Mar 6 • 19M

Holy sh*t...I totally forgot!

How a chance encounter with a reporter led me to remembering a messy part of my past I had unconciously tried to bury.

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There were some people like the late, great Evelyn Lauder, who were a salve to my nervous system. She had a way of always making me feel calm and seen in a very safe and nurturing way. 📸: Patrick McMullen/Getty

Hey,

You may have read the Q&A Yasmin Gagnè did with me in The Cut this past week. I made a funny reel about how when Yaz first walked into my apartment, minutes after greeting her, I dropped a huge glass bottle full of water and it shattered all over the place. It was an awkward nice-to-meet-you, for sure. But what really freaked me out was right as I was trying to clean up the crazy mess, Yaz, herself likely flustered because the whole thing was kind of jarring said, “Are you nervous? Don’t be nervous!” Something about that little interaction activated me so much. I wasn’t sure why, but I really wanted to figure it out. I felt drawn to talk to my former therapist from back when I was working. Since I usually just kind of go with my instincts and had plenty to catch up with him about….

This week, I had a Zoom with Joseph, my therapist of 10 years.

I wanted to tell him I was getting divorced (“I’m sorry to say I’m not surprised,” he said) and that I was dipping my toe back into the world-at-large again (He was pleased about that). I felt inclined to do a post-game of the old days with him. If his walls could talk…it would read like this Substack. But of course, it’s not that simple. See, I’m the girl whose kitchen cabinets are perfectly lined up with OXO containers marked “cereal” and “flour” courtesy of my trusty label maker. You know my type, right? After talking to him, I realized I had done some of that with my emotional life, too. Sure, the labels are more confrontational: “Incest” “Infidelity” “Blind Ambition” but still fairly neat and digestible in these 1200-word Sunday snacks for you, my beloved reader.

But after said post-game, I was as dismantled as the water bottle I mentioned earlier.

“What was your impression about why I left my job, Joseph,” I asked him. His eyes got very big. “Don’t you remember?” 👀 No, Joseph. I’ve spent 14 years trying to forget. 14 years trying to stabilize my nervous system. Joseph started using words like depression, agoraphobia. Agoraphobia?? Oh, yes. That. How I literally papered up the glass wall of my first CosmoGIRL! office so no one could see me. How I would ask my Creative Director to please email me, not call me even though she was in the office right next door. I block out the note I gave everyone on the first day we were all working on CosmoGIRL! that said something to the effect of I’d prefer they not drop in on me. I wanted as little live interaction as possible. Or the way every time I walked outside on a beautiful day, I would feel so edgy. “It’s a beautiful day!” is what most people would think. To me, it meant it’s sunny, I can be seen. It’s not safe to be seen. By then, I wasn’t thinking those words specifically, it was just a state of anxiety I would automatically click into…that I was always clicked into.

This was messaging I got from my mother at a very young age. Joseph reminded me of how little Atoosa would occupy herself by people-watching in the cars we passed. “Don’t do that!” Mom would scold. “Someone might follow us…” The implication was that they would follow us and kill us. You see, shortly after we moved to America from Iran, a serial killer nicknamed David Berkowitz aka The Son of Sam went on a year-long murder spree near where we lived. It was one of the biggest police manhunts in the history of New York City. Our family didn’t speak much English yet and the culture was totally new to us so this was particularly terrifying. I was about 4 and knew all about it and in retrospect, of course, I probably shouldn’t have. To me, it felt like we were living in a horror movie. On top of it, there was a gang of kids in our neighborhood in Queens that would chase people (including us) with sticks. We probably had two or three run ins with them. But all of this stuff combined, I imagine put my mom’s already fragile nervous system into overdrive which led to her feeling that we weren’t safe. In some way, she was right. We weren’t safe. But these feelings lasted long after the real threats were gone.

Fast forward to the Seventeen days…

In 2006, when we all moved onto the 17th floor of the gorgeous, completely transparent glass Hearst Tower designed by Lord Norman Foster, I barely lasted 5 months before I abruptly quit. There wasn’t enough paper to cover the glass box I sat in. Who could help looking into my office as they walked by? Hint: No one. And that massive Hearst cafeteria that was like a runway…everyone at the company knew who I was and would stare as I walked by…as I ate. I’m sure they stared at all the Editors in Chief. But not all the Editors in Chief were agoraphobic. I had to get the fuck out of there.

The year after I stopped working, I went to see the renowned integrative medicine doctor, Frank Lipman. He did a shit load of bloodwork on me. But then he called me concerned. Apparently, my cortisol levels looked like someone who had been hijacked. He wanted us to consult with a colleague. I didn’t go back.

I didn’t want this narrative of being a fucked-up person. That’s also why I stopped going to Joseph a few years after I stopped working. I didn’t want any labels. I just wanted to find peace. But now I see how I crafted the next chapter of my life around not touching any of my live wire trigger points. So that included not working, being creative or in the public eye. I basically removed anything that could trigger my fear response. In this “safe” zone, I slowly unpacked most of the baggage that was contributing to my feelings of overwhelm.

Like how I had this push/pull relationship with attention for my whole life. There was an element of neglect in my childhood, so I was always gunning to be seen, hence how public I was in my career. But then when I was seen, my nervous system would just short circuit. I’m not safe. I’m not safe. I’m not safe. This still happens to this day. Though I don’t think I’m quite as attention seeking, when I do get publicity, it’s still deeply uncomfortable. Like this week when The Cut piece came out, for a few hours that morning, I was in fetal position. To be clear, I loved the piece and felt so honored to be included. I saw the benefits of it happening and felt good about the things I said. It was a very thoughtful conversation led by a very smart reporter. Everything on the surface was check ✅, check ✅, check ✅.

But then I felt the energy of the attention…

And I was right back to being the scared little girl. I was terrified. There’s no narrative attached to the feeling. Like I don’t think a serial killer is going to read about me and come hunt me down. (Well, goodness, I hope not!) But as Joseph put it, I was programmed to fear. Another word for that is anxiety.

I have anxiety.

Fuck. I have anxiety.

I’m not sure I’ve ever said that. It’s not that I attach any shame to it. At least, I don’t think so. My anxiety has driven so much of my success that I never wanted to pathologize it and, by the way, I don’t want to pathologize it now. But I do want to name it.

I’ve put my life experiences into so many neat packages. And those unboxing sessions are pretty authentic. But Joseph reminded me of the abject terror, I was feeling at the height of my career. There was absolutely nothing neat about that. It was totally fucking messy. Sister, I left my job so I can finally create a feeling of safety. I stayed with a partner for waaaay too long because of his steadfastness which added to my feeling of safety. I didn’t work because I wanted to stay out of the public eye to maintain the feeling of safety. Fuck, I won’t hit the “paid” button on this Substack and create a paywall because somehow it feels like it will hamper this feeling of safety. This oasis I’ve created in every part of my life. This oasis that is getting a little…stagnant. Has catering to my anxiety made me complacent? Am I putting my I-was-a-big-shot-editor trophy on my proverbial shelf to get away with never putting myself out there again? Never taking a risk again?

Back then, I didn’t have the skills to manage my anxiety. But today, I know what to do. I don’t have to be afraid to soar. But I can. I can be afraid to soar. And it’s okay to be afraid. And that’s the space where the work is done, right? Pushing ourselves forward while acknowledging when we are afraid and slowing down when we need to. When I was working, I overrode every sign of my anxiety. Like if it was too hard to go to work, I took a psychopharmaceutical. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with doing that. But my body was sending me a signal and my ambition didn’t want to listen, so in my case, I took a pill to override it. After all, I had a career to tend to.

So now as I viscerally remember how deeply anxious I was at the end of my career. Revisit how, as Joseph reminded me, leaving all that success was a small price for not having to suffer anymore. Today, I can’t help but notice how carefully I have crafted my current life. This life where nothing is left to chance. I have dedicated the same amount of years tending to my anxiety as I did to my career. Making everything around her easy. Peaceful. But anytime something good happens for me, there she is again. Sweet Anxiety. Anytime, I’m out in the world again, she rears her head to keep me in check. It has just dawned on me for the first time. I’m not in charge. She is.

So now it makes sense that I couldn’t get that that smashed bottle scene with the New York reporter out of my head. So yes, Yaz. Yes, I was nervous. I’m fucking nervous all the time. I’m so scared of being seen. And yet, I feel compelled to be seen. I want to be heard. I have things to say. It’s amazing how this young woman’s simple show of care and concern, helped put me in touch with yet another lifelong programming that was subconsciously running me.

The invitation is to go back to doing what I love, little by little. I promise myself I will do it differently this time. This go around, I’ve got skills. Listen, it’s training wheels for now. But I got to ride. I’ve got to ride. I think I’m going to add some paid subscriber content soon. Momma’s ready to work again. Thanks for holding my hand to this point. Somehow YOU don’t give me anxiety. Never have and that’s why I know I’m in the right spot. Here for you 24/7, as always at atoosa@atoosa.com.

Atoosa EDITED

Here’s what I was into this week:

1-Jeen-Yuhs

This 3-part Netflix documentary about Kanye West by Coodie Simmons and Chike Ozah premiered it’s 3rd and final installment this past week…which honestly totally sucked. But the first two episodes were riveting. I know many people have a lot of feelings about Kanye particularly considering what’s been going on with him and Kim. Listen, I’m not saying he is perfect. But he is certainly complex, incredibly talented, super inspirational creatively, and driven like no one else I’ve seen and I will show up for pretty much anything he does including this documentary. I don’t think battling in public the way he has been doing is the way to go, but I also think the Kardashians tend to treat the men and friends in their lives as disposable and fuel for ratings, so it’s been kind of interesting to see the tables turned on them in a way that only Kanye has the balls to do. I am of the belief that nothing is good and nothing is bad. So I hold everything with curiosity and that includes Kanye West. Oh, his mother Donda? I’m obsessed. If you see the doc, you will understand what I mean. Loved Ep 1 and 2. You can skip 3 and feel fine.

2-Miso Ramen

I made this recipe for my kids this week and it was so A+, I had to share it with you. First of all, it was the easiest thing in the world. Second, these Ramen monsters destroyed it. Everything in life should be this easy. This must be in your arsenal, sis. Thank you, Gwyneth Paltrow. It’s from her It’s All Easy cookbook. And yeah…it’s so fucking easy it’s ridiculous. (My crew prefers their veggies diced, not sliced.)

3-Reflexology

This will either seem duh or extravagant to you. I go to the nail salon 2-3 times a week and get a 60-minute foot massage. I have my guy, “Charlie” who destroys my feet in the best way. When I first became an Editor-in-Chief, my dear friend, the renowned psychic Terry Iacuzzo told me that I needed to stop thinking of body work as a luxury. It was a necessity because of the demands I put on myself. Never has that been truer for me. The reason I focus on the feet is that I find it grounds me. It gets me out of my head. And I like that I can just go to the nail salon and not to a fussy spa. Don’t get me wrong, a spa visit can be lovely. But me and Charlie mean business, it’s no fluff and buff. Try adding this at least once a week to your life as a non-negotiable. Find your Charlie.

4-Tara Brach Podcast

As my husband and I were separating, how I processed the end of this 26 year relationship was every single day (Every. Single. Day.), I would go to Higher Dose and do an hour-long infared sauna session and blast a Tara Brach podcast while I sweat and cried my eyes out. I started way back with the old ones. An important one for me was Awakening from the Trance of Fear from December 1, 2017. My point is, go way back. Add this woman’s voice and vision to your tool kit. She is important. It is important. Internalize her RAIN system (Recognize, Allow, Investigate, Nurture) and see what unfolds in your life. Her meditations are very accessible, and her Buddhist teachings will change you. They have changed me.

5-My Post-Divorce Bed Makeover

This week I (re) made my bed. I needed to change the energy in my bedroom. I realized I was sleeping on the same sheets and pillows I shared with my ex-husband and he hadn’t slept in them for two years! It may have all still be technically “good,” it was energetically bad, bad, bad.  I don’t really buy things just to buy them. I’m not that type of over-consumer. But sister, I splurge on my sheets. If you’re interested in literally the softest most magnificent sheets ever, I will recommend a brand you won’t see on Instagram or anything else that shills to millennials. This is the Rolls Royce of sheets and once you go there you will never go back so buyer beware. It killed me to get two new sets of these but knowing me, I will have these for the rest of my life. (Unless…ummm…I get married and divorced again??) D. Porthault. Oh and The Princess Alexis pillows from the Downtown Pillow company? If you like fluffy-ass perfect pillows, they are perfection. I regret ever meeting this combination 💸 but luckily I am steadfast and take care of my shit. If you are too, then it may be worth the investment. I will upload a reel on this topic, so follow me on IG!

Have a great week, sister.

xo, atoosa

The Soundtrack of my 🤍🖤❤️: