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.

Tears in Heaven

My best friend’s mother passed away very suddenly. Growing up, she was like a second mother to me. I always called her “Ma” and she always called me a special nickname. It happened so quickly…like after years of battling one health problem and thriving, she was diagnosed with a second, unrelated disease and within 48 hours she was gone.

Almost every single loss I have suffered in my life has been unexpected and sudden. A good friend died by suicide. He jumped off a bridge in NYC. My ex boyfriend, M., of ten years had a heart attack and was found dead in his apartment. I have lost other friends to drug overdoses, which even though you know they are struggling with addiction, you still think they will ultimately survive. The only deaths I have dealt with that were not huge shocks were the loss of my grandparents, who were in their 90s…and even with them, they were in such good health for their age and died peacefully in their sleep.

It is really hard to write this without sounding and feeling so selfish, but the loss of my Ma has made me feel so scared to lose my own parents. My father’s health has been so bad for so long that it is easy to think that he will continue to beat the odds. I literally can’t even think about something happening to my mother without feeling ill. Watching my best friend go through having to tell her children that their Nanny is in heaven and plan a funeral was heartbreaking. I honestly don’t know how she got through it and is making it through each day as a functional person.

I logically know that eventually my mom and dad will no longer be here with us. And I understand that it is the circle of life and children are supposed to outlive their parents. I just honestly don’t know how I will be able to get though it. I had a complete breakdown with my panic disorder over the summer and contemplated going to a mental institution to get help and literally nothing was even wrong in my life (I mean that’s a whole other story really…) I can’t imagine how I will survive losing my mother.

I feel comforted by the fact that my Ma was such a religious and spiritual person. I really am not, but I do believe that she is in heaven, reunited with her husband, and is no longer in pain. But she was only 64…she was supposed to be here to watch her grandchildren grow up. Life just seems very unfair sometimes. My mother just turned 75 and although she is so youthful and energetic and healthy, I am so so scared of losing her.

My best friend confided in me that she feels so angry that her mom is gone. I remember after M. died, I read so much about the stages of grief and I was stuck in the anger phase for a really long time. It was like as long as I stayed mad- at his family, the circumstances, etc- I didn’t have to face the fact he was really, truly gone forever. I would never see him again. I would never talk to him again. That was it- the end of his life. At 37 years old, his story was over.

But I eventually started to work through it and I found an article about the Herschel Theory. It essentially explains grief like a big box with a “pain” button inside of it. There is a giant ball that is almost the size of the box and as it bounces around inside the box it always hits that button, and you always feel pain. As time goes on, the ball gets smaller and smaller. It can bounce off the walls of the box without always hitting the pain button, but occasionally it still hits it. That is when grief just hits you out of nowhere. That is how I feel now with M. I am not consumed by his death anymore- the ball is pretty small. But occasionally I just remember he is gone or a memory or something and I am flooded with grief. My best friend’s “grief ball” is humongous, but I hope that with time, she will be able to think of her mother and remember all the happy memories without the lightning bolt of pain from her loss or the deep, dull sadness of her mother’s absence.

And someday, I will be her in shoes and I dread that day so much. Today, my family went out to lunch- my dad, mom, sister, two nieces, and me. I can count on one hand how many times we have done that- certainly never when my dad was actively drinking. It just reminded me again why I made the decision I did to try to forgive my father and allow myself to make new memories with him and our family. I know one day when he is gone, I will be grateful to have them.

A picture is worth a thousand words

I needed to do an update on my MacBook and when I looked at the storage option, the majority of it was being taken up by my massive amount of photos. I transfer all my photos from my phone onto my computer and organize it all into folders based on the event, person, place, etc.

I realized that I really needed to go though them and purge to clear up some much needed space. One of the albums was all of the photos of when my exboyfriend was in the hospital. I documented everything- the tubes and machines, the ventilator, the collage of pictures and letters I hung up on the wall, the flowers my sister brought to cheer us all up, the mural painted above the bed…and many of his unconscious body. I know that probably violated some kind of law, but I needed proof to show him when he woke up. And I did show him. I showed him the photo from the day his parents arrived and his dad stood over his body, his head bowed in despair. I showed him the photo of the dozens of wires connected to his head to test his brain activity. I showed him the photo of our baby niece in the waiting room wearing her “world’s best uncle shirt”. I showed him all the photos and it did not have the impact I wanted. I expected him to be horrified, to cry, to remember anything from that month. But he didn’t. He said it felt like he was looking at photos of someone else.

My therapist asked me why I still kept the photos on my computer. I didn’t have a great answer except that they provided some kind of validation of what I (and be) went through. She gently pointed out that I did not need the photos for him anymore because he is gone. They are of no use to him or his family anymore. And I am sure that his parents can no more forget those memories when they close their eyes and think about them than I can. I realized those pictures aren’t serving any purpose anymore for me. They just bring back pain to look at them.

So, without over thinking it, I deleted them all. And I didn’t stop there. I went through all my pictures and erased all of our vacation photos (minus any of just him or the two of us) and all the photos of his family. I have no relationship with them at all and I know I never will again. His sister’s children are years older now and probably don’t even remember me. I hope that they remember him. I hope his mother still has photos of him in their house and they talk about him and reminisce about him the way my family does.

I don’t need the photos of that terrible time to remember it. I couldn’t forget it if I wanted to. And when I think about him, I want to remember happy times, not traumatic ones. I actually went even a step further and erased photos of my father after he had a stroke and some pictures from when he was actively drinking and damaged things in our house (holes in walls, broken vases, etc).

I have albums and albums full of happy things- my beautiful nieces, my cute house, my decorated classroom, my great friends. It was time to make space on my hard drive for more positive, future memories instead of letting bad, sad ones take up so much room. Now, if only it was as easy to erase them from my own memory as it was to remove them from my computer….

Overwhelmed

When I started this blog many, many years ago, I promised myself that I would write at least one time a month and I have. There have only been a few times where it has literally come down to the very last day of the month and I have not written a blog. However, this is one of those times.

I just feel really easily overwhelmed lately. Maybe it is because it is the end of the school year? I’m not sure. But I just feel like work and house stuff and personal obligations have piled up. I am very task oriented so it bothers me when there is a lot on my plate. And honestly, none of the things I need to do have any real urgency- it just feels like too many things at one time.

I have also noticed that I am a lot more overwhelmed after I have a super busy weekend. I guess I just need more down time and when I don’t have it, it throws me off.

I’m honestly writing this on my phone on my lunch break, with research papers that I need to grade stacked in front of me, simply because I need to take something off my list and this seemed like the easiest and fastest one to tackle. I feel disappointed because that isn’t the reason why I started this blog and I am kind of phoning it in this month.

I guess I should look at the bright side of things- I didn’t have anything crazy or dramatic or horrible to write about this month, so that’s something!!

Metamorphosis (part 2)

Part 2: The disgusting larvae

I didn’t make it 😔 I got about 45 minutes into the drive and felt such overwhelming panic (and freaked out about the traffic), so I turned around and came home. I was about 25 minutes from the beach. I have never really done that before and I am beyond upset and disappointed with myself. I know I have to think about the fact I tried and got halfway, etc, etc…but I just feel like I failed.

Metamorphosis (part 1)

Part 1: The Caterpillar

Covid was one of the best things to happen to me as far as my agoraphobia goes. Nowhere to go, nothing to do…everyone HAD to stay home. For two years, I had the perfect excuse to not go anywhere. There were no vacations, no trips to the city, no concerts at the beach, no day trips, no overnight visits…nowhere to go, nothing to do. For two years, my comfort zone steadily shrank and my anxiety was practically nonexistent. That aspect of quarantine was wonderful. I was stuck at home, newly in love, and so content to just snuggle on the couch with him binging Netflix and Hulu. I still did weekly therapy, focusing on remote teaching, my new relationship, and the death of my exboyfriend. But, inevitably, life has started to go back to “normal” and I am left feeling very not normal. I knew Covid was a causing a huge step back when it came to my agoraphobia, but I don’t think I really grasped how much it negatively affected me. Before Covid, my “comfort zone” was an hour and a half or so. I still got anxious going somewhere new, but it was pretty manageable. I struggled with bigger trips and flying was still a huge obstacle, but I was doing ok. Over the past two years, my comfort zone significantly shrank to being about 25 minutes or so and I don’t like being in the car with other people. I especially am anxious about driving with my boyfriend and his two children. I have spent a lot of time in therapy talking about the need to expand my horizons and widen my comfort zone, but I haven’t actually acted on it. A couple of weeks ago, my friends went on an overnight girls trip to a place about two hours away. Even before Covid this trip was not one I usually went on, but this time I didn’t say no right away. I really did think a lot about going, but the length of the drive, coupled with a night at a bar and sleeping in a hotel was just overwhelming and I did not go. I obsessed over the decision, cried a lot, and was incredibly hard on myself for not being ready to do it. I realized that I had to stop just saying I was going to take drives and push myself and I needed to start just doing it. A couple of days ago, I drove (with my boyfriend) to my parent’s house, which is about 45 minutes away. Even though it is a route I had done hundreds of times in my life, I have only been to my hometown two times in the past two years and I had not driven that distance with my boyfriend before. It was the tiniest of accomplishments, but still was a step in the right direction and it was better than nothing. I decided that I am going to try to drive to the beach tomorrow morning by myself. It is about an hour and fifteen minutes away. I know the only way I am going to get better is to keep pushing myself to drive more often and go a little further each time. I am going to bed tonight telling myself that there is no pressure. If I start driving and can’t make it, I can go home and try another time. So…until tomorrow…

Stairway to (not) heaven

My parent’s house is beautiful. It is very large- around 4,000+ square feet. I was very lucky to grow up in such a nice house. I had my own bedroom with a huge walk in closet. My younger sister and I shared a big bathroom and had our own separate living room, furnished with couches, a computer desk, a closet full of games, and a TV for us to watch MTV and play Nintendo. I had a very privileged upbringing and am grateful for that.

However, as my ex-husband used to sarcastically say about my family: “big house, no problems”. I have often jokingly referred to my childhood home as The House of Horrors (The Simpsons reference!). Hidden behind the three car garage and perfect landscaping were secrets. My dad was successful at a very well-paying job. My mom was able to stay home with us and was a volunteer at our school. Our McMansion gave the world the appearance of a perfect family. This was far from the truth.

My sister and I were talking about our childhood memories last night, which we seldom do. I wonder why we don’t talk about it more. My sister said something about just how truly traumatic it was for us. We talked about our nightly family dinners, without a doubt the worst part of every day. Our mother would make dinner and call my sister and me to to the kitchen. Then she would either get my dad or ask/force one of us to call him to the table. He always was drunk and he always was nasty. I feel like I have blocked a lot of this out, but my sister remembers it all so clearly. She said that I would eat as fast as possible, like I barely chewed my food. I did this so I could be excused from the table. I still eat so fast to this day. My parents would inevitably end up screaming at each other (mostly my dad yelling at my mom) and my father would throw things and leave the kitchen and before long my sister would be sitting alone at the table. She is admittedly an emotional overeater and she thinks it stemmed from this.

Where my sister vividly remembers these dinners, what I recall the most is the stairs in my parents house. There are actually two sets of stairs- the front and the back. The first is more grand, it starts in the entryway of the house and you see it as you walk in the front door. My sister and I were not allowed to use the front stairs because my parents wanted to keep them clean. We used the back stairs (I know this makes us sound like hired help lol). They were located on the side of the house and led from the garage door up to our playroom (which is the living room that belonged to us). Basically, you could walk in the front door, go up the front stairs, go down the hallways where the bedrooms were, end up at the playroom, go down the back stairs, go down the hallway into the kitchen and then turn down another hallway into the front foyer where the front staircase was. It was a giant loop. I’m explaining this in detail because completing this loop became part of my survival mode. When my father was drunk, he often chased us. That sounds really peculiar to write, but I am not sure how else to explain it. He would literally run after me and I 100% believed that if he caught me, I was going to be hurt. So if I talked back or ignored him or didn’t do exactly what I said I was going to do, he would quickly stand up from his spot on the couch in their living room, which was attached to the kitchen. That was my cue to run. I would take off towards one of the staircases, which provided a nice escape route through the house. He usually gave up very quickly, his point simply being made by the threat itself. He just wanted to instill fear and he was successful.

A lot of other memories involve the stairs. I remember my sister and me sitting at the top of the front stairs, listening to my parents fight. There were times the red and blue lights of a police car would illuminate the front foyer and we would “spy” on my mom answering the front door to convince the officers everything was fine.

One time we were all in the main family room and I told my dad I was going to go upstairs to get something from my bedroom and would be back in five minutes. Like a typical teenager, I must have gotten distracted by something and stayed in my room longer. When I returned, my father was angry and determined to teach me what “five minutes was”. He made me follow him to the back staircase, where I stood on the landing and faced the blank wall. He set a timer for five minutes.

There was the time my mother came home and found him lying on the tile floor at the bottom of the front stairs. He was very drunk and fell. I have always wondered if for one, terrible moment she believed he was dead and if she felt a fleeting sense of overwhelming relief. He was very alive, though.

Sometimes when my sister and I talk about these things or I write about them, I feel guilty. My dad has been sober for over two years and seems like a different person. His role as my niece’s “Papa” could not be more different than my experiences of him as a father. I have been struggling a lot about the past vs now. I am obviously glad that he is not drinking and is not the monster he used to be, but it is still hard to reconcile who he was when he did these terrible things to the gentle-ish giant he is now.

My sister and I talk a lot about my parents selling their house and how it is simply too large for them to live in alone, especially since they are in their 70s now. My sister said they need to find a home that is just one floor and my gut reaction was to think “how will mom get away from him without the staircases?!?!?” It is just so crazy how it has been so long since I lived in my childhood home and yet these memories feel so vivid in my mind.

Mad

I’m so fucking angry all the time. This is not a comfortable emotion for me. I have always historically been a crier. No matter what the situation, my gut reaction was to get upset and cry. Not anymore. Sometimes I think I just have no more tears to cry. And when they dried up, I became filled with rage instead.

I feel so shut off from everyone right now. Part is that is self-preservation and protection. I am escaping into myself by withdrawing from people and situations and emotions. The other part is that I find myself just wanting to lash out. At times when I would normally be sympathetic or be able to show that I care, I feel myself harden, the anger percolating dangerously close to the surface.

This started- no surprise- right after M. died. The circumstances of his death are still unknown, at least to me. People tell me that “it doesn’t matter HOW he died, the end result is the same”. I am consumed by it. I still NEED to know. I drive to work drafting emails in my head to send to his mother, sometimes demanding the truth, other times begging for it. I read so much after he died about the stages of grief, desperate to understand. Denial…check. That lasted a couple of weeks. Then came anger aaaannnnd I’m still there. Stuck. I kind of feel like I moved through the other stages, but kept anger tucked in my back pocket. It is a weird comfort, years of pent up anger finally being unleashed, but it is directed all the wrong places. It is like a firecracker- scalding hot and bright red and then it explodes and just goes everywhere.

I have always avoided anger. The absolute worst feeling is knowing or thinking someone is mad at me. And I seldom get mad at anyone, even if I have just cause. It just has never been my go-to emotion. Now, I don’t know how to stop being mad. And I get angry at the dumbest things. I feel like I have been pushing people away, especially my boyfriend. And I don’t even know how to explain to them why because I don’t understand it. It seems too simple (or like a lame excuse) to say, “I’m angry because M. died”. But I’m SO ANGRY BECAUSE M. DIED.

The worst part is I feel mean. I know I’m hurting people who care about me and who genuinely want to make sure I’m okay. And I know I’m doing it in the moment and I don’t care. That is the complete opposite of who I normally am as a person. The person I am pushing away the most is my boyfriend, who is so lovely and wonderful and probably so very, very confused. I just don’t know how to articulate how I feel (which is also very unlike me). My anxiety is so bad right now I just want to be left alone and I know if I continue to act like this, I am literally going to be left and alone.

Love hard

I think I love my boyfriend too much. I have never felt like this before. I am like a teenager who has a major crush. Sometimes I just find myself just staring at him and I always want to touch him. It is sweet, but it also makes me uncomfortable. It makes me feel vulnerable and it is hard to think about how much it would hurt to lose him.

When I was in college, I dated a guy for a couple of years. He treated me really well, but his family was also very supportive of me during a time when my own family was incredibly dysfunctional. When he ended our relationship, I was completely heartbroken. He made a fleeting comment that has stuck with me, even 20 years later. He said something about me putting him on too much of a pedestal and how it put so much pressure on him. He was a great boyfriend, especially considering our ages at the time, but I think I allowed myself to depend on him too much. I became needy, which is never a very attractive quality to have.

I am very independent. Before meeting my current boyfriend, I was fine being single. I have never really been someone who needed to be in a relationship. In fact, after my divorce and after my other long term relationship ended, I wanted that time to myself, to focus on myself.

I think part of the issue is that I really just think my boyfriend is amazing. He is the sweetest, kindest, hardest working, most responsible man I have ever been with. It’s a good problem to have. But…it still feels like a problem. I am always waiting for the other shoe to drop. It is like I need to pinch myself that this is real- that this is really the relationship I am in. I dealt with so much drama and pain in the past and it is still hard to believe that a relationship can be so healthy and good and easy and drama-free. We have only gotten into a couple of disagreements and neither manifested into a fights. That is very foreign to me, as my previous relationships were full of conflict and arguments.

I have written before about my lack of self-worth. Obviously, I think that plays a role in this. There is a part of me that truly feels like I do not deserve someone as good as him. It is just crazy that I look at this man and feel what I feel. It isn’t just attraction. It isn’t the “newness” of it- we have been together for almost two years. I don’t know how else to explain it besides I just feel like I love him too much.

I read an article about the “dangers” of loving someone too much and I feel like I am pretty introspective (20+ years of therapy will do that!) and am honest with myself. I tried to see myself and our relationship in the examples, but none of it fit. I have good boundaries with him, am still very independent, and have a full social life outside of our relationship. Hs is with his children several days/nights a week and I keep very busy. I can see his flaws (look, even though he is wonderful, he still makes mistakes) and I don’t think he takes me for granted (this has been a problem I encountered in other relationships). I think the only one that stood out to me was that he might end up feeling smothered. Like I am going to be like that cartoon girl who picks up the cats and hugs them too hard and they hate her. I don’t want him to feel pressure that he is responsible for my happiness and well-being because he is not. I say I can’t imagine how I would survive losing him, but the realistic part of me knows that I would because I have gotten through very difficult times and lived to tell about it.

I think it is the vulnerability that scares me the most. Loving him makes me feel weak and out of control. My anxiety does not enjoy that feeling. The LAST thing I want or need is to be in another codependent relationship. I probably need to just stop analyzing things so much and actually just allow myself to he happy and enjoy being in such a great relationship.

LET ME TELL YOU…

In the past few weeks, my boyfriend has (quite innocently) forgotten to tell me about some changes in his schedule and a trip he booked with his children. It is not a big deal and he certainly does not need my approval for anything. It does bother me a tiny bit, just because I feel like I try to tell him everything.

And therein lies problem number one. I am an oversharer. I tend to tell people too much about the details of my life. I read that people who overshare tend to be narcissistic (I don’t think that’s me) or feel inadequate (oh, that’s all me!). I have a really hard time making boundaries and I also am a people pleaser and want people to like me.

I almost said to my boyfriend, “in my last relationship, we told each other everything” and thankfully stopped myself. Yes, we told each other the minute details of our day to day lives- how his commute was, funny things my students said, what we ate for lunch, etc. We also told each other a lot about how we felt about issues, big and small and I thought we had good communication in our relationship because we talked A LOT. But, looking back, I realize a lot went unsaid. Like how he neglected to tell me that he drank vodka on the train to work. Or how he was sexting with a woman 25 years older than him.

And even though I felt indignant about those things, I have to admit there was a lot I didn’t tell him. Like how unhappy I was to get in bed by myself every night because he completely avoided any opportunity for intimacy. How repulsed felt when I would get a whiff of vodka from him when he walked by. The fact that I fantasized about coming home from work and having him, the dog and all of his stuff just gone from my house forever.

In my new relationship, everything just feels more…mature. Yes, we don’t talk 20 times a day, don’t exchange meaningless texts at work, don’t detail the minute details of every second of our lives. But, we have mutual respect for each other, complete trust, and mature conversations. When it comes down to it, those are the things that matter.

Even in my friendships, I am trying to create better boundaries. I have one very good friend who seems to be very judgmental and self-righteous about my life and my choices. Her opinions come off like law and I realize I give her way too much ammunition. I also ask for advice too often and then receive it unsolicited when I don’t want or need it. I often feel attacked and depressed by these types of interactions. My therapist told me that one side effect of Covid-19 is that people feel they have the right to judge what other people are doing. Who is going out to dinner vs. who doesn’t feel comfortable in a restaurant. Who is still socializing vs. who is staying home. Who is getting the vaccine and how did they qualify vs. who isn’t. It is really difficult to know what the RIGHT thing to do is, but it is an individual’s personal decision. I am just trying to now keep my personal decisions a little (or a lot) more private.

I saw a quote I really liked while I was reading about these topics. “Love yourself enough to set boundaries. Your time and energy are precious. You get to choose how you use it. You teach people how to treat you by deciding what you will and won’t accept.” So, that is my new goal- to create and maintain appropriate and healthy boundaries. Because at this point, what OTHER people don’t know won’t hurt ME 🙂