Portsmouth, NH | Durham, NH
College, Hard Stuff

The Baby Deer Day

To be completely honest, I’ve been a bit of a mess lately, my friends. A few weeks ago I got anxious about a few things, then I got anxious about getting anxious, then before I knew it I was bawling in my car because Julie had 1) asked if I was okay and 2) put on Mumford & Sons. Deadly combo.

I could tell a long-winded story here, all about the essential items I forgot at school on Tuesday and the exits I missed when I drove back the next morning to get them and how late I was to everything I had planned for the rest of the day because of those forgotten items and the mixed exits. But the truth is I just typed out that whole story, and it’s actually pretty boring, so let’s just skip to the baby deer part.

My sister Sarah and I were standing in American Eagle on Wednesday night, surrounded by jeggings and flannels and adorable store personnel with radios in their back pockets. (What if those radios were actually direct lines to the CIA? Does American Eagle assign their employees into platoons? Why don’t they say Roger every time they send someone to open a dressing room for me? Things I’ve wondered while waiting in line to exchange dark-wash jeans.) We’d just stopped by the mall on our way to see the new Hunger Games movie at eight. I checked my email to make sure our movie tickets went through.

My movie ticket purchase had gone through. For the seven o’clock show.

It was already 7:02. Fuck.

As we left American Eagle, I scrambled to buy new tickets on my phone and wondered out loud if we’d even have time to get dinner. Take-out Panera? Or we could try the Food Court? Sarah finally stopped and turned to me.

“Listen. I’m driving, we’re going to get take-out Panera, and you’re not making any more decisions today. Okay?” She looked at me, eyebrows high. I nodded, she nodded, then she took my arm and we were on our way. “This might be the most Hannah you’ve ever been, you know that?” She laughed.

“I know, I’m fricken sorry, okay,” I laughed too. (I lost a lot of swim goggles as a child. And eyeglasses. And watches.) “Lead the way, captain. Jesus take the wheel.”

“I am kind of like Jesus, aren’t I?” Sarah took the wheel big time.

I sent this text to Jules while we were waiting for our take-out Panera.

Wednesday night, standing in Panera next to my sister who is four years younger and two inches taller than me, I felt like a scrawny ass baby deer. Whenever I tried to walk—or pack, or re-pack, or buy movie tickets—my legs got all shaky and folded up. Like that adorable scene in Bambi when Bambi tries to walk on ice, but maybe slightly less adorable.

I was going to stop here, more or less, but Julie reminded of something important as I was writing this post. I’m not even feeling like a baby deer anymore and that girl knows how to pick me up.

She wrote this on my draft: I guess the only thing was I was waiting for it to get deeper into the baby deer dynamic because I know it goes beyond feeling anxious. (Like sometimes you feel like you’re not that capable or grown up, when that’s not true.) And it’s that part that causes you anxiety.

Jules, sometimes it feels like you know me better than I do. Because there have been several moments in the last couple of weeks where I’ve felt really and truly shit-my-pants incapable. (I haven’t gone so far as to actually shit my pants, but that seems like the most accurate way to describe the feeling.) I have no natural talent for cooking or cleaning, I’m shit with directions, I have a tendency to forget where my shoes are right when I need them most. With the four horsemen of the graduation apocalypse waiting just around the corner, sometimes I really do get nervous. Am I going to make it out there?

Well, yes. I am. Feeling like a baby deer doesn’t actually make you a baby deer. (Although wouldn’t that make for kind of a hilarious time?) We all have our baby deer days. Sometimes you just need someone to tell you you’re done walking for the day and throw you over her shoulder. (Lookin’ at you, Sar.) But the important thing to remember is that we really aren’t baby deer, no matter how much we may feel like one on a Wednesday night at Panera Bread.

I’m back at school now, and as far as I know, I managed to pack everything I need. My baby deer day has passed, but I wanted to share my baby deer story just in case I have some fragile-feelin’ friends out there. I don’t know if you get anxious, or stressed, or angry or sad or discouraged. I’m not sure what it is that makes you feel like a baby deer on ice. But everybody’s got something. And finals are coming up—this is baby deer season. It’s okay, my friends. Take care of each other. And always remember to double-check your movie ticket order on Fandango.

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Hard Stuff

The Peeps

Peeps, E girls, and the Big Wiz—this one’s for you.

I’m twelve years old, and I am deliriously happy. It’s a summer night at the Eliopoulos’ house. All nine of us are in the bonus room. My flannel American Girl sleeping bag is slowly turning into a sweatbox, but I don’t care. (Caitlin and Kelly also have flannel American girl sleeping bags. In the morning, we’ll all wrestle the puffy black material until it folds in on itself and miraculously takes the shape of a duffle bag with a strap.)

Caitlin’s knee is sticking into my hip, and on my other side, James is making jokes about his boxers. Zach’s all scrunched up in the corner next to Joe. (Zach’s the youngest and the smallest, so he gets last pick in the sleeping spot lottery.) Taylor’s on the couch, Kelly’s on the other side of Caitlin, and Jake and Annabelle are by the big bay window.

“I’m gonna make it to 5am,” Jake says. “Not going to sleep until I see the sunrise!” (Jake says this kind of thing a lot. He dreams big, but it’s also pretty likely that he’ll be asleep within the half hour.)

“Bullshit!” James throws a pillow at Jake. They’re both wearing very silly boxers.

“Guys!” Taylor whispers, “Andy and Lisa are trying to sleep! Quiet down!”

“Okay mom,” Joe laughs from the corner.

“Kell,” Annabelle says, “what was that thing you were saying about the werewolves earlier?”

“Seriously guys, they’re real,” Kelly sits up in her sleeping bag. “Someone was telling me about it last week. And look, there’s a full moon right now.” We all look to the big bay window, and sure enough, the moon floats bright and full over the E’s front lawn.

“That does look pretty big,” Jake says.

And then, I swear to God, we hear a howl. The room erupts.

“What the hell was that?”

“Did you hear that?”

“Kelly, how’d you do that? I’m serious!”

“Shit!”

We’re all laughing and poking each other and debating the likeliness of an actual werewolf wandering outside on the Eliopoulos’ property.

“Guys, it’s definitely just a coyote,” Caitlin says after a few minutes. We all kind of agree. But how awesome would that have been if it were an actual werewolf?

To be honest, I don’t even know how we all met. I don’t remember who came up with the name, either. The Peeps. Our parents all joined the Nashua Country Club when we—the Big Peeps—were around six years old. Our younger siblings—the Little Peeps—were probably two or three. We grew up together, but it was more than that. We became family.

 

All of my memories start in the middle. 7 AM swim practice at the pool, shivering in the one-piece race bathing suits that gave you a wedgie no matter what size your mom ordered. Stealing little white towels from the bin next to the guard desk and wearing them as capes. Eating french fries outside the snack bar on chairs that always left designs on the backs of our legs.

 

Flashlight murder was a sleepover tradition. As soon as the sun set, no matter whose house we were at, someone had to go get the good flashlights from the parents. (Everyone started keeping flashlight and battery stashes in their garages.) Rules for flashlight murder: An empty soda can must be inside the chalk-drawn circle in the driveway at all times. Singing in jail to distract your captors is encouraged. No puppy-guarding under any circumstances. (Looking at you, Jake.)

“The parents” became a collective term. (I’m pretty sure they started calling themselves the Really Big Peeps at one point.) It’s like we all had this giant team of adults that yelled at us when we did something stupid and hugged us when we did something great. And we knew all the drills—line up early for Andy’s pancakes at the Eliopoulos’, Kelly and Rina yell the loudest (and hug the hardest), Lisa’s the one to watch Napoleon Dynamite with, Maura will make you laugh so hard you pee a little bit, Jim can teach you how to beat up your little sister if she’s being a punk, etc. (I still owe you for that one, Jim.)

We had about eighteen different parents we could call if we left our most expensive pair of swim goggles on the pool deck. (I was infinitely better at losing swim goggles than I ever was at swimming in them. Sorry, Mom.) There was always someone around to put a Band-Aid on your scraped knee or stop you from ordering that third ice cream sandwich from the snack bar. If it takes a village to raise a child, the Peeps were a sprawling metropolis.

As we got older, the Peeps faded away from the Nashua Country Club. (Astronomical monthly fees, I’m tellin’ you.) We still saw each other at cookouts and lake days and ski adventures, but the Big Peeps started working. We got cars and made new friends. We went to different high schools. Soon even the Little Peeps started driving and dating and doing big-kid things. Life went on. We stayed in touch and we grew up.

Then a few weeks ago, the world lost an incredible man. Andy Eliopoulos passed away suddenly on the 4th of July while riding his bike to train for the Pan-Mass Challenge. My first thought when I heard the news was that I desperately wanted to hug my friend Annabelle. Then I thought of the pancakes.

****

I’m twelve years old, and I’m still deliriously happy. It’s the morning after the night with the boxers and the werewolves. (Jake claims to have seen the sunrise, but there were no witnesses.) We play a few rounds of Ziggy the Boy Scout Slayer on Belle’s desktop computer and take turns logging onto our AIM profiles. Then we hear Andy shout from downstairs.

PAAAANCAAAAKES!

And it is just pancake mania. The Little Peeps are already sitting at the long granite countertop when we get to the kitchen—they beat us downstairs from where they were sleeping in Gigi’s room. Andy stands in front of a giant griddle with a monstrosity of a pancake batter bowl, singing goofy songs and flipping pancakes onto plates behind his back. This is a full-scale production. We’re talking upwards of fifteen kids, all under the age of twelve, all bombarding Andy with special pancake requests at the same time.

“Chocolate-chip, please!”

“I want plain!”

“Do we have any blueberries?”

“Andy! Andy! Kelsey says she wants plain too! Makes sure she gets plain!”

“Everyone’s gonna be a-getting the pancakes,” Andy says in a funny accent. (He has a lot of funny accents.) And we do. And they’re fricken delicious.

I remember thinking that Annabelle, Gigi, and Ceci were so lucky because they got to eat those pancakes all the time. Now I think we’re all lucky.

Andy was magical. He really, truly was—and not just because he joined in when Belle and I pretended we were Harry Potter wizards for an entire summer. (To this day, the entire Eliopoulos family calls me the Wiz. Belle is also a Wiz. Andy was, of course, the Big Wiz.) He was goofy and smart and so kind-hearted, and he had this gift for turning even the worst moments into hilarious stories. Belle, Gigi, and Ceci all have that gift too. Lisa is one of the strongest and funniest people I’ve ever known. There’s always been a kind of magic in the E’s house.

Over the past three weeks, I’ve seen more of the Peeps than I have in the past three years. We’ve cried together and laughed together and drank together—my goodness have we drank together. (Isn’t it funny that we can all do that now? And who the hell’s idea was it to put watermelon in the Fireball?) Everything’s changed and nothing’s changed. Ten years later, we’re still a family.

Andy—we miss you. I’m going to think of you every time I hear a Coldplay song, make a cheesy Harry Potter joke, or hit a freshly paved road on my bike. (“Oooh, bama.”) We miss you now and we’ll miss you always.

Peeps—you are the best. All of you. It’s hard to do our story justice. We made an awesome thing here.

Belle, Gigi, Ceci, and Lis—I love you guys more than words can say. Thanks for always letting me in on your magic.

  

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College, Hard Stuff

The Beast: College and Anxiety

anxiety (n.) – a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically concerning an imminent event or situation with an uncertain outcome.
Up until about ten minutes ago, this post was going to be about pillow talk. Late night laughs, early morning chats, waking up to your roommate hanging her head down from the top bunk and whispering, “Hann? Hey Hann, are you up yet?” (Jules gets bored up there pretty fast.)
But I couldn’t focus as I sat down to write that post. My eyes kept wandering from the computer screen. My palms clammed up. I looked at the clock and realized almost ten minutes had gone by, and I’d done nothing but stare out the window and wring my hands.
I was feeling very anxious.
Rationally, there was nothing abnormal I needed to worry about. Julie and I had been laughing over breakfast with Andie only a few hours before. But my chest tightened, my heart began to race, and I could feel my thoughts start to turn dark. Anxiety attack. Just thinking the words made my stomach jolt. No Hann, you’re not having an anxiety attack. You’re okay. You’re okay.
I took three deep breaths and looked away from my computer screen, relaxing the muscles in my shoulders and recognizing that my workload had me feeling stressed. The breathing slowed my heartbeat. The knot in my chest loosened. Phew. I’m good. I’ll try to get to everything tonight. I’m good. When I returned to my laptop to keep brainstorming ideas for my post, I realized that pillow talk was going to have to wait.
Anxiety and the college experience. I think this one’s important.
If you’re not in college, it may surprise you to hear that anxiety can be a major part of your educational adventure. College is where you pursue your interests and meet your best friends and maybe your soulmate and go to great parties every weekend, right? What could there possibly be to worry about?
I’m not saying college isn’t awesome, because it is. The friends, the parties, the sporadic realizations that you’re actually excited about what you’re studying– it’s all here. But college can be really hard sometimes too. Living away from your parents for the first time presents challenges. Professors demand a different kind of work than they did in high school. Relationships can be tricky to navigate, and money becomes this mythical thing that you can only aspire to one day have. There’s more to worry about than you might expect, and everything feels heightened by the seemingly constant reminder that this is as good as it gets, kid, enjoy it while you can.
We are adults, but we are not quite adults. The uncertainty of the in-between can be an unexpected trigger for anxiety. (Not to mention college-age students are still kind of in the wacky hormone stage of human development, so sometimes we just get the irrational urge to cry or punch things. Always a good time.)
Jules and I usually like to share our happier adventures with you guys, because we are very lucky and have quite a lot of them. But today I’d like to share something a little more personal. A few months ago, I had a pretty serious bout of anxiety. I started having frequent panic attacks at school. I had trouble falling asleep. The simplest of decisions made me so nervous I wanted to cry, and when I did cry, I couldn’t even explain why I was so upset. A sadness set in that I just couldn’t shake. It was a strange, pervasive uneasiness that left me feeling nutty, helpless, and alone.
I tell you this not to depress the hell out of you, but to share with you what I’ve learned since then. Anxiety is scary, but it is normal, and it is everywhere. In evolutionary terms, it motivates us to do the things we need to do in order to not die. (Eat food. Drink water. Avoid killer snakes.) But sometimes it sticks around for longer than we need it to.
Anxiety comes in a lot of forms, and everyone experiences it differently. Some people feel anxious as the result of situational experience. Others are genetically predisposed to worry and depression. One of my biggest struggles in overcoming my anxious episodes was the fact that I couldn’t pinpoint why I was so unsettled. Sometimes there just isn’t a logical explanation for anxiety or depression, and that’s okay. Brain chemicals can be weird.
Above all else, I learned that anxiety is more common than I ever could have imagined. I began opening up to people I felt comfortable with– my family, my friends, even that weird roommate I share a blog with– and almost all of them answered with something along the lines of, yeah, I’ve felt like that before too. I was floored by the number of fellow college students especially who told me that they’d recently had feelings of anxiety/depression. It was like we’d all been secretly struggling to fight the same beast, too embarrassed or scared or proud to admit that we’d let the beast out of its cage in the first place.
If you’re dealing with symptoms of anxiety or depression, please know that you are not crazy, and you are not alone. It’s almost silly how hard we fight to keep it all inside sometimes. Admitting you’re not okay can be the hardest part, but I’ve learned that asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength.
With support from the best group of family and friends a person could ever ask for, I was able to get the help I needed to befriend my anxiety. Befriend it– not conquer it. Anxiety is still a big part of my life. It always has been, and it probably always will be. But that’s okay. I have my people, my yoga mat, my journal. I can get through whatever the beast may bring.
So I’m going to leave you with 1) this song, which seems a tiny bit relevant in an angsty-soundtrack kind of way, and 2) the challenge to try to be honest with yourself and the people you love. I didn’t admit that I wasn’t okay for a long time, and it made things a lot worse. I know it can be scary, but if you’re feeling anxious, confide in a friend. If your roommate’s not being himself, ask him if he wants to talk. We don’t have to take this beast on alone.
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