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.

 

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Cancer, Yoga, and Becoming a Parent

I wrote this guest post on a friend’s blog in 2014 when I was pregnant with my first kiddo. It serves as a good reminder about how mindfulness and physical activity remain crucial elements of my mental health and self-care regimen.


NaBloPoMo Day 24

Crazy Good Parent

yoga

I started practicing yoga soon after I had surgery to treat ovarian cancer. The surgery was my only treatment, as my kind of cancer wouldn’t respond to chemo or radiation. The cancer had fully engulfed my left ovary, which they removed, and my right ovary remained, although my surgeon said they scraped cancerous growths off its surface.

“We can’t promise anything,” was the answer I got when I asked about my fertility status. Growing up, I always knew I wanted to be a mom, in this passive way of knowing – I didn’t have to think about it, I just knew. Well, nothing made me realize just how badly I wanted to be a mom until there was a distinct possibility that I couldn’t.

That was 11 years ago; I was 20 years old.

Now, at age 31, I am happily pregnant with my first child, and I am counting…

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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.)
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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.

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Fill Your Bucket

This post I originally wrote on November 19, 2012 – almost exactly 5 years ago. While my life looks a whole lot different now, I still make sure that I fill my bucket. In fact, now that I have kids, it’s even more important than ever.


NaBloPoMo Day 17

Psychobabble

The other day, one of my clients started to ask me a personal question in the domestic violence support group I run.  I could feel it coming.

“Hey Melissa, I don’t mean to pry into your business, but I was just curious…”

My blood pressure started to rise.  I could feel my armpits start producing more sweat than usual, which meant that I’d soon soak through my shirt and be stuck to my cheap office chair until lunch.  My face started to get hot, and I knew, I just knew, that my face was starting to turn red.  I hate that.

So which question was it going to be?  Was I married?  Did I have kids?  How long had I been doing this work?  Do I know what it’s like to be a victim of violence?  Did I have to use a prescription strength deodorant?

“…how is it that…

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Someone please fix it

super bummed.

i really wanted to be able to go.  i need this.  someone make it so.  someone FIX IT.

too often, i hang my happiness, or potential happiness, up onto this Thing, and if the Thing doesn’t happen, or doesn’t happen the way I want it to, somehow the potential for happiness is gone.

that sounds so stupid, doesn’t it?

because the Things are so small, yet I give them so much weight.  capital Ts and all.

Life isn’t perfect.

Life is messy.

It’s okay that I am not perfect.

Perfection is boring.

Perfection doesn’t exist.

I’m going to be fine.

I am fine.

I am enough.

I have everything I need.

i have all these great mantras and i can go through them until i’m blue in the face, but they still don’t take away the….the what?  disappointment?  anger?  hurt?  shame?

all of the above?

this makes me feel like i am five years old, unable to tolerate such feelings so that they come pouring out of me as behaviors – physical manifestations of my nebulous emotions.

in other words – they become real.

letting go is super hard.  processing this is hard.

someone teach me how.

someone please FIX IT.

Fill Your Bucket

The other day, one of my clients started to ask me a personal question in the domestic violence support group I run.  I could feel it coming.

“Hey Melissa, I don’t mean to pry into your business, but I was just curious…”

My blood pressure started to rise.  I could feel my armpits start producing more sweat than usual, which meant that I’d soon soak through my shirt and be stuck to my cheap office chair until lunch.  My face started to get hot, and I knew, I just knew, that my face was starting to turn red.  I hate that.

So which question was it going to be?  Was I married?  Did I have kids?  How long had I been doing this work?  Do I know what it’s like to be a victim of violence?  Did I have to use a prescription strength deodorant?

“…how is it that you hear stories like ours day after day and you don’t fall apart when you go home?  How do you do this work?”

Ah, this was an easier question to answer than most.  A lot of people- clients and non-clients -ask me why I do this work, and the answer is simple: because I love it, I am actually good at it, and I feel like I am making a difference just by connecting with people.  How freaking cool is that?!

But my client’s question was a twinge different than that.  She was asking me, in so many words, how do I take care of myself?  How do I keep myself from going crazy, from getting depressed, from losing hope?

My honest answer to her was that some days, some weeks, I fail.  Sometimes I fail to take care of myself and sometimes I do hit a wall and just start sobbing because Will Smith’s character in Pursuit of Happyness has to get into a line for a homeless shelter and he reminds me of one of my clients and the world fucking sucks.

I know this is a cliche thing to say, but hey, cliche things are such for a reason: my clients teach me so much.  They teach me how to be a better therapist and how to be a better person.  For instance, a former client of mine once told me how she reminds herself to put herself first and to take care of herself before trying to help others.  She said, with her wicked awesome Boston accent, “See here.  We all carry around a bucket with us, right.  And you can’t fill your kids’ buckets if your bucket is empty.  You gotta fill your bucket up first before you can fill anyone else’s, and that’s how it is.”

That is how it is.  I can’t possibly expect to help all the clients I see each week and hear all of their horror stories and sit with them while they cry unless I fill up my bucket.

I fill my bucket with yoga.  I found a cheap yoga class that I go to every Tuesday night.

I fill my bucket with cardio, usually on Thursdays, even though I loathe it with the fire of a thousand suns.

I fill my bucket by making sure I shower regularly.  For me being borderline OCD, showering is a real time-consuming production, and it’s like exercise to me in that it feels like a chore, but it makes me feel so much better when I am done.

I fill my bucket with some Kardashians, washed down by a bucketfull of mocha chip.  Their lives are so fucked up that one can’t help but feel better while yelling at giant ass cheeks on the TV screen.

I fill my bucket by getting enough sleep and eating regularly and as healthily as I can.  I can’t stress just how important these things are.  If I haven’t slept or eaten, I become a monster even when I’m not working.

I fill my bucket by owning a vibrator.  I never thought I would ever write that sentence, but there it is.

Lastly, I fill my bucket by hanging out with healthy people.  I spend so much of my time with my clients, who come to me at their lowest, when their own buckets are empty.  If you’ve ever spent time with a person who is profoundly depressed, then you know just how emotionally and physically draining that is, especially when you’re tuned into that person’s needs.  Feelings are contagious- both the good and the bad.  If they weren’t, it would mean that we didn’t care, and that we weren’t connected.  Sometimes I just need to be reminded that not everyone is suffering, and there aren’t child molesters around every corner.

I’ve learned by trial and error what I need to fill my bucket, and how to listen to my mind and my body to notice when my bucket is getting a bit too empty and I am heading for Hot Mess, CA population: one.

When I find myself sobbing on a Friday night because Bella broke Jacob’s heart and he prefers to ruin yet another pair a pants by transforming into a wolf before getting naked first, then I start to take stock of my week.  Did I have any really tough sessions with clients this week, particularly with kids?  Did I miss yoga this week?  Did I eat the entire shelf of Hostess cupcakes just to spite my fellow shopper who was too damn slow?

Usually, if my waterworks are triggered by the smallest thing at the end of the week, chances are I had really tough therapy sessions, I’ve chosen a trauma-related book to read for fun, I’m watching a documentary about Holocaust survivors because it’s interesting, and I didn’t properly fill up my bucket.  This has actually happened before.

At any rate, I gave my client a much abbreviated answer to her question, but I did answer her honestly- that I am human and I do my best.  I also wanted to let her know that I practice what I preach, in that I don’t spout all this bucket crap to my clients and then ignore it when it comes to taking care of myself.

So, my dear Psychos, how do you all fill your buckets?