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.

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.

Snacks on a Plane

17packing

 

We’re going home to California for the week of Thanksgiving and I’m all excited to BE there, but I am not at all excited to GET there.

Here’s how it’s gonna play out. I pack and worry and scream to try and make everyone be on time. Then I’ll worry some more about what we forgot and being on time. Dylan will break down in the security line and go to his dark place where he goes limp on the floor. Audrey will thrash so hard in the Ergo that she’ll ram her head on my sternum and make several bruises. And that’s all before we get on the plane.

On the plane there will be more thrashing and seat kicking and trying to reach buttons and wanting to crawl down the aisle. And the kids will act up too. (See what I did there? I’ll be here all week.)

Once we touch down in the land of milk and honey, we’ll be greeted by loving, rested grandparents ready to whisk our children away for stimulating play and healthy snacks while Brian and I fall asleep pass out for 5 days. Then we’ll wake up and eat turkey and mashed potatoes and go comatose for another 3.

Too soon it will be time to get on another plane and head back to Waterworld Oregon, where hopefully our cat hasn’t resentfully pooped on our pillows and vomited in our shoes. All the dirty laundry will steep in a small, smelly mountain in the hallway where I hope it will get so rank it’ll one day grow legs and walk itself into the washing machine.

I’ve decided that I’d actually like to enjoy our trip, so I plan to re-blog some of my favorite old posts while I’m gone, especially since I have some new readers and I’d like to share some pieces of which I’m rather proud.

Stay tuned, dear Psychos.


NaBloPoMo Day 16

Amazingly Wonderful Worries

Eleven years ago today, I had my cancer surgery.

Today’s anniversary feels very different from the rest, in a good way.

Is it because the farther away I get from it, the less it hurts?  Partially.

It mostly has to do with the fact that I’m pregnant.  The cloud of fear and uncertainty that has been lurking for so long has mostly lifted, and it feels wonderful.  I feel like I can more fully leave my cancer behind, stop worrying about what my body can’t do, and look forward to what my body can do, what it is doing, and what that means for my future and the future of my family.  I am so blessed, and I just didn’t know how much until recently.

I say the cloud has ‘mostly lifted’ because I do find myself still worrying about how after-effects of my cancer and surgery could affect my pregnancy.  I suppose there’s a part of me that feels like this is too good to be true and that I shouldn’t get my hopes up, that my cancer could still rear up and kick me in the ass.  I suppose it’s normal that a small amount of fear like that will never go away.  And sometimes it’s hard for me to balance these continued fears and still make ample room for the joy and excitement I know that I also deserve to experience.  It does help that my doctor doesn’t seem too concerned about affects from surgery affecting my pregnancy.

Overall, my worries have definitely shifted, and I am grateful for the direction in which they have shifted.  After acknowledging my ever-present cancer worries and then placing them back in their box at the back of my mind, I get to worry about “normal” things now – am I taking good enough care of myself?  Is the baby developing ok?  Will delivery go ok?  Will fe be healthy? How the heck am I going to manage to be a good parent?  Etc…

I am thankful for these worries.  They mean I have something amazingly wonderful to worry about.

Which reminds me about something I’ve said before – that my experience with cancer and the resulting fertility uncertainty means that I get to be even more joyful than I would have been otherwise.

Eleven years ago I experienced one of the worst days of my life, and that’s ok.  It doesn’t define me, and I have allowed it to change me for the better.

Now get back in your box.  You’re distracting me from my joy.