every time i walk into my closet, i have a fear attack.

something weird keeps happening to me. every time i walk into my closet, i have a fear attack. not a panic attack. a fear attack. i am suddenly paralyzed by fear.

in an effort to invest in myself and this new “me,” i removed all the plus-size stuff out of my closet and got rid of it, because i didn’t want to have big clothes to backslide into. if my new smaller pants are tight, then that means i have to eat fewer paleo sweets and replace those cravings with more green juices or smoothies. my closet is filled now, with new clothes that are the right smaller size for me, and as i continue to workout and lose weight most of them are even a little bit big. i don’t say this to brag, it’s just the way it is right now.

i fear that my pants won’t fit. i fear that i have nothing appropriate to wear. i fear that my thinner, prettier friends will look better than me when we’re in our workout clothes sweating in the heat actually exercising. and so i stand there, staring at a closet full of clothes that are either a bit too big, or just right for this minute, afraid to try on my jeans that i wear endlessly because every day of my adult life before this, i was faced with this fear. i was too fat for my clothes.

i was endlessly staring at a closet full of humiliation and disappointment. garments with the size tag cut out because it was too traumatizing to admit that the massive double digit size was actually mine. endless choices of stretchy things to, hopefully, hide my fat sins. but who was i kidding? everyone in the world had eyes and they could see me. they could see how fat i was and how sad i was and how uncomfortable i was in my skin. i was fooling no one, not even myself.

my massive size affected my ability to get dressed and feel good, to get up and go out and look great being active, to feel great while being active. and what a drag of a way that is to start every day. i have never gotten dressed and looked at myself in the mirror and thought, “i’m gorgeous today.” it was more like “meh, that’ll do pig.” i told you i was crueler to myself than anyone ever was to me. but a sense of resigned completion that’s about the best i could hope for.

i feel the same fear every time i walk into the locker room. i fear someone else might’ve taken my locker, which is ridiculous because there’s a million other lockers. i fear there’s going to be master swimmers in the pool doing circle swim and i won’t be able to keep up. i fear my neck won’t last for my whole swim or my arms will go numb halfway through. sometimes, well most of the time, all of these things happen.

but i still put on my suit. i still put on my cap. i stride with purpose through the showers to the coldest hallway ever, and march my ass to the pool. somedays i get there and it’s nothing but master swimmers circle swimming all day and they lap me in what can only be described as a frustrating and humiliating experience. some days, there are the run / swimmers who swim half a lap poorly and then run / walk through the water to get back and whack into me because they don’t know how to share a lane with another person. but i still make every effort to swim my best each day.

i have to learn to conquer my fear – rational or irrational. i have to learn to quell it immediately instead of wrapping it around myself like a warm blanket. i found a mantra, we’ll call it a mantra for lack of a better word, in a passing comment my husband made one day. one night after i swam, he pulled me to him and inhaled deeply and said with such a romantic timbre “i love it when you smell like chlorine. it’s so sexy.” and that was enough. it made me blush.

so when everything goes wrong, and it usually does, between my closet phobia and my achey body and trying to raise a demanding toddler into a loving person, the idea that my husband thinks that my chlorine stink is sexy, is enough to get me past the fear. i have learned to say to myself, “eh, who cares if someone took my locker. it’s not an omen of a bad swim. it’s just a busy day at the gym.” “of course your jeans fit. you are doing great. and look how cute your butt is. i’m really proud of you.” “just think about when you get a hug tonight and he says to you ‘you smell like chlorine,’ with that devilish smile.” and that’s enough to get me past that fear pit in my stomach.

find a phrase or a comment someone said or something you think about yourself that is positive and encouraging. it should be something kind and supportive, like you would extend a dear friend or loved one, and make it your fuel. make it your strength. when all else fails, repeat it over and over until you find the inner strength and fortitude to carry on, because you have it in you. “i’m doing great.” “i’m beautiful.” “my butt is looking fantastic.” anything positive that makes you love you a little bit more each day. soon, you won’t need a mantra. it’ll just be second nature to think about yourself in a happier, healthier light.

now, when i’m confronted by the master swimmers, i smile at them and wave and get in and do my best to keep up. and after a few weeks of me just being very brave in the face of better swimmers than me, one of the women pulled me aside in the locker room to meet a few of her lady swimmer friends and said, “we’ve been watching you. you’re doing great. why don’t you come swim with us?” i was so very flattered because i had completely feared them. it was like being asked to sit at the cool kids’ table at school. turns out, they thought i was the too-cool-for-school, loner kid and were afraid to approach me. so funny that other people have the same silly fears and neuroses as me.

so, when i face my closet and the fear sets in, instead of hiding in it, or dreading it, or giving it more energy than it deserves, i select something, which does indeed fit AND looks adorable, and haul my 700-towels and my 500-pound gym bag to the pool. i’m not going to get sexy chlorine stinky at home, now, am i?