One step forward, two steps back…

I know I do not push myself enough when it comes to my anxiety and agoraphobia, but I do try. Ever since the summer when I had a semi-nervous breakdown, I have just been really focused on getting back to the semblance of a baseline. I am pretty close to that, but my comfort area remains really small. It is really hard to push myself when all I really want is to feel normal and I am scared to rock the boat. But in the past couple of months, I have drastically reduced the amount I take Xanax, which feels good. I am back to taking it on a as needed basis and I rarely need it (but that is because I don’t really go anywhere…)

Today, my boyfriend’s son had an important athletic competition about 30 minutes away. I have only driven that far a few times since the summer, but fortunately it was in a direction and on highways I am really familiar and comfortable with. My boyfriend went early and I met him there a couple hours later. All of the expected responses I normally have did not really happen. I did not wake up during the night thinking about the drive and I felt relaxed and in control all morning. I did check the traffic a few times to make sure it was smooth sailing and I did take a Xanax about a half hour before I left. But, I drove there with no problems!!! The last couple of times I have had to drive that distance, I had panicky feelings and was tempted to turn around and go home and that did not happen at all. I really did not feel anxious and I was really pleased about that. It felt like winning a small battle in a very ginormous war, but a win nonetheless!

When it became pretty evident my boyfriend’s son was going to be the champion of the event, I mentioned to him that maybe we should ask his ex-wife (who was also there) if she wanted us all to go out to dinner to celebrate with their two sons. I asked him if maybe we could meet in between my house and hers or have them come down a little closer to my house (she and I live about 20ish minutes away). He won (hurray!!!) and afterwards it was decided we would all go out to dinner. My boyfriend and I went back to my house and his ex-wife and son went back to her house to let him shower and get their younger son, who was home. The kids decided they wanted to go to a restaurant that is about 10 minutes further away from their mom’s house, which made it about a half hour away from my house, but in a direction I am not really comfortable driving.

I just could not do it. After pumping myself up for the original drive and then sitting in a gym for five hours (which was REALLY overstimulating with a tournament going on), I just immediately shot the idea of going out to dinner down. Of course, I told him I wanted him to go and because the kids chose the restaurant, I did not want to request a different one. I honestly NEVER want anyone to be negatively affected by my anxiety and I have so much guilt all the time about how it does hurt the people I love, whether because they are concerned about me or disappointed I can’t go somewhere.

It just felt like a real anxiety rollercoaster and because I always, always focus on my losses over my wins, all I am thinking about now is that I couldn’t make it out to dinner. I am so upset and disappointed with myself. I feel so bad about myself. I don’t feel worthy of being with my boyfriend. I am embarrassed that he has to make up an excuse for why I am not there, although I told him to tell the kids the truth. They are teenagers and I told them about my mental health issues in the fall and I never want to lie to them. Having this problem makes me hate myself. My therapist said something this week about how I make anxiety such a huge part of my identity when it really is just one thing about me. I don’t have a good answer for that. I just am so disappointed in myself right now and I feel like even through I should focus on how I was successful for the drive that I did, I am just upset about the one that I did not do.

Be Better

My teenaged students often ask me (innocently) why I don’t have kids. I talk about my life and my nieces all the time, so it makes sense that they are curious. They are also at a point in their own lives where they are thinking about their futures and whether marriage and a family is something they eventually want.

When I was a teenager and just becoming sexually active, I was terrified of getting pregnant. At age 16, I had an older friend drive me to Planned Parenthood to get prescribed birth control pills. I always assumed that at some point when I was older, I would just know that I wanted children. Spoiler alert: that time never came. The idea of pregnancy and childbirth terrified me and when I got married at age 27, I kept waiting for my biological clock to start ticking. Then my marriage went to complete shit. My ex husband gave me an ultimatum about having a baby and I knew better than to bring a child into a bad relationship. I chose divorce.

In my 30s, more and more of my friends announced their pregnancies and I was delighted to buy strollers and onesies and pack-n-plays, but still never felt envious. If anything, experiencing pregnancy through the eyes of my friends made it even more unappealing to me. I excitedly met and cuddled their babies and still never felt the pull to be a mother. The only feeling I remember having is waves of guilt that my mother was not becoming a grandmother like her contemporaries were. To her credit, she never pressured me in any way about whether or not I wanted a baby.

When I was with my exboyfriend, there was a period of time when we discussed marriage and whether or not we really wanted to both close the door for good on parenthood. I was in my late 30s and he was five years younger, so the decision mostly fell in my lap. He, like most men, had more time. My time was running out. I went to my gynecologist for my annual exam and for the first time ever, she mentioned that I should really start seriously considering whether or not I wanted to have a baby. I told her my concerns and she offered to do a blood test that would determine my fertility.

I went into the test pretty nonchalantly, having the confidence of always having good health. My results were unexpected. She essentially said that I would not be able to get pregnant on my own and if I wanted to have a baby, I would need to see a specialist and most likely begin IVF immediately. Although it was surprisingly disappointing to have the choice of motherhood taken from me, I wasn’t devastated and felt as if that was the last real sign I needed that it just wasn’t in the cards for me.

As a teacher, I felt as if I had an opportunity to have a positive influence on children, just in a different capacity and it was fulfilling in a lot of ways. However, when my sister had her first daughter, I understood for the first time what parents always said about their children. My first niece made my heart explode with pure, unconditional, overwhelming love. My second niece made my heart expand in ways I didn’t think were even possible. I don’t know if I could love my own children as much as I love my two nieces. I would literally give my life for either of them and I desperately want them to have the happy childhood my sister and I did not have. I am so lucky to be a very active auntie. My sister lives in the same town as me and I see them almost every day. They are truly the loves of my life.

My mother jokes that my sister’s children are miniature versions of us. My older niece, who is five, is very much like me- in looks and temperament. She is fair skinned with blue eyes, and is so smart and sensitive. People often mistakenly assume she is my daughter when we are all out in public. My little niece, the two year old, is a clone of my sister. She has darker hair and brown eyes and is impish, funny, and stubborn like my sister.

My older niece (I will refer to her as Five) is very sensitive. She gets easily upset and her feelings are quick to be hurt. She is so sweet and cares about other people. Five also seems to be a little predisposed to anxiety- she is scared of thunder and afraid to fall of her bike. Her younger sister is fearless, like my sister was. I was terrified of rollercoasters growing up and my sister would be pulling my mom’s arm to get in line. Even when I was a teenager, I was still scared of storms and would climb in my sister’s bed at the first sight of lightening. I was the older sister, but was always more cautious, a natural worrier, and overly sensitive.

At first, the comparisons between Five and me would make me so happy. I loved her so much and I felt like there was such a connection between us that went beyond the normal auntie/niece bond. I glowed with pride when strangers would comment how much she looked like me (my sister would jokingly call me Aunt Mommy) But, as Five got older, I started worrying about the ways I DIDN’T want her to be like me. I don’t want either of my nieces to have their lives dictated by fears or anxiety or mental illness.

When Five would overreact and exhibit signs of any kind of anxiety, my sister would make comments like “she’s just like you.” This hurt me so much. I know my sister never said it to hurt me, but it did. Because of all the fears I have (and there are a lot), the biggest one I have is that Five will end up like me. It makes me sad to write that because I know I have a lot of amazing traits that I would be proud to pass on to her and her sister, but I do not want her to experience mental illness the way I have. I think deep down that was a big part of why I did not want my own children- that wanted to avoid having a child be genetically predisposed to the mental health issues I have.

My nieces are a huge reason why I fight to stay healthy and try to manage my anxiety and panic disorders and agoraphobia. I know I am not doing a great job at it right now, but I am working through it all. I just worry as they get older, they will start to notice things more and more. I just want every aspect of their lives to be better than mine and I want them to be better than me.

Profusely Sweating

To help reduce my anxiety, one of the things I have been working on is “not sweating the small stuff”. This is incredibly difficult for me, because not only do I have anxiety, but I also am have a complete Type A personlaity and a touch of OCD. I made mountains out of molehills constantly.

It is a work in progress and I try to keep things in perspective. I have a really beautiful bathroom with a double sink vanity. When I lived with my exhusband, my sink was the left and his was the right.

Now that I live alone, I still use the left hand sink just out of habit. Recently, the faucet started to leak. It was just an occasional drip, but then just kept getting worse. I tried to fix it today (I am pretty handy and my father worked in the plumbing industry for decades so I understand the basics) and somehow I made it worse! It started running steadily, when when the handle was off. Then I tinkered under the sink and made something under there leak. I was starting to feel anxious. One of my big triggers has always been something breaking in the house and not being able to fix it. It makes me feel so out of control and helpless. I have lived alone for a long time now and have tried to work on this, because something is ALWAYS broken when you have a house (lol truth!!)

I finally just needed to walk away from the leaking sink. I turned the cold water off underneath and told myself not to sweat the small stuff. I reminded myself logically that nothing in the house was getting flooded or ruined, that it is probably an easy fix for a plumber or if I do more research, AND in the meantime I have another sink right next to it that I can use.

This all seems so dumb and trivial as I am writing it out. I know so many people that have “real” problems and I also hear my therapist saying that my problems are real to me and not to compare myself to other people. I am just trying to keep things in perspective and not obsess over this.

Hold on…let me overthink this

So much of my anxiety is anticipatory. Like 90% of it. I know this, yet it is really hard to control. It is almost impossible to tell myself to just simply not think about something. It would be like me saying to you, “close your eyes and DON’T think about the color blue.” ALL you are going to do is think about and imagine the color blue. Since so much of my anxiety is related to travel and most travel or trips or drives are planned and not spontaneous, I suffer from anticipatory anxiety almost constantly. If I am invited to a dinner or event, I anticipate it for the days leading up to it. I overplan, checking Waze and other maps to see how long it will take to get there. I overthink all the different things that could go wrong or the elements I can’t control.

Even with horrible anxiety and panic disordered, I have always been pretty independent. I preferred (and still do prefer) to drive somewhere alone. I never want to be a burden to someone or ruin their time by having anxiety. My sister went away for a weekend over this past summer, during the same time I had a negative reaction to a new antidepressant, and I had the closest thing to a nervous breakdown I have ever experienced. It is still hard to think- or write- about. My sister has been planning a girls’ weekend trip to Florida for the first weekend in December (like fly out Friday and home Monday) and I have been soooooo anxious about it. It has literally ruined the entire month of November for me. I just think over and over, like a broken record, that I don’t want her to go. Selfishly, it isn’t that I think something will happen to HER, rather it is that I think something will happen to ME.

I have never been or felt so dependent on other people. I never had this kind of a reaction to someone else going away. I was desperately hoping for something to happen to prevent her from going, but I also knew that wasn’t fair to her. She didn’t ask to be my person like this and she is a hard-working mom who deserves a fun weekend away. It has been difficult because she is the person I am closest to and who I would confide in the most about these things, but I don’t want her to feel guilty about leaving me or me being upset.

The most confusing thing about this is that I don’t logically know WHY I need her so much or why I am so afraid for her to be away. But, like most people with anxiety, I know that logic really goes out the window. My therapist has pointed out many times that I am actually the one who does things almost daily for my sister, whether it is babysitting my nieces, running errands, picking something up for her, helping her with something at her house, etc. I do a lot for my sister and yet I feel this immense panic at the thought of her being far away.

It is frustrating because I don’t need ANOTHER thing to be anxious about. I have enough things already and now it feels like I am adding something new to the list, while still not making a lot of progress on my existing triggers.