It was raining. I was seven years old, rushing out of my elementary school to catch my bus at dismissal, with my bookbag slung over my shoulder and my lunch box slapping against my thigh in the mad dash to the big yellow bus.
I was about to climb the ribbed, black rubber stairs when Mrs. La Bar, a mean, crochety old second-grade teacher, stopped me in my tracks, berating me for running–especially in the rain.
“You,” she said, pointing at me. “Come with me.”
I’d never been in trouble before. Ever. The sheer horror on my face must have been priceless.
I turned around, my cheeks flushed, and my heart pounded in my chest. Fear gripped me as I followed her back inside. No, no, no! What if I miss the bus?!
Apparently not caring about the tears pricking my eyes, she lectured me about the dangers of running in the rain. All the while she talked, my blurred eyes were focused on the clock. In two minutes, the buses will be pulling away, hurry, hurry!
As it turns out, I didn’t miss the bus. She made a motion for my driver to wait, and brought me back outside just before my bus was about to pull away.
I’m not sure, but I think I cried the whole way home.
That day, my mom picked me up, as usual, at the bus stop and knew immediately that something was wrong. Maybe it was my damp shirt, my puffy eyes, or just a mom’s intuition, but I burst into tears, choking through my words.
“Oh, Lissy,” she soothed. “It’s alright… If you had missed the bus, it’d have been ok. You would have just sat at the main office until Mommy came to get you! You know Mommy would have come!”
Logically this makes sense. Of course my stay-at-home (at the time) mom would have come to pick me up; I mean, why wouldn’t she? She’d never abandoned me before; neither had my dad. There was no rationality behind this fear; I was well-loved and in fact, if I do say so myself, adored!
But Mrs. La Bar had truly hit a raw nerve when she stopped me, igniting fear of abandonment that had never existed in my little 7-yr old brain.
And so from that day on, every afternoon before dismissal I’d start to panic. I’d start glancing nervously at the clock 15 minutes before the bell. When the “early dismissals and walkers” were allowed to go (they left a few minutes earlier) that would be my cue to prep to leave; I’d start crying, shaking, if I thought I’d be cutting it too close to “make it” upstairs (adding insult to injury, my classroom was the furthest away from the exit and on the bottom floor). And if I wasn’t among the first on line to leave the classroom, I feared the bus pulling away, leaving me stranded.
It got so bad that my insensitive, non-understanding second-grade teacher, Mrs. Lynch, called my parents to tell them that I was crying or freaking out every day before dismissal, and that she didn’t know what to do with me anymore. In her mind, my anxiety was absolutely unfounded. (Try telling that to 8-yr old (or 28-yr old) me!)
So my parents sent me to the in-school counselor to help me deal with my anxiety and fear. I drew lots of pictures and talked, spending a half hour or so with her twice a week, coming in from recess a little early so as not to distract from school. She was kind and nice and attentive and by the end of the school year, I was slightly calmer … though still unnerved.
(Side note worth sharing: I began third grade ok, but a few months into it, my house burned down … so whatever anxiety I’d been working through was only replaced with a whole new can of worms dealing with the fire aftermath. And so my life has gone!)
Twenty years later, despite a passion for travel, I am still an anxious, fearsome traveler. I get to the airport way ahead of time, even if it’s a domestic flight. Pre-9/11, I was the first at the gate for my flights, getting there ridiculously early just in case. And now, post-9/11? Recent example: I drove my husband crazy when we went to Spain this February, wanting to be at O’Hare 4 hours early. (Fortunately we were early because we had flight delays/cancellations galore!)
And I am incredibly time-sensitive; it’s a rare day I am late for anything: work, a date, even a girls’ dinner. I know it’s not the end of the world to be late, rationally I know this. It goes beyond being punctual; it’s an obsession with time.
That fateful day back in 1987 really threw me for a loop, setting me off on this path of anxious behavior that, now, has manifested itself in my disordered eating tendencies. And now that I know I’m clinically “anxious” versus just thinking I have issues with anxiety, I can move forward, identify points in my life where I’ve been affected, and draw from those experiences.
Going forward, I think I’ll talk to my therapist about learning new ways to cope with stressful situations, to remind myself to calm down and recognize that, despite it all, the bus didn’t leave that day. And that I was ok even that day ..and I’ll be ok today (and tomorrow!).
Nasty old Mrs. La Bar can’t take that away from me.
How about you? Was there a defining moment in your life when you realized you had anxiety issues?