{Graves’ Lessons} Only Connect

Only-connect-That-was

This has been a most curious weekend at the end of a most arduous year.  A year ago this month I could have left this world thanks to thyroid storm, a potentially fatal health condition.

In this year, 2013, I have a newfound appreciation and growing passion for living for which I need to give voice. Today I want to start piecing together for you the lessons that I’ve learned from my Graves’ Disease in a series of posts.  Honestly, I feel too small for the task—and much of what I’m going to share is messy and interconnected inside my head like a complicated 3D puzzle, but I’m going to push through anyway, write it all down, and hope that it helps someone else.

Let’s begin with The Speech.

For the second time this year, I stared down my social anxiety and gave a speech about writing a book to a crowd of people here yesterday here in San Antonio.

I haven’t ever spoken out on this blog about my anxiety out of a sense of shame and shortcoming  (I am cringing a little as I write this), but I’ve been prone to anxiety all of my life. It has damaged some relationships and broken my own heart. Miraculously, I have a supportive family who understands this even if we didn’t always use the correct words. I’ve been luckier than most, for which I am grateful.

Last winter my endocrinologist told me that, thanks to Graves I now have extra “receptors” in my body that make me more prone to becoming anxious. This is why a little bit of stress can make my hands shake uncontrollably even when my thyroid numbers are “good.”

See where I’m headed with this yet?

Speeches, as you know, can be stressful. I walked into that conference here in San Antonio yesterday wondering if my body was going to betray me. Would my hands shake? Would my mouth go dry?  Would I remember to tell myself in the room what I tell myself in yoga when I have trouble holding Tree Pose? (“Trees sway.”) Would I remember that people sway, shake, and struggle?

But they keep going, too. They keep being human.

There were 100 people in the room, a group of such size that I haven’t seen since the TEDx talk that I gave a few years ago–and before I was diagnosed with Graves.

Hoo boy. It was a LOT of people.

My friend Yusuf Chowdhury shared a photo of the crowd via social media:

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The first time I gave the talk about writing a book earlier this year, it was to a jam-packed room of 15 folks at the local library. It went well. I didn’t shake! Based on feedback from my friend Jennifer who attended and said she learned a lot, I pushed through my anxiety to volunteer to talk at yesterday’s bloggers conference–even though the prospect of it loomed over me like a dark cloud for weeks.

Last week in the run up to the talk, I was so distracted by the minutiae of my talk–getting the slides together, trimming the original hour-long presentation down to 30 minutes, figuring out what I would wear and still feel comfortable given my middle-aged body dysmorphia (aka a fixation on my perceived physical shortcomings)–that I didn’t really give much thought to what could happen in the aftermath. I just wanted to shepherd myself through it and then pass out on my couch afterward. I wasn’t even sure that I’d make it through lunch, so I told myself that if I needed to leave, I could.

In the wake of the speech, however, I have had the most amazing conversations. Through chats, emails, texts, I’ve learned of people’s secret dreams–some book-related, others regarding long-term social change agent roles or launching new businesses. Amazingly, many listeners saw in my speech the story that I wanted them to see: the power of humans to pursue their dreams–be it writing a book or doing something else.

Since yesterday, I have let these glimpses of the human impulse to create feed my soul. I feel… renewed. And honored. Deeply, deeply honored.

In the years leading up to my diagnosis–especially the increased anxiety, I forgot about the power of connection we find when we stick our necks out and share our hard-won lessons. (Yes, that “neck” bit was a thinly-veiled, awful thyroid disorder pun. Ouch.)

I went into the speech thinking that I needed to share what I’d learned about making the transition to author. I came out of that speech realizing why I became a writer in the first place.

To connect. Only connect.

I cannot help but see this lesson through the lens of my experience as a Graves’ Disease patient. I am relearning, in the wake of my diagnosis, to open up to connection even when I want to fold up, run, or hide.

I am also learning–thanks to Melanie who led me to Brene Brown’s TED talk and books–to work through my feelings of shame about having an autoimmune disease and about being prone to social anxiety. We all have obstacles and barriers. Some of us suck it up and learn to surmount them. I want to be in that tribe, the brave souls who learn how to surmount those barriers. My first book was my first step, but I have more steps to take. And I don’t want to do it alone anymore.

I am learning that I am good enough where I am though I still have room for growth. That seems like a contradiction in terms. It isn’t. It may be the only way to get through this life with sanity and heart in tact.

I am learning that there is a place in this world for all of us. And that best of all I learned that even with my extra receptors, my anxiety-prone self can get through a speech and a day-long speech without my hands shaking.

It’s a good weekend here, sort of like a capstone class for a rough year. I’m grateful for it.

There is more running through my mind that I want to share with you, so much more.

But for now let’s let this story sit and percolate.

I just want to enjoy where I am right now. I want to feel the potential energy in this new sense of connection.

P.S. Tomorrow I’m going to talk here about parenting gifted kids at the holidays. I jump around with topics like that. It’s part of who I am–a cultural reporter, critic, advocacy blogger, and student of life. I’m grateful to those of you who are willing to listen. Thank you.

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18 Comments

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18 responses to “{Graves’ Lessons} Only Connect

  1. Love, Love, Love! Your talk yesterday was wonderful. I agree the connections and conversations were wonderful all day. As a fellow owner of a malfunctioning thyroid I struggle with anxiety as well and pushed through it hard (thanks for encouraging me on the phone as I was driving amazing hubs of mine) to get there yesterday. So glad I did and I enjoyed reading about your experience of it.

  2. We are alike in so many ways 🙂 You did an amazing job yesterday, amazing! and have inspired me in ways you will never know (if we can never get together long enough for me to tell you!). I am so very proud of you and all that you accomplish. I have been from the beginning but the closer I get I am in even greater awe. Love you lady.

    • That means so much, Stacy. I really appreciate it–and if we can ever get together in a quiet space and without a kid or a project tugging on us, I think we’d have a lot of fun. It’s nice just know that your good heart is out there, beating. 😉

  3. Gwyn Ridenhour

    What an amazing gift you offer in this (and other) posts. Social anxiety is so much more common than we would like to believe. Panic attacks, shaking, nervousness – all are so much more present even without thyroid conditions. We all just hide it so well. 🙂 Rock on, Pamela. Courage isn’t courage without fear.

    • Thanks, Gwyn. And I totally agree with you about it being fairly (increasingly?) common, even though we spend more time talking about depression. I think both are issues for the general population, but anxiety is harder to understand and articulate. I also think it has at least as much of a taboo and we’re expected to “suck it up and not talk about it” when talking about it actually tends to help, yk?

  4. Thanks for the mention, Pamela. I truly love Brene Brown’s work so much that I greatly appreciate that someone else discovered her because of something I mentioned.

    Your talk was so great at Blogitsatx! You actually inspire me to take action toward a book of my own. So, thank you!!

    • I want to know more about your idea, Melanie! (When you are ready, of course. Sometimes in the early stages there is magic to be found in holding an idea close, and I recognize that power.)

  5. Jenny

    This story really meant a lot to me! I am 31 and I was diagnosed with graves when I was only 26. I have always had anxiety issues, and the Graves seems to make the anxiety worse. It takes a lot of courage to get up and speak in front of people, and I find that it is hard for others to understand this desease and sympathise . Thank you so much for sharing!!!

    • I’m so grateful that my endo warned me that the Graves would exacerbate the anxiety, Jenny. Otherwise, last winter, I would have thought that I would never break free from the misery.

      You are welcome. I’m going to take another stab at writing about Graves in a few weeks. Right now I just need to recover a little, yk? It sort of took it out of me to share this, and yet there are so many other lessons that I want to share in part to educate others but also to connect with other Graves patients and people curious about the disease. Thanks for your note.

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  7. I was there on Saturday and your presentation really stuck with me. I struggle with generalized anxiety disorder (and I do talk about it in my blog, which has been incredibly therapeutic for me) so I was very charmed by your “admission” of having anxiety. I’ve found that many struggle with it, and once I put it out there, I felt free. Countless friends and family have shown me support and shared their “been there” stories with me. Anyway, your presentation was inspirational and your outfit was the bomb!

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