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.
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.
My sister’s cat passed away early this morning. It is just so sad and so awful to lose a pet. I have never experienced this myself (I have been a part of putting family pets to sleep, but not my own). I have two cats and they are the loves of my life.
My female cat is 15 and is equal parts beautiful and mean. She has never really ever warmed up to anyone else besides me. She is a “one person” cat. I got her shortly after I got married. I was having a hard time with anxiety- it was the beginning of my issues with panic attacks and agoraphobia. I would beg my husband daily to get a cat. He was firm in never wanting a pet (this should have been a red flag). He never had one growing up, but I always had animals in my family. Finally, after going to Vegas on a trip that I was nervous to be left alone during, my husband left me a card saying to get a cat while he was away. I was at the animal shelter within an hour. She picked me, as it often happens. I got rid of the husband after about five years, but the cat is still my baby. Even if she bites me every time I cut her nails.
My boy cat is the sweetest, funniest cat ever. He is so playful and personable. He is basically a dog trapped in a cat’s body. He is able to make people who claim to not like cats convert. I got him after I got divorced. I kept the house and was all alone with just my first cat. I went to a pet store to get her food and there was a sign “spend $25 and get a free cat”. I am against “shopping” for pets, but the manager told me that it was a stray kitten someone found behind the store. It was love at first sight. I spent the $25, collected my free cat and then proceeded to spend close to $1,000 on all his various health issues (still the best money I’ve ever spent!!)
I dread so much the day I have to say goodbye to them. I try not to even think about it. But my sister losing her sweet girl cat was a harsh reminder that we unfortunately usually outlive our fur babies. Needless to say, they are getting so many extra cuddles and treats today.
I have so many different things to write about, I do not know where to begin. One of the topics, I am not ready to delve into, so for now I will stick to the one I know best: dealing with alcoholics. So, here is a special holiday edition of Thanksgiving updates on the three drunks in my life, who coincidentally ALL drink vodka…
The ex-boyfriend. Thanksgiving was not as bad as I thought it would be. I had one 45 minute breakdown. I know it is not healthy, but I would occasionally “unblock” my ex-boyfriend’s Instagram page to see if he was okay. It felt like the only last tiny connection I had to him. When I went to check it on Thanksgiving, I realize that he made his page private. I was already upset because this was always ‘our” holiday and it was the first one without him, but I felt like him doing that was unexpected. Maybe he knew I was checking on him. Maybe he met someone. Maybe he wants privacy. I feel so far away from him now. In nine years, this is the longest I have gone without seeing or speaking to him. But, I suppose that is what happens in a break up. And I have to remind myself that I was the one who said I could not be in contact with him anymore. I don’t know how to ever stop worrying if he is alright, but I know there is nothing I can do if he is not.
The father. My dad was good on Thanksgiving, very well-behaved. I actually took a selfie with him and at one point leaned up against him on the couch. We took family pictures. It was nice. Friday, he was terrible…leaving mean voicemails and sending shitty text messages. Saturday, my sister and I had already agreed to go to my parent’s house to help them with some things and he was totally fine again. It is was like a sober-drunk-sober sandwich over the course of three days. He is truly a Jekyll and Hyde.
The friend’s boyfriend. My good friend, practically my sister, is in a terrible and abusive relationship with an alcoholic. She is 18 weeks pregnant and he just got his third DWI over the previous weekend. I felt so badly for her- they were supposed to do the gender reveal for the baby on Thanksgiving. But, I also do not understand why she stays with him. I try not to think about it too much, because after 30+ years, I still do not understand why my mother has never left my dad. Today, my friend’s boyfriend put his hands around her neck and pushed her against a wall. He threatened her and then pushed her outside into the snow, refusing to let her back in. My sister (her best friend) called her brother and he ran over to the apartment. My friend’s boyfriend then assaulted him, was arrested and the brother is pressing charges, although my friend still will not. I realized while all of this was going on, I was feeling such anxiety. It is hard for me to be a good friend to her and support her while separating my own experiences and it brings back a lot of my own traumatic memories. She is safe now and that is all that matters in the moment.
I am so thankful that I do not live with an alcoholic anymore. My house is so calm and peaceful. I feel such a sense of independence and freedom. However, I also know that had my ex not gotten so sick and also cheated, I may not have ever left him. That is a hard pill to swallow. So, it makes me less judgmental of other women going through this. I got an “out” and I took it and for that, I am so grateful. I may not have shown strength throughout the bad parts of our relationship and I know I should have ended things with him years ago, but at least I put myself first when I got the chance.
Holidays can be so stressful and sad and sentimental. I am trying to be positive, but I also know I need to allow myself to experience my emotions. I have been through so much and I do not feel healed, but I know that I am in a much better place than I was a year ago, so if there is any silver lining, it is that. But I am really tired of alcoholics…
I went to an Al-Anon meeting tonight. I have not been to one in probably almost 20 years. At that time, I went because of my father’s alcoholism. This time, it is about my ex-boyfriend. I guess technically I am killing two birds with one stone.
The topic the speaker chose could not have been more perfect for me. It was about feeling responsible for other people and not focusing on yourself. For SO LONG I felt responsible for my boyfriend, especially at the end of our relationship when he was hospitalized and so ill. I put him and his health and his alcoholism first and I knew he really needed me. It was all about him, but really most of our relationship was that way. He said something to me right after our dog died…he said, “I knew I wasn’t taking the best care of her, but I also knew that you would.” I thought I was helping him, but really all I was doing was taking away any responsibilities or consequences. In reality, I was making it very easy for him to drink, because he knew I would hold everything else together.
Someone in the meeting said that they often get lost in other people because it feels makes them feel safe. I recognized that is exactly what I have been doing these past few months, since everything in my life became complete chaos. My sister bought a house at the end of June and ALL I have done this summer is help her pack, move, decorate, etc her house. I also have been helping her with her two year old daughter. I obviously love spending time with my niece, but I know I have been hiding in their lives and their new home as a way of avoiding my own. I also realize that I have been trying to do EVERYTHING for my sister, whether it be at her house or helping with the baby. Another member of the Al-Anon group spoke tonight and said that they always want to be needed because if they are not doing things for other people, they feel worthless, like they have nothing else to offer. That is how I feel about myself right now and I am aware that I have transferred a lot of my codependent tendencies from my exboyfriend to my sister.
So, here are my takeaways from tonight’s meeting…
I am not responsible for anyone else’s behavior. I should not feel guilty that I can’t be supportive of someone who is harmful to my emotional well being. I am only responsible for myself.
I cannot save anyone, especially those who do not want to save themselves; people need to face the consequences of their actions.
I have to stop trying to do everything for other people and start realizing I have more to offer. People will still care about me and want to spend time with me, even if I am not “doing” things for them. I have to stop needing to constantly feel needed.
No. More. Hiding. As much as I love my sister, my niece and their new lovely home, I must have my own life and enjoy the time I spend at my own house.
Normally, my boyfriend and I do not go to my parent’s house on Christmas Eve, because they come to our house on Christmas Day. The past couple of years, my sister, her fiancee and now their baby still go up there…I think a lot of it is out of obligation on my sister’s part and so my mom is not alone with my dad on a holiday. Over the years, I have opted out, mostly because my boyfriend doesn’t enjoy going there and because my dad is a wildcard when it comes to his drinking, although he usually stays sober on holidays and if he knows he is seeing family.
For the past few weeks, my boyfriend has had a tough time dealing with his depression and my mother has been very understanding and supportive of him. I think to show his appreciation, he surprised me by suggesting we go to my parent’s house to surprise them on Christmas Eve. I told my sister we would be there about an hour after them (we both live about 45 min away from my hometown) and to keep it a secret. My boyfriend bought my mother a beautiful plant and I picked out a couple of special gifts to have my family open early. I was actually looking forward to it- my parents have a beautiful home with a big fireplace and I knew how happy it would make my mom to have us all there together.
As my boyfriend and I were getting ready to walk out the door, my sister called me in tears. “Don’t come. Dad’s drunk.” I hung up with her and burst into tears. I should not have been surprised, but I was really disappointed. And I felt so bad for my sister, who tries so hard around the holidays to make everything festive (and we were supposed to celebrate her birthday, too- my sister said there was a homemade birthday cake for her on the counter). What made it 1,000 times worse was my mother was crying as my sister left (she literally walked in the house, my dad was yelling, she saw he was drunk and immediately left.) My mother NEVER cries. To know that she got everything all ready, made appetizers, baked my sister a birthday cake and waited anxiously to see her granddaughter, just to have my dad ruin it by drinking is so sad. Even though I am sure she was heartbroken, she told my sister to leave and go home. I called my mom to see what was going on and she kept choking back tears during our conversation. But she also told me not to come- that my dad didn’t deserve to have his family around him if he was going to act the way he does.
My sister sat in her car in their neighborhood, unsure of what to do- she felt too guilty to leave my mom alone on Christmas Eve, but didn’t want her 18 month old daughter exposed to my father if he was belligerent. After I finally called my dad and assessed that he did, in fact, drink, but was not “that” drunk, my sister decided to ignore my mother’s pleading and went back. My boyfriend and I jumped in the car and got there as fast as we could. I was definitely anxious on the ride there, imagining the possible outcomes in my head. I guess we figured if my dad started acting up, we could all just leave. Luckily, he behaved himself for the most part and the night was salvaged.
It just sucks. I just wish I had more normal family and a dad that wasn’t an alcoholic and holidays could just be less drama-filled. I know everyone has issues with their families and no one’s is perfect, but when I talk to my friends or look on social media, most people appear to have relatively normal families and holiday celebrations. I am so grateful it turned out okay and that my mom was happy in the end, but I know in the back of my mind that night could have ended very differently and it definitely put a bit of a damper on Christmas.
It is SO easy to dwell on negative feelings and problems. I have had a very difficult couple of weeks lately . My dad’s drinking has been out of control, my boyfriend is severely depressed and I just found out my ex-husband is having a baby. I really want to try to stay positive, so I decided to make a list of some of the things I am thankful for to remind myself of how lucky I am. So in no particular order:
My 18 month old niece…the love of my life
My pets, who always make me so happy
My job- I truly love teaching and feel like I make a difference
My close relationships with my mom and sister
My Hyundai Tucson- it’s my favorite car I have ever had
My friends- who are always there for me, no matter what
The Office…best show ever (“that’s what she said”)
My house- I am proud of owning my own house
Being financially stable and having a savings account
My heated blanket- it’s so awesome
Being able to spoil my niece as much as I want
My boyfriend- we have stood by each other through thick and thin
My health and being able to afford a personal trainer
Being in therapy with a psychologist that I really trust
Decorating my house for fall, Thanksgiving and Christmas
Getting a card in the mail (or sending a card to a friend)
Having a good relationship with my boyfriend’s parents
I feel like sometimes I get really (and easily) overwhelmed and then I get upset with myself for getting upset. I have been working on trying not to overreact to problems, but sometimes I just can’t help it. When I stop and think logically, I know everything is okay and that I will be fine and that the problem at hand is probably not as big of a deal as I am making it, but in the moment sometimes it feels so burdensome. I am a super responsible person (a blessing and a curse), so when something goes wrong, my OCD kicks in and I immediately feel like the problem has to be solved. Lately, it seems like I am having one thing break after another, both with my car and with my house. It just seems like there is ALWAYS something wrong or broken. And because I have the need to fix things as soon as they break, I put a lot of pressure on myself unnecessarily. My boyfriend, who lives with me, has been offering to help more, which is appreciated, but I also have a problem with control and it is hard to relinquish “jobs” to someone else. So, I feel like I am doing this to myself, but I don’t know how to break this habit. I really have been trying to take things as they come and handle them with logic in order to reduce my anxiety, but sometimes it is just too much and the dam bursts. Which is what happened today. I had expensive car problems recently, then I was getting water in my basement, then my TV just randomly broke, then my boyfriend accidentally shattered a window…and with each thing I tried to just handle it without freaking out, but today it all just came to a head and I broke down a little. Then I feel bad about myself that I let it get to me, when I know there are people dealing with bigger and more important problems than a stupid broken window. I just don’t know how to not care or overly worry about things. I wish I could snap my fingers and just change that about myself(amongst other things!) My sister has the ability to be so nonchalant about things and I wish I was more like that. Some of the things that bother me so much that I obsess over in my mind would not even faze her. I know everyone is different and we all have our strengths and weaknesses, but it is just so much easier to get stuck on what make me feel weak.
When my sister was pregnant, so many people gave her the advice to enjoy every minute of the experience of motherhood. She heard the quote over and over, “the days are long, but the days are short.” Even being an aunt, I can see the truth behind this- in the blink of an eye, my niece is already one!
I can apply this to so many other parts of my life, too. Teaching, for one. This is the end of my 18th year being a teacher and it is hard to believe it! It seems like yesterday that I was finishing up my very first year. There are SO many days that feel endless, especially ones spent reading a novel with five classes filled with 28 teenagers, yet at the end of the year it always feels like it went so quickly. Here we are in June already- another graduation, another summer…
When I was a teenager myself I used to wish I was 30. In my mind, being a real grown up would mean having the ability to make my own choices. I would lie in bed at night listening to my parents argue and fantasize about having my own (very quiet) house and being “old”. And now I am almost 40…which is hard to wrap my head around. Of course the irony is that young people want to be older and older people miss being young.
When I was getting divorced, I lived minute my minute. The pain I felt seemed unending. I never thought I would get through it. Yet now, so many years later, it is like a distant memory. I guess time heals all wounds?
I already miss my niece being a little baby, but it is fun seeing her turn into a funny, happy (and sometimes stubborn!) toddler. I see her almost every day and marvel at all of the new things she learns. I wish it wouldn’t go so fast, but I remind myself it is better than it not happening at all!
This past Sunday was my father’s birthday. He had been in the hospital for the four days prior, so I was fairly confident that he would be sober (he had just been released the evening before). I was very pleasantly surprised that we had SUCH a nice time. It was just my sister, her 10 month old daughter, my parents and me. It is rare these days that our whole family is together (all five of us lol). It was really cute to see my dad with the baby- she’s their only grandchild. My sister kept telling me to take videos and pictures of our father holding the baby and singing to her. I think we always have the thought in the back of our minds that each time we see him could be the last. I realize that is very morbid, but he is in bad health and still makes really bad choices. Each time we have a day like this, we relish the new memories we made with him and the feeling of having a “normal family”. I know from lots and lots and lots of prior experiences not to take days like this for granted because my dad can easily erase the good feelings with one nasty email.
We have a lot of fun, celebratory events coming up, mostly all revolving around my niece…her Christening, her first birthday, her first birthday party. My dad has always been able to keep it together for big events like this, which is always a relief. However, he also has a tendency to cancel coming at the last minute. I never thought I would say this, but I really hope he comes to everything, because I am pretty sure they will be more good memories for our family, and we definitely could use more of those!