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Jessica Runck, Published August 08 2013

Homegrown Hollywood: Leaving L.A. and my anxiety behind

Here in Los Angeles, anxiety is my cardio.

And I’m in really good shape.

I wasn’t always this way. In college I may have stayed up all night writing a paper, but I was pretty relaxed doing it.

Somewhere along the way – between struggling through L.A. traffic and facing constant rejection – anxiety started to creep into my daily life.

It’s not until I go home to the Midwest that I remember the tightness in my chest isn’t supposed to be how breathing feels, and I can relax.

This time was no different.

Last month, I decided after almost a year of dating, it was finally time for my family to meet my boyfriend.

The only place Jason (aforementioned boyfriend) had ever been in the upper Midwest was Minneapolis and, as my father pointed out, “That just doesn’t count.”

So we packed our bags, left my anxiety in a safe place, and flew to Minnesota for our annual Lake Cabin Family Weekend.

I thought this would kill a lot of birds with one giant stone, not realizing that Jason might have some anxiety of his own meeting 18 of my family members at one time. I happily chattered to him about the joys of the lake cabin as we flew toward Minnesota, describing each of my family members in vivid detail.

I quickly sped through the part that included him sleeping in a loft with no air conditioning and no walls and my parents below. I also made sure to breeze by the section about there being only one, very finicky toilet.

That’s right, 18 people, one bathroom – which will be the title of the memoir Jason’s sure to write about this experience.

As we rolled up to my aunt and uncle’s cabin, I couldn’t contain my joy to be in the place that had shaped so many childhood memories. I squeezed Jason’s knee as my family began to move toward our vehicle like a pack of Scandinavian wolves, curious about the newly imported meat from California.

“Isn’t this great!” I kissed Jason’s cheek and pushed him out of the car.

And it was. Even Jason will tell you that.

About five minutes after meeting everyone, my cousins decided to initiate Jason into “lake culture” by taking him to Zorbaz and taking a group shot out of a ski – a shotski.

That really set the tone for the whole weekend.

Despite the lack of bathroom facilities, my warm, wonderful family accepted my warm, wonderful boyfriend like he was one of their own, and I felt that last piece of anxiety I’d been holding onto release.

On the last night, we all sat around the low campfire as the lake lapped against the rocks and loons called from a distance.

I took a deep breath. The grassy, musky lake air smelled like happiness. I tilted my head back and looked at the stars. There were millions, and the peace I always feel in this place washed over me.

And too soon, it was over.

When Jason and I arrived back in Los Angeles, my anxiety was right where I left it. The city was hot and noisy and so far away from the log cabin with one bathroom.

I slipped into a deep melancholy, which I tried to ease with cheap red wine and re-runs of “Sex and The City.” I pushed my suitcase into a corner and couldn’t bring myself to unzip it.

After day two of wine for breakfast and staring at my unpacked luggage, I decided maybe what I needed was a really long walk. I grabbed my dog and headed out into the evening.

The city was quieting down, and I could hear dishes being washed and families laughing through their open windows. A few blocks into our walk, I stopped and looked up at the sky. I couldn’t see the stars and when I breathed in I didn’t smell the lake.

Then I realized what I could see were the sparkling lights of the city. And if I took a deep enough breath, it smelled like ocean.

And that’s something pretty special too.

Runck, who grew up in Wimbledon, N.D., and graduated from Concordia College, is a writer and actor living in Los Angeles