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.

Well, that didn’t go as planned…

Like most teachers, I tend to kick off my summer with ambition plans. THIS summer was finally going to be the one where I focused on my health and practiced self-care. I was going to make myself a little daily plan that included hitting the gym and eating well. I was going to read a ton and walk a lot and go in my pool and see my friends for lunch and do some small house updates, etc.

Well, to say that things did not go as planned would literally be the understatement of the freaking century. I am not a person who does well without routine and since I didn’t have a job to wake up for (or kids to take care of or really any other responsibilities besides feeding my cats), I ended up lounging around a lot. And then that turned into staying home more. And then THAT turned into me getting more anxious when I DID have to go somewhere. Only a few weeks into my “relaxing, self-care, healthy me! summer” and I told my therapist that I thought I needed to go back on an antidepressant. This was not a shock to either of us because my issues with agoraphobia started to spiral out of control in the spring, after two years of covid giving me a completely valid excuse to not have to go anywhere. I guess I convinced myself that I was going to use my summer off to work on getting better and expand my comfort zone, but then the opposite happened.

I went to my doctor and she prescribed me Prozac. I have taken a few different medications over the past two decades, so I was open to trying something new. I have a lot of medication anxiety (which is the literal definition of irony when you need medication because of having anxiety). But I knew that I needed to go on something and I accepted that. The first couple of days were fine. I had a little dry mouth and lost my appetite completely. I can definitely afford to lose some weight, so this side effect wasn’t a deal breaker.

After only being on the medication for a week, my sister left on a four day vacation with her family that was about a five to six hour car ride away from the town we both live in. I was anxious about her leaving. She has always been my “person” (or if you are a Friends fan…my “lobster”), so I was uncomfortable about her being so far away, but I tried not to burden her with my fears because I was happy she was taking a well deserved vacation with my nieces and brother-in-law.

She left and I COMPLETELY LOST MY SHIT. I honestly don’t even know what happened. I have had panic attacks obviously, but they usually hit and then subside. I have had lingering anxiety, but even that eventually has a period of relief. I had what felt like panic attacks 24 hours a day the whole time she was gone. I have never experienced anything like it. I completely shut down and wouldn’t talk to anyone. I could not get off my couch. There were times I wanted the blanket off my legs and I couldn’t do it- I couldn’t muster the energy to peel the blanket off of myself. I didn’t eat, hardly drank water, and just felt like I was having heart palpitations. I obsessively thought about needing to go to a mental institution or the hospital. I desperately wanted her to come home. No one else could soothe me at all, not for lack of trying. I felt like I was crawling out of my own skin and I was terrified about what was happening to me.

I called my doctor, who told me to stop the Prozac. I somehow survived the weekend and my sister came home. I thought that as soon as she was home, I would immediately feel better. I didn’t. It’s been another week now and I am just starting to feel a little better. I still am having SO much anxiety and am taking Xanax several times a day. I have had a bunch of extra appointments with my psychologist. I even went back to the doctor and unfortunately, my primary care physician was on vacation and I saw another doctor, who told me to (and I literally quote) “bake a cake for your sister and read The Secret” and then she patted my arm and said, “you feel better, right? Ok good”.

I desperately tried to find a new psychiatrist and it was SO hard. It really made me realize how messed up our mental health care system is. And I am privileged enough to have health insurance and the internet and the ability to make phone calls. My appointment isn’t until Tuesday and I am just trying to make it through each day until then.

I don’t know if it was a negative reaction to the medication or just complete fear of being without my sister, but I was genuinely so scared and it was one of the worst experiences of my life. I still do not feel right. I am still so anxious. It is not completely crippling like it was last week, but it is there- steady and festering. I am scared about what to do next. My mother came to my house to sit next to me and make me shower and I remember saying to her that I promise I would never hurt myself, but that I can now understand why people do. I wanted the panic and fear and pain to end. I still do. I literally felt that I was going to die.

I feel like this all just sounds so stupid and is just not capturing how bad I felt. But I guess those who know, know. I still don’t feel like myself. I worry about the damage I did to my relationship with my completely normal and not mentally ill AT ALL boyfriend, who was so sweet and caring and probably shit scared. I know the feeling of helplessness that comes when you are the one having to deal with this. I am sure he sees me differently now. I worry about the stress I caused my family, the burden I have placed on my sister, the guilt that I have or will negatively influence my sweet little nieces.

I hate this. If I won the billion dollar mega millions lottery yesterday, I would trade the winning ticket to make this go away forever. Every shooting star, ever birthday cake candle, every time the clock shows 11:11, I make the same wish: please make my anxiety go away. I’m so tired. I’m so tired of it. I realized this week that I have suffered from anxiety and panic and agoraphobia for almost HALF OF MY LIFE now.

So, my only plan now is to try to stay busy, make myself eat and drink enough to stay alive and make it to this appointment with the new psychiatrist. I’m trying not to be too hard on myself. I keep seeing my friends’ pictures on social media of them being at the beach or on vacation or at a concert and I have shut most of them out and when they ask me what I did over the summer, I am not sure if I should be like “had a total nervous breakdown”?? Maybe I should actually read The Secret and learn to bake so I can just say I did that (I kid). I have always been my own worst enemy so I am trying to just go easy on myself, but it is really hard sometimes to just hate the mental illness and not actually hate me.

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 🙂

Need vs. Want

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I have always had a hard time putting my own needs first and I am also too much of a people pleaser.  When my exboyfriend left a little over a week ago to stay with his parents, I was so devastated to say goodbye, but I have to admit that I felt a little relief.  Relief that the ordeal in the hospital was over and relief that I no longer had to live with an alcoholic.  Once he was gone, I thought that I would be able to start dealing with everything that happened- the endless hours in the hospital, fearing he would die, learning about another woman, adjusting to living alone again.  Yet, once he was gone, I continued talking and texting with him.  Part of it was that I missed him.  Even though things were not good with us for a while and his alcoholism had taken over, I still truly loved him and we were together for almost nine years.  But the other part of it was that I felt a sense of responsibility for him and I was invested in his health and his recovery process.  Looking back on it, I probably should have cut off or limited our communication when he left.  I realize now that all I was doing was continuing to dwell in the trauma of what happened.  As long as I focused on him, I did not have to address my own feelings of sadness and anger and loneliness. I assumed as long as he was 750 miles away, it was “safe” to continue talking to him.

He just told me a couple of days ago that he is already coming back this week and rented an apartment about two miles from my house.  I am anxious about this for so many different reasons.  Obviously, I feel like he made this decision with me in mind.  I have not given him any false hope that we will be together again.  In fact, I have expressed my concerns that he hasn’t done anything related to recovery since he left the hospital and it is too soon for him to come back and to live alone.  I am nervous and paranoid that I am going to run into him every time I leave my house.  That is not a comfortable feeling for someone who suffers from anxiety.

I thought about it overnight and called him back and told him that we need to stop communicating.  He needs to focus on himself and I need to start focusing on myself and dealing with everything that happened.  The key word is “need”.  I keep trying to make him understand that this is what I truly NEED.  Of course I WANT to support him and help him and be there for him and even spend time with him…but I know if that happens, I will get sucked back into his problems and continue to enable him.  He basically told me that he understands what I am telling him, but that he doesn’t know if he can not speak to me or have me be a part of his life.  I realized I have to be much more firm and told him that if he does not give me the space I NEED, that I will end up resenting him.  The more he tries to force and push himself into my life, the more I feel scared and anxious. He just does not seem to be accepting the fact that our relationship is over.  It is not what I wanted…I never wanted ANY of this.  But I know, without a doubt, that I have to put myself first and that I am not ready to forgive him for the way he hurt me and affected our relationship.  I cannot revolve my life around his recovery journey.  Our relationship has been about him for so long.  I just need space and time to figure things out for myself and work through everything that happened.  I just wish I didn’t have to do that with him living down the street.

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Atelophobia

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I just recently turned 40 and am currently in my 19th year of teaching.  It just struck me that I have now been an educator for almost half of my life!  I knew I wanted to be a teacher since I was a little girl and every decision I made about my future was a step towards achieving that dream.  I never even considered any other career and I have never regretted it for a minute.  There have been amazing moments and really, really difficult days, but I truly have a passion for my job and consider myself so lucky to love what I do.

On Friday, my principal came to see me personally to tell me I was nominated for a very prestigious award.  I was so in shock, so honored, so flattered, so overwhelmed.  But, I didn’t want to tell anyone, even though the majority of my best friends are teachers at my same school.  I was almost embarrassed and didn’t want to seem like I was bragging.  I called my mom (who acted like I won an Academy Award- she was so excited) and she told me I was being silly not to share the good news with my friends.  I am also not the type to shout good (or bad) news from the mountaintop.  I did end up sending a group text and they all congratulated me, which was very sweet.

I have felt like a failure a lot in my personal life, from my dysfunctional childhood to my strained relationship with my dad to my struggles with anxiety to my marriage and subsequent divorce, I feel like I suck at life sometimes.  The one area where I have always succeeded and felt confident is in my career.  I have won other local teaching awards and I know I am respected in my school.  But honestly, underneath all the excitement of this amazing nomination, there was a thought in the back of my mind..”why me?”…”I don’t deserve that”…”I won’t win that”.  I know I work hard and I care SO much about teaching, but I still felt…undeserving.

I wrote a blog around the time of my 40th birthday where I reflected on my fear that no one would come to my birthday party (which of course they all did).  I shared that fear with my sister and she said to me, “you do nice things for everyone else and are so thoughtful and generous, why do you think no one wants to do that for you?” and it is because I felt…undeserving. Why would anyone want to celebrate ME? I don’t have really low self-esteem, but I think there is some aspect of my childhood that is tucked deep into my brain that makes me feel like I am not good enough.  I guess that is common for children of alcoholics.  Maybe my 12 year old self felt like if I was good enough maybe my dad wouldn’t drink?

I am very excited and honored about this nomination and I am going to really try to push those negative feelings away and focus on being happy about it, because deep down under those thoughts of not being good enough, I KNOW I am a good teacher who truly cares about her students.

 

Call in case of emergency

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Twice in the past couple of months, my father has been in the hospital.  The first time, he was unable to breathe and was rushed in an ambulance and the second time, my mother drove him.  Both times, he was admitted and stayed for several nights.  Each time, it seems they find more things wrong with him, yet there has not been an “official diagnosis”.  During these two visits, doctors found symptoms indicating that he has congestive heart failure and diabetes, in addition to his breathing problems.  My father has not only been an alcoholic for over 20 years, but he has also been a heavy smoker since he was a teenager and this is what is causing the majority of his recent health problems.

My boyfriend said something to me the other day that caught me off guard, but made me think.  He said, “you know, your dad is going to be in and out of the hospital from now until he dies.”  I know that is most likely true and it is a sad reality.  It is obviously difficult to think about losing a parent in any context.  It sounds silly to say this, but it just upsets me that my father is most likely going to die due to his bad habits.  He is not the victim of a genetic disease or a horrible accident…at one point in his life, he chose to smoke and chose to drink and then they became lifelong habits.

Not so coincidentally, my anxiety has been peaked lately.  I talk to my mother every day, sometimes multiple times a day, usually just about everyday life like her gardening club, funny things my students said, our cats, etc.  It is so hard to describe, even to people who know her well, how different her voice sounds on the phone when she calls to tell me that she called 911 for my dad.  There is such a seriousness, yet I can tell that she is trying to stay calm, for both herself and for me.  And now, I worry about her calling me every day and telling me that he is being rushed to the hospital again- or worse.

The “Do Nothing”s

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My drunk father is back with a vengeance.  One thing I definitely did not miss during his two years of sobriety was his pervasive intrusion and paranoia.  Now when I call my parents’ house, he either answers the phone and monopolizes the conversation or he secretly listens while my mom and I talk (his heavy breathing gives him away).  He opens any and all mail delivered to their house, regardless of who it is addressed to (I remember never being able to open my own mail growing up).  I have him blocked on Facebook, but he goes on my mother’s tablet and logs into her account to be able to look at my page (and then emails me about the things he reads).  He is just out of control.  This time I am farther removed from it…having moved out of their house over a decade ago, but I am still exposed to it almost daily because my mother still lives with him and she and I are so close.

One of the things I hated the most about my father growing up is a strange complaint.  He wrote on EVERYTHING.  That mail I mentioned? Not only was it open, he would write “notes” on the envelope. “Who is this from?” or “Opened 12/10/98, 4:34 pm” or “Junk Mail”.  He did it on manuals for new electronics, newspaper articles he printed from the internet, etc.  But he also wrote elaborate, repetitive, insulting notes out by hand and would leave them on the counter for my mother- in his in all capitals print.  SO MUCH WRITING.  His most famous medium was Post-it notes.  Oh god, they were everywhere.  I would come home after school to Post-it notes on the front door, kitchen counter, by the phone…anywhere you could stick one.  I jokingly sent my childhood golden retriever into the family room covered head to tail in Post-it notes once to make my mom laugh.  It’s crazy what starts to become normal after you have lived with it for so long.  Then came…the photocopy machine.  That really upped his note game.  My father would write out notes all over a piece of paper and then make 20 copies of it to spread around the house. You literally could not get away from them (because they were sometimes stuck under the windshield wiper blade on my car).

I recently bought my mother a calendar blotter to put near their home phone.  My dad was always complaining he never knew what she was doing, so I figured she could write down doctor’s appointments and stuff on it (she is also becoming a little forgetful, but that’s another story).  Yesterday while we were shopping, she mentioned she needed to buy a calendar and I was confused.  I asked her what happened to the one I got her.  She somewhat reluctantly confessed that my father wrote all over it.  I assumed she meant his typical BS, but I asked what he wrote.  Apparently, he filled in the block for each day with a handwritten “DO NOTHING”.  That is my father’s favorite insult for all of us- we are a bunch of do nothings (my sister and I are do nothing takers).  I’m not sure why hearing my mom tell me this affected me so much- I would like to think I am pretty immune to my father’s ridiculous behavior and verbal abuse or that at a minimum that I am good at trying to not care.  I guess I adapted to having a sober father surprisingly easy and now it is a readjustment to have this guy back.  It just sucks.  Sorry, that’s not great writing and I would tell my high school students to think of a more elegant way to express that feeling if they wrote that in an essay, but it does.  It just sucks.

So, one of my new year’s resolutions will be to just distance myself from my father again.  No more calls, less visits, ignoring his emails.  I tried with him so hard and for so long and now I need to refocus my efforts on other areas of my life.  As far as my father is concerned, in 2016, I will live up to my nickname and will be a proud “Do Nothing” 😉