I’m the One with the Pool

So I haven’t been inside a grocery store in weeks. Not since March 19, to be exact. Until today.

The two main reasons I wanted to go were for items that couldn’t be picked up curbside- for me that meant a giant plastic pool and garden items like flowers and tomato plants. You know, lovely things that make life feel worth living. I was determined to get another kiddie pool because our city announced they wouldn’t be turning on joy the water features this summer (at least for now), and that’s a devastating blow to the well being of my kids and thus my family. My son didn’t cry when school was canceled (and he likes school!) but you bet your ass he cried when I told him the splash pads weren’t going to be turned on. Sigh.

So I had this all planned out. I was gonna go an hour before closing so that it’d be as empty as possible (and freaking hell there were still way too many people in there for comfort!), because I drive by that parking lot every single Tuesday at 2pm for curbside pickup and the parking lot is chockfull like there’s an end of the world party and everyone’s invited.

My anxiety started spiking before I even got ready to go. Uuuuggghhh having chronic anxiety centered around health issues REALLY SUCKS during a pandemic. And trying to control my breathing so I don’t start hyperventilating in an N95 mask is difficult to say the least. Basically, I was using my cart as a battering ram and trying to strong-arm my way through the grocery store to get what I needed and get the hell out.

They keep the giant plastic pools outside of the store, and I grabbed one and brought it inside, only to realize…this is big. and awkward. How the hell am I supposed to shop with this? So the greeter man by the door was super helpful and had me just take a picture of the bar code and he held it at the door so I didn’t have to cart it around everywhere with me.

I did my shopping. I ran into someone I knew! How quaint! Just like the before-times. The staff were soooo nice. Like, not paid nearly enough for how nice they were during a pandemic. And what the nice employee lady told me was that THE GARDEN CENTER CLOSED OVER AN HOUR AGO. Fuuuuuuuuuuck. So much for planning ahead. This will mean that I’ll have to come back at some point and endure this drawn out panic attack again. Covid-19: keeping therapists and big pharma in business!

I wove around non-mask wearing teenagers (WTF) and paid for my stuff and retrieved my pool and got out to my car. My husband’s car, actually. Because while my car is bigger, it has the car seats and the backseat can’t be put down. So I brought his so I could put the seats down and have plllllllenty of room for the pool (I’m so smart!) right?

Yeah no.

My 5 foot diameter pool was clearly not going to fit in this Prius. Even though I tried like an idiot. Several times. Maybe this way? Nope. I hope no one’s watching me. FUCK. I had to take off my mask at this point because I needed to breathe. I was gonna have a panic attack right there in the parking lot.

I called my husband.

Uuuuuh, you’re gonna have to tie it to the car or drive home holding it out of the window.

Thanks. Who do we know with a huge car? OH WAIT! I saw husband-of-a-friend in the store just now! THEY HAVE A SUBURBAN!

I hung up and madly texted my friend. My phone autocorrected “fucking” to “tucking.” I hate that.

Her husband was still in the store, and he graciously responded that he’d be right there. I almost texted back with I’m the one with the pool but thought better of it.

We caravaned home, I got the pool into the yard, said a bunch of thank yous, and then bathed in disinfectant along with everything on my person and set my clothes on fire. I got over the hump with some Xanax-infused ice cream and didn’t end up needing a Xanax, but oh man the panic was real.

I think tonight took about two years off my life, but at least I got the goddamn pool.

 

My anxiety is finally shared

I’ve dealt with anxiety at varying levels throughout most of my life. Since having cancer, a good portion of that anxiety has been directed into health-related junk. A recurrence. Infertility. Surgery. Passing it onto my kids. Illness in general (who knew I’d have to worry about cancer at age 19 – so what ELSE do I need to be worried about?!). Not knowing when I should worry and when I shouldn’t. Death. All of the above.

The Bloggess, who is so bravely and beautifully candid about her struggles with mental health, said it best.

“Some of us even feel somehow better during this time. It makes sense though. With anxiety disorder you’re constantly afraid and feeling dread for something that isn’t real. Now with something real to focus on it can be a sort of relief. The rest of the world has joined us and the cognitive dissonance you feel for feeling so terrible when there’s no reason to feel terrible is gone.”

This hit the nail right on the head for me. About 4-5 weeks ago, the crisis was finally here, and I was scared out of my mind, but I was ready. I remember on Friday, March 13, as soon as I had both my kids home from school and safe, I felt so much better. We had toilet paper and wipes and hand sanitizer. We buy hand soap in bulk normally anyway. A friend had just dropped off groceries because the stores were being ransacked. I had just filled my car with gas a few days before, by chance. We were home, safe, and scared yes, but my fear was finally directed at something real and, the biggest part, it was shared. It wasn’t just in my head. It was on TV and splashed all over Facebook and it was on the faces of the people in Target. My fear and dread were validated, and that feels…not exactly comforting, but relief in knowing we are all in this together and that I’m not crazy.

Plus, staying home is something I’m good at. I feel safe at home. I can control my home, for the most part. I can wipe it all down and spray the shit out of it. I’m really good at following rules. You want me to stay home and stew in my anxiety? Done and done!

Unfortunately, that’s also what I worry about. I worry that this experience will change me for the worse. In a deep, dark, scary way. And the longer this goes on, the more I’m concerned. This is all starting to feel a little too normal. I wonder if I’ll feel weird leaving the house in the future. Shaking hands. Passing money. Going out to eat. Going to the movies. Getting on a plane. I wonder and worry that my mild OCD tendencies will fester and metastasize during this time, that they’ll grow into something too big to contain once it’s time to get outside and get dirty again.

I don’t feel like I have control over my anxiety. It’s always there, just changing shape and color as I move through life. Are there more panic attacks in my future? More insomnia? Will I develop agoraphobia? Worse yet, how will all this affect my parenting, my kids, my relationships? Will I go through life just waiting for the next disaster? Will everyone else?

In the beforetime, I was operating with my usual amount of social anxiety and general awkwardness. But now, forget about it. In my effort to physically distance myself and my kids, from friends and strangers alike, I no longer know how to act. Do I say hi? Run and scream? Cross the street? Wave? Smile? Hiss at my kids to GIVE PEOPLE PERSONAL SPACE BECAUSE WE DON’T WANT TO GET SICK. SOME WEATHER WE’RE HAVING! HA-HA. I wonder what it will be like hanging out with people again. What I will be like. Will I hesitate? Will I worry? Will it be like nothing ever happened? All of this feels like a very odd fever-dream, not knowing if I’ll feel like me when I wake up.

Right now, I’m okay. I’m just watching my anxiety, wondering what it’ll do. What is it planning? I don’t know. While this blog post may make it sound like I’m spinning out – I’m not actually, not now. Not yet. This is just how my anxious brain works. If I’m not currently worried about something, then I’m worried that I am forgetting what I should be worried about. Sounds nuts, but it’s true.

I’m just concerned and curious. And worried.

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.