Total eclipse of anxiety
After Monday afternoon’s solar eclipse frenzy, thunderstorms were the last thing on my mind.
The sky was bright and cloudless as I joined my coworkers outside to gaze through special filters at the sun. You know the one I’m talking about? That giant orb we’d all found far less interesting the day before?
My husband polished up a welding helmet for my use, but a coworker brought in eclipse-approved glasses she was willing to share. Five of us passed two pairs between us, craning our necks while I pulled up Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” on YouTube. We were laughing, squinting and curious. It was fun to be a part of a phenomenon uniting America . . . if only for a few hours.
If you’ve hung with me for a little while, you’re probably tired of hearing about tornadoes. I developed a middle-school crush on thunderstorms and wanted to be a meteorologist until I realized how much math was involved. Becoming an English major was, of course, the inevitable progression from storm chasing.
For as much as I love wild weather, apparently that’s only true when I’m monitoring it from the safety of a phone app. I used to study radar and maps for rotation and bow echoes, wind shear and lightning patterns; hurricane season was my Super Bowl.
When faced with an actual tornado warning, though, I turn into a thrumming ball of anxiety. It happens enough in Southern Maryland that I should really be less panicky about the whole ordeal, but it’s still jarring when a storm hits. They’re often rough.
I was dodging raindrops jogging to my car Monday evening when sirens began to blare in Leonardtown. I’d noticed the creepy sky, but hadn’t heard anything about severe weather. Still, “a tornado warning has been issued,” declared a disembodied voice. “Don’t delay — seek shelter now.”
I had just a second to grab a bottle of water from the passenger seat and dig for my phone in my bulky purse. Would it kill me to clean this thing out once in awhile? On the screen were increasingly anxious messages from my husband, who was calling again. “Are you still at work? There’s a bad storm coming toward you,” Spencer said. “Don’t leave.”
I walked back to now-empty office building, standing in the lobby without a clue what to do. My colleagues had all gone on to exercise classes, dinner and errands; I was alone with the lights flickering. All my years of weather-related research did prepare me to know I needed to stay on the ground floor and away from any windows, but what was happening? Was there actually a funnel?
I found a TV broadcasting the evening news in a nearby room; a meteorologist was sharing real-time updates from St. Mary’s County. To get home, I would need to head north: directly into this severe, slow-moving storm. I was stuck. Claustrophobia kicked in. I had to shove down that fight-or-flight urge that made me want to run back to my car in the torrential rain and just get out of there. If the place had seemed eerie before, watching a doomsday-style newscast by myself didn’t help.
Unable to leave but without anything to keep my mind occupied, I wandered the halls of the building for another hour and a half. I’d convinced myself the rain was “slowing down” at one point and practically ran for the exit, but was met with a flooded parking lot. It was raining sideways, and I wasn’t dressed for all that. Also, no umbrella.
But it was tempting. The need for freedom was overwhelming. I thought about what Spencer and the kids were doing at home, sitting down to dinner without me, and thought I might actually burst into tears.
At least no one was around to see it.
The tornado warning was dropped by 6 p.m., but the torrential rain and thunder continued. I sat in the cafeteria and watched dark clouds churn overhead. Someone had left a newspaper behind, and I contemplated crossword answers without writing anything down. I texted Spencer my random thoughts while waiting for the worst of it to blow by.
Eventually I gained some much-needed perspective: I was safe and dry, as was my family. So I was leaving work late. At least I was coming from a new job I love — even if I was currently stranded there.
It was nerve-wracking to start over with a new organization after 10 years as an editor, but everyone has been so helpful. At age 32, I can admit when I’m struggling and ask for guidance at work in a way that I would have been too nervous to do at age 23. So much of adulthood is faking it ’til we make it: trying to look like we know what we’re doing. I’ve given up trying to be perfect, and it feels pretty great.
Dovetailing with being imperfect? I’m not afraid to look silly. The welding helmet definitely proved that Monday — as did the space-odyssey-esque glasses. The eclipse brought us all together.
Now, if only someone had had an umbrella.