It’s hard to know exactly when it started, but if I had to guess, I’d say high school. I suppose standards had been around long before then, but that was the first time I remember actually feeling the pressure to meet them.

Seemingly overnight, the whole world was demanding progress. Neither they nor I knew it at the time, but they needn’t have pushed so hard; one whisper of expectation has since proven to be enough. I pined for their approval, for a GPA that would make them happy and get me into a good college so that I could finally, after four years of constant spinning, rest and breathe.

But my top was already well in motion, and in their hurry to teach me about cell cycles and quadratic formulas they’d forgotten to mention how to stop it.

College kept it turning, fueled by competitive fire. Sometimes late at night, draped in a desk lamp glow – lap heavy with a 600-page textbook (my ticket to certain peace) – I’d think back to my post-high school hopes for rest and laugh sadly. Perhaps a degree would do what a diploma couldn’t.

Except it didn’t, because even after landing the job I could still feel it spinning. In fact, it was moving faster now than ever before, blazing tails leaving unquenchable smoke spirals in their wake.

I fell in love and set my sights on a family, hopeful that a group of people to call my own would be enough to settle the flames. They said it would. They said marriage was a fairytale and children were the fairies – that all I had to do was bring them to life and the spiral search would magically cease.

The family came … the top kept going.

All that spinning makes a girl dizzy.

I wish I could say it eventually stopped but over time these anxious circles have become my default, and twenty-nine-year habits are hard to break. Each loop is propelled by my desire to prevent the next, a cruel irony that isn’t lost on me.

Thanks to their narrow definition of success, winding up has become my specialty.

I’m beginning to see that if I want to wind down, I’m going to have to be my own teacher.


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