Letter Writing in the Age of Instant Communication

I did a project in April (that bled into May, and eventually June) called Letter Writing Month. The goal was to write 30 letters to 30 different people in 30 days. I ended up taking longer, and wrote to about 34 different people, some of them several times.

It’s remarkable how well the project helped me realize that modern-day “instant” communication is a huge trigger for my anxiety. There’s something about the supposedly instantaneous methods of communicating that makes them incredibly stressful.

I told my counsellor at our last session that I hate e-mail (and texting). She raised her eyebrows, saying that it surprised her that “someone articulate like me” would hate e-mail. I didn’t have time to explain, as our session was coming to an end, but the reflection she made has stuck with me. She’s right, I am an articulate person. I love to write. Creative, persuasive, expository, poetic – anything really. But e-mail is TERRIFYING.

Reasons why e-mail is really scary:

  1. I don’t know if the person has received it.
  2. Even if they did receive it, it could have gone to their junk.
  3. They aren’t necessarily going to read it, regardless of if they received it.
  4. I don’t know what their schedule is for replying, so I don’t know how unreasonable I’m being when the person doesn’t respond for a week or more.
  5. E-mailing someone again because they haven’t gotten back to me is just worse, because repeat all the above steps AND add on the worry that I’m bothering them by e-mailing twice about the same thing.
  6. I don’t know how the person will interpret my words.
    1. What if they think my sign off is pretentious, or my salutation is rude or not formal enough?
    2. They might think the structure of my e-mail is too long or too short or too split up or too hard to read.
    3. They could misinterpret something I say, or take it the wrong way, and I might insult them or they might not understand me and then I’ll need to reply to explain. Repeat all the above steps, but with more anxiety, because now I’ve gotten off on the wrong foot.

Texting has a similar list of reasons why it’s really scary:

  1. I do know that the person has received it (“Delivered” shows underneath, even if they don’t have read receipts turned on), but if they don’t respond to me for hours, or even days, I have to wonder WHYYY.
  2. I don’t know if they read it, regardless of if they received it.
  3. Because people tend to respond to texts faster than e-mails, I know they’re ignoring me OR they legitimately missed my message after a couple of days (sometimes I open a message without knowing, and because it doesn’t show as “unread” anymore, I forget or don’t notice it’s there. I check through my messages for this every couple of days, but not everyone is as neurotic as me.).
  4. Texting someone again because they haven’t gotten back to you is just worse, because repeat all the above steps AND add on the worry that I’m bothering them by texting twice about the same thing.
  5. I don’t know how the person will interpret your words.
    1. They might think the structure of my text is too long or too short or too split up or too hard to read.
    2. What if they think my emojis are annoying?
    3. They could misinterpret something I say, or take it the wrong way, and I might insult them or they might not understand me and then I’ll need to reply to explain. Repeat all the above steps, but with more anxiety, because now I’ve gotten off on the wrong foot.
  6. Read receipts. To turn them on or not to turn them on?
    1. When my anxiety wasn’t as bad, it was definitely turn them on. And I liked other people to have them on, too. It comforted me to know that they’d read my message, because I knew for sure if they were ignoring me or not (if they’d read and not replied to my message, they were). I liked to have mine on because I prided myself on being a quick and attentive responder, and liked them to know that I wasn’t ignoring them if I wasn’t responding – “Delivered” meant that I hadn’t seen it yet. “Read” meant that I had and I would be responding soon.
    2. Currently my anxiety is pretty bad and they’re off. If I’m feeling super anxious, I don’t want the pressure of replying to a message right away just because I know they know I’ve seen it. I also prefer other people’s to be off, because then I can suspend my disbelief about them not having seen the message yet. If it’s just “Delivered,” I can tell myself they haven’t had the chance to see it yet. If it’s “Read,” and they haven’t answered for four days, WHY ARE THEY IGNORING ME DO THEY HATE ME??

For these reasons and more, I prefer in-person communication. I can say the same thing I would have said in an e-mail or text, and the person sitting beside me or across from me has to answer. Even if they don’t do a very good job with words, body language and facial expressions tell a story. I don’t have to trust notoriously glitchy technological media to reliably relay my message for me.

However, modern life circumstances have me living thousands of kilometres away from many of my closest friends. I have really close friends in California, Ontario, Alberta, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland. I like to keep in touch. In person is generally not possible, and Skype and phone conversations are becoming increasingly difficult due to time differences and time constraints. We are all very busy people.

This is where letter writing comes in.

The letter writing project was eye-opening and wonderful. I started at least two, perhaps three or four regular letter writing relationships through it, and they bring me so much joy. A couple of them are even with people I wasn’t really friends with before. We just knew each other through high school and had each other on Facebook. I originally posted there about the project and asked if there were people who wanted to receive a letter. The way the relationships developed was so organic. It turned out that the things I wrote about were things that interested them. They also thought letter writing was really fun and magical, and we just clicked. You can’t get that from an e-mail!

Letter writing takes away all the things that make me anxious that go along with texting or e-mail. It leaves the essence of communication that brings so much happiness and joy into my life – connecting with people. And I can be as long-winded as I like, so there isn’t much room for misinterpretation.

Letters are formal in their own way, like e-mails. However, I feel less constrained by formalities and the way you’re supposed to write e-mails when I’m letter writing.

I also don’t have to worry if they’ve received it. Generally, a letter either arrives at its destination or it shows back up in your mailbox. Canada Post might suck for a lot of reasons, but they’re nothing if not reliable (except to my dad and step-mom’s house, but that’s another story).

Finally, I don’t send letters intending to receive a reply. I ask questions, but if I don’t get an answer, that’s fine. I find I never worry if a person is going to reply to a letter I send them. In the pen-pal relationships I’ve developed, I tend to know that they will. I put it out of my mind, and when the letter comes in the mail, it’s a wonderful surprise that makes my day.

There’s just something magical about receiving a letter in the mail. I have always loved getting mail. It feels special. There’s so much that goes into it that it just inherently means more.

With letter writing, the personality and the care that are put in are evident before the recipient even reads the first word. You carefully choose stationery (or in my case, create – I paint paper in watercolours). You pick a writing utensil. One of the people who has started being my pen-pal writes with fountain pens. Awesome. Also, in general, letters are handwritten, which in itself takes more time and care than writing on a computer. You address the envelope, stamp it, and take it to a mailbox. Many people handle it and take care of it before it arrives in your mailbox, to finally be read and responded to. Wonderful.

I definitely plan to continue the trend of writing more letters in the future. I hope that more pen-pal relationships develop, and I hope that I re-kindle more relationships that have stagnated thanks to my fears surrounding modern communication methods.

Most of all, I hope the magic stays alive.


An Ode to Vancouver’s West End

The sun filters through the leaves of trees unstunted by lack of space or sky, creating shifting patterns on the sidewalk as I march toward the beach. Birds chirp happily. I cross the rainbow beneath my feet, feeling a skip in my step. I can’t believe I live here.

The West End is the only neighbourhood I’ve lived in Vancouver (unless UBC counts as a neighbourhood – to be honest, it’s so huge it probably does), and I don’t plan on living anywhere else. Nestled in the heart of Vancouver, between downtown and Stanley Park, bordered by ocean, forest, and the business district, the West End is a calm oasis in the midst of all the hustle and bustle I love about this incredible, vibrant city.

My husband and I affectionately call our street, and neighbourhood, a bubble. We live one block south of the northern border of the West End, which is Robson Street. Known as Vancouver’s Runway, Robson Street is essentially an outdoor designer shopping mall, peppered with coffee shops, restaurants, and touristy stores. It is busy, noisy, and full of incredible sights and smells. However, as soon as you make the one-block trek South to our street, it’s like you’ve walked through the film of a bubble – the noises, smells, and sights of downtown are all blocked by an invisible wall. Mammoth trees, beautiful flowerbeds, and sunlit sidewalks greet you. Friendly people walk their dogs, and sit and chat in quiet parks.

I often complain about the very few negatives of the West End:

  • parking (non-existent; there has actually recently been a huge survey project run by the city to engage residents in a conversation about how to improve the notably terrible parking situation in the future)
  • how hard it is to get into (the two major perpendicular routes that border the West End, Burrard and West Georgia, have left turn restrictions; Davie has right turn restrictions; and many West End streets are one-way leading OUT)However, I have to admit that these things also make the West End what it is – quiet, traffic-calmed, and homey.

The West End also definitely contributes to the density problem in Vancouver, as its buildings are capped at a certain height (I believe 9 floors) due to bi-laws. I’m still not sure how I feel about this, but I do know that it contributes to the calmness and quietness of our neighbourhood (more floors = more people), which I love. It has begun to change – there are a few skyscrapers popping up around the Davie area. It will be interesting to see where we go from here.

Regardless of the West End’s faults, whenever I’m feeling a little negative about my neighbourhood, I look at this list I made of all the things we have and things we don’t, and I don’t even have to finish reading it before I’m back in love with the place.

Things the West End has:

  • A name that reminds me of London’s theatre district
  • An extremely diverse group of residents (mostly European, Middle Eastern, Eurasian, and Caucasian)
  • A mall
  • Cute old people
  • Sunlit patches of sidewalkIMG_9788
  • Friendly skunks
  • Pharmacies
  • Gnome homes (This one houses the Nelson Gnome, if you can’t read that)     IMG_9783
  • Roundabouts
  • Annoying streets (some force you to turn right or left, or suddenly change to one-way)
  • Friendly people
  • Pokéstops
  • Pokémon Gyms
  • Actual gyms
  • Neighbourhood houses
  • Hotels
  • An unbelievable array of both local and chain restaurants
  • Places of worship
  • Schools (2 elementary, 1 secondary)
  • BnBs
  • Banks
  • Museums
  • Beaches
  • A lake
  • Walking trails
  • Parks
  • Murals
  • Sculptures
  • Fountains
  • Art
  • Davie Village
  • Rainbow CrosswalksIMG_9776
  • Community Centres
  • Coffee Shops
  • Tennis Courts
  • Heritage buildingsIMG_9769
  • Bus Service
  • Bike lanes
  • Grocers
  • Thrift shops
  • Farmer’s Markets
  • Community gardens
  • Seniors’ homes
  • Dogs
  • FlowersIMG_9777
  • TreesIMG_9768
  • Fireworks

Things the West End doesn’t have:

  • Parking
  • Tall buildings
  • Noise
  • An amusement park
  • A high crime rate (except for theft)

(Feel free to help me add to the list of things we don’t have, but I doubt you’ll change my mind about how awesome the West End is.)

Every day I have at least one of those meta-experiences where you realize how much you are enjoying something as you are experiencing it. Mine are almost all about the West End. I could be appreciating the view out my apartment window listening to the birds singing to each other, or walking to the beach under a canopy of the most beautiful trees’ leaves, or traversing the film of the bubble I so love and literally hearing the vacuum seal off the noise. Every day I marvel at the fact that this is my home. I can’t believe I live here.


The view from our apartment is city lights, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But the sounds in the morning are of birds chirping, not cars whistling by. Police “woop woop” their sirens, instead of letting them wail,to keep the noise level down, and I feel safe walking alone at night. It’s a one of a kind place, and I’m thankful to have it.


Small Town Big City

I have lived in the big city of Vancouver for 7 years. When I was 18 years old, I left New Brunswick for British Columbia to attend UBC. The official anniversary is coming up in a couple of weeks. Sometimes it feels like I’ve been here my entire life. Other times I can’t believe it’s been that long. I definitely felt both of these feelings multiple times when I went to visit my hometown last week.

I grew up in the Kennebecasis Valley, which is an umbrella term for the two adjacent towns of Quispamsis and Rothesay. These are suburbs of Saint John (not to be mistaken for St. John’s, NFLD). Throughout this article I use the blanket phrases small town and big city. However, the experiences I write about are specifically drawn from the KV and Vancouver.

[Language nerd alert: I wrote the title for this post a couple of days ago. Current me is loving past me for subconsciously making it sound like “Sit Still Look Pretty,” by Daya, one of my current favourite songs. Just had to put that out there.]

The longer I live in a big city, the more interesting it is to go back to my small hometown. It’s so interesting the way a person’s perspective, and even personality, can change based on the environment they live in. There are things I used to love about my small town upbringing that I really dislike now. I do still miss some of the things I thought I would when I first left, like seeing the stars and having a backyard. However, I’m surprised to dread returning to some of the  other aspects of a small town. Here’s a look at some of the things I’ve found to be very polarizing between big cities and small towns.

Things that are drastically different when comparing a small town and a big city:


1. Definition of traffic.

In a small town, people define heavy traffic/”rush hour” as “more cars than none.” It won’t affect your travel time at all; the added vehicles will only affect the amount of space you have around you as you drive. In a big city, people define heavy traffic/rush hour as traffic being stop-start rather than flowing. Heavy traffic in cities severely impacts travel time. I find this contrast amusing.

2. Distance.

Because of this difference in traffic, measurements for distance are different. When measuring distance in a small town, people use minutes. It rarely ever takes a longer (or shorter) amount of time than usual to get anywhere. In a big city, you use literal distance, (here in Canada km). This is because even a distance as small as 10km (like my drive to work) can fluctuate as much as between 13 and 105 minutes. No joke.

3. Courtesy.

As a rule, in a small town, people are too polite as drivers. Just this last trip, we were driving on a road with a 60km/h limit, and the car in front of us slowed to about 35km/h because he saw that someone coming from the opposite direction was waiting to cross our path to turn left. Just let that sink in for a second. He slowed to a crawl to let someone turn left. Was there a long line of cars behind us? No. The other car’s path would have been completely clear for him to make a left turn as soon as us two cars had passed. Unreal.

Also, the old “You go!” “No you go!” game happens all the time, especially at 4-way stops and in parking lots. That shit causes accidents. There’s a reason there are rules for those things. Honestly. You want to make me panic? Force me to play chicken with a small town driver who’s trying to be nice.

4. Urgency.

People really take their time as drivers in small towns as well – again on this trip, we had a person take a good minute to reverse into his driveway in front of us all the while completely blocking our path. And that’s not the entire parking job. That’s just how long it took them to get out of the way of oncoming “traffic” (aka us). In a big city, you need skill at performing precise maneuvers quickly, or you face the wrath of the masses. It’s made me a better driver, but also a sometimes more anxious one, especially when parking (usually parallel).

Also, more likely than not in a small town, a person will slow down at a yellow light. In a big city, you’ll get honked at if you don’t speed up and go through it.

Light and Sound.

Small, low-population areas are very dark. Both in homes and on the road. My street back east literally has zero streetlights. I find it very difficult to see while driving at night, even with my glasses on. In my bedroom with the light off, I can’t even see my hand in front of my face. This gives the bonus of being able to see the stars more often, which I like, but I’ve always been afraid of the dark, so the city glow of home is very comforting to me.

Light “pollution” is such a negative term – I’ve always found it beautiful. Although I do sometimes miss seeing the stars with ease, I have always loved city lights. I adore throwing open my curtains and revelling in their radiance. It’s also nice to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night without having to turn on a light. Rather than pollution, I like to call it illumination.

The view from our bedroom window.
The view from our bedroom window.

Just as they are dark, low-population areas are also very quiet. Living in a big city has really heightened my ability to sleep through noise. I used to wake up at every little sound, and now I can sleep through anything from drunken debauchery to emergency sirens and car alarms (but thankfully never my on-call ringer or my alarm clock). It’s very eerie to fall asleep in absolutely silence when I visit my hometown.

Social Encounters.

In a small town, you literally can’t go anywhere without seeing someone you know. It’s necessary to factor into your excursion time the extreme likelihood of meeting someone or several someones and having a chat or three or four. It’s often hard for people with anxiety to deal with spontaneous social situations like this. Going back east is hard for me in that respect, especially because everyone hasn’t seen me in a while and wants to hear my life story. It’s a lot easier to just say hi and be on your way without feeling bad if you regularly encounter a person. There’s a lot of guilt involved in trying to avoid having a conversation with a person you like and haven’t talked to in a long time.

In a small town even when you don’t meet someone you know, people are always striking up a conversation with you anyway. The usual culprits are the cashier or another person waiting in line. Can’t I just buy my bananas in peace?!

It’s really nice knowing that in a big city I can do groceries and the only things I’ll have to say are “No thanks I have bags,” “Mastercard please,” and “Yes, thank you.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum, it’s a novelty to meet someone you know when you’re out running errands in a big city. It’s fun and I usually get a huge kick out of it. Especially if it’s someone I didn’t know moved out here, like old high school acquaintances – it’s happened three times as far as I can remember.

Getting places.

In a small town, pretty much everything requires a car. Want to go to a friend’s place? Car. Need groceries? Car. Going to work? Car. Going to school? Car (or bus). Need to go to the pharmacy, mall, or to get takeout? Car. Want to go to the gym, for a walk (YUP), or to the beach? Car. Want to catch some Pokémon or capture a gym or two? Car.

My husband and I have lived together in Vancouver for 6 years and we only just got a car a year ago. That’s not to say that there weren’t times it would have been convenient to have one. We definitely love doing our groceries and Costco runs with a car now. But it wasn’t necessary. We have hiking trails, beaches, gyms, banks, grocery stores, malls, schools, work, restaurants, coffee shops, clothing stores, art galleries, movie theatres, sports stadiums, Pokéstops and gyms, and more, all within easy walking, biking, or super-fast, cheap, and convenient transit distance. Everything is within reach.


This last one is a little trickier to define. People just seem to have a different outlook if you compare small town to big city. There are so many less options in smaller places. People have to settle all the time, and they’re just fine with that. Here in Vancouver I have everything I could ever want right at my fingertips – and often multiple options for the same thing.

A great example would be Starbucks. There are about 5 within 10 minutes’ walking distance of our apartment. Out east, there is one, and it’s about a 20-minute drive from our family homes. I looooooooooove Starbucks coffee, but when I visit KV, I don’t go there. Tim Horton’s is only ~5 minutes away in the car. Plus, the SJ Starbucks always gets our order wrong. Sometimes in multiple ways. A NF Vanilla Latte and an Iced Grande Coffee with Milk are really not difficult.

Ordering issues at coffee shops and fast food places really trigger my anxiety. That’s another reason we don’t go to Starbucks back east. In Vancouver, I’m able to choose the Starbucks that best suits my needs – a) most friendly baristas that b) always get the job done in c) an efficient and d) correct manner, and e) close by.

I often feel that in a small town, the mindset is Oh well, it’s my only choice. None of that out here. I don’t have to compromise my comfort, values, convenience, or money to get what I want in a big city. It enables me to avoid anxiety triggers, get better deals on things, have better experiences, and just be happier in general.

There is one issue with that perspective, though – I find that in a big city companies have so much competition that they REALLY try hard to sell you things, and to give you the very best all the time. Most of the time, this is great. In radio, however, it’s annoying. The amount of times I’ve texted my mom about this FANTASTIC “new” song she just HAS to listen to, only to have her reply that she’s been listening to it for months, are innumerable. Radio stations here tend to play the same top 20 songs over and over simply because they’re the most popular. They also won’t début a new song until they’re sure it’s a major hit. My favourite radio station in my hometown, 97.3 The Wave, is constantly introducing super new music and has really great variety. I often listen to it online from Vancouver.

I’m not trying to say that big cities are better than small towns. Each has their pros and cons, and different people like different things. I do, however, find it very interesting how environmental changes can seemingly change a person. As a child I LOVED my small town. As a teenager it was stifling and I couldn’t wait to get out. When I left, I found the transition to Vancouver very difficult, but loved the city so much I decided not to leave it as an adult. Now, I find it difficult to go back east.

Has living in a big city made my anxiety worse? Quite possibly. It is easier for me to avoid the things that trigger my anxiety. You’re also potentially more likely to have issues with your mental health if you live in a big city. I’m probably going to talk about that in a future post. But you could also say that being able to avoid triggers is a good thing, and I definitely feel more anxious when I visit my hometown than I do when I’m at home in the big city. That could be circumstantial, but at the very least it’s interesting.


Air Travel: 13 Reasons it’s Anxiety-Inducing

I recently (two days ago) traveled across the country. I’m still recovering. Air travel is awful for my anxiety. I’m sure this isn’t universal for people with anxiety. However, I bet a lot of these ring true for people. It bothers me so much that I’m getting majorly panicky just writing this post.

Chronologically, here are 13 reasons why air travel sucks for people with anxiety:

  1. Preparing.

    1. The place you’re going has a million different possible kinds of weather, and you need to pack clothing for everything. And footwear. And protective gear (sunscreen, hat, sunglasses, ski jacket, toque, etc.). And there’s inevitably a special event you’re going to while you’re there that requires a particular outfit. And you have to account for the gifts you’ll get while you’re there. Because if you get to the airport and your weight is over, you have to get rid of stuff, and that would cause a full-blown panic attack. You pack as many pieces of versatile clothing as possible, stuff your two carry-on bags as full as possible (and yes, each of them are as full and large as the dimensions and weight allotments allow), and weigh everything 3 times just to be sure. Oh, and you wear your heaviest clothing for the plane ride – two birds with one stone, am I right? No worrying about being cold, and you can take more stuff with you, because they aren’t going to weigh you.
    2. Then there are the lists. You make three or four different packing lists and lose them all. Then you call two, maybe three different people and ask them to run through a list of all the things they think you might need to pack, to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything. And you double- and triple-check your bags to make sure you have everything, and inevitably, STILL forget something (this time for me it was my Fitbit charger).
  2. Getting to the airport.

    1. For me, this involves pulling my very heavy suitcase and carry-on bags for about 15 minutes at top speed (if you know me, you’ll know this is a huff-and-puff-level speed walk) through downtown Vancouver to the Skytrain station, somehow managing to get my compass card out of my wallet without anyone stealing anything from me, tap it on the fare gate, get it back into my wallet, and huff down the stairs to the platform carrying all my bags (because there is no down escalator, and the elevator is so slow it would cause me to miss the next train and delay me by 7 minutes – those minutes are precious!!). I then proceed to sweat from the exertion of the walk and stairs pretty much all the way to the airport (24 minutes), at which point I start to shiver. Then I have to load up all my things again, somehow get my compass card out of my wallet again and tap out, somehow get it back into my wallet, and begin the trek down the tramway, escalator, and to the check-in area.
    2. Because of all the possible things that could go wrong in this process, I spend a long time fretting over when I should leave my apartment. The train ride is 24 minutes, but I could just miss one when I get to the station, which could mean anywhere from a 6 to 13 minute wait, depending on the time of day. Foot traffic could also be bad downtown, depending on the season (in the summer there are sooooooo many pedestrians downtown) which adds to my travel time AND my anxiety (ever tried to dodge a group of tourists gawking at everything they see and walking SLOWLY five abreast on the sidewalk while carrying a 50 lb suitcase, 22 lb backpack, 22 lb secondary carry-on, purse and DSLR camera? PANIC!). There’s also the possibility of something going wrong with the Skytrain, and add to that the possibility of suitcase roller malfunction (it’s happened) and the fact that my elevator could suck (it sucks all the time) and easily add 5 minutes to my travel time, and I’m losing my mind with worry.
  3. Airport arrival times.

    This is technically an add-on to #2. Air Canada now suggests arriving anywhere from 60-90 minutes early for domestic flights. THIS IS NOT HELPFUL. If I get there with 60 minutes to go, is that enough?! SOMETIMES. But not always. Especially at YVR, the flightiest airport ever as far as busy-ness goes. It’s either busy as heck or you can hear crickets chirping in there. 90 minutes it is, sigh. In all likelihood, I’ll get there and hear crickets, but AT LEAST I WON’T BE LATE. All of these time considerations together have me leaving my apartment at least 2:30 before my domestic flight is scheduled to leave.

  4. Check-in.

    There are now five steps to check-in, each of which require talking to a person who assumes you know nothing. Talking to people I don’t know is hard enough, but when they’re trying to help me? UGH. I know they mean well and are just trying to do their jobs, but I would honestly just prefer to be left alone, you feel me? I know what I’m doing. This is also where the boarding pass saga begins. I try to always keep mine in the same place so this doesn’t happen, but I’m always losing it and CONSTANTLY worrying about remembering where it is and trying to get it out and into said spot quickly so as not to hold anyone up.

    1. The kiosk.
      If you’re like me, you did this online exactly 24 hours before flight time, so as to have the best chance to get a seat that doesn’t suck. If you’re like me this time, you were getting a bride ready for her wedding 24 hours before flight time and couldn’t check in until the morning of and accordingly got the worst seat ever, which just added to the anxiety. More on that later. If you didn’t do it online, it’s an extra step at one of the self-check-in kiosky thingies. Here you frantically try to get your e-mail to return your booking reference number, because your printer died when you checked in at home (of course) and you couldn’t print your boarding passes to scan them, all the while hoping no one comes over to see if you need any help (No I’m fine thank you very much). When you finally find it by scrolling through your thousands of e-mails (when searches of “Air Canada,” “August 8,” and “Saint John” didn’t work – damn you Mail app..), you punch it in, …and get an error. Hello, check-in line, hello, longer check-in time, and hello, panic.
    2. The bag tags.
      If you’re fortunate enough not to get an error at the kiosk, you proceed to attaching your own bag tags. Beware, the edges are sharp. One time I got a serious paper cut and had to spend time running around the touristy shops trying to find a person that could give me a Band-Aid. Cue more panic. By now you’re probably thinking, gosh, this girl has seen it all. Well, I’ve seen a lot in my 20+ years of traveling back and forth across the country and the Atlantic, but it gets better!
    3. The fork.
      Then you get to go to the split in the line up, where you have to talk to someone else. I usually try to walk straight through looking like I know exactly what I’m doing (which I do), and go straight to bag drop, so that I don’t have to interact with the person who checks to make sure you have your bag tag on properly before allowing you to go to bag drop, or forcing you to go back to the kiosk, or sending you on to the special check-in desk.
    4. The wrench.
      Vancouver (perhaps other places, also, now) has added another spot, I think to add to the speed of things, where they can take you from the middle of the line-up to drop your bag instead of waiting in line for bag drop. Generally, unexpected things popping up tend to make people with anxiety uncomfortable. So this time yet another Air Canada employee accosted me to get me to drop my bag. Why are you talking to me?! I was unprepared! He asked me if I was alone, and when I said yes, I got to skip the line. Yay. But I was unprepared for this added step, panic.
    5. Bag drop desk.
      If you’re not taken aside early, you talk to the person at the booth and they take your boarding pass, scan your bag, and send you on to bag drop. Normally I remember to keep my boarding pass out so I don’t have to search for it when I get to the front of the line, but if not, panic.
    6. The weigh-in.
      At bag drop, you have to weigh your bag. This is the part where I put it on the moving scale and watch the number carefully. I take note if it matches my scale at home for future reference, so I can compensate either way in the future if it doesn’t. And if it’s overweight, I prepare to full-on panic, because all the previous steps are null and void and I need to figure out what to do. Especially if I’m alone which I normally am, because I can’t offload any of my extra things. I think sometimes the people at the scale take pity on me if it’s over and just give me a stern warning. It makes my stomach churn, but at least I’m not having a panic attack.
  5. Security.

    1. The first scan.
      Next you need your boarding pass again to give to the person at the start of the security line.
    2. The swab.
      Then there’s a person who directs you to which lineup you need to stand in (in Vancouver, there are about 8). They also randomly select you for testing. I was selected this time for a hand and bag swab (this is before you even hit the x-ray conveyor belts). I’ve been randomly selected for this before, and tested positive for explosive residue (I know, right?!), so naturally, panic. Thankfully this time it’s fine, but I’ve had to open all my bags, and when the person is finished I’m rushing to pack up because they’re already telling me where to go and keep repeating themselves as I try to pack up as quickly as possible, as if them saying over and over which lane I should go into will make me move faster and not give me a panic attack.
    3. The line.
      Now that I’m actually in the security lineup, I have to try to think about how many buckets I need, because the people behind you in line inevitably want to get through as fast as possible and try to take buckets behind you before you’re even done loading yours. Panic. And then if you haven’t taken enough, you have to reach back across them and get more. Panic. And then the people ahead of me have gone too fast, and I’m still taking my laptop out of my bag and chugging my water because I forgot it was in there while the person is reaching for my boarding pass. Ma’am, boarding pass? Ma’am, boarding pass? PANIC. YES IT’S COMING. Then she frowns at me because the Montreal-Saint John pass is on top, and says, “Wrong pass.” Panic. I’m like, LADY IT’S BELOW THE ONE YOU’RE LOOKING AT JUST FIND IT YOURSELF I’M STILL TRYING TO GET MY BELT OFF. PANIC.
    4. The gate.
      Then there’s the heart-stopping walk through the scanner gate. You beep, and get scanned with the beepy thingy or patted down. Or, you don’t beep and there’s the possibility that they’ll randomly select you for the full-body scanner anyway, which I’ve had happen multiple times. Oh, and there’s the possibility that they’ll think there’s something strange in your bag, and they’ll take EVERYTHING OUT and expect you to put it back there in 3.5 seconds while they push other people’s bags and buckets toward you. PANIC. Oh, and it was just for the pointy-looking tail of the porcelain salamander you bought on your honeymoon in Mexico. Good grief. When I bought it I didn’t imagine it as a weapon, but NOW I DO BECAUSE GET ME THE HELL OUT OF HERE.
    5. Repacking.
      When I’ve finally put my shoes, belt, sweater and jacket on (remember, heavy layers!) and I’ve sweat another bucket of water trying to get out of people’s ways as quickly as possible, I’m finally free to head to my gate.
  6. The gate.

    1. The wait.
      Oh, I’m at the gate an hour early? Great. There’s no available seating? Great. At least my giant carry-on bags double as headrests. It’s going to take me the whole hour to stop sweating again, by which point I’ll once again be freezing cold.
    2. The twist.
      (30 minutes pass) “It’s 30 minutes to boarding. Why aren’t we boarding yet? This is a big plane… Oh no, we’re going to be late. I’m going to miss my connection. It’s the last flight to SJ tonight. Oh god, I’m going to have to sleep on the floor in Montreal oh god oh god PANIC. I wonder if something is wrong with the plane. Air Canada never tells you if anything is wrong unless it’s too late oh god oh god. Wait…. Toronto?!?! I’m not going to TORONTO! They changed the gate!!! No announcement?!?!” ANGER. PANIC.
  7. Gate change.

    Once I’ve picked up my four bags and managed to make the trek all the way across the airport to the new, UNANNOUNCED gate, I find another spot on the floor (now there’s REALLY nowhere to sit, because I’m technically late now), and resume all the panic steps of #6, because they’re still not boarding the flight.

  8. Boarding.

    1. Documents.
      Now I need my boarding pass out AND my ID. And heaven forbid I forget my ID until I get to the front of the line, because it always gets stuck in the photo pocket of my wallet and takes ages to get out. Panic.
    2. The zones.
      I also get super anxious in the line because now they have boarding zones. Naturally, I’m always in the last one. So I stand around waiting for them to call zone 4 or 5, holding all of my heavy bags, because putting them down isn’t an option – I’d then have to do the process of picking them back up when they call my zone and I’d end up last in line. I also have to worry more about something getting stolen when they’re sitting on the floor.
    3. Actual boarding.
      And the whole time I’m waiting in line I’m worrying about boarding, because I don’t want to have to climb over someone when I get on the plane. Because for some reason, window seats are in the zone AFTER aisles, RIDDLE ME THAT. Another forced interaction with a person I’m inconveniencing by making them stand up. Or, on one occasion, a person who is literally going to not move at all and force me to CLIMB OVER THEM to get to my seat. There’s a reason I often get aisle seats now, especially on long flights. I hate making people move for me, and I inevitably have to get up to pee at least once on the 5-hour flight to Montreal, so, alas, I take the less-comfortable aisle seat so I don’t have to ask someone to let me go to the bathroom. It’s even worse if they’re sleeping. I can’t wake up a sleeping person! That’s terrifying!
  9. The flight.

    1. Flight.
      First of all, takeoff is horribly alarming. That drop when the plane levels off is next-level anxiety inducing. Turbulence is even worse. If you’ve seen Donnie Darko, the airplane crash scene is what I picture literally every time there’s turbulence. If you haven’t seen it, picture being in the middle of a terrifying plane crash, dark, thunderous clouds and all.
    2. Bathroom – aisle seat.
      If I’m lucky enough to be sitting in an aisle on the long flight, I can pee whenever I want. However, I have to be aware that the person beside me is probably also going to want to pee, so I shouldn’t sleep for too long if I don’t want to force them to have to wake me up to go.
    3. Bathroom – no aisle seat.
      If I’m not in an aisle, like this last time (I was in the middle on a 2-4-2, just the worst), I have to hold it for as long as possible. I try to wait for an opportune moment to ask to go. The best time is when the person beside you goes to the bathroom, because you can just get up and go with them. The person sitting beside me this time had a baby, probably max 3 months. She was hoping he would sleep as much as possible. So, once I needed to use the washroom, I had to wait until a time when he was awake.  I couldn’t possibly ask to go when he was sleeping and risk having him wake up when his mom stood up to let me out. Just. The. Worst.
  10. Getting off the plane.

    If the plane is on time, thank the lord. If not, the already anxiety-inducing de-planing is made even more stressful by the fact that you’re watching the seconds tick by on your watch. Each one that passes adds to the chances that they’re going to shut the door to your connection in your face, literally. (Again, it’s happened. The woman who did it to me was smiling.)

    1. Standing.
      In general, as soon as the seatbelt sign is off, EVERY SINGLE PERSON ON THE PLANE is standing, ready to de-plane. HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE? I’m still putting my shoes on. The g-force of the descent prevents this from being comfortable while moving. Then I’ve got to shuffle through every part of my seat pocket and underneath the seat in front of me five thousand times before I’m sure I didn’t forget anything. Then I can stand up.
    2. Etiquette.
      The regular etiquette of de-planing is one row at a time, which people inevitably try to get around. This makes me both angry and anxious. Then, when it’s my turn I have to worry about holding people up while I pull down my extra carry-on and camera from the overhead bin and try not to hit anyone with it.
  11. The connection.

    Next I find the gate screen as quickly as possible and huff-and-puff to my next gate. Repeat steps 6-10.

  1. Baggage collection.

    1. The wait.
      When I’m finally off the plane, I have the heart-stopping wait at the baggage collection area. Usually my bag is the very last off (thanks to being so early to the airport – first on, last off). I wait and wait as everyone collects their things. Nothing. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve been left without bags. There’s a reason my handbag looks like an apothecary. My suitcase has been lost so many times that if it’s important, like prescription medication, it’s in my carry-on. No, security person who can x-ray into my purse, I’m not a drug-dealer, just prepared, don’t give me that look.
    2. The report.
      Then I’m off to the counter to explain that my suitcase is black and big just like everyone else’s, and left to worry until it arrives.
    3. The drop-off.
      Usually the next day at the crack of dawn, while I’m bleary-eyed and still wearing my bathrobe, I have to run down the stairs to greet the taxi driver. Panic.
  2. Decompress.

    Get home. Have a hot drink. Revel in the fact that I didn’t die of anxiety for the 31-millionth time.

I have to do this again in just over a week? God help me.


Creativity, Anxiety, and Courage

I learned three important things quite early on.

One, that creativity requires courage. Two, that anxiety demands courage. And three, that being creative with anxiety requires even more courage than either of those alone. For a long time, I found it too difficult to muster the courage required to share my creative passions because I was crippled by anxiety about the value of, and possible response to, my work. You may be thinking to yourself, “Just do what you love, it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks.” That’s easier said than done when you’re battling with anxiety. It wasn’t until recently that creating became worth the effort again. I want to share that story.

First, creativity requires courage.

For anyone. It’s courageous to create something and put it out into the world. I have always been a creative person, and until anxiety came around, I was able to find that courage regularly.

Second, anxiety requires courage.

It’s a similar kind of courage to that required by creativity. Anxiety causes me to fear and worry about almost everything. But I live my life despite the worry and fear, and that is courageous.

Third, creativity and anxiety together require even more courage, for me at least.

I wrote creatively a lot in high school but I stopped when my anxiety got worse. Why?  I worried endlessly about what people think of me and what I put out into the world.
First, I have an incredibly strong need for people to like me. I also have a terrible fear that people will dislike me. I worry about these constantly.
Second, myself and my creative work are the same. I put so much of myself into what I create. I think that a valuation of my work is a valuation of my person.

The courage required to conquer these two things together – anxiety and creativity – was too much to muster all at once for a very long time.

It is partly that fear that has prevented me from starting this blog for so long. Remember when I said it took me two years to write my first post? I was afraid that people wouldn’t like my writing. That they would think my opinions weren’t well thought-out. I was nervous that I would get attacked for my ideas. It wasn’t the expanse of the Internet I was afraid of, or even the most grizzly, snot-nosed, pockmarked Internet trolls. That’s another aspect of my anxiety – I’m not afraid of people I don’t know. Only people I care about. To some, that might seem backwards, but it makes total sense to me. The people I care about are the people whose opinions about me worry me the most, because I don’t want them to stop liking me or to stop wanting to be in my life.

The more I value a person’s opinion, the more I fear sharing my creative work with them. Case and point: I didn’t tell my husband what I was writing about on my blog (although he did know I was starting it), nor did I directly share my work with him, because I was too nervous about what he would think. I only found out he’d been reading it after last week’s (my second) post. When he told me he enjoyed reading it, I felt like the weight of my patronus fell off my shoulders. (Nerd joke alert, my patronus is an elephant. Quite possibly the subject of another post.) I also told very few of my friends that I was even thinking of starting a blog before I linked my first post to my Facebook page.

If there is one thing that has increased my courage in terms of pursuing and sharing my creative passions, it has to be an Instagram community that I recently joined called Bookstagram. Users create accounts with bookish (“of or relating to books” – Merriam-Webster) names and post exclusively about books and related fandoms. I have no idea how it began, but it now has thousands of members and probably millions of users interacting with it daily. It is undefined, and markedly different from Instagram itself, while working within its boundaries.

I discovered it a while ago and it interested me immediately – I already loved reading, talking about books, collecting, and taking photographs. But I was hesitant to join. I worried that my photos somehow wouldn’t meet imaginary standards and that the community wouldn’t accept me. Looking back now, that sounds ridiculous. I don’t know that there exists a more welcoming or inclusive community on Instagram. Regardless, I watched from afar for a good couple of years. I didn’t see the point because I assumed I would never have any success with it, and I felt shame for wanting to be just like them – what kind of 20-something collects figurines associated with books and TV shows, and spends most of her time reading and photographing her collections? I was ashamed of and anxious about my passion.

In November, I was feeling comfortable in my new job, and had begun reading for pleasure a lot for the first time since high school. I also had the funds to be able to buy more books and start collecting funko pop! vinyl figurines. I started following more Bookstagrammers, took photos of my books and funkos, and even posted a few on my regular Instagram account. I really enjoyed it. Suddenly, something clicked. The worry about what people would think of me and the shame I was feeling began to weigh less than the enjoyment I got out of finally being passionate and creative again. A few months later, I mustered up all the courage that I could find in my body and created a Bookstagram account. It was more successful than I ever could have hoped, and it brings me so much joy.

My whole point here is that sharing one’s creative work always takes courage. Doing it as a person with anxiety inherently requires even more of that daring.

Through my experience with Bookstagram, I realized that doing what I love feels way better than not doing it for fear that it will negatively impact people’s opinions of me. My whole point here is that sharing one’s creative work always takes courage. Doing it as a person with anxiety inherently requires even more of that daring. It’s scary stuff, putting yourself out there. But it’s so worth it.

That feeling is what bolstered my courage and helped me begin writing this blog as well. No one could ever have convinced me that people would enjoy my writing. Just like no one could have convinced me that people would think my enormous book and funko collection and my photographs of it were awesome. The only thing that could and did quiet my fears was putting those things out there and observing the response (which ended up being very positive).

That brings me to my next point. I realized something new about my anxiety when I started to take leaps and share my creative work: even if the response to my Bookstagram account or my blog hadn’t been positive, that wouldn’t have been a problem, because I wouldn’t have had any scary “what if?”s to worry about anymore.

I have to experience firsthand the things that worry me to be free of them.

This is simultaneously the hardest and easiest part of my anxiety to manage: I have to experience firsthand the things that worry me to be free of them. This is difficult because I tend to want to avoid the things that worry me or wish they would go away. It is also magical, because there is a sure-fire way for me to stop worrying – to tackle what I’m worrying about head-on.

I post some photos that are less successful. That’s too bad, but at least I don’t have to worry about the response to them once they’re posted. Whether it’s positive or negative, my brain no longer has to worry about making up scary possibilities. It’s much easier to deal with what is than to worry about the things my brain makes up about what could be. All I have to do is take a leap and share my work. I say “all I have to do” like it’s nothing, but it really does require a big dose of courage. I’m getting better and better at this with time.

There will always be people who love what you love.

Generally, I find that if you create something with passion, people will respond well to it. If they don’t, that’s too bad for them. Friends are there to support you doing what you love, and if they’re unsupportive, they’re not worth your time.

There will always be people who love what you love.  People who are inspired by the joy that you take from what you invest yourself in. People who try to put you down for the things you love really don’t merit your energy.

Having these realizations doesn’t mean that I don’t worry about the quality of my creative work or people’s opinions anymore. Anxiety doesn’t just go away. But now, the joy of creating and sharing things is more important than the worry that tries to prevent me from doing those things. The good outweighs the worry.

Courage is the choice to still be anxious, but to be creative and put my stuff out there anyway. To take the leap any time I share something.

Now I just take a deep breath, pick up my tool of choice, and create.