Hello Darkness My Old Friend

Quick anxiety update: it’s flare-up time. (Relapse time? Outbreak time? Really unsure what terms to use here, and I’m the mental health expert. Better get on that.)

I’m on my second week of dealing with early morning anxiety…..again. It goes like this: something will wake me up early in the morning. Take your pick – husband, cat, bladder. Neighbors. Traffic. Kids, but very rarely. Go figure. And then something sparks this burning fire in my chest that I can’t extinguish in order to get back to sleep. So I toss and turn in anguish and waste 1-2 hours when I desperately need sleep, but can’t get it. Lastly, my kids wake up, and then it’s all over. The anxiety slowly fades and is replaced by exhaustion as the day goes on. Makes me fantasize about going full Walden.

I’m hopeful to report that I think I’m getting better at squashing this more quickly. The past few mornings I’ve actually been able to get back to sleep and wake up for the day not feeling like such a zombie. It’s this magical combination of self-talk, physical relaxation techniques, and distracting myself by thinking about something – anything – not about me, my body, sleep, or the present moment.

(Update: I started this post yesterday, and this morning I actually slept all the way through the morning and woke up naturally and feeling rested. So there’s hope!)

Now I’m going to outline things that help me – specifically, things whose helpfulness I tend to forget – to fight this anxiety monster that creeps into my bed (or tries to) each morning. This is not meant to be preachy or self-helpy, but it’s rather to help…me. Because, just like depression, anxiety lies. It lies to me and it makes me forget what normal and healthy feels like. It makes me forget what coping skills actually work and it lies to me about there being joy in the world, and that it’s within my reach.

  1. Sleep

The biggest one by far. If I don’t get enough sleep I have very little motivation to face the day. The sleep that anxiety steals from me in the mornings sets up my entire day to be complete rubbish and it’s really hard to get back on track. That makes naps vital on some days (when I can get them), and I’ve been working very hard to get to bed at a time that ensures I’ve allowed for at least 8 hours of sleep. Even though I don’t always get it, I have to carve out room for it. Have to.

2. Exercise

I’m not a person who really enjoys exercising, per se, but this week I’ve been feeling the urge to move my body. I tend to get that feeling when I’m super angry, or when I’m jumping-out-of-my-skin-anxious. I’ve realized that when I exercise, I don’t have room for the jitters. I actually get real-time relief. That’s why I made sure I got out there and ran from zombies, even in this smokey heat wave we’re having. It felt so. good.

3. Music

I’ve written about this before, but the act of singing, like really singing, is so stress relieving and this is one that I forget about all the time. So if you see me running (from zombies) and I suddenly stop to belt out a well-timed lyric and bust a move, then you know what’s going on.

4. Laughter

This usually means social contact, but sometimes a really, really good show or standup routine will fit the bill here. I recently watched Iliza Schlesinger: Elder Millennial on Netflix, and man it was exactly what I needed. I might just watch it again. Also, The Bloggess is the reason I started blogging in the first place, and I realized that I was no longer getting her updates for some reason. That has been remedied.

5. Taking time to get out of my head and space out

Having kids all day everyday, this often takes the form of me being on my phone. This usually comes with a lot of guilt, but I’m trying to tell it to fuck off. As long as the kids are safe and cared for, I am taking lots and lots of tiny micro breaks throughout the day just so I can slip the phone back into my pocket and be present for 20 more minutes when I previously thought I couldn’t. I kinda felt like I needed permission to do this, and only realized that after my therapist had given it to me unsolicited.

6. Having something to look forward to

It has been a godsend to join my local chapter of MOMS Club and automatically have events lined up for me on my calendar each month. It sounds so mundane, but it keeps me going. I’m constantly looking forward to the next thing, and being able to feel excited anticipation is a powerful enemy of anxiety, depression, and loneliness.

There you have it. These are the main coping skills that I often forget are available to me.

Side note: while writing this over the course of two days, I have been interrupted a total of eleventy billion times. Another antidote to anxiety is being able to get into a flow state, and in order to do that you need to cultivate calm and stillness. Yeeeeeah. This is one reason why it’s SO HARD for me to put myself to bed at a reasonable time, because stillness only happens WHEN PEOPLE ARE UNCONSCIOUS. My point: I reeeeeally miss flow states. Please tell them to come back and visit.

 

Advertisements

Off on the Wrong Foot

This week, I injured my foot and everything kinda came to a screeching halt.

I was making sure my fearless 1 year old didn’t kill herself on this play structure meant for older kids. I climbed up this wooden ladder whose rungs were pretty close together. My right foot got stuck between the rungs, and in my haste to protect my child, I wrenched it free and immediately felt pain across the top of my foot.

That’s gonna be a nasty bruise, I thought.

The pain subsided, I kept functioning normally for the next 2-3 hours. I drove my kids home, fed them, put my daughter down for a nap, and then relaxed on the couch with my son for 1.5 hours. Then I got up and rushed around to walk to a friend’s house.

On the walk there, my foot started bothering me. By the time we got there, I had some pain. By the time 30 minutes passed, I was limping and in serious pain. I stopped walking and texted my husband to come get me.

34441178_10108183381639403_1801395363676946432_n

I’m super stubborn and don’t really trust doctors a whole lot. (I’ve had some yucky experiences with medical professionals who think they’re hot shit.) My intuition about my body is usually right, and I was pretty sure it was just a bad sprain (spoiler alert- I was right). I toughed it out for the past 3 days by staying off my foot, icing, meds.

But uuuuugggghhhh. I’m a SAHM with a 1 and 3 year old. How in the world am I supposed to function on crutches?!? I couldn’t go anywhere, because I couldn’t chase after my kids and keep them safe. Forget parks. Even the library was out. I didn’t trust myself to drive my kid to preschool. Everything took for-ev-er. Worst of all, I couldn’t carry anything. A glass of water, a book, putting food on the table, you name it. I couldn’t carry my daughter! I had to hobble to her changing table, then stand there and beg her to come to me so I could change her diaper. You can imagine how well that went.

Very quickly I could feel depression start to creep in. I was a prisoner in my house with two screaming kids and I was supposed to put my feet up?! There was no way I could function like that for very long at all; I felt the walls start to close in on me after not too much time had passed.

Fast forward to today when I finally decided to go to the doctor. (My foot started to turn purple and get tingly if I was upright for too long. Yeeeah.) Just a sprain, but it was worth the trip because they gave me a boot so I have mah freeeeeeedom back (to a degree) and my mood immediately perked up.

34811357_10108192356314083_3538292280051892224_n

Earlier this week, I started thinking about what I was supposed to learn from this. Whenever I’m frustrated the answer is usually patience and acceptance. No surprise here. As always happens when I temporarily lose some kind of function, I was immediately reminded of how crazy thankful I am to be able-bodied. Also, remembering how and when to ask for help. If needing the crutches had gone on much longer, I was planning to call my mom in California to ask her to fly up here…because what else was I gonna do?!

I loathe feeling so helpless and desperate, especially caused by something so minor, so silly. Damn children’s playstructure. Curse you and the trees from which you were made.

Dramatic. Irrational. Crazy.

My last blog post turned out to be really cathartic to write. I expected that it would be, just not to the extent that it was.

I woke up the next morning and temporarily forgot about the post. Then I picked up my phone and saw the dozen or so alerts about it and went oh yeah.

As I laid there in bed before getting up for the day, I started to read the comments- some public, some private – and tears started streaming down my face. They were good tears. I cried several more times that day, and it was all good. It was like I had been carrying a weight around with me for months and I finally set it down, only I didn’t start to feel lighter until the morning after.

The weight isn’t completely gone, and I’m not sure it ever will be, because I’m human. But it sure feels better. I’ve had conversations and little how are yous and coffee dates with friends that I wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t written that post. It broke the ice that was floating on top of my ocean of anxiety that wouldn’t have been broken otherwise.

I’m very glad I wrote it. And since it worked so well, I’m going to keep doing it. What did one of my friends say? (I went and found it.) She said, “Putting it out there seems to somehow take away a little of the power.” She’s right, it does. I’m taking the power back.

So, onto another aspect of my anxiety: health and mortality.

As many of you know, I had ovarian cancer at age 19. Initially, I was incorrectly diagnosed with IBS, because who thinks a 19-year-old with bloating and constipation has cancer? No one. I was in college and living on my own, cooking for myself for the first time (if you could call what I was doing “cooking”) and so it made sense. I was eating crap and full of stress! Not to worry.

But what happens when the worst diagnosis possible actually comes true? To be fair, it wasn’t the worst possible because my life was never threatened. However, the c-word is fucking scary, shocking, and not at all what was expected.

What resulted after surgery was several things: 1) depression because my life had been put on hold- I had had to take the semester off from college and move away from friends and back in with my parents, and 2) anxiety because I was given a recurrence rate of 30% (THIRTY. PERCENT.) where the only available treatment was more surgery.

Time passed. I had cancer checkups every three months with normal results. I volunteered, got a summer job, went back to school, moved out. My life resumed and I moved forward.

But.

The anxiety never really went away. For ten years, in the back of my mind I wondered, worried if I was going to be able to have kids. But I also worried every time I got sick.

Was it the flu? OR WAS IT PNEUMONIA?!

Was I just constipated? OR HAS MY CANCER COME BACK?!

Do I need glasses? OR DO I HAVE GLAUCOMA?!

Am I just anxious and hopped-up on coffee? OR DO I HAVE DANGEROUSLY HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE?

Am I having a panic attack? OR AM I DYING FROM A HEART ATTACK?!

All this may look super dramatic, but it’s my truth. (And anxiety is just that- DRAMATIC. Irrational. Crazy.) Of course you try not to expect the worst, and most times, it’s not the worst, but it happened to me. That one time, the worst actually happened and it has fucked me up ever since. If it happened once, who’s to say it won’t happen again?

The icing on the cake is that now that I’m a mom, this anxiety extends to my kids. I worry when they get sick. I have a hard time deciding when to freak out and when to be cool because my freak out meter is extremely warped.

Take this one step further and I worry about dying and leaving my kids. This isn’t always a conscious worry, but it’s more a general mortality fear that’s always at the back of my brain. This fear is normal. But what isn’t normal is when my anxiety takes it and runs a marathon with it.

Because I analyze everything to the point of exhaustion, I quickly realized that what led to my recent panic attack was a perfect storm of mortality triggers. Observe:

  1. Several weeks prior, a family member my age had a serious and shocking heart attack.
  2. I was reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book about her husband’s sudden, untimely death and how she was left to cope raising two young kids by herself (one of my worst nightmares).
  3. A few hours prior, I found out an old friend’s brother unexpectedly died.
  4. A few minutes prior, I was experiencing heartburn which my anxiety mistook as chest pains.

don’t panic!

Right then and there, I thought some of my worst fears were coming true, and it took me a minute to convince myself otherwise and calm the fuck down.

Writing this, unpacking it, and breaking it down really helps me. I need to understand this beast so I can kill it. (Or at least trap it and tame it?) This issue is next on the growing list of things I plan to tackle in therapy, but since therapy is only once a week, I figured I’d get a jump start.

Does anyone else out there feel this way about health/illness/motherhood/mortality?

Is anyone else out there fighting to keep their anxiety in check?

I see you [anxiety]. I see you and I’m onto you.

 

Reclaiming My 2017

2017 has been a tough year.

I feel like I’ve been saying that every year since…2013, which…sucks. It makes me feel bad. It worries me, along the lines of, Is this my life now? (meaning: life=tough)

I want to talk about my challenges here, partly so I can continue to process them, and also so I can let people know about what’s been going on in my internal world all this time. I’d like to be able to talk about the hard stuff with people I see in person on a regular basis, but having screaming kids running around is not the easiest way to begin the conversation.

I’ve always been a fairly anxious person. I’ve inherited it, I’ve found ways to cope with it, I’ve found ways to power through it, and I’ve accepted it as a part of my life (but not who I am).

But.

This year, I’ve been the most anxious (and occasionally depressed) I’ve ever been and it’s been largely unbearable.

As I look back through pictures that were taken of me over the past year, many of my smiles have been pasted on over massive amounts of anxiety, worry, and irritability. A general inability to calm the fuck down and enjoy any moment of what is happening in front of me.

The tulip festival. A Mother’s Day tea. Playdates. Storytimes. Trips to California.

I remember talking to a friend in early summer and telling her how I had experienced some depression after having my first kid, but that it started to get better after about six months (as did the weather). At that point, it was passed the six month mark (which I realize is totally arbitrary) after having my second kid, and I told her that my symptoms weren’t going away- they were getting worse. It worried me. Actually, it scared the hell outta me.

I remember coming home from a Mother’s Day tea, where my kids were just in the other room from me, being cared for by teenagers I had just met. I sat there rigid, sweating, mind racing. I ate and drank and made conversation and tried SO HARD to enjoy the kid-free time. But it was too much (what was it, I ask myself). I burst into uncontrollable sobs to my husband when I got home. It was all just too hard. Everything felt wrong.

I knew I needed to get back into therapy, but I felt so overwhelmed on a daily basis that I didn’t have the time or the energy to start looking for a therapist. I emailed one of my therapist friends who lives clear across the country late one night to confess to her exactly how much of a shit time I was having. She did an amazing thing and researched therapists in my area and sent me a list of three to check out. It was a godsend.

I started therapy in June, and it was slow-going at first. Of course, therapists make THE WORST clients and I imagine I’m no exception. I want therapy to work and I want it to work YESTERDAY. I overthink everything. I start critiquing her choice of decor and start mentally taking notes for when I eventually go back to work. Mainly, I just wanted to dive in and get to the hard stuff asap so I could feel some freaking relief.

Since then, my anxiety has ebbed and flowed. For a few weeks in September, right after my oldest started going to school for the first time, I thought I had this beat. And then it came back full force for no apparent reason and it’s interfering with my sleep, which has been devastating. For the longest time, I blamed it on the cat and her early morning howling. Everyone around me heard about it. Well, we worked around the cat issue, and wouldn’t you know, it’s not the damn cat. It’s just plain irrational, raging-fire-in-my-chest anxiety. How mortifying.

The straw that broke the camel’s back for me, at least recently, was that I had a panic attack. And it was in front of my kids. It scared me to death and I just can’t live like that. I won’t have my kids growing up being worried about their mom falling apart like that. What a horribly embarrassing and terrifying experience, as any of you who have had one surely knows.

I have held out this long against trying medication as an option, but after that, I swallowed what little pride I had left and called my health insurance and made an appointment for a med eval for January. I surrender.

I read some research that said if people are given some sort of escape button that promises a bad experience will immediately end if pushed, they are more likely and able to endure said experience. Case in point, I’ve had clients before who got anti-anxiety meds only to carry them around in their purses and never actually take them. Maybe an escape button is all I need? We’ll see…

I feel held captive by this monster, this thing. I’m desperately trying not to be in constant fear of it, nor constantly battling it. I’m exhausted. I don’t have time for this shit. What saddens me most – THE MOST – is the thought that I’m so incredibly preoccupied, terrified, irritable, utterly exhausted, that I’ll look back on my kids’ young lives and realize…I missed it.

Somehow, I must reclaim my life. (Ugh, that sounds so dramatic, written with tears rolling down my face.) Because this isn’t me, and this isn’t how I want to live. It’s not the mother I want to be, or the wife, or the friend, etc. This motherfucker is trying to rob me blind and I won’t let him. Kicking and screaming.

Me writing this, and putting this out there for people to read, is partly how I fight. Because anxiety wants me to stay silent. Anxiety wants me to shut myself in and cower in fear. Anxiety doesn’t want me to feel joy.

Well…fuck you.

Reminders

Here is a post that took courage for me to write and post almost four years ago. I still think about it when going through bouts of depression from time to time.
(Please excuse the first attempt to reblog this today; my phone was not cooperating with me.)
—————-
NaBloPoMo Day 21

Psychobabble

I wrote the following post several weeks ago, shortly after moving to the Portland area.  I hesitated in posting it, mainly because of the reaction I was afraid it might get.  But after reading Charlotte’s brave post on her blog Momaste about her own depression, I figured I should go ahead and post, too, regardless of what others thought.

———————————————————————————–

It’s time to get up, Melissa.

…..what?

You need to get up now.

Not yet.  I don’t think I can.

Take off the covers, swing your legs over the side of the bed and sit up.

…O-Okay.

Now take some deep breaths.  One thing at a time.

I am doing my best to listen to the voice inside my head.  The good voice.  That voice who can see the other side.  That therapist voice who always knows that things are going to be ok, even when I seriously doubt it.

View original post 394 more words

Tolerating Sadness

I think about this older post of mine quite often, and I’d like to share it again. I hope you enjoy it.
————
NaBloPoMo Day 20

Psychobabble

In my experience, sadness is not tolerated well or at all.  It is not given much room, and it is not given nearly enough time.  It is shamed.  It is seen as weak.  It is hidden and dealt with privately, or not at all.  Often times, it’s covered up and comes out disguised as another feeling altogether.

Has anyone ever told you to: Cheer up!  Look on the bright side!  Everything will be ok.  Don’t cry.  You need to move on.  Get over it.

I don’t know about you, but when I feel sad and someone tells me something like what I listed above, it makes me feel even worse.  It makes me feel like there is no room for my sadness.  My feelings are not ok.  Not only that, but that you (the person invalidating my feelings) cannot tolerate my sadness for some reason.  A person’s reaction to another’s…

View original post 816 more words

I’m Gonna Love You Anyway

(Note: this post was started several long/short months ago.  So when I wrote words like “recently,” they were true at the time, but now I’m just lying.)

My friend, who is a new mom, introduced me to this podcast called The Longest Shortest Time, about early parenthood.  I have started listening to it at night while getting ready for bed in my bathroom and pumping boobjuice at the same time. #momboss

This podcast is extremely validating and makes me feel less alone in my isolated SAHM daily life.

I recently listened to podcast #25, which started out with several moms singing songs they had made up for their kids.  The narrator (creator? producer?) framed the segment by saying that the songs we make up often reflect big themes in our parenting journey.

Now, I make up songs for my kids a lot.  Like, a lot-a lot.  The one we still use the most often (while cleaning up after meals) is Crotchfood.  Behold:

Crotch food, crotch food, food that’s in your crotch.

Crotch food, crotch food, foooooooood…that’s in your crotch!

It’s a real crowd pleaser.

The podcast reminded me of this one tuneless ditty that I made up when my oldest, my son, was very tiny.  I needed something to hold his attention during diaper changes when he’d be thrashing and I’d be weeping.  I’m having trouble remembering all the verses but it went something like this:

Even when you cry

I’m gonna love you an-ny way, an-ny way, an-ny way.

Even when you poop

I’m gonna love you an-ny way, an-ny way, an-ny way.

(insert more verses as needed)

…Because I am your mom.

I was having a rough time bonding with my son and coming to terms with being a new mom, staying at home, living in Oregon, and feeling isolated and depressed.  Reading these lyrics back, I realize I was reminding myself why I became a mom.  I was willing myself to fall more in love with my little guy, especially when it felt the hardest.  We were both struggling, but it was my job to get him (and myself) through it all…so I used the simplest, most available tool I had.  Song.  And it turned out to be very powerful indeed.


NaBloPoMo Day 6

 

Tough Right Now

Life is really tough right now.

I knew it would be, but this doesn’t make it any easier.

People ask how I am doing, and what am I supposed to say?  I tell them the truth – that it’s hard and that I am doing the best that I can – but if I truly stop and express to them just how hard and just how much I struggle, then I fear I’ll just fall apart.

I need more human contact.  My son needs more human contact.  It’s good for us.  But getting there, getting OUT, is SO. FREAKING. HARD.

Today we got up and tried to get to playgroup.  I got up around 7:45.  The playgroup started at 10:30.  By 11:45 I was still feeding my youngest a bottle.  I texted to cancel.  We ended up taking a walk, by ourselves, in the freezing cold because it was the easiest and quickest way to get outside.  Yes, it was better than nothing, but man, it sucked.

And that’s the thing – I don’t expect perfection, but I feel like I am trying my hardest and that I’m still failing.  At some point in the day, I’m always failing SOMEbody.  Sometimes it’s me (because I can’t make social contact with friends), or the baby (because she’s screaming hungry and has to wait), or my toddler (because he’s screaming that he wants to go outside but has to wait), or my husband (because he listens to me complain and cry and fall apart).

I usually start the day off trying my best to cope, like today.  But the time ticks by and more and more gets in the way of reaching our meager goals (getting to playgroup), when it finally comes crashing down because my toddler kicks me in the jaw and I burst into tears, or my baby won’t nurse even though I know she’s hungry and I burst into tears.  These days, it’s rare to get through the day without feeling like the walls are crashing down on me.

I have glimpses of hope and reminders that life gets better.  I try and hold onto those.  But living in the moment requires breaking down, because the here and now is often unbearable.  That’s why I am always on my damn phone – if I can just check out for a minute, maybe I can regroup and reenter my life.  Or just pass the time; maybe when I lift my head, things will be different.  Better.

So I’m coping.  At least I am getting more sleep these days, but I am still choosing sleep over most other things.  I choose sleep over chores, over human interaction, over getting out of the house.  Because if I am not moderately rested, nothing else matters.  That may sound dramatic, but it’s true.  Here’s the catch, though: if I’m not a zombie physically (sleep deprived), then I’m a zombie emotionally (isolated).  It’s like I can’t win.

Not to mention that this winter, everyone and their mom is sick.  Everyone in my family was sick a month ago, including my newborn, and that was pure hell.  Less sleep and meeting with other people all mean a higher chance of getting sick again…so perhaps hunkering down is what we just need to do right now, even though I don’t have a whole lot of choice in the matter at the moment.  I suppose all these circumstances just mean I super prioritize what get togethers we try and attend.

Lest I begin rambling, I will simply repeat my point in closing.

Life is really tough right now.

Some Days

Some days
start out
at the bottom of a well, looking up
thrashing makes the chilled water slap my face
and flood my eyes.

My singing
echos
bounces off the walls and travels upward
hopefully someone will hear.

Other days
start out
with the warmth of the sun on my skin
I have to close my eyes
to shield them from the brightness
the warm breeze tugs at the corners of my mouth
like puppet strings.

My singing
spills out
like a volcano filled with honey.

Everyone can hear.

Reminders

I wrote the following post several weeks ago, shortly after moving to the Portland area.  I hesitated in posting it, mainly because of the reaction I was afraid it might get.  But after reading Charlotte’s brave post on her blog Momaste about her own depression, I figured I should go ahead and post, too, regardless of what others thought.

———————————————————————————–

It’s time to get up, Melissa.

…..what?

You need to get up now.

Not yet.  I don’t think I can.

Take off the covers, swing your legs over the side of the bed and sit up.

…O-Okay.

Now take some deep breaths.  One thing at a time.

I am doing my best to listen to the voice inside my head.  The good voice.  That voice who can see the other side.  That therapist voice who always knows that things are going to be ok, even when I seriously doubt it.

It’s so hard to take my own advice.  I can’t count how many times I have told clients to try and provide themselves with reminders about how it feels to climb out of a depression, or how it feels after you’ve just left an abusive partner, how it feels when you’re loving life and you actually have hope.

We need those reminders of what hope feels like, and now I am needing them, because depression lies to us.

Let me say that again: depression lies.

Some of my clients remind themselves by journaling.  When they feel themselves slipping, I’ll remind them to go back and read the entries they made when they felt good about themselves.

Some of my clients use artwork they’ve made as reminders.  Others use music.  Or dancing.  It’s about whatever works.

Step one is to get yourself to actually make the reminder.  Step two, which is the harder one, is to get yourself to pull out the reminder when you need it most.

I actually got this idea from one of my very first clients who used this technique naturally.  She recognized that the abuse in her relationship ran in cycles, that her manipulative ex changed his tactics from time to time, and that she needed a reminder as to why she left him, especially when he was beginning to turn the charm back on, or when things got particularly hard on her own.

She knew just how strong her denial could be, and so she knew that she needed a real, tangible reminder.  Something she couldn’t ignore or explain away.  So she cleared out a drawer in her house, and she filled it with things her ex had broken.  Picture frames, phones, even pieces of a dining room chair.  Every time she needed reminding, she would open that drawer and touch all the broken pieces of a life she had left behind.

I used her amazing example with many clients, and right now I’m needing to use it for myself.

Because sometimes I feel like my hope has leaked out of my drawer.

Now I need you to brush your teeth.

I don’t feel like it.

You’ll feel better afterwards.

…will I feel better, ever?

Yes.

How do you know?

Because you’re still listening to me.

~~~

Tell me, what do you use as a reminder of hope?