Two quick stories:
When my daughter was born, I was thrilled with this tiny, perfect person I’d brought into the world, who’d ventured out from the protection of my womb and was moving, breathing, eating, sleeping, and embarking on a life of her own. (You parents know how that feels.) When we first brought her home from the hospital, though, a completely unexpected anxiety crept over me. My nights were interrupted by more than just feedings and changings. My eyes would fly open and I’d sit upright in bed, certain that I’d rolled over on top of the baby and smothered her—even though she slept in her own crib. Or I’d have terrifying dreams of a shadowy figure that came into the house and snatched the baby. I’d wake up with my heart jack-hammering—and of course I couldn’t get back to sleep until I’d checked to make sure she was okay.
Zip forward three years, to my first day as a graduate student. I’d gotten into Brown, which was my first-choice school, and I was sitting around a seminar table with about a dozen strangers—the other members of my entering class. From the moment my acceptance letter arrived in the mail, I’d been excited about becoming an MA/PhD candidate. Now, though, looking around, I felt unsure. Everyone else looked so smart. I drummed my fingers on the table, realized how nervous it made me appear, stopped. What if we had to say something in this first class? As soon as I opened my mouth, I’d be revealed as the Single Big Mistake the admissions committee had made. My fingers were drumming again. I made myself stop doing that. But before I knew it they were drumming again, providing a steady rhythm track for the butterflies dancing around my stomach.
Two seemingly unrelated stories, if you overlooked the title of this post. But they’re both about getting nervous in the context of a new situation. Facing unknown territory, though often exhilarating, is always stressful. And when the chance to explore that unknown territory is something you’ve wanted for a long time, it can be surprising to find that you suddenly feel a bit lost and unsure of yourself. It’s like moving into a new home in a place where you’ve always wanted to live and realizing that you don’t quite recognize where you are, you don’t really know anyone here, and you’re not even sure of the route to the grocery store.
You know where this is headed, right? A little more than three weeks before Deadtown releases, I’ve surprised myself by getting nervous. I’m not complaining—not at all—but I wasn’t quite prepared for my stomach occasionally going queasy or my eyes flying open an hour before I have to get out of bed. I feel like I’m on the part of a roller-coaster ride where the car is going s-l-o-w-l-y up, up, up, my heart is pounding and my palms are sweating and it’s all bottled-up anticipation without the release of that first downward plunge.
Boy, am I ready to plunge in at last.
Of course, jitters come from letting a situation grow out of proportion. When you haven’t covered this particular ground before, it’s easy to let the situation get bigger and bigger. A few months from now, I’ll look back and wonder why I got quite so nervous. That’s why it’s helpful to remember past anxieties and that I got through them. My daughter grew up to become a smart, loving, wonderful young woman with a killer fashion sense. I loved grad school and earned the degrees I’d set out to get. (In fact, a friend later told me that I’d intimidated her on that first day because I looked so confident—even bored, the way I was drumming my fingers on the table. :))
A year from now, the jitters will probably hit again as I’m waiting for the release of Deadtown‘s sequel. I hope I’ll feel a little more confident, because the territory will be a little more familiar next time around. I’ll have ridden the roller coaster and know what’s coming. And I’ll come back and read this post to remind myself that I made it through the ride.