A poem of sorts

masks

wipes

spread

quarantine

shelter

flatten

curve

homeschool

sanitizer

testing

antibodies

reopen

protest

asymptomatic

immunity

pandemic

Covid.

fear

panic

hypervigilance

numbness

lost

lonely

anxiety

anticipation

faith

kindness

love

hope.

 

No Time Like the Present

I started this blog in 2012. I’ve been writing ever since I can remember. Heck, even before I could write properly, I was making wordless books.

Eventually, I’d love to get published. On my bucket list it says, write a book.

Well, today is a special day because today, I submitted an entry in a short story writing contest – something I’ve never done before.

Even if I don’t win anything, I’ll still have won something.

Might as well do something creative and productive and hopeful with this crazy, anxiety-filled time I/we am/are wading through.

No time like the present, eh?

Wish me luck!

The Other Shoe

Anxiety is so freakin weird, you guys.

For the past several weeks I’ve actually been on a really good kick. My anxiety has stolen morning sleep from me only….twice (three times?) lately, and once was because I decided it was a great idea to watch Bird Box.

As a rule, I’ll never say I’ve beaten anxiety or that I’ve banished it from my mind and body forever. I know that’s wishful thinking, but it’s just not going to happen. Anxiety, in acute, appropriate doses, is actually healthy and adaptive. It keeps us out of danger.

Anxiety has always kinda been in the background of my life, but for the past two years it’s been (almost) ever-present. Right now, I seem to be in one of those almost times when I get to have a break. To a certain degree, I can enjoy these times. But then a funny thing happens. I don’t even know what to call it. It’s this state of mind where I’m worried that I’m forgetting about something that should be causing me anxiety. (I just reread that sentence, and yes, I know exactly how crazy that sounds.) It’s because anxiety has been my BFF, glued to my side, banging around in my brain, burning a hole in my chest, hitching a ride on my back, for so frickin long now, that when she’s gone, it feels…unnerving. Weird. Not normal.

It’s like waiting for the other shoe to drop.

So even though it’s a “break,” I still find myself having to do a lot of daily (sometimes hourly) work reminding myself that I’m safe, my kids are safe, the sky is not falling.

First, I stop and ask myself if what I am feeling is, in fact, anxiety. If the answer is no, then I employ a certain flavor of self-talk and any number of mantras I’ve collected over the years that feels helpful.

I am safe now.

I will figure it out.

I have nothing to be worried about.

Everything is going to be okay.

There is nothing wrong.

I have everything I need.

I am capable.

I am healthy.

Sometimes, it feels ridiculous that I actually have to say these things to myself, and that I have to say them so often. But, as I spontaneously explained it to my husband the other day, because I’ve dealt with anxiety so intensely for so long, it’s been seared into the neural pathways in my brain. Responding to situations with panic has become automatic, and the process of interrupting and rewiring those pathways is long and hard. The good news, however, is that it’s possible. In no way am I doomed to always feel this way.

And so, I do my best to inject hope into this shitstorm that is all too often my life.

Please continue to wish me luck, and I’ll keep telling my anxiety to go to hell, where it belongs.

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.

 

There aren’t enough cinnamon rolls in the world

This is an exciting time, in a way. Exciting and disheartening to say the least.

(I have mixed feelings about trigger warnings, but nevertheless, here’s one for talk of all the sexual assault allegations in the media currently going on.)

So many survivors of sexual violence are coming forward to place blame, rightfully and publicly, squarely on the alleged perpetrators in Hollywood, in television, and in politics. I even hesitate to say “alleged” in that last sentence because people rarely lie about being victims of sexual assault. In my profession and my experience, I believe a survivor. Always.

I am so proud of all those survivors who have come forward, even when their perpetrator is famous, powerful, a dickhead, or all three. I know there are several times more survivors out there who haven’t spoken out, and those who have come forward give all the others strength and hope.

I feel a shift happening. Hopefully this is another wave of human beings rising up and making it normal to say, “Hey! You can’t treat people this way. We see you and your actions and you will be held accountable.”

I’ve watched the news as day after day, more allegations have come out and people are screaming for Roy Moore to drop out of his race. House of Cards was effectively canceled. Louis C.K.’s movie was shelved.

I watched an episode of Megyn Kelly’s new Today Show where she put up pictures of man after man accused of sexual assault and listed off what each asshole had been accused of doing. For once, the focus was on the perpetrators and not the victims. I felt a weird combination of….elation, hope, and disgust.

Elation – YES! We are holding perpetrators publicly to the fire and screaming that this behavior is despicable in a way that I’ve never seen before.

Hope – Maybe momentum will build. Maybe this is the beginning of something bigger. Maybe lasting change will happen.

Disgust – For there to be so many, SO MANY survivors, there are tons of perpetrators out there. I admit, I’ve had feelings of deep disappointment to find out that people whose work I enjoy and admire have been accused of sexual assault. This SUCKS. Why do so many men think this is ok and think they can get away with it?! (#patriarchy)

Tonight, I was eating some leftover cinnamon roll when I learned about allegations against Louis C.K. I was shocked, disgusted, and disappointed. At a loss, I started shoving more cinnamon roll into my mouth. It seemed like the right thing to do.

My husband and I joked that there aren’t enough cinnamon rolls in the world because all this feels like too much.

Maybe one day we’ll have more than enough cinnamon rolls because people will remember to stop sexually assaulting other people and then lie about it. That sentence made sense in my head, but I think you get my drift.


NaBloPoMo Day 13

 

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.

Maybe Spring Will Come Early

About every 6 months or so I find myself rewatching Eat, Pray, Love.

It’s a story that really speaks to me.  It’s about a woman traveling physically, but also emotionally and spiritually, to find herself.  To reinvent herself.  To heal herself.  I find that message incredibly inspiring and hopeful.  So I watch it when I feel myself needing an extra injection of hope.  The book is better, of course, but I am a slow reader and I need the injection to be quick and effective.

I recently watched it again.

This time of year is hard for me because the holidays are over, my birthday is over, and I am ready for winter to be OVER.  Every spring, I feel myself reawaken with increased energy, hope, possibility.  And I just can’t wait for the spring, so I suppose watching the movie was my way of trying to tide myself over.

One aspect of the storyline is comparing Americans to Europeans in certain ways.  An Italian gentleman says that Americans know entertainment, but they don’t know pleasure.  Then he explains an Italian concept he calls the pleasure of doing nothing.  The main character then interprets this in her own way and makes a simple meal (boiled egg, asparagus, pasta, etc.) and eats it on the floor while reading the paper and wearing a lovely nighty.  In my own attempt to stretch the power of this movie as far as it will go, I made my own pleasure of doing nothing meal.  I rarely cook, so this was special and made me feel domestic and feminine.

At the risk of rambling, this movie also brings up a lot for me.  They talk about weddings.  Love.  Faith.  Travel.  Life.  Food.  I suppose each one of those could be its own post.

Lately, I’ve felt a growing urge to create and write, but I have all these half-posts in my head.  Today I sat down and just forced myself to start writing the first half in hopes that the second half would just manifest itself, as has happened in the past.  And as you can read, that didn’t happen today.  But I’m about to hit Publish because at this point I just want to put something out there.

Maybe this will get the juices flowing.  Maybe I’ll write more about Eat, Pray, Love.  Maybe spring will come early.

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?