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  • Alexandra Hillenbrand

you make my earthquake/total eclipse of the heart

When my house shook at 10:00 a.m. on a Friday morning, I had just recovered from stubbing my toe on the side of my dresser. The house shuddered almost imperceptibly, and if my dad had not yelled to me from the downstairs kitchen, I might have stood in the hallway frozen. But, I rushed down the stairs, while my dad went on a mission to find out the source of the shaking.

"What is that?" He shouted as he ran down the basement steps, convinced our radiator was about to blow up.

"I think it's an Earthquake." I said.

My dogs and I stood in the doorway of the living room, and I just waited. I called to my dad, attempting to get him to stop moving around, but then the Earthquake was already over. And the most prevalent emotion I felt was confusion.

When I Googled "earthquake near me," there were zero results. My dad almost immediately went back onto a work call, and I sat there, searching for a gauge of the level of a reaction I should have. Somehow, I felt like I was capable of remaining rather rational. However, at the lack of information or confirmation, I felt a nervous twinge of panic begin to creep up my throat.

Pro-tip: if you're afraid of a potential disaster, don't check Twitter. Twitter is hilarious, but will lend you absolutely not logical assessments of the event. Or X, sorry Elon, I'm not sure it will ever stick.

Foregoing social media, I allowed myself about a 5-second thought spiral where I was about to convince myself that we were about to have another, greater apocalyptic event. But, I swallowed the idea, replacing it with reality. For the first time in my life, I turned on the news before I checked conspiracy theories. I didn't cry, or yell, or run into the road and accidentally get hit by a car. I looked for information and I didn't panic. Um, hello!

Of course, when I didn't freak the freak out, that meant that the adrenaline remained in my body for the rest of the day. It was unused, and so, I was terrified that it would come rushing back up at another point. Which was an additionally horrifying idea, because, who wants to have anxiety? Besides, I had work, and so putting myself out of commission was not exactly a realistic course of action.

For comfort, I put on my favorite cherry cardigan, and squeezed my swollen pinky toe into a pair of red ballet flats. While at work, there was a magnitude 4.0 aftershock, one that I hardly noticed until my coworker asked me if I felt the room shaking. I nodded, sensing a flare up of fear. Having to remind myself of the information I had at hand. I knew an aftershock was a likelihood. I knew I was in a sturdy, industrial building. And I knew that I was smart enough to figure out what to do next.

The fear was rooted in truth. It was not irrational. It did not come out of nowhere. However, I took a deep breath. Usually, when I am in a situation of panic, and my flight or fight is engaged, my body picks flight. I have never been able to face my fears head on and so, I run far away from them. And that often leads me right into the center of danger, making impulsive decisions, and straying from the head on my shoulders. For once, my body stood its ground, prepared to tackle the problem was directly. And it was the strongest, most assured I have felt in my entire life.

After all the times that I have taken life for granted by believing that it was not worth living, I felt a strong desire to survive. Not out of stubbornness or intrinsic human nature, but because I thought that maybe I should. There was a lot left for me to do, after all. Things I hadn't even dreamed I could be capable less than a year ago. And I actually wanted to do them.

After my closing shift, I drove to pick up dinner. My meal to celebrate my survival was a burrito bowl from Chipotle. The remaining anxiety and the fact that I was entering into an empty house caused me to make a few random turns, hopefully deterring any potential criminal from following me. My crazy self was not willing to take any chances for more anxiety to enter the equation.

As evidenced, I have spent the majority of my life living in constant fear. I have foregone social events, taken backroads, and chosen the easy path in order to ensure my security. I have wanted to embody perfection, falling short at every point, until I slowly recognized that the attempt was futile.

What I have learned from life is that absolutely nobody knows what is going on. And that thought used to be absolutely unnerving. If I looked toward my mom and saw a grimace on her face in reaction to the news, I felt even more fear. But, the reality is, our parents have only been alive a series of years longer than us. And life goes by so fast, that they probably still feel like they are 23 years old, searching for meaning and safety. It does not mean that you need to elicit a terrified reaction because they are scared. You can keep calm, and even be a source of strength in their time of need.

So, yes, your parents can get frightened, so can you bosses, and your older sister. People will be afraid of things that don't bother you, and you will be scared of something that everyone else thinks is not a big deal. And that's useful, actually. Because you can use those moments to lend reassurance to others, even if you never get it back and even if you do. Either way, your strengths can help to build other people up. And that's so, super duped important.

Take the eclipse today, for example. Whilst I have witnessed one before, the tiniest shred of my remaining irrationality had questioned whether or not it was all going to be okay. Would it usher in the end of the world? The eclipse felt like a looming event of uncertainty and I was trying my absolute hardest to be a normal, logical human.

I went to my favorite coffeeshop, hoping for a reprieve of my mind. As the eclipse loomed closer, hoards of people walked in and out, retrieving their coffees with their eclipse glasses gripped in their hands. Couples held hands, friends talked excitedly, and strangers exchanged moments of enthusiasm over the sight. I sat there, like a bit of a freak, and watched them all. I was in awe of the general goodness and curiosity of the people in the room. Humans are adorable. And at the end of the day, all they are searching for is connection and purpose.

So, why waste your breath on reiterating your mistakes and praying for relief. As a person who gets overwhelmed by their feelings, I used to wish that the burden would go away. I wished I could be "normal" and react to things with nonchalantness and be "chill". But, that is not way my DNA was wired to be. My personality is one that feels deeply, mourns every ending, and gets hyper-excited about new beginnings. When I am happy, it is like my mind is flooded with sunshine. So, why make myself have the opposite mindset?

The highs beget the lows. Yes, I will feel fear. But, I was also feel excitement. Sometimes, my body forgets to feel the difference. Either way, it is a blessing to have the ability to navigate your emotions. Numbness is an option, certainly. However, if you never feel the bad. If you never panic, never feel anxiety, sadness, regret or guilt, you will never put the past behind you. You will be incapable of noticing the innate beauty and captivating nature of life. And you won't see how far you have come.

So, I plead with you (as well as with myself), don't waste the makeup of your marvelous mind by tearing yourself down. Or by being afraid of what you can't control. Wake up, find a thought that makes you feel good, and be a human. Live your life unapologetically, try not to hurt others, and don't look for the fast forward button. There is something special about every chapter of your life, even the bad ones.


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