Portland Panic

Every five or six years, I get to do something really cool. Five years ago a long-gone beau took me on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Amsterdam.

Next week, thanks to the kindness and generosity of a long-time friend, I will be going to Portland. Hood River, to be exact. This friend, Kathy, is the kind of person you really doubt exists until you meet them. She's journeyed to hell and back, a couple of times, and remains one of the sweetest and most benevolent women I know. She lives in Oregon, has for several years. For her 50th birthday, she decided that she wanted a gaggle of her old timey friends to come out and celebrate. And so we are.

Of course, my broke ass couldn't afford a plane ticket. Guess what? Kathy bought it for me. See what I mean about this earthbound angel?

That's why, when I started to fret about the trip a few months ago, and when the fret morphed into mild anxiety which in turn blossomed into full-fledged freaky deaky panic, I had guilt. Here is someone doing something beyond lovely for me and in return I become a quivering, sweaty banshee.

Group texts pop up and I'm incapable of responding with the exception of a lame smiley face. Emails plopped upon the ol' inbox are read through with a stone cold slab of dread ensconced in my gut.

What's there to be anxious about, you ask? Oh honey. Grab something to drink and get comfortable. Imma spin you a yarn about the trippy funhouse that is my brain.

First and foremost, there is the certainty that I am not worthy of this. Good luck convincing me otherwise, therapists with impressive credentials and seemingly endless patience have tried to no avail. Simply put, I don't deserve it. My secret fear (well, it was secret, until now) is that I will go, the fun will happen and when it's all said and done Kathy will regret spending the money, time and energy on someone like me.

But that's basically a given with me and anything good that happens. Let's get to the meaty part of the mental, shall we?

Flying. Oh, not the actual up in the air, lookit all these cotton candy clouds part of it. I love flying. The former flight attendant in me wishes we could do it more often. No, the part that sends an icy, jagged talon of terror sliding down my vertebrae is worrying about whether or not my butt will fit in the seat. True story. I'm not a slim woman by any stretch of even the most active imagination and the fear of not fitting in chairs is very real. Add to that the spate of "omg you should have seen how this fat lady was treated on the airplane" stories floating around online and what you end up with is a woman possessing prodigious hips and ass unable to sleep thinking about that moment she dips her rear end down on Delta's finest cushions.

After that comes the next worry: smell. Anyone else have this incessant fear of stinking? Just me? If it's not my breath (a penchant for coffee, curry and cheese that reeks does a mouth no favors) it's my armpits (I use "natural" deodorant because I worry about the aluminum and "natural" sometimes means "reminiscent of a bear den in high summer") and if both of those crevices are fragrance-free it will be my feet (Birkenstocks are what I wear in the warm weather months and if you're familiar with them you are most likely aware that they sometimes exude their own special miasma. And it ain't patchouli.)

Are you beginning to feel very, very sorry for whomever draws the short straw and ends up next to me on Flight 1503? I sure am.

Another fear is that of fitting in. I've known these women, all four of them, for at least 35 years. One of them much longer than that. And yet I am convinced I don't mesh. They are successful, beautiful and have all made good choices in life. Unlike yours truly, who is awkward, barely scraping by and for the most part always feels like the lady-version of Seth Rogen in social settings. I am eternally the poor one of the bunch. The fat one. The weirdo who somehow managed to slip, unnoticed, into the inner circle of the cool people. I guess I'm always terrified of being discovered, of someone turning around, pointing an accusatory finger and announcing YOU ARE NOT ONE OF US. WHO LET YOU IN HERE??

Something else that is inspiring this interminable trepidation? FOOP. Fear Of Offending People. As a diehard introvert, it is imperative that I get some recharging time every day. Hell, there have been entire weekends I've devoted to not interacting with anyone owning less than four legs. Unfortunately, those of us who desperately need chunks of quiet time are often also filled to the brim with anxiety. This anxiety causes us to wring our hands and create incredible spirographs of "what ifs" in our heads. "What if they think I'm not enjoying myself?" "What if they think I'm being rude?" "What if they're all out there whispering about what a gd freak I am?" "What if they don't want to be friends with me anymore?" OMG you guys- I legit just made myself nervous simply by writing this fantasy what if scenario. If only I could harness this power and use it for good.

The last completely insane vexation? Wardrobe. It's going to be hot, in general, while I'm there. We're spending one night/half a day in a beach house (see, you think I was kidding about what kind of giant hearted friend Kathy is??) where it will be cool but the avg. temp for this time of year is about 90 degrees. I am not a hot weather lover. I do what I can to avoid being outside when it's warm here in Minnesota. Listen- I won't sit on the patio at a restaurant if it's over 70 degrees outside. Kathy assures me that the heat there is a different breed than the humid and oppressive kind we experience here. But still...I don't wear shorts. I don't bare my arms. I wear cropped leggings and big swingy tanks and lightweight sweaters or long sleeved jacket thingies- picture clothes from Gymboree if they carried women's XXL and everything was black, white or grey. I've treated myself to a few linen items, thinking of all the Eileen Fisher clad ladies I see at Costco and how they look presentable and not like toddlers who dressed themselves while hangry. This worry isn't so big, though. Worst case scenario is that I sweat and rest assured I will have my natural deodorant with me so what could go wrong there, amirite?

I was puttering about the kitchen this morning, and mentioned to one of my sons how this consternation of mine was really putting a damper on things. He looked at me, with what was either gentleness or pity and placed a strong, reassuring hand on my shoulder. "Ma" he said, "this is how you get before you do anything that involves a change in your routine. When you get back, I guarantee you'll be standing in this exact same spot laughing over how you were tweaking."

He's right, of course. Somehow I'll wedge my rear end into that seat, my friends and I will help our dear Kathy ring in her fiftieth year and we'll laugh and since I'm there we'll weep a little and then when it's over I'll be so glad it happened. Just like the wise young man in my kitchen predicted.

Kathy, if you're reading this, please know: I am beyond humbled by your kindness. I cannot wait to be with you while we ring in the fifth decade of an incredible life. It's an honor to be one of four people you chose to surround yourself with on this most notable of occasions.

It is imperative that you understand this rambling, self-deprecating internal dialogue happens constantly...whether I am steeling myself for the walk from my car into Target or for a five day trip with good friends. The monkey on my back is called anxiety and trust me when I say this is no Marcel-from-Friends type monkey. This King Kong is big and pernicious and knows exactly where to poke and prod in order to cause the most damage. It causes me to doubt myself, to question my very worth. It makes me see myself through the most critical filter.

And perhaps the most damaging, most injurious thing it does is suck the joy out of what should be the tingly anticipation of a good time. Where most people would be giddily ticking items off their pre-travel to-do list, I am in knots over what could and what most likely will, go wrong.

I am not just looking a gift horse in the mouth, I am going over that damn equine with a fine-toothed comb of worst case scenarios.

Writing about it has helped. Going out for cocktails with one of my fellow travelers last night also calmed the raging chaos in my mind. We laughed about it and clinked glasses "TO NEUROSES!" and just being around someone who understands was therapeutic.

Deep breathing, walking, reading, loving on my kids and my dog...these are all things I can do to alleviate it as well.

And time. Time marches on like a determined mother effer and as we all know, heals most wounds. Even the self inflicted ones.

NAMASTE, readers.


  1. Your son is a very wise man. Listen to him. You WILL have a great time.

  2. You ARE one of the cool kids, and you're loved way more than you know.
    Don't doubt yourself!

  3. Good gravy Jenny I could have written this. But I ahve learned this: the anticipation is ALWAYS worse than the actual event. I am so sorry you are going through the anxiety, but I know you will be fine in the end. I always make myself (and everyone around me) CRAZY before a social endeavor of any kind, and it is always ok in the end. Usually way better than ok. I hope you have a blast! I love you!

    I had a situation this week (resigning from something I have been a part of for 12 years) and I thought the liquid anxiety coursing through my veins was going to kill me. But I did it and survived. <3

  4. Shit. If you aren't cool, than what the fuck am I?

  5. Holy cow. I have never heard myself described so accurately. I am glad I am not the only one like this.

  6. HA! What Mary said! Jenny, believe it or not, I have almost identical anxieties shitstorming through my brain before major social events. What everyone else has said here is a million percent right: you ARE one of the cool kids, and everything you are worried about will NOT happen. Seriously, trust me -- as a fellow worst-case-scenario-izer. You will have an AMAZING time and even more than that, you'll help make this a wonderful memorable time for Kathy and the other gals! (And, spot-on about Kathy -- she is a gem, for sure.) Enjoy!!

  7. I have lived in Oregon my entire life! The beaches here are amazing. We just celebrated my daughter's 12th birthday there on Friday. Enjoy your friend Kathy, enjoy her special day, enjoy all that Oregon has to offer, enjoy all your friends! Sorry about your anxiety.

  8. I have anxiety, too, and here's one really crappy thing -- for me, I don't really have stinky sweat unless I am anxious, and then it's plentiful and awful and uncontrolled by any product. So, when I get anxious about getting anxious because I'm afraid I will stink at a particularly bad time... You guessed it.

    Oregon is stunning. We're glad you're coming to visit, and Birkenstocks remain very common here. Welcome!

  9. Enjoy your time in our beautiful state.

  10. I totally get it, Jenny. I'm exactly the same. I'm glad writing about it helped. Reading about it sure did. xo

  11. OMG Jenny, that paragraph about not fitting in could have been written by me. I have one particular group of friends - there are four of us - who have been a tight knit group for over 10 years. We spend many happy weekends together, and before one of us moved out of town, many breakfasts, lunches, dinners and everything in between.
    BUT... I am the only poor one, the only fat one, and the only single one. None of these things make me any less worthy. I know this. I really do. And yet, I am constantly wondering if they are secretly wishing I would bow out and leave them to enjoy their shopping, their vacation planning and their husband-bagging. Nobody has ever given me any reason to think this. But it's almost always there.

    Sigh. As you said, "to neuroses!"

    Enjoy your trip, honey. The beautiful Kath would not have sprung for your ticket if you didn't mean a great deal to her.

  12. We are soooooooooo much alike, it's scary.

  13. I have lived in Oregon my entire life! The beaches here are amazing. We just celebrated my daughter's 12th birthday there on Friday. Enjoy your friend Kathy, enjoy her special day, enjoy all that Oregon has to offer, enjoy all your friends! Sorry about your anxiety.

  14. Not only are you loved by many people, you are worthy of that love, every minute of every day. Your friend is bringing you out there because she loves you, and the event wouldn't be complete without you. It will be fine and you're going to have a blast.

  15. I am so glad you are not talking yourself out of going! And take 'real' deodorant for the weekend - that aluminum stuff you worry about is when you use it over a long period of time - nothing will happen to you if you use it for less than a week, and then you will rest easy, at least on part of the smelling issue. Go and ENJOY!!!

  16. Your son rocks! I'm glad you have people like your son and Kathy in your life. Of course you deserve to be there - the occasion wouldn't be the same without you. Have a great time!

  17. What a wonderful writer you are.

    Here's a tip from a fellow introvert. I have just started plainly telling people what I need. I have been amazed at how people understand. At a getaway- I stood up and said: Could everyone excuse me for a moment? I just need to lie down for a while. Everyone laughed and said Sure.

    When I came out a few hours later- recharged and ready to connect -no one was mad at me. I believe someone said: Feel better? And life went on.

    I could write more but I just want to say ... let all those worries go. And as for being hot and what to wear- Ralph Lauren has some very comfortable cotton shirt dresses that are forgiving, cool in the heat and look quite snazzy.


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