on wednesday, i was invited to the bolingbrook chapter of the anxiety and panic support group. it was founded by jack benton, a former firefighter who looks exactly like the calm, collected guy you want with you in a fire. . . or a panick attack. the group has over two hundred members and meet on the first and third wednesday of every month. but not all the members show up at one time because, well you could probably guess this, some of them are housebound. but just knowing the group exists is a comfort for those.
i was impressed at how friendly everyone was and i thought there was nothing about them that could have tipped off anybody that they were having problems. but once they started talking about the anxiety that plagues them, i knew i was in the right place.
they even welcomed by friend bonnie bradlee who went to high school with me and came to the meeting just to be "my support".
next week i’m visiting a facebook friend in pennsylvania who has trouble leaving her home. we’ll see if we can figure something out to make her more comfortable. in the meantime, i thank all my new friends in bolingbrook! i learned so much!
“aren’t you scared of meeting your facebook friends?”
i have heard that question so often that i sometimes don’t give it the attention it deserves. certainly, meeting a facebook friend whom you’ve known for years poses few dangers. meeting a facebook friend who is a relative even fewer (except for possible crying jags). the gal you sang in the church choir with but moved to st. louis? please! but what about facebook friends you’ve never actually physically met?
kathryn barnes went to wales to meet some new facebook friends and she was last seen at swansea's high street train station on january 4. while all her contact information has been stripped from her account, facebook of course would still have it. her mother is frantic. if i were her mother, i'd be frantic too!
the short answer to the question of whether i’m afraid is no. the reason is that every time i meet a new facebook friend, i bring a chaperone. during the past year, i have never taken a trip without someone there. preferably someone who knows how to drive at night (i’m not great at it) and can carry my bags if necessary. having the initials joseph leiber presser certainly helps as well–and my son is a wonderful chaperone and once shooed off a facebook gentleman friend who entirely misinterpreted the nature of my new years resolution. it was “arlynn meets all of her facebook friends” not “arlynn does all of her facebook friends”. . . the chaperone who took me to mexico city was a captain in the u.s. army, twenty six years old, nothing romantic going on but he was determined i would make it there and back. the first thing he did when we got there is something i think all american travelers should consider–he walked me from the hotel to the american embassy, making me memorize the landmarks along the way and everywhere we went in mexico city, he referenced where we were in relation to the embassy. it seemed paranoid but really, he knew that if we ever got separated or if something disastrous happened, i was heading straight to the embassy and asking for a cheeseburger and an american flag thermal fleece blanket!
having a chaperone usually doesn’t cause a problem. we all understand the world is a place that contains a few crazies. sometimes i think my facebook friends have come to like my chaperones.
blaise pascal was a mathematician and philosopher. he'd probably wager that having a chaperone is unnecessary but that the horrors of the damage created by the one time i would need a chaperone are so great that i was wise to just use one every time. he had some stuff about atheism, God and hell along the same lines.
i have had facebook friends who are within such a geographical distance that i have made exceptions. for those facebook friends, the rule has to be public place. must meet in a public place. and in those circumstances, i always let someone know where i was going and with whom and for how long.
caribou coffee is the second largest retail distributor of coffee in america (guess the first and you'll win a prize). coffee shops were created for the purpose of meeting people. use them!
there were a few facebook friends from the previous year who insisted on the absolute forbidden: meeting alone at one or the other’s house. these friends are part of that ten percent i never saw. they wouldn’t back down on those “i’ll bring a bottle of something special over to your house tonight” terms. one gentleman friend whom i have never met was driving to my house because i had made that exception . . . but i had not one but two chaperones with me. . . i explained my two friends would join us. and i later got a text saying my facebook friend’s cousin had been jailed for speeding and my friend was called away. how inexplicable but average.
i’m sure that kathryn barnes is all right. her facebook friends have been cooperating with police. she might just have had a tiff with her mother and wanted some time off. she might have wanted to create an entirely new life for herself. she might not even know that anybody is worried about her. or there may be something totally off. totally wrong. totally nancy grace. oddly, facebook now reports that all of its users are now within four degrees of separation from each other. which means if you have a facebook account, you know someone who knows someone who is kathryn’s friend. which makes me wonder if there was a facebook friend she had recently added, someone who isn’t part of the storyline. this puzzle could be solved.
kevin bacon has been in so many diverse movies that a game was devised called "six degrees of separation" in which kevin could be linked to any hollywood star through his movie roles. facebook allows you to be kevin bacon but even more closely connected.
so am i afraid to meet facebook friends? well, not on a physical danger level. i’m more just anxious. that’s part of who i am. one day i will learn to own the entire anxiety piece of me. in the meantime, i have had a wonderful year of meeting facebook friends and this year’s new years resolution is to meet twelve facebook friends who want me to make a difference for them. i have two lined up for late january early february. i have a friend in st. louis who is going to get out of the “safe” zone for a cardinals game. i have to take what i was given last year–which was a lot of time, friendship, frequent flyer miles, homemade dinners, a garmin gps system, a william clark doll to remind me that i’m an explorer, a portrait, a courage bracelet, and a whole lot of chaperoning. . . and i have to give that back to others. without any fear.
p.s. if you have any information on kathryn, please call the swansea police at 0110 01792 654 844 she’s a beautiful gal and she needs to be known to be safe.
tomorrow i will meet a lot of new friends. they might or might not be facebook friends but they are part of my new years resolution of last year and this year. last year i endeavored to meet all 325 of the facebook friends i had. i reached ninety percent of my friends.
the other ten percent? some of them moved during the year, some of them didn't respond to my requests to meet, some of them became too famous to be bothered, and some . . . weren't even people at all!
this year’s resolution is to take what i have learned about friendship, about travel, about anxiety and about doing things even when you’re a little bit afraid and i’m going to find twelve facebook friends who want to meet me! i already have two meetings set up which means that i’m on target for this year’s resolution.
tomorrow i will meet a whole group devoted to anxiety and panic attacks. these are people who know what it feels like to be me! they are the anxiety and panic attack support group of bolingbrook and i will learn a lot from them, i’m sure. they meet on the first and third wednesdays of every month and give each other encouragement. oddly, i’m a little anxious just thinking about going there–it will be dark and i don’t like to drive at night, there will be people i don’t know, i’ll be expected (or i’ll expect myself) to be witty. i will fail at that last one.
but i have spent so much of the last two weeks sitting in my house reading messages from facebook friends, many of whom share my difficulties, that i know that i have lost practice at leaving. i need to go.
at the beginning of the new year, the ancient babylonians made promises to the Gods that they would return borrowed items and repay their debts. the romans made their new year’s promises to janus, the two faced God for whom january is named. and the medieval knights made a “peacock vow” right after christmas to reaffirm their commitment to chivalry. these days, a lot of people make new years resolutions. fully 40% of americans make resolutions. the most popular ones being losing weight, exercising more, getting a better job, getting control over one’s finances. but 88% of people fail at their resolutions, almost half giving up before the end of january. last year, i resolved to meet all 325 facebook friends that i had at the time. for a variety of reasons, i managed to meet up and have real face time, with 292.
in the third episode of season three of the hit series glee, mike chang's father demands that the principal force mike out of the glee club because mike has received an A- on one of his tests. the A- is referred to as the asian F, in part because of the stereotype that asian parents expect perfect grades from their children. i met 90% of my facebook friends last year so i guess that's an asian F.
this year, my resolution is to meet 12 facebook friends who would like my help getting out from behind the computer screen. i think we sometimes use facebook friendships as a way of avoiding the chaos, confusion and just plan scariness of modern life. and some of us have our worlds get smaller and smaller.
i made three new years resolutions: one, i have to lose ten pounds. i gained that much over the course of last year–damn, those taipei soup dumplings, the weiner schnitzel in dortmund, the smashed peas in bristol, the seven course meal in eastbourne. . . the next is a little more embarrassing.
white wine, we have to talk. . . . i like you too much. so we have to break up. i'll still let myself drink beer but the white stuff's offlimits. if you see me with a glass like this in my hand, call me out on it!
and the big resolution is that i will take what i have learned and visit twelve facebook friends who are stuck. and i will do what i can to help “un-stuck” them. but january’s nearly over. i have to get moving. people who are successful at new years resolutions do two things: they engage in interim goal setting and they announce their intentions and ask for support from their friends. in order to make my facebook new years resolution work, i will have to meet one facebook friend a month. and it can’t just be one meeting or one interaction. it’s going to have to be a little more intense. but i have made the first step:
on january 26th, i will be in pennsylvania meeting with a facebook friend who has been housebound for some time. she would like to be a “better” mother and see her son succeed at things like little league games. i will be meeting her for the first time.
on january 29th, i will fly out to boston where i will meet with a facebook friend who has similar issues. i hope she’ll let me take her to lunch at the “top of the hub” restaurant in boston because one of the focuses of her anxiety is heights and elevators.
if you want to succeed at whatever you’ve chosen as your new year’s resolution, you should announce what you plan to do and you should celebrate your interim successes.
so i’ve been having a wonderful year of meeting facebook friends. i didn’t meet all 325 of the friends i had as of january 2011, but i got ninety percent of the way there.
some of my friends didn't have time or resources to respond to my request to see them. this dude wrote "harbinger of doom" and is a fan of my grandfather fritz leiber. i never saw him this year although i tried!
one of the things i appreciate most about libby hellmann (f2fb friend #7) is that she showed up! it was january of last year. i told her my resolution to meet all my facebook friends. she was a facebook friend. i said i wanted to spend some time with her. it took some faith on her part to take part in my resolution when there was no way of telling whether i’d complete it.
i like index cards, datebooks, and lists. libby is on this list as one of the first friends i saw last year. if you have a new years resolution, get some index cards, get some organization, figure out what you have to do each day to get closer to your goal.
so last year, right around this time, we met at a restaurant in northfield called seul’s and spent a happy few friendship hours. i made a video. i posted a blog. she was f2fb friend #7–if i was going to finish up 325 friends i just had 317 more to go. she had faith in me.
libby writes suspense and i am such a fan! you can find her at libbyhellmann.com
today we met at the same restaurant because she wanted to celebrate the completion of my project. the restaurant is now called stormy’s. the interior is well decorated. libby looks great. she is off to cuba because her newest book is set there and she needs to do research. and i realized how wonderful every one of my facebook friends has been to me!
one of the things i appreciate about libby is that she was an early supporter. if you have a new years resolution you need to find your early supporters. you need to find the friends who say “you can do it”. you do have friends who might not give you that support but they might later. there are friends we need at all stages of what we do.
facebook is set to open itself up to investors with what’s going to be the largest public offering ever. mark zuckerberg is going to be a very wealthy and since he’s the dude who set this thing up in his dorm room in 2004 i think he deserves a big paycheck. but. . .
this week i have spent almost all of my waking time eating the chocolates from my christmas stocking–and reading facebook messages. in fact, i’m spending so much time on facebook that i’m starting to worry that i’m living in my computer like i was in december 2010. which was part of the reason i made the resolution in 2011 to meet all 325 of my facebook friends. i am reading messages from new facebook friends. they tell me about fear, isolation, disappointment, self-loathing. mostly, it’s people who have said “i can’t” and the can’t is anything outside their door. in fact, there’s a few where that door is their bedroom door and they can’t even manage parts of their house.
these are smart, plugged in, caring sometimes very funny and witty people. they feel they’ve disappointed their families. they wish they could travel and experience the real world. they have made a place for themselves on facebook. and now i’m part of that world.
according to some interpretations of the mayan calendar, the world will end in december 2012. according to the digital marketing firm icrossing, facebook will have its one billionth user set up an account on august 12, 2012. spooky!
one new friend is brandon, twenty six years old, living in los angeles. he has trouble with panic attacks. he has gone to the emergency room absolutely convinced he’s having a heart attack. boy, i’ve done that! he has gone through periods of being housebound. me too! we have been messaging each other quite a bit and we’ve discovered something else we share. the outside world is frightening because we’re scared we’re going to have a panic attack and we’re going to be embarrassed, helpless, made fun of. as brandon put it to me, if he is at home he knows that if he panics, he can make a cup of tea, sit on the couch, try to calm down and call 911 if absolutely necessary.
he made me think about why i’m scared of flying. i know statistically the plane is unlikely to crash which is what i say when people ask me what i’m afraid of. but i have that moment when my heart starts racing as the plane is taking off. . .
one time, i was on a plane and the person i was with said "oh, that's the noise the plane makes just before it crashes". i screamed. i was so ashamed of myself that i spent the rest of the flight with bright red hives. and didn't get on a plane again for years. and then only with a lot of white wine sloshing around my stomach.
i’m scared of the panic of flying. i’m also scared of the panic of being in grocery stores, trains, crowds, dinner parties, lunches, offices.
i'm completely freaked by wal-mart but a lot of people are. it's like they've stuffed the entire planet into a pig's intestine.
brandon forces himself to go out and create a panic attack, and let it wash all over him. that’s basically what my entire 2011 was all about. letting the panic wash all over me as i made my way through a list of facebook friends. in some sense, trusting each facebook friend to be a friend. sometimes i would have to say “i’m having a panic attack, help me” and you know what? no friend ever let me down when i asked for help.
brandon and i agreed that we both have done the usual–antidepressants, sedatives, drinking too much, therapy. and so have a lot of the new facebook friends i’ve been introduced to. i think brandon’s trying something very interesting. and i think it’s time for me to get back to being out from behind my computer screen. because if i don’t do that, i’ll backslide into being someone scared.
my new year’s resolution last year was to meet my 325 facebook friends. around this time last year, i was taking baby steps towards my goal. i didn’t think about how impossible it was. i didn’t think about how i would have to get on a plane. i tried not to think about the philippines, taiwan, korea, india. . . i secretly hoped all my facebook friends would move to winnetka, illinois. if you’ve made a resolution–especially one to get outside your comfortableness–you should be making one small step every single day.
i'm a big believer in index cards and datebooks. this time last year i was definitely working on a day at a time. . .
if your new years resolution is to make a million dollars, you might need to set a goal of making $2,739 a day. if your resolution is to lose ten pounds, maybe you should be scheduling time to work out. . . and adding one minute every day to how long you work out. if your resolution is to go to your sister’s wedding when you haven’t been outside of the house in a year, maybe it’s time for you to get a copy of bride’s magazine and look at how much fun people have with weddings.
all right, i have to go create a panic attack. . .
on january 24, the academy of motion picture arts and science president will announce the nominations for an oscar. i won’t be getting one. but i sure felt like a star last night when the black lincoln town car pulled into the driveway. michael, the driver, opened the passenger door for me and off we went. president obama was in town but i didn’t have to worry about traffic. i had to worry about dr. drew.
dr. drew pinsky is an internist, addiction specialist and a radio/television personality. he wanted to talk about my facebook project for his show on hln network.
i had run six miles earlier in the evening to calm my nerves. i texted friends in the back seat as if the digits on my driver’s license were reversed and i was fifteen not fifty one. i hardly noticed the beautiful lights on michigan avenue. michael dropped me off at the building where cnn has its bureau. the bureau is eight desks in one room and a small studio. a cheerful makeup artist made me look so great i felt awful i was being wasted on a wednesday night. and the producer took me into the studio. it was nine thirty and i really wanted to be home in my pajamas.
i sat in front of a screen that was a video feed of the view from the window. i had a microphone up under my sweater. i had an earpiece in my right ear and could occasionally hear parts of dr. drew’s interview with billy ray cyrus. a camera was directly in front of me and the producer told me to look just towards the top of the lens. then it would appear as if i were looking at dr. drew. it’s kind of like skype, but i would have to use my imagination.
for some reason i kept thinking of heidi fleiss and parrots. she was on two shows--celebrity rehab with dr. drew and sober house with dr. drew. instead of picturing dr. drew, i kept thinking about the fact that heidi the former hollywood madam owns over two dozen parrots.
i heard but could not see a clip of the time my facebook friend gretchen miller taught me how to open a champagne bottle with a saber sword. it was a wonderful memory. then an expert psychologist was introduced. she was quite alarmed–because she said that panic attacks are made WORSE by someone going out into the world without proper medical supervision and care. further, she said that panic attacks were among the easiest ailments for a professional to treat.
i have to stop right here and tell you what i HAVEN’T been doing for the past week. i haven’t been seeing facebook friends. i haven’t been traveling. i haven’t been lolling by the pool at some wonderful resort. i have been reading messages, texts, and emails from people who are just like me. it has been overwhelming because almost all of them have been from people who suffer from panic attacks and agoraphobia. all of them feeling trapped. all of them doing their best. some of them unable to afford treatment but most having made some effort. i have tried to respond to every email and i’ve made arrangements to visit at least one new friend because they believe i can help them walk out the door of their house. hell, it can’t make things any worse, right? and at least they’ll get a hostess gift out of the deal.
in the studio i did the worst thing: i forgot my manners and my microphone. i felt like i was being told that everything i had done over the past year was not only wrong, but medically ill-advised.
“maybe i should have brought a psychologist with me,” i said about my past year of travel.
i instantly regretted the words. and i settled into a familiar feeling of self-loathing. my foot and my mouth are a perfect fit, yes?
the interview ended, dr. drew couldn’t have been more polite and sweet. the producer and the makeup artist were very kind. i went down to the curb and watched the president’s helicopter fly overhead. michael told me the traffic would be light on the way home. i felt guilty taking dr. drew’s car.
sometimes when i really feel down, i drink white wine and a lot of it. but after the dr. drew episode, i had an amstel light and read OK! magazine.
this morning, i was still feeling like i owed somebody–most particularly the expert psychologist–an apology. and i had to question whether it’s okay for me to just haul off and write back to the facebook friends who contact me about their anxiety attacks. i’m not an expert. and i didn’t have experts with me when i went off to see my facebook friends around the world last year. i didn’t even ask any experts what to do or how to do it.
silly rabbit, you had a LOT of help from mental health semi-professionals. they're called family and friends!
so i don’t have any opportunity or need to make up a thank you for oscar night, but i have a thank you for this morning. thank you to my friends and family, on facebook and those who aren’t on facebook, because you made it happen. and if i could roll out the red carpet for you on oscar night, i would!