Tuesday, September 12, 2017

What It’s Really Like to Have Anxiety

“People who need help sometimes look a lot like people who don’t need help.” -Glennon Doyle

I can’t say with any certainty that I am viewed as having it all together. I have, however, been complimented for my ability to remain calm or to calm others. In my days as a project manager, it was a strength often highlighted in my performance reviews. One supervisor actually used to mistake my calm attitude for a lack of understanding the urgency of the issue, until he learned I very much understand the urgency, but can’t address it if I get frantic.

During my application process to become a Hospice volunteer, the coordinator told me after speaking to my three references that she had never seen a single word used so consistently to describe someone. What word is that, I asked. “Calm. Every single person commented on how calm you are.”

Calm. That is a marvelous state.

Imagine how it must feel to be known for being calm and to hold a diagnosis of anxiety. It sometimes feels that my entire self has been taken from me.

How does anxiety present in me? My body feels tight. My breathing becomes really short. My heart thuds faster. I awake at 2 a.m. and remain awake until 5 a.m. That is assuming I even got to sleep in the first place. Every possible decision — from what action to take to what shirt to wear — becomes steeped with dread of making the “wrong” choice.

Then, when I lie in bed in the wee hours of the morning worrying about how I can’t sleep and noticing how short and fast my breaths are, I remember that my mother’s heart attack was preceded by shortness of breath (side note: women’s symptoms are often different than men’s; know your tells!). So I tell myself that it’s likely “only” anxiety. Calm yourself. I put on soothing music with nature sounds, I focus on my breath — which is oh my goodness, really short and rapid. What if it really is a heart attack? which, of course, only antagonizes the anxiety, which speeds up the heart, which shortens the breath, which… you see where this is going.

I have had two EKGs in the past 14 months. It’s not a heart attack (though I will still be mindful of signs). When I received the diagnosis of “general anxiety” last year, the doctor asked if there had been any changes in my life recently. I laughed a nervous, short-breathed laugh. In the previous year? Marriage ended. Single motherhood. New home — that I had to take care of all by myself. New town — where I knew no one when I arrived. New job. Ex-husband’s new girlfriend. New school for my son — who was starting kindergarten. New puppy. Nothing major there!

I thought I had been handling things rather well, all things considered. Sure, I had moments where I broke down and cried. That was to be expected. Most of those occurred behind closed doors, mostly so my son wouldn’t worry. People kept telling me how well I looked, how they would have been a wreck, how calm I was.

So calm.

And mostly I was. Except when I wasn’t.

I got through all of that. I came out the other side. I used every tool in my arsenal to battle anxiety: medication, therapy, the gym, healthier food choices, yoga, early bedtimes, time with friends, time alone to unwind, prayer, meditation, gratitude. I beat it.

The thing about anxiety is that the other side is a bit of a myth. You don’t beat anxiety. You handle it. You manage it. You have really great days. You look calm. Because you are calm. Until one day you aren’t.

Anxiety doesn’t care that “calm” is your thing. It wants to know why you’re not frantic about any of the millions of things that could be going wrong right now. You could be having a heart attack! How can you just lie there? You can’t wear a t-shirt. What if it gets cold? During an anxiety attack, these worries carry equal weight.

It’s not easy, and it’s even less easy to talk about it, because what if people think you’re crazy? What if you are crazy? And some people will wonder what you have to be so anxious about. And some people will tell you to shake it off, which will make you want to shake them. But you won’t, because you’ll be too worried that maybe they are right and maybe this should be much easier to shake off.

This is what it’s like to have anxiety.

Someone you know and love may have this, and you may not even know. Because sometimes the people who need help look a whole lot like people who have it all together.

And honestly, that’s where I’ve been recently. So, I’m back to embracing the many tools in my arsenal. Anxiety isn’t a one-time battle. It’s a war, and I intend to win. Preferably, as calmly as possible.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

When You Can’t Unsee

Some things once seen, can’t be unseen.
Some things once known, can’t be unknown.
It is wise, then, to be cautious
of what one comes to see and know.
Once the eyes are open,
and the heart is broken,
all that remains is to act.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Don't Wait

We spend our lives
waiting.Waiting in line,
at traffic lights,
for the bus or train to come,
for our big break.

We wait to be loved,
to be accepted,
to be allowed.
We wait for help,
for guidance,
for the right time.

We wait for our turn.
When will it be my turn?

Don’t wait for the right time.
The right time is now.
Right now.
Don’t wait for guidance.
Seek guidance,
and when you find it,
share it with others.
Don’t wait for help.
Offer help.
Don’t wait to be allowed.
Allow yourself
to be where you are
and to do what you need to do.
Don’t wait to be accepted.
Accept yourself.
Accept others.
Accept God and His goodness,
or the universe and its magic,
or whatever it is you believe that brings you to your knees.
Don’t wait to be loved.
Show love.

Right now, show love.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Discovering the Enduring You in the Wake of Separation and Divorce

Something strange happens when you uncouple. You worry about providing for yourself and your child. You wonder if it’s something you can handle on your own. You figure out how to co-parent separately, how to be the only parent with your child on nights when he is with you, and how to be alone on nights when he is with his other parent.

None of that is the strange part, though. That is the stuff you anticipate. No, the strange part is that you realize that you must now be complete on your own. That you are now free to be only you—fully, mindfully you. That it is an opportunity but also a requirement.

My first few months of uncoupling were spent setting up my new life—finding a new home, making it ours (my son’s and mine), finding a steady job (so I didn't have to stress out over freelancing), and otherwise settling into this new phase. In the midst of this wake, I had to stop myself from considering what he—my other half—would think. Because I am no longer half of a partnership. I am now a solo-ship with a co-parent.

My home, my daily life, and my nurturing are up to me. What, then, is me? What is part of me in this moment? What is part of the enduring me?

These are the questions that consumed me with everything I touched, with every decision I made. Is this something that I am keeping because it represents me? Or am I keeping it because it is already there?

Who am I now that my focus is myself and my son? What do our days look like? What are our routines?

We have set up bedtime rituals that work for us, rituals that are new since the uncoupling. After the usual bath, brushing teeth, getting in pajamas, and so on, we pray and do yoga. Sometimes he requests Reiki, so we add that in, too. These are our nighttime rituals—his and mine.

His nighttime routine at his dad’s house is undoubtedly different, and that’s okay. Because as I explore what is part of the enduring me, his dad is likely doing the same.

And as we each figure out what our lives look like now, we see things about each other that maybe we didn’t see before. There are moments I am tempted to say (and he probably is, too), “You never did that before.” No, he didn’t, and no, I didn’t. But this is new territory. My bedtime routine with my son is much different now than it has ever been before. Because now is now, and now is different.

Discovering who you are in the wake of uncoupling, you realize that, not only are you not entirely the same person you were during coupling, you also are no longer the same person you were prior to coupling. This is a new way of being, with new experiences written in your heart. Things will never be the same as they once were. But, you know what? That's okay. You get to define the new you. I have spent a year-and-a-half defining the new me, and I think I'm turning out just fine.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Funny Thing About Power

I am more than you think I am.
I surprise people with my age, my experience, my strength, my ability.
First impressions can be mistaken.
My power is in your underestimation.

I am more broken than you think I am.
Do not mistake my perseverance for wholeness.
I smile because I am content, or because I am sad and know it will get easier, or because sharing a smile is much nicer than the alternative, or because I know something you don't think I know.
My power is in your inability to decipher one smile from another.