In Conversation with Julie Chavez, Author of Everyone But Myself - Ordinary Habit

In Conversation with Julie Chavez, Author of Everyone But Myself

In Conversation with Julie Chavez, Author of Everyone But Myself - Ordinary Habit

Ordinary Story is a series by Rachel Schwartzmann that features musings and conversations on one of our favorite ordinary habits: reading. In the latest installment, Rachel speaks with Julie Chavez, author of Everyone But Myself, about anxiety, storytelling, and reading habits.

In Everyone But Myself, Julie Chavez illustrates how panic and anxiety can transform our lives. What begins with Chavez's central panic attack expands into a mindful investigation of care—familial, parental, self, and the like. We stand side by side with Chavez as she endures debilitating moments of anxiety, navigates the United States healthcare system, grapples with her career and passions, reflects on the highs and lows of marriage, and accepts that family relationships ebb and flow.

Everyone But Myself can be read as many things—a mental health memoir, a manifesto for modern motherhood—but in many ways, it’s the ultimate love story. Chavez comes away with a greater appreciation for her community while acknowledging that her commitment to others shouldn’t come at the expense of her own well-being. She learns to lend that same love and compassion to herself. Her words search, question, and heal, and by the end, they form a book that breathes—reminding readers to take a deep breath, too.

— Rachel Schwartzmann


You mention in Everyone But Myself that puzzling brings you great joy. What are some other ordinary habits that are prominent in your life or best capture who you are?

I love to move, so exercise is important in my life. There's a strength component that builds when I work out, allowing me to access some of my reserves of energy and resilience, especially when time is short and life is chaotic. I think that's also how I feel about reading: reading moves me. It transports, challenges, and validates, and I feel that experience in my body, too.

I love film for the same reasons. I also like to organize areas in my home, though I tend to do it in unhinged little spurts that bother my family and make a big mess.

You have a knack for opening lines. From the book's first page, "In the moment it's happening, a panic attack can convince you of nearly anything," to later, in Chapter 15, "If hope is a drug, its hangover is despair." It's a courageous thing to be able to open up a conversation about anxiety and mental health, let alone write about your own experiences. How did you know where to begin? What was the most challenging—or relieving—section to write?

First of all, thank you for this compliment! I think so much of this book has been shaped over time with the help of multiple talented editors.

I always knew I would start with the panic attack. Though the seeds were planted earlier in time, I saw that as the beginning of this story. It needed to be first because it was the first moment in which I started paying attention.

Though sometimes draining and always emotional, the most wonderful part of writing the hard parts was the reclamation of the narrative. My suffering wasn't wasted. I'm stronger now, and the strength is rooted in softness and attentiveness instead of toughness. I think writing those scenes showed me the distance between then and now, which was a comfort. It's always wonderful to be able to mark my own growth.

Everyone But Myself by Julie Chavez

As someone who has also endured debilitating anxiety and panic, I can say that it's given me a whole new appreciation for art as a tool to heal. Throughout the book, you outline the various ways anxiety impacted your way of living, but I'm curious: What was something unexpected that anxiety taught you about writing? Storytelling?

I love this question. I think in my writing, I've befriended anxiety because there's a tremendous amount of vulnerability in putting any words on a page and asking someone to read them. It's risky, and I have to accept it instead of trying to talk myself out of it. I can acknowledge the anxiety without letting it paralyze me.

In a larger context, anxiety taught me about the absolute necessity of storytelling, especially (as you champion, Rachel) slow storytelling. We need blank space in our lives but also in our conversations. It allows for reflection, connection, and deeper absorption. Storytelling doesn't fix, but I do think it heals.

Despite the intensity and pain you experienced, the power of love—familial, parental, romantic—also pulses on every page. With the latter in mind, you write about learning the difference between distance and space [in marriage]: "Distance grew from the accumulation of tiny resentments, the swallowed frustrations that are an inevitable part of coexistence between two imperfect humans. Space, on the other hand, was a necessity, creating room for our deepest needs: respite, rest, recovery." I think that's so poignant, and I wonder how this idea pertains to being in a relationship with one's self. How would you describe your relationship with space these days?

I'm in the midst of a busy season promoting this book, and the irony isn't wasted on me. I've had to be very careful about creating space in the day in which I'm not communicating or doing something that requires me to be "on." So, in my relationship with myself right now, space looks like silence and stillness. It sometimes turns into a nap; if it's tolerable, I'll listen to music while lying down. When my system is in overdrive, this space becomes a necessity. I'm grateful I understand that now.

Your words ultimately created an encouraging space for readers to consider the hard things in their own lives. That said, let's shift gears a bit and talk about reading. What reading habits would you like to build or break this year?

I would like to make sure I'm reading some books purely for pleasure. There's a working and networking aspect in the author world. I want to read the work my friends are creating, books that are part of the larger conversation, and craft books. But these can't be a replacement for reading what I want to read. It's a subtle distinction, but it's important to me because reading for pleasure is reading without a goal. And I'd like to incorporate more poetry! A poem a day could be a lovely gift I could give myself (and you can see where I'm really trying not to make that into yet another goal: new year, same me, sigh).

It was inspiring to read about the enduring relationships with other women in your life—from your sister and mother to caring friends and colleagues—who, at certain points, helped inform your reading choices (with kind and caring warnings). How does reading factor into your relationships these days? What books are coming up in conversations with friends and family?

I love to recommend books and really enjoy hearing what other people are reading. It's revelatory! I've been recommending Maggie Smith's You Could Make This Place Beautiful to everyone I know.

What literary heroines are inspiring you on and off the page?

I don't often think about literary heroines, so I'll be considering this question! I collect lines from books more often than characters, which is something I'll be thinking about.

What books were you reading while writing this memoir? How did they inform your process?

During most of the writing, I read fiction, and I listened to a lot of thrillers (weird but true). I think I avoided most memoir because I was still trying to figure out what would work for my story's structure and didn't want to try to unintentionally adopt someone else's style or form. I think I'm still trying to find the relationship between my reading and my writing. It's evolving as I become more comfortable calling myself a writer.

What three titles would you recommend if you were to create a companion reading list for Everyone But Myself—or for those looking to soothe or better understand themselves and their needs?

And if you want to laugh, Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh. (There's a spot-on description of depression with illustrations that are as ridiculous as they are accurate.)

Finally, what ordinary stories do you hope we hear more about regarding burnout, motherhood, marriage, or mental health?

I'd love to hear more ordinary stories about the way small changes can impact our lives and mental health. We're creatures of habit, and those habits can remain undetected even as they slowly deplete us. If we're more attentive to the ways we shape our days, it allows us to see those tiny drains. For example, I'm really trying to be more intentional with how often I'm checking social media. I find myself drawn to my phone when I'm bored, like a moth to a flame. But when I make even a little effort to do something else—like maybe read a book, for Pete's sake—it makes a huge difference in the flow of my day and my overall feeling of presence.