. And, shouted, hey girl when I read this line, “Friday night, two to six in the morning.” Prime gig, yes? Thanks so much for sharing a rich meaningful experience. I look forward to more posts. (PS: putting some Ella on now). 🙂

  7. Terry Gibson says

    When was I afraid but acted anyway? Let me see, today, yesterday, last week and I’m sure last month too.

    I was terrified of this trip to Scotland. A variety of things scared me. Would my health hold up? Could my body take the stress? This includes even the good taxing of energy, which is usually self-replenishing. The whole thing hinged on me clearing a long list of hurdles. I wanted to quit hundreds of times. However, I made a promise to a friend and I wasn’t going to break that.

    This feeling was so overwhelming that I almost cancelled at the last minute. I planned to shut myself out because it seemed the more tenable choice. I would have used my full cancellation insurance to get every penny of my fare back, apply it directly where it belongs—never going back on my word–and then pay off the balance very quickly. So the only difference would have been that I would not have been there troubling anyone, crying, making people uncomfortable, and potentially ruining friendships.

    I acted anyway and the votes are in. People were kind, wonderful, and caring toward me. I loved and cared for them as well and my life is enriched for knowing them. However, and please forgive me for saying this, when I got on that plane in Amsterdam, the way I felt toward myself—I thought “If I had a gun, I’d blow off my head.” That’s how much I detested myself at that moment and how quickly I wanted out of this wretched skin. I heard that women don’t usually choose violent methods of killing themselves. I never did. Today, I know that the degree of violence I would choose (if I had access to a gun), is in direct proportion to the agony inside me.

    Yes, I feel the same today and the act of writing this down terrifies me too. My body is shaking.

    How can self-hatred inhabit so much of my being? My emotions? My brain must be deteriorating in some significant way, as is my body. Is it a part of my age and other processes or am I simply just losing this long battle? Now. After all this time. Is this mental illness?

    Does surviving decades after the fact make me any less successful if, ultimately, I gave up? Does that make my fighting spirit less admirable or powerful? That’s nothing I’m responsible for, by the way; I inherited my stubbornness from both parents. Would it make me a fraud of sorts?

    I can’t stand that my life and growth causes such pain at home. That I still hear tears and quiet sobbing from the room adjacent to me. That I am so overpowered by the pain, I can’t reach out at this moment. How can I always be losing, even in winning?

    I am so ashamed to acknowledge these things. That I’m tired. Have no answers. That I still loathe myself with a passion. That I am most likely harder on myself than anyone ever was. That my future terrifies me.

    That I still rage inside about having worked so hard on myself for all these years, just to stay alive, that I now wake up and see that all of life passed me by. I missed children and grandchildren. I’ll never know the confidence and credibility a solid career would have given me. Where might I have been in my writing life? How much would I have accomplished if I wasn’t gutted repeatedly? How would it have felt to own my own home, have more than one single flesh-and-blood soul supporter in Vancouver, to enjoy real friends, and now, when my health demands it, to reap the rewards of my impassioned work ethic. To semi-retire and know that I will not starve or be forced into a shelter, given there is nowhere else to go. I know I will not survive on Vancouver’s streets in the drug and crime-infested Downtown Eastside.

    Did I not deserve good things? Why does it seem that nothing was supposed to work out for me? Even the hint that I’m feeling sorry for myself, completely responsible for my reality, and putting on a distasteful display of self-centeredness, doesn’t phase me. If only it could. I would’ve shared my grief and personal agony a whole lot sooner.

    However, as it is, I may choose to go to the hospital tonight so I am safe. My self-loathing is overwhelming me as I write this with tears pouring down my face and a compulsion to find razor blades. I want to act on my self-hatred and it scares me. I wish I knew another strategy to cope. It’s easy to say, “I’ll fight on,” when the bad energy disappears slightly, but not so much when the fire ignites and rages on hell-bent on devouring me.

    Writing these words, I was scared to death but acted anyway.

    • says

      Terry, whatever you need to do to stay safe tonight, do it. Do it now. We need you here on this planet. You are not allowed to give up, to give in. Stay here with us.

    • Hazel says

      You write with such clarity about your process that we can understand it, but we cannot truly feel it as you do. What we do know from reading it is that you need to put yourself in a safe place, if that is the hospital you need to do it.

      We here on the “Writer’s Journey” feel a bond; a bond which we do not want you to break, because you are one of us, and we are one with you.

      Take care and be safe.

    • Karla says

      Terry, my Commonweal sister, I cannot imagine the courage it took to write this post. Such brave words, and such compelling writing about your experiences and feelings. Having listened to you and shared more than just words at Commonweal, I must tell you that the world needs to hear what you have to say. Maybe you need to keep writing for others as much as you need to do so for yourself. But I don’t sense that your work is done, or should be done. I think it’s just as simple as you need to be “here”, whether it is on this blog or on this planet. Please take good care, and keep reaching out.

    • Judy says

      Terry, check in here with you can. This is a safe writing community and you have so much to offer. Your writing is so clear and will many others as it helps you to post it. You are so brave to post your feelings and fears here. Please stay here with us. Judy

    • MaryL says

      Terry, I just read your post. Go to a safe place. Now. Do it.
      And let us know when you are in a safe place. Mary L

    • says

      Dear Roadmap writers, just want you to know I’ve written to Terry privately and urging her to get the support she needs to stay safe. I also asked her to keep us in the communication loop since many of us are concerned about her well-being after reading this post.

    • Terry Gibson says

      My Dear Roadmap Sisters,

      I am sorry I didn’t respond sooner. I’ve been all over the place, feeling ashamed about what I wrote here, struggling with that, wanting to reassure, but not let that make me deny the seriousness of my situation right now. I don’t want anyone to worry. I have a plan in place and will go in tomorrow first thing in the morning; however, if things get rockier, I will make the call and go to the hospital tonight. Thank you so much for the all the love and concern. May I be worthy of it. This blog has given me everything I needed and I wouldn’t violate our circle and give up on our pact in the fight for thriving for anything in the world. Please know that.

      • MaryL says

        Terry, of course you are worthy of all the love in the world. Isn’t that why we are connected, though most of us have not even met? Hang in there. Mary L

      • Mary says

        Dear Terry,
        Please do not feel ashamed. It takes a lot of courage to say when you are hurting and you did it. That is a lot more than what others can do…. and you took that courage even further to know that you need help and need to be in the right place for that. You are a lot braver than you give yourself credit for.
        You asked if you deserve good things… YES you do. And with help you will learn the tools to see that. I know you can do this. You have just taken a huge scary step with your words… just keep one foot in front of the other and look forward to all the good things you have in front of you that is waiting to be discovered!

      • Deb Mansell says

        Thank you Terry for having the strength to speak out and for having the strength to look after yourself, please stay in touch and let us know how you are doing.

        Please do don’t be ashamed, we all stand beside you.

      • Judy says

        Terry, we’re here with you, please know that. No need for any shame or embarrassment among sister writers. Do you know how brave you are to express these feelings and take action? You are doing that and we are with you all the way. Take care and stay with us.

      • Polly says

        Terry, I just read this. Please be good to yourself. We’re all here wishing you the very best. We all care deeply. Thanks for reaching out when you needed to. That was extremely brave.

      • Terry Gibson says

        Thanks again to everyone. It means so much to me and I do apologize for worrying people. I don’t like that.The bed didn’t come through today but they think tomorrow for sure. I am safe and resting.

          • Janet says

            I wanted to let everyone know that Terry is safe and at the hospital for a few nights.

            She loves all of you so much.

        • Diana says

          You don’t need to feel ashamed for what you express one little bit. I think you so brilliantly expressed what many often feel.
          Once again your courage and ability to “go to the bone” amazes me.
          Take care of yourself. Your are valued and admired here. The world needs. We need your words.

      • Debbie says

        Terry – asking for help is a sign of strength and desire to heal. In the hero’s journey – it is the descent into hell – “dying” unto the former life, continuing forth in the face of adversity and emerging, reborn in the pain of change and self-realization – that sets apart the hero from the casual wanderer through life. In every aspect of the definition, you are a hero. Close your eyes, take a deep breath and feel my caring energy enveloping you as you rest, safely within the hospital walls.

  8. Judy says

    The Fear of the Blank Page

    There it is, just next to the yellow pulsing cursor, to the right of my reflection on the screen. It smiles. I smile. “Let the words flow,” it beckons.

    I lean into the screen, put my fingers on the keyboard, close my eyes, lick my lips and, damn, I have to pee. I run into the bathroom next to my office, shimmy out of my pajamas bottoms, sit down, and stare into space.

    Nothing. No pee. No ideas. False start.

    Within seconds, I’m back to my new office chair.

    The theme song from Jimmy Fallon’s Friday night bit, Thank You Notes, swirls in my head. Da da da da….four obnoxious organ notes are stuck in a cyber loop in my brain.

    With a smirk, I shout out loud, “Thanks, Jimmy Fallon, for interrupting my creative process with that lousy theme song.” (Although the organist IS scrumptious)

    Shaking my head, hoping to loosen the grip of a monkey mind dancing with an organ, I swirl the chair.

    That keyboard looks dirty I think as I reach for that cute pink-dusk-wipe with its multi-colored corn curls. Oh, stocking stuffers! Where was that bookstore?

    Dusting first the key board; then my screen; then the desk top, I jump up, go the kitchen, open the bottom cubby under the sink and pull out the Fantastic. Before I know it, I’ve cleaned the entire desk, the bookcase above it; have rearranged my various books on memoir, short story and playwriting– including multiple dictionaries that are stacked atop the OLD style manual and the brand NEW Manual for Writers, including my signed Billy Collins poems. (The holy of holies)

    So, maybe this isn’t the morning to tackle Fear of the Blank Page, I say to myself as that damn Thank You Note theme song makes yet another appearance in the shadows of my mind.

    Yes, write. Write with abandonment. Let the words drip from my fingers. Focus. Focus. Focus. Let go. Let go. Let go. Maybe I should wash my hair? Oh, wait, where was I?

    Jostling my p-jays, I sit back in the chair; arms extended over the keyboard and cast my eyes out the window at the basil plants. Is it going to rain today, I ask out loud, reaching for my mouse to double click the weather icon.

    Hummm, they look droopy—I forgot to water last night.

    Turning back to my screen, I laugh, rain’s coming.

    At book club last month we discussed Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Our hostess had prepared a fantastic luncheon during which she told this story of Ms. Angelou’s writing process:
    ‘she checks into a local hotel at dawn, instructs the staff to remove all stimuli from the room, takes out yellow legal pads, a bottle of sherry along with her playing cards, her Bible and Roget’s Thesaurus, and then writes twelve pages before leaving in the afternoon and editing the pages that evening.’

    WHOA, there’s an idea. The phone rings. It’s my friend Lisa, who is writing a play.

    “Up for coffee this morning?” she asks.

    “Ahhhhh,” looking at the screen, that yellow flashing cursor and the face frowning back at me, “Sure.”

    “By the way, ever hear about Maya Angelou’s writing process?” I ask leaving my office, keys in one hand, phone in the other, headed to my front door.

    “No, but Nora Ephron claims to have had ADD.”

    “Get outta here!”

    • Karla says

      Judy, I really enjoyed your sense of humor in this piece. I’ve also read that Maya writes in her closet at home.
      And this line, such beautiful language: “Let the words drip from my fingers.” Luscious.

    • Lee Xanthippe says

      Judy, what a fun piece! I like the way the piece took the reader through all the wonderful and tempting distractions, the pulls, the plants, the books, the peeing, etc. I like the details of how Maya writes and love the playwright who calls and the narrator who goes with her…really fun to feel like I was there at that desk. I like the mental reminders too–to focus followed by the details of what pulls focus…

      It made me want to check myself into a room with no distractions but hopefully come out with more than 12 pages! Thanks, Judy!

    • Hazel says

      I love this! Aren’t we all in the same bucket?

      You have made us all smile until your last line and then we lost it. “Get outta’ here!” I am just getting to know you but I can imagine you as you describe. This is so well done.

      Thank you so much for sharing.

      My “monkey mind” is more like a jitterbug.

    • Hazel says

      Back when I was writing “lots” of poetry I was given a beautiful journal book. I was having trouble writing in it because it was so pretty I didn’t want to mess it up, so I wrote this ode:


      I hesitate to make a mark
      to write upon your pages.

      I’m not cryptic, humorous
      nor wise like ancient sages

      my words almost always come
      before and after rages.

      What could I write that would be
      worth reading down through ages?

      Still, I sit with pen in hand
      and muse on empty pages­


      • Judy says

        What an delightful read, Hazel. I love the idea of a poem to a journal. Every word perfectly chosen and placed on the page. Thank you for sharing.

      • says

        Hazel, this is just why I always recommend that people buy cheap spiral notebooks to write in–there’s less of that feeling that the writing has to be “good.”

    • Judy says

      Thank you all for your comments. It holds more meaning for me than you might imagine. We’re off on the MegaBus tomorrow to visit our Iowa kids & gkids. I’ll have my notebook and the bus (get this) it has WiFI. Enjoy the holiday and safe travels to all.

    • Diana says

      I love the humor in this piece. Some days I would like to get as far as preparing to write. I think alot of days I think about and intend to prepare to write and don’t get there. I could see myself in every word!

    • Terry Gibson says

      Judy, this piece gave me a huge smile on a rough day. I love how you paint so much with words, revealing your humour and personable, lovable self. Thanks again!

  9. MaryL says

    Mary L
    August 28, 2013

    Ten years ago, I visited cousins in southern Italy. I made the reservations, planned the trip, and prepared to go to the homeland of all my grandparents. My daughter suggested brightly, “Mom, I think you should start worrying right now about that Transatlantic flight … you’ll be over the ocean most of the way!” Ha! Yes! Fear of flying! In addition to dealing with other forms of anxiety, I’d never been comfortable above the clouds.

    I decided that the snappy retort was best. “I’m not going to worry at all!”

    While on the plane, over the ocean, I looked around at the 200 plus other passengers and noted that we were like a new entity, a whole composed of individuals. In addition, there was a pilot up there flying the plane. And any residual concern washed away. We were fine. I was not afraid!

    I loved the visit – staying in an apartment overlooking the Adriatic Sea, with wonderful new people whom I never would have met if not for years of genealogy study and writing brave letters to people I thought might be relatives. Late every evening we gathered in two or three cars for “the ride” to a different nearby village or town. We had real pizza at midnight at an outdoor restaurant/park. We laughed; we took many, many pictures.

    One cousin is a linguist and he helped when translations were needed. My Italian is only fair, but one afternoon when I began to feel faint from the heat, I said in very good Italian, “I need a glass of water!” and they got me some water!

    We keep in touch monthly at least. I will be going back… renewed my passport already!

    • Hazel says


      I liked this story because you didn’t dwell on your fear, you acknowledged it and went on. You made it more about the visit than the flight. You looked around and, “We were fine. I was not afraid!”

      I don’t think there is a time that any of us fly that at some point in the journey don’t say to ourselves, “what the hell keeps this thing in the air, anyway?” It is an unnatural act.

      Great that you had so much fun with your new found family.

      Thank you for sharing.

    • Judy says

      MaryL, did you leave your fears on those clouds as you flew to your family…thinking yes. You write with no fear of discovery after seeing the ocean. Love how you made memories, vivid memoir and new cousins on this exciting family gatherings. Did we compare notes on Family Tree Maker? Enjoyed your journey.

  10. Tony del Zompo says

    I’m afraid, right now, that I’m churning out the biggest piece of rubbish that I’ve ever considered posting on Laura’s blog. I’ve been editing the shit out of myself for the last hour. I’ve written several good sentences, but have failed to produce an opening line worthy of anyone’s undivided attention. So, I’ve written this instead.

    This is an interesting prompt. It’s also timely, just another demonstration to me that God, my God anyway, has a sense of humor. I’ve been searching for a job for the last month. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. I’ve been thinking of getting ready to prepare myself to look for a job for the last month. I finally got off my ass last Monday.

    I’ve been talking to my friends about the latest incarnation that fear has taken in my life. You see, “fear” is a demon that I have simply been unable to exorcise.

    I used to believe that if I faced that one great fear, the ultimate terror, that I’d never feel afraid again. While in high school, I played football in front of thousands of fans. I’ve spoken in public, spent time in jail, surfed big waves, jumped out of airplanes, reunited with my daughter after ten years of estrangement, pitched my book in front of a room full of writers, and appealed the State of California for my license to practice physical therapy once again. You’d think that nothing would scare me anymore, wouldn’t you?

    Turns out that human beings are hard wired to experience and react to fear. I’d love to impress you with my rudimentary understanding of the neurophysiology of fear, but that would require research and effort, and, well, I’m just not that motivated right now. Turns out I’m also slothful as well as fearful.

    But I am insightful. Oh, and I’m courageous. At least that’s what I’ve discovered recently. And, dear reader, so are you.

    Fear exists in epidemic proportions in our society. Only, we call it stress. Or anxiety. Or we say that we’re agitated. Have you ever stood in line for the Giant Dipper at the Boardwalk with sweaty palms and wondered what the hell you were thinking? And then you decided to ride the stupid thing and had the time of your life? Yeah, that’s called courage. Have you ever walked across the room to talk to a complete stranger who caught your eye even though your heart was thundering inside you? Or tried something new? Or, yes, jumped out of an airplane?

    Your pupils probably dilated. Your heart rate accelerated, and your blood pressure went up. Your blood was diverted away from your internal organs and filled your limbs, readying your body to fight or flee against or from the perceived threat in the environment. But there wasn’t a saber toothed tiger crouched behind the Giant Dipper or in the cockpit of the airplane that you jumped out of, or in the office that I recently appeared in for an interview.

    Fear, the ever present bogeyman, gives us an opportunity on a regular basis to demonstrate to ourselves in real time that we are, in fact, courageous beyond our wildest dreams. We don’t have to march off into battle to learn this. Most people would rather die than speak in public anyway. Weird, right?

    So, rather than shame myself for feeling a very human emotion more often than I care to admit, I choose, usually after days and weeks of procrastination, to put one foot in front of the other and move through the fear rather than over it, under it, or away from it. And then, in all seriousness and with a touch of humility, claim courage as a trait once again.

    Oh, and that job I was looking for? I start next Tuesday.

    • Hazel says

      Wow! You did it. You led us fearfully all through your piece and then gave us the good news. Congratulations. And, I wish you success in your new job.

      I especially liked your line, “Fear, the ever present bogeyman, gives us an opportunity on a regular basis to demonstrate to ourselves in real time that we are, in fact, courageous beyond our wildest dreams.” Thank you for redirecting our focus to courage.

      Thank you for sharing.

    • says

      Hey Tony, Loved the way you opened this piece. It brought me right into an empathetic space with you and aligned me with you right away. This paragraph, “Turns out that human beings are hard wired to experience and react to fear. I’d love to impress you with my rudimentary understanding of the neurophysiology of fear, but that would require research and effort, and, well, I’m just not that motivated right now. Turns out I’m also slothful as well as fearful. ” made me laugh out loud. I love your reflections on fear–and congratulations. So glad you got the job! I know what a long road it’s been.

    • Lee Xanthippe says

      Enjoyed this piece and the trust of self to start in a less clever impressive place that felt to me like an honest one…I loved the details about the fear that had been confronted in the past and the illusion that that might help for courage now, “You’d think that nothing would scare me anymore, wouldn’t you?”
      And I loved the fearful, slothful, insightful, courageous lines too.
      I also enjoyed toward the end, the opening up of the process of procrastination before one foot in front of the other and the humility.

      I felt like this was a very relatable character and piece!

      Thank you!

    • Wendy says

      Tony, I thought this was a really engaging piece. I felt that you made a connection to me as a reader. I was happy to hear the ending but not surprised. I thought this was a charming piece.

    • Diana says

      Loved this piece Tony. I particularly liked “fear is the demon I have been unable to exorcise. I took encouragement from fear “give us the opportunity to demonstrate courage to ourselves.” Very wise.

  11. Fran Stekoll says

    I’m afraid of success. I dive in to projects, business ideas, fund raisers, all types of wonderful endeavors and just when they begin to really become big winners I drop out.

    Something inside me is scared to death to become totally fulfilled. I’ve tried to compare these fears. I do remember my Father who was told by his Father that he’d never amount to anything and in his mind he never did. Everything he tried to accomplish failed.

    Outwardly I look like a successful soul; yet inwardly I’m scared as hell.

    Some days I just pull the covers over my head and don’t face anyone; yet other days I’m outward, bubbly, happy and productive.

    I used to work at Mental Health and get free therapy. I was told I have a cyclic personality. Black and White , up and down, and I needed to balance out to find the grey.

    I’ve had therapy, God knows having a Mother as a Psychologist wasn’t easy. She analyzed everything whether I wanted to hear it or not.

    I notice also that it’s very difficult for me to find balance and I’ve attributed that to being a Libra.

    Every time I’m faced with another illness I outwardly pull through it with a tough positive attitude; yet inside I’m scared.

    I’ll be 79 soon and for the first time I feel my age. That’s a fear I’ve never felt before. Maybe I’m acknowledging myself honestly for the first time in my life.

    Maybe now I will follow through with something and conquer that fear of success. Maybe I’m already rid of fear and was afraid to see it.

    • Hazel says

      Could be that your fear was – false evidence appearing real.

      In this piece you have brought us from “I’m afraid of success.” to “Maybe I’m already rid of fear and was afraid to see it.” good job.

      Thank you for sharing.

    • Lee Xanthippe says

      I enjoyed the way this piece went boom-boom-boom with each thought and started with a bold simple yet loaded statement, “I’m afraid of success” and then filled in some of the pieces–the powerful story of the father, the therapy & “cyclic” information, the mother as psychologist, Libra, and 79…

      I felt the search for pieces and meaning and for ways of understanding fear of success also with the time pressure to perhaps confront the “fear of success” issue…thanks for bold writing!

    • Terry Gibson says

      Fran, thanks so much for sharing this. Some of your descriptions of are so riddled with wisdom, I can’t help but say so. False beliefs, if we don’t air them, can shape a lot. So true for me. Also, you are someone whom I admire so much! Without ever having a supportive mother/grandmother, I glean from other women my guidance for a lifetime. You are one of them and I listen closely, even when it doesn’t seem so. I am always scared no matter how I look, yet act anyway. Like you did and still do today. You can do anything! Take good care.

  12. Diana says

    I greeted Roberta as she entered the dressing room. The time changing from civilian clothes into hospital greens affords the opportunity to orient the new hire to my expectations for the shift. As a veteran ICU nurse, I have taken many student nurses into the real world of professional nursing. Roberta looked the same as many of her predecessors. Her straight back and lifted shoulders told me she has studied hard and made exemplary marks thereby avoiding the penetrating gaze and scathing discipline of her instructors. Her steady unflinching eyes and set mouth said she had earned this job and she deserves it. I see in her even breathing that she is confident and free of anxiety. She has the knowledge, but no clinical wisdom. As yet she has no idea the two things are different. I let her rest in her ignorance for the moment as in a few minutes all that will change.

    As we change clothes, we discuss her nursing school experience. I had graduated from her alma mater 10 years previous. After updating me on the status of the school and its instructors, Robert checks her pockets for basic nursing supplies. She inventories one black pen, one red pen and one small LED flashlight; without these basic tools a nurse cannot start a shift. She straightens her scrub top and I say, “Let’s go check our assignment.

    We dive into the buzzing of activity at the charge nurse’s station. I introduce her as we bump into and shoulde pass her new colleagues. The day shift is anxious to report off so they can leave and PM shift wants to expedite report so we don’t get behind. “Ok we have room 101. The new admission.” I wave her to follow me. With all her straight A student confidence she follows me. As we walk I tell her, “Today starts you’re transition from student to professional. You now have a license. This is the start of your professional practice.”

    We enter the patient room. The green glow of the bedside monitor cast a night light glow across the corpse like patient. The whoosh sound of IV fluid through pumps and the rhythm of the ventilator are all sounds as familiar as my own breathing. Robert follows me to the foot of the bed. “The first thing you always do is look at your patient. Do not get distracted my monitors and machines. Always ask yourself, “How does he look? What do my eyes tell me?”

    This is usually the point where everything changes. Roberta is no different. Her lips and cheeks are pale and a light sweat has sprout from her upper lip. The confident, deserving glare has fear creeping into the edges. Her shoulders slump forward, her breathing quickens. The realization that she doesn’t know a thing and four years of nursing school has taught her nothing floods her entire being. I recognize this as “The Fear” and it is a good thing.

    I look at her and gently say, “Only a fool would step into the room of a critical patient and not be scared. Being scared tells me you know this patient is sick and close to death. Being scared tells me you know he is dependent on you to bring him closer to life and distance him from death. You grasp the mortality at hand.” She lets out a soft sigh. “I won’t let you make a mistake.” I whisper.

    I don’t tell her “The Fear” never goes away. Each time I enter the room of a critical patient it is like the first time, only I have no one there to “not let me make a mistake.” Every shift the anxiety boils in my stomach. As I walk into the patient room fears pulses up my spine. The risk is knowing someone’s life is in my care. Their future depends on my clinical discernment and ability to intervene.

    I give Roberta my final lesson, one I learned early. “Intensity can bring focus or it can bring chaos. You have a choice. Use the intense fear to bring intense focus to your patient care. When you do a yoga posture, and the pose gets really intense, what does the teacher tell you to do?”
    “Breath”, she says. I nod my head, take a deep grounding breath, she does the same.

    • Hazel says

      Wow, what a picture you have painted! You have given us every detail of this very important moment. I was with you all the way.

      Once you clean up the type-Os this will be a really good piece to keep.

      Thank you for sharing.

      • Diana says

        Hi Hazel,
        I did go back and clean it up a bit. Alas, spell check can’t catch everything. Where is my college proof reader friend when I need her!
        Thanks for the feedback.

    • Terry Gibson says

      Diana, this was intense and you kept it going so deftly throughout. It can be quite a shock to realize that learning through books, which I love, doesn’t always complete one’s education. If you don’t have real life experience and credibility, how can you instantly be an expert about anything? Anyway, I appreciate your pieces as always. You remind me that I want to volunteer in a hospice.

  13. Deb Mansell says

    So here is this blank page and I fear it. Why do I fear it? Because it compels me to tell the truth and right now the truth hurts…….

    I am nearly 50 years old, I have lived with abuse all of my life, and now I realize that it will never go away. It will always be a part of me. No matter how hard I try, I’ll always be the one who was abused.

    It’ll always be there, the skeleton in my cupboard, the fly in the ointment.

    Like a stain on my reputation.

    Just like I have been a stain on the family, the black sheep, the wayward one. The difficult one, awkward. The one who wouldn’t shut up.

    I keep going back for therapy thinking this time I’ll tell it all, tell about the shame, the self hatred, the anger, but something else crawls from the woodwork, my life is nothing more than a badly scripted soap opera.

    I feel the pain so bad sometimes that I think I’ll explode. A big mass collecting in my chest, pressing down on me. The anger strikes me so hard I hit myself, the tears come in massive waves then hide away again.

    I feel a mess. I know I have to ride the storm but I don’t look forward to doing this for the rest of my life.

    • Karla says

      HI Deb, your writing here was powerfully clear, and I’m glad that you posted it here. I think that writing more from this place can be very healing, from my own experience. I think that writing can give you some distance from the overwhelming feelings and the pain, help to clear the overgrowth and make room for new seedlings to emerge and flourish. I would suggest gently, and again I only know my own experience, but I can tell you that I don’t believe that you will always feel this way. My experience has been that the permanence of being a survivor exists, but it is more a page in the book of my life, not the entire book.

    • Diana says

      Hi Deb,
      I love the beginning that the blank page “compels me to tell the truth”. Revealing that truth to others can be the scariest thing of all. Well expressed piece.

    • Hazel says

      I agree with Karla, when you can let go of the title of “I’ve been abused,” it becomes just one of the pages in the book of life even if it happened over several/many years. Of course, writing it out and burning it seems to me to be a good way of getting rid of it. I wrote it all out and then it disappeared from my computer, I have no idea how because I was going to write a book about it, but it was just gone, and after that I found no need to rewrite it. I find I am able to say it happened and go on, so there are a lot of us out here whom you can trust to tell you the truth, “This to shall pass.”

      • Deb Mansell says

        Thank you all, I hear you all, yet feel so low with it. I am at that point in therapy is saying it out loud and letting the pain out and it all hurts so very, very much.

    • Terry Gibson says

      Deb, I am so happy you keep writing. What I’d like to add from my life, is that I know abuses can happen over many years, sometimes by several people. Memories don’t necessarily crop up chronologically or by the intensity of physical pain or depth of betrayal. For example, my older brother’s abuse of me is resolved. Yet it started a descent into hell for me that never stopped. Others are more fresh and raw. There’s no right or wrong way. Obviously, I am still vulnerable to real lows; when was the last time it was this bad? About 20 years ago. That’s an A+ paper in my view. My crises used to be four or five times a day. Most often, I live in joy, love, and giggling like a kid. I am another witness to how things can get better. This sounds sneakily like advice, which I don’t give. From me, I spill and share as I must. It may just be a borrowed identity for awhile (being a victim and needing to fully feel that). There’s no shame in it. I beieve moving through it is possible. Please don’t get down on yourself for anything. I think what we’re all saying generally is there is much love, understanding, compassion, and experience in this group and all of us all can eventually get where we need to be through use of this sacred space, as well as the others in our lives. Hang in Deb. Please forgive the length here.

      • Deb Mansell says

        Hi there Terry thank you for coming back and commenting on my writing. It was good to get your comments, I am indeed hanging on in there, and have no intentions of giving up. 🙂

  14. Debbie says

    Leaning back into the welcoming sand
    As it shifts to accommodate my curves and contours,
    Sun warm upon my face,
    Ocean breezes gently caressing my skin
    Relaxing, a deep exhalation escapes,
    Emancipating terrors haunting me these past months
    It is almost inconceivable, feeling – no enjoying – this freedom
    Two years ago, slipping into the abyss, the unknown, the aloneness,
    As I slipped the symbol of our disintegrated relationship from my fingers,
    Today’s possibility seemed as ephemeral as tendrils of evening mist reaching for the bluffs
    At first paralyzed, doubting the kernels of this emerging self, anticipating danger
    Trembling fingers, pounding heart,
    Midnight wails beseeching the darkness for comfort,
    Some sort of comfort, some sense of safety
    Never to be granted from such supplications.
    Instead, rising the next day to make coffee,
    Greet the sun, walk the dog
    Minimizing the monsters within with light and movement,
    Purpose and prayer, there grew within peace,
    Confidence, a long missing sense of worth
    Weaving into a shield of protection
    As I battled on against the riptide of fear.
    Swimming parallel along the shore,
    Not perpendicular into overpowering emotions
    Until the icy fingers gradually loosened,
    Now floating not fighting , finding my way back
    And forward at the same time.
    Leaning back into the welcoming sand
    Accommodating my curves and contours
    as my life now fits in ways it never did before.
    Sun warm upon my face,
    Ocean breezes gently caressing my skin
    Relaxing, a deep inhalation rises from within,
    Breathing in all that now sustains me
    And finally releasing the fear.

    • Terry Gibson says

      Debbie, I just love these images:
      “tendrils of evening mist reaching for the bluffs”
      “Midnight wails beseeching the darkness for comfort …
      Never to be granted from such supplications.”
      “Until the icy fingers gradually loosened”
      “Breathing in all that now sustains me.” I could languish in your wordplay every day; I don’t mean ‘play’ to equal triteness. Never. I mean that I admire how you tell your stories, whether by poetry or prose. The language you use and cadence you achieve, leaves me in awe.

  15. Deb Mansell says

    Off to counselling in the morning, feeling more then a little bit anxious about this. What will come out next. Have said lots of things that I thought were too far off the scale to give voice too and now am going back for more.

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