Taylor Swift's "Folklore" Taught Me How to Surrender to My Anxiety
My coronavirus meltdown happened Memorial Day weekend when my roommate was out of town. Overwhelmed by the knowledge that no one would be coming home, I felt trapped and desperate.
Sometimes you have a good pandemic day and other times you just want to cry and listen to Taylor Swift's new album.
My Facebook friend refers to this as "Tayloring." Her lyrics make it feel like she gets you. There's something universal about all the hyper-specific metaphors for love, loss, grief and regret.
When Swift sings, "I'm still a believer and I don't know why. I've never been a natural, all I do is try, try, try" in her song Mirrorball, every single person listening thinks, "Yes! That's me!"
Full disclosure: I'm not a T Swift stan, though I did write an entire personal essay listening to "Out of the Woods" on repeat.
Another disclosure: I have no idea if I technically have anxiety—is it me or is it the pandemic? Is it my history of trauma or the constant fear of death? This is how I would describe it: A tightness in my chest and throat, the feeling that something bad is about to happen.
When I first arrived in North Carolina this summer, I stepped outside because that's how I deal with my anxiety in Los Angeles—by leaving my apartment. But here in the south, the humidity feels suffocating, like I can't breathe.
My anxiety is attached to my breath. Am I breathing? Can I take the next breath? Will I take the next breath? At home, I watched episode after episode of New Girl, trying to stave off the panic, finally falling asleep deep into the night.
How do you surrender in the middle of a pandemic?
Right before my coronavirus meltdown, I started experiencing strange physical symptoms. My feet felt funny, so I walked for miles everyday to reassure myself that they still worked. And then my wrists, forearms and elbows ached when I sat down at the keyboard to write and when I didn't.
When I finally went to urgent care, that little cup thingy they use to draw blood didn't work on the first try, so they had to stick me twice. I developed a bruise that seemed to take over my entire right arm. I wore a sweatshirt every single day for weeks, even in the LA heat, just so I wouldn't have to look at it—this reminder that something might be wrong.
"I'm still a believer"—when I was in the middle of my Coronavirus meltdown, I wished that I could find solace in prayer. "And I don't know why"—nothing about who I am at this point in my life points to the kind of irrepressible belief in God that I still feel.
I've never been a natural, all I do is try, try, try
I never realize I've been trying until I find myself in the bathroom at work, crying and saying, "I'm trying so hard."
That feeling—that you weren't made for life or for this world. That you are too sensitive, too raw, too gullible, too needy, too feeling, too invested in the very things that hurt you the most, an "open wound." And I know that I'm trying. I really am. And I'm trying to let go. I'm trying to surrender, I swear on every single one of Swift's platinum records.
But it is so hard. I'm trying so hard.
I sat on the plane to visit my family wearing an N-95 mask and taking slow, deep breaths, because those were the only kind of breaths I could take, and I willed myself not to get the virus.
I want to give up. I want to prostrate myself on the carpeted floor of my sister's loft and I want to let go. I want to let go of trying to control everything, most of all the things that I cannot control. It's like I believe that if I just hold on tightly enough to my anxiety, then maybe things will work out—I won't get sick, no one around me will get sick, I can save us all.
I want to surrender because I feel like it's the right thing to do. I feel like my life is asking this of me, that I let go. I mean, really let go.
Back when we were still changing for the better
Wanting was enough
For me, it was enough
To live for the hope of it all
I don't have a reason to have hope. But I do anyway. I'm surrendering to my anxiety, to the uncertainty of the next breath that I take, to not being able to protect my friends and my family, to the moments of panic that still arrive on my doorstep like impulse-ordered Amazon packages.
Maybe the pandemic didn't actually make me anxious. Maybe I just tuned into all the fear that was already there.
How do you surrender in the middle of a pandemic?
I don't think it's a choice, honestly. You just do. You reach that point where you can't go on anymore. And so you cry and say the words, "I want to surrender" to no one in particular, not even the cat.
And somehow the wanting to surrender is enough.
Maybe you surrender to God, or the universe, or reality, or some power greater than yourself, or to what simply is.
Maybe you surrender to the lyricism of Taylor Swift.
In my loft moment, I remembered these verses from the Bible: "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest," and I wept with sheer relief.
I'm surrendering, or at least I'm trying.