Extreme Exposure Therapy: Welcome to New York Edition
Amy Writes Words #7
The newsletter is late because I went to NYC over the weekend.
I went to NYC over the weekend.
I remembered how extravagant it is — how full of humans. Crowded.
I stayed inside a hotel. I remembered how good hotel sheets feel. I shared the hotel elevators with strangers.
I bought kombucha and CBD cold brew at a bodega.
I took the subway.
I sat in a small room with strangers for an hour, masks off, drinking champagne.
I ordered a suit. The women who helped me order the suit said everyone needs a suit and I laughed. I don’t need a suit. That I would like a suit in which to give talks at technical conferences is entirely absurd — it’s the high-femme flex I’ve been working the last several years, making up for all the time I lost wearing hoodies to work so I wouldn’t stand out. Like that worked. I always stood out. Now I want to stand out in pinstripes and stilettos and a peaked lapel and surgeon’s cuffs and a ticket pocket.
I went into a shoe store and tried on shoes, but I didn’t buy them.
I sat in a different small room with a different stranger, masks off, for several hours, sharing a joint. Several joints? We may have lost count. It was Saturday afternoon and it was very hot in Bushwick and the fire hydrants were open and there were children playing in a huge inflatable pool on the sidewalk in front of a hardware store.
I shared food with a friend.
I had brunch indoors.
I learned that I should not order the bottomless mimosas at brunch.
I took the subway.
I counted the many-colored Birkenstocks in Brooklyn.
I wore only flats.
I looked for a long time at the ghost trees exhibit in Madison Square Park.
The trees were the same kind of tree I see along the river in New Hampshire when I go to the house I like to rent there. In New Hampshire I can see that some of the trees are like those ghost trees, also — dying.
It’s the solstice today. It’s the time of year that Life is at its fullest but Death is chasing me. Hello Darkness my old friend, the men sang, but I am not sure I enjoy the friendship of Darkness. If I had better boundaries I could cut Darkness out of my life, right? I wouldn’t have been afraid to do the things I did in New York, breathe all that strange air with strange humans.
I hadn’t been sure I could even go to New York. New York was a lot for me to handle even before the pandemic. I thought I might get there and not be able to leave the hotel. Or perhaps not be able to go inside it in the first place. But I did those things because I thought to myself that this is as safe as it is likely to be, that if I can’t do these things now I might never be able to do them again.1
I used to think that if I could not go places that would mean my life would get smaller, and I don’t think that now. I no longer believe that things that are small are smaller than things that are large. The red mites on my roof are very small, but they are just as mysterious and wonderful as all the people wearing Birkenstocks in Brooklyn, as a pile of rambutans on a table on a sidewalk. I am not afraid anymore of my life getting smaller, exactly.
But I like New York and I want to be able to go there, even though I have to pack my anxiety and agoraphobia and carry them with me there along with all my meds and my backup meds and my backup phone battery and my backup sweaters and my backup plans.
The subway takes Apple Pay now. That was a lovely surprise.
Exposure therapy is one of the most effective treatments for phobias, panic, anxiety. For fear. Like how in nightmares you’re supposed to turn and face the monster and then the monster will disappear. It never works that way in my nightmares, but in real life it gets easier to do a thing if you do it. The fear subsides.
The fear subsides especially quickly if you order the bottomless mimosas while you are sitting inside a restaurant for the first time since March 2020.
Here’s some more Taylor Swift for you:
To me, 'fearless' is not the absence of fear. It's not being completely unafraid. To me, fearless is having fears. Fearless is having doubts. Lots of them. To me, fearless is living in spite of those things that scare you to death. Fearless is falling madly in love again, even though you've been hurt before.
It was nice to fall back in love with New York City, even though it has always scared me.
“Everybody here wanted something more/ searching for a song they hadn’t heard before/and it said ‘Welcome to New York…it’s been waiting for you’”
New York was waiting for me, and as it always does, it sang me a song I hadn’t heard before, and it was a beautiful song.
I’m glad I was fearless enough to go listen to it.
Is there something you want for yourself right now even though you are afraid? How do you walk through your fear while embracing your fearlessness? What do you love so much that you will take risks for it? What is not worth the risk to you, whatever others are doing or saying about it?
I am truly not judging others’ choices about what feels safe enough for them now. We are each dealing with the accumulated trauma of the pandemic in our own ways.