Sharks in the water, use caution

(Illustration by Lauren Werlinger)

Writing an article and watching all the details fall into place is one of the best parts of being a journalist.

What lots of readers don’t know, however, is just how much it takes to get that information.

That sounds a lot more dramatic than it really is.

I’m not fighting against a government’s censorship or skillfully extracting a war criminal’s secrets.

Most of the time, the people I talk to are excited to talk about the project they’re working on, or how they have been involved in an important event.

Sometimes, of course, sources are not forthcoming and I must ask difficult questions.

But still, neither of those situations are the reason I find it hard to get information for my articles.

The real reason is this: every time I schedule an interview with someone, it feels like my throat is in the clutches of a boa constrictor.

I can’t breathe, my heart starts pounding, and my whole body is shaking like I’m actually in danger of being eaten alive.

I love photography, but having to ask the name and occupation of the person I just photographed makes me wish that boa constrictor would actually show up and swallow me whole.

I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder when I was 12 years old. Since then, I’ve worked on using grounding techniques, breathing exercises and positive self-talk to manage my anxiety.

Still, though, it’s never completely gone.

So why do I continue to do something that triggers my anxiety so badly?

Well, it’s like this.

When I was a little kid, I was terrified of sharks.

I often went swimming in the lake, but I never went too far for fear that a shark would ascend from the depths.

My worst enemy was the giant model of a Great White that was suspended from the ceiling of the Toledo Zoo Aquarium.

I was convinced that at any moment, it was going to come alive and eat me.

But I loved the Toledo Zoo Aquarium.

Even though I cried and hid behind my dad whenever I had to walk underneath that grinning behemoth, it was worth it, because I got to watch the tropical fish swim around in their beautiful reefs.

We went to the zoo a lot, so every time I wanted to see those fish, I had to walk under the shark. I had to keep facing my fear.

After a while, that shark wasn’t so scary anymore.

I even built up the courage to visit the shark exhibit, and I began to understand that they are not evil or murderous. They really don’t want to hurt me.

Anxiety is just another sensation meant to inform me about my internal state.

Its presence does not demand conquering or eliminating. Its presence only demands observation.

I’ve been in the Agora for months, and I’ve interviewed a lot of people, and each time, it gets just a little easier.

There’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of completing a story. So I have to keep facing the shark.