Embarrassing confession time: Until quite recently, I did not have a current library card. That’s fixed now, but the idea of a professional writer without a valid library card is kind of unbelievable. I mean, most writers do a ton of reading. We need to keep up with what’s going on in our genres and know about buzzworthy recent releases. Plus, books are AWESOME and I want to read as many of them as possible. I’d love to buy every book I read (I really hate not getting to keep a book if I truly enjoy it), but shelf space and financial limitations make that impossible. A library card is a necessity.
Yet my last card expired in the early 2000s, and I’d stopped using it even earlier. Why? Let me tell you a story about how an anxiety disorder can turn a minor inconvenience into a huge deal. Thanks, anxiety.
I’m usually too much of a perfectionist to let a book go overdue, but during my last year of college I had to write a pretty major paper. The professor required us to turn in a list of our sources weeks before the paper was due, so I had to check the books out and then keep them as long as it took me to write the paper. I guarantee I finished it early, but even so, my sources were overdue. Most were from the campus library, but at least one was from my public library system.
As soon as possible, I went to my local branch to pay the fine. I’d always adored the public library; I practically grew up between its shelves. The fine was something like $7, and I had cash in hand.
The volunteer at the front desk blinked at me. “You can’t pay that here.”
“Okay, so where do I pay it?” I thought maybe I had to go to a different part of the large front desk, or maybe even a different branch.
“I don’t know, but not here. I can’t do that here.”
I shoved down the anxiety rising like bile in my throat. “What?”
“You can’t pay the fine here,” she snapped.
I asked how I could pay. The volunteer got upset. She fussed. She didn’t know. I’m not sure if she was new, or if the library had just switched over to a new system, but I couldn’t pay my fine. And with an outstanding fine, I couldn’t use my card.
This was, obviously, a problem.
I went back at some point and tried again. Got the same answer. The whole “You owe us but you can’t pay us” thing hit my anxiety pretty hard. I was mortified. I wanted to pay! I wanted to make it right and start using my card again.
I could have pursued the issue. I probably should have. (And here’s where my therapist would call me out for using the word should.) But the volunteer’s attitude combined with my own embarrassment for having a late fee in the first place made me freeze.
So I took what felt like the easy way out. I mostly stopped using the library.
I still took my laptop there to draft or revise sometimes, but I never checked out another thing. I couldn’t, and my anxiety disorder held me back from fixing what seemed like a simple problem.
My useless card expired. I meant to get another, but I’d remember the volunteer’s tone, the way she snapped at me when I was trying to do the right thing, and I’d just put it off. Again and again.
That volunteer was probably just frazzled about an upgraded system. Or whatever. I’ll never know. The situation was weird and embarrassing and I gave up.
BUT. Last month I finally got a new card. I went to a different branch (because I still get a little jittery about my local one, even though that volunteer is likely long gone!) and now I can check out books again. It sounds like such an inconsequential thing, but anxiety disorders and other mental illnesses are rarely rational creatures. They take minor annoyances and reshape them as impossible riddles; they inflate problems while stealing solutions.
This wasn’t about getting a library card; it was about confronting an anxiety trigger that had been whispering in the back of my head for the better part of two decades. Now that whisper is gone.