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.

Can you smell the shit?

My kid does this thing where he behaves beautifully in public, when we’re in front of other people.

And when we’re at home, or in the car, especially when I’m the only adult around, he’ll completely break down and fall apart.  Worse yet, lately he’s been misbehaving on purpose.  Taking things from his sister, doing the opposite of what I’ve asked, throwing things, etc.

Let me be clear – overall, my kid is very well behaved.  He’s always been quite mellow, a rule follower, compliant, agreeable.  It’s great, he’s great, and I know I’m very lucky.  While I’d love to take all the credit for his amazing disposition, I know that he was just partially born that way, and partially due to my (mostly) awesome parenting (plus the much more patience-filled parenting job his dad does).

What sucks, aside from me having to deal with the breakdowns (unintentional) and the defiant threenager behavior (intentional), is that my mommy friends usually just see compliant, agreeable Dudeman.  This sets up a dynamic where I don’t feel like there’s room for me to complain about my situation.

It’s the little comments and compliments like, “Wow, he’s so well behaved!” or, “I could never imagine D doing something like that!”  There’s a mix of emotions that comes with hearing these.  On one hand, the compliments are very nice and very well received.  There’s a certain amount of mommy pride that comes with the reputation for having The Good Kid.  On the other hand, like I said before, I can’t complain about the bad times and feel like I am being believed because no one ever sees them.  It makes me want to wear a GoPro or one of those police body cams so I can catch D-man in action and then play it for my mommy friends.

See?!  See THAT?!  He was just a total asshole to me! 

I guess I just want to feel accepted.  I want to be part of the club.  I army crawl through the trenches and slog through blood and piss and shit just like y’all.  Even if you don’t see it.

And now that I type this, I find myself laughing on the inside because I’ve always thought of myself as one of those moms who didn’t care if she didn’t look put together.  At least, I care about sleep more than I care about looking put together…because I’m not.  But, with D’s behavior, it’s not like I’m hiding anything.  He’s just more likely to behave when he’s being stimulated and is around other fun people and kids, which is when we’re hanging out with the mom friends.  It’s when we’re alone and sick or bored or tired or hungry that he’s more likely to push my buttons and test boundaries.  Totally normal, I keep reminding myself.  (More than normal, even, because he’s testing me because he is safe and loved with me)  There’s just a part of me that wants to wear some of that blood and piss and shit on my sleeve as proof that I’ve been to war.  Maybe a purple heart would be less smelly.

So obviously I’ve realized that, as a stay at home mom, I want a witness to my suffering and my hard work.  It’s like when you want your boss to say, Great job, Janice! (if your name was Janice. If not, that would just be weird), but you’re doing the kind of work that when it’s done right and done well, no one notices.  This is why, almost every day when my husband gets home from work, I insist on giving him a detailed play-by-play of my entire day.  I need him to hear my struggle, see my pain, congratulate me for getting through it and being such a badass.

And now I’ve come full circle, I’ve realized, to my last post.  Because I feel invisible, the work I do is invisible, and my struggles are also invisible, I find myself searching for witnesses.  Empathy.  Validation.

Can you smell the shit?