Unwelcome Voices

John Green (the author whose words I have tattooed on my arm) has been doing this great series with his best friend where they spend 100 days trying to really make some lifestyle changes. It’s an honest look at fitness and nutrition and he struggles a lot of the same things I struggle with, but to varying degrees. Donnie and I have actually enjoyed watching the videos together – it’s entertaining but also completely relatable. And the best part: John does NOT look like a natural athlete yet he’s kicking ass and it reminds me OH YEAH, WE CAN STILL KICK ASS even if we’re dorky and awkward.

However – I wanted to talk about his video reflecting on his mental health and how this projected has helped his anxiety and compulsions.

What fascinated me about the video was the way he talks about the “compulsion” element of his disorder and how it screws with his attempts at meditation. I’ve never considered the same tendencies in my own brain to be compulsive, I consider them a side effect of my anxiety. But the way he spoke of it I was like: Yep. That’s me. Because I deal with the “voices I didn’t invite” in my head often and then those thoughts do the same thing – rattle around destroying the place ESPECIALLY if I’m trying to meditate. I find “guided” meditations to be doable although I’m 100% sure I’m missing some of the benefits if I rely solely on those.

But it really has me thinking about the concept of those voices in my head that I didn’t really invite or approve of being there. The voices that sometimes consider jumping off that ledge (in the “suicidal ideation” sense, not in the “I’m going to end my life” sense)…the voices that are constantly giving me the reasons my husband is going to leave me one day, or that I’m going be homeless, or unloved…The voices that tell me I’m ugly and awkward and should not be hanging out around other people…The voices that tell me that some day every one who likes me is going to see a part of me and say: Oh, wow. So that’s the real Zoot, huh? Yeah. We totes don’t like her anymore.

Yes. I know those uninvited voices well. We converse regularly.

There’s a large part of my brain that understands those voices are not rooted in truth – but DAMN, they are SO LOUD. So if I don’t hear from someone for a few days – someone I usually contact regularly – that other voice assures me they are gone for good. “They’re on to you,” the voice says, “they are never coming back.”

Those unwelcome voices are constantly speaking my fears: Oh no, traffic is bad, do not attempt making that left turn because you will die and you did not tell everyone you loved them this morning. And many times I listen to them and never make an unprotected left turn in traffic again. And in those moments, am I letting them win? Am I giving them power?

It was just an interesting way to look at it, I like the idea that these voices are uninvited and unwelcome. Because then I can almost look at them as foreign and easier to disregard. The voices telling me I’m worthy and lovable and capable and strong…those are the voices I should listen to because I invited them. They are welcome.

Anyway…I’ve just been thinking of that a lot. These voices that I have to fight to ignore otherwise I’d stay home and in bed 24 hours a day.

And now I just realized I’ve been talking about the voices in my head for an entire blog post. Maybe there’s an entirely different diagnosis looming behind all of that. 🙂

Teaching My Daughter The Worst-Case-Scenario Game.

There are many coping strategies with anxiety. One of the simplest ideas is to look at the thing causing you anxiety and see if there’s anything right now you can do about it, and then do it. If there’s not anything you can do, you try to recognize that and let go.

That’s the first basic approach, and it’s one I’ve taught Nikki.

But it’s really not a “cure-all” by any means. Those of us with anxiety disorders know that just saying, Welp, nothing I can do so I guess I won’t worry… doesn’t do anything at all 99% of the time. I mean, I stress out some days about the driving I might have to do in cities I might travel to in the future. Obviously there’s nothing I can do about those things yet still…NIGHTMARE INDUCING.

So I was working with Nikki last night using a “game” my therapist taught me. The Worst-Case-Scenario Game. Where you literally talk out the Worst Thing that could happen and just keep following it through and then dissect each of those moments to see if you can remove the fear from them. You have to talk it out, you can’t just think about it because it still sounds scary in your head. But if you say it out loud, it often sounds ridiculous: I’ll ask my husband to drive while we’re in that city and he says, “No!” I mean, my husband never says, “No!” when I ask him to drive. HE WANTS TO DRIVE. Or how about: There are no Taxis to drive me. What? NO TAXIS? THERE ARE ALWAYS UBERS. Or LYFTS. Or SOMETHING.

So – say it out loud so you can talk through the thing you fear.

Now, back to my daughter. Nikki is about 5 days away from the final stage of an application process to get herself into a magnet school here in Huntsville that she’s been wanting to attend since she first learned about it last year.

Let me make this clear: THIS IS ALL HER.

This is an academic program and so there are a lot of parents that are pushing their kids to apply, but not us. It’s going to really complicate our lives if she gets in and we’re a bit worried about how it will affect her anxiety so we’ve just let her drive this car. And we’re on the home stretch and next Tuesday she has to go to the school board office to write an essay on-sight as the final step and she is FREAKING THE EFF OUT.

So last night we went through the Worst-Case Scenario.

Nikki, what’s the WORST thing that can happen?
I don’t get into the school.
Okay, so then what happens?
I go to my regular middle school.
Yeah, and what’s that like?
Well…my friends go there. And I’ll have dances and stuff.
Okay, so if you totally bomb this essay and don’t get into that school, then it won’t really be that bad, will it?

Not all anxiety can be helped by the Worst-Case-Scenario Game, but I knew this one would because I knew that going to this “new” school comes with it’s own challenges. And not going to the “regular” school means missing out on a lot of “regular” things so I knew that in this case – the Worse Case was not actually that bad.

Once we had the Worst-Case analyzed and realized it wasn’t too big of a deal, we talked a bit about the essay. How she needs to take her time, but keep her eye on the clock. How she needs to just breathe and stay focused because we all know anxiety can make you brain jump around and that is NOT ideal when it comes to writing. We talked about writing from your heart (this seems to be a “personal” type essay) and how if you are sincere and true in your voice, that’s the best you can do.

She’s still super-stressed. I’m not sure the timeline of when we’ll find out if she’s been accepted after this essay, but I really hope it’s soon. We’re really lucky our school system has started this program (if she gets in, she’ll be the second class to go through it) and we’d love to take advantage of it. BUT! If she doesn’t get in, it will be her first major life disappointment AND I AM NOT GOOD AT HELPING MY KIDS THROUGH THOSE. All I can usually do is offer to cry with them indefinitely and then eat all the ice cream.

Anyway – no real point to this other than kinda walking you guys through how A Mom With An Anxiety Disorder Helps Her Daughter With An Anxiety Disorder.

It’s a circus, people.

A Reluctant Monday

Eight years ago this past weekend I was heading on a blog-related trip to Chicago and I wrote a super-benign entry about mousse and the liquid ban at airport security. I read that entry 100 times in the following weeks because the girl who wrote that seemed so surreal and magical. She didn’t know her Dad was dying, I guess neither did he, maybe. But she would get a phone call as the plane was boarding from her Dad’s doctor that would start a whirlwind of chaos until his eventual death 6 weeks later.

So this is always a weird time of year for me. I tend to spend these 6 weeks in a weird permanent state of grief as the calendar just serves as a constant reminder of what these weeks meant in 2009. The days in ICU, the angry days still at the hospital, the somber trip home, and the eventual first out-of hospital dialysis that would be the final straw to help him decide he didn’t want to continue dialysis or pursue treatment, then hospice and then the tidying of affairs and the waiting to die.

I was able to try to ignore all of that this weekend in the chaos of our trip with Eliah but today I can feel it settling in.

I don’t want the memories.

And that trip with Eliah – it was amazing – but it didn’t end how we wanted. While the show was superb (I saw it THREE TIMES) and the basketball game was won in the final seconds (I screamed like a crazy person), they didn’t actually come out the College Night victor. I saw so many of his friends just sobbing while he stayed strong and gave out hugs and told everyone to be proud. Watching him this weekend was a gift of stepping into his world and seeing his friend who love him and watching him lead in a way I could never do…it was an amazing experience making me even more reluctant to embrace today. I don’t know when the next time we’ll spend a long weekend with him will be as he graduates in a few months. I didn’t want the weekend to end with him or with my brother and sister-in-law. Seeing them always fills my heart and starting this Monday means I have to officially end our wonderful weekend together.

I don’t wanna.

And then there’s the fact that I haven’t really kept up with the news since Thursday. I posted some actions on Facebook for a bill we have in the Alabama legislature this week that would allow discrimination against LGBTQ families in the foster care system, but other than that? Completely out of touch. And I’ll be honest…I kinda liked it. I know that’s a sign of my privilege. My white skin protects me from people questioning my citizenship when I travel or assuming my intentions if I’m dressed a certain way, my middle-class status protects me from removal of free health care funding, my husband’s job-provided healthcare protects me from losing ACA, my lack of religion protects me from questions about my Faith and terrorist ties…I’m safe. My heterosexual relationship and my age keeps me out of concern of who is allowed to foster or adopt in my state. My privilege allows me to turn off the world for a weekend, and I am aware of that and I promise I’ll tune back in today.

But I’m reluctant.

If you struggle with mental health issues like I do, the dark days are happen. I felt this weight on me as I made my coffee this morning. I chose my Practice Reckless Optimism mug because I have weird spiritual relationships with my coffee mugs and I only drink out of a few because they all have the power to lift my spirit.

[Previous paragraph edited from version my blog sent in email. Casual references of a past mental health issue seemed to be misinterpreted.]

But even as I picked it up I felt burdened by dread for the day. The day that ends my sheltered weekend and forces me back into the real world where I have to stay alert about politics and legislation, where I have to relive the terrible days of 2009, where I have to start to accept my son is about to leave college and move on to his future, where I have to deal with the chaos of our home sale (still delayed) and work chaos after taking two days off and catching up on volunteer obligations and…and…AND.

Most Mondays bring me joy as I love the feeling of the start of a new week, a clean slate. But today? I just want to curl up in my bed and listen to some podcasts that make me laugh all day.

Is that too much to ask?

Let’s be kind to each other. Maybe your kindness to people you encounter today will create ripples of love that reach me on this reluctant Monday.

Dearest Daughter,

You and I are very much alike, so I hope that means we will be quick to forgive each other for our faults throughout life as we will see ourselves so clearly in those faults. We also are both blessed (for it is a true blessing, even on the days it feels like a curse) with a strong sense of empathy, so we will see each other’s pain and guilt after a mistake as if it were our own.

I have been telling myself this over and over throughout the night so that you hopefully don’t hold yesterday against me forever.

I’m stressed about this move. We waited until we were on the “safe” side of this home selling process to start seriously looking for an apartment. We naively expected it to be easier than it is. At this point, 13 days out from closing, we found ONE place and it’s only two bedrooms and not even in your school district. And this place? Still has to “approve” us so we won’t know for sure until the 10 or 9 day mark. THIS WAS CAUSING ME IMMENSE STRESS YESTERDAY.

We were also waiting for two bids for repairs, having requested three but not hearing back from one guy at all. The first bid was much higher than we expected and the second one was taking quite awhile so I was also very stressed about whether or not we accept the first (very high) bid just to meet the deadline to sign the request for repairs. Spoiler alert: the second one came in at the bell and was much closer to what we were expected. The problem is that by that point? The damage had been done in terms of my anxiety level.

I had two panic attacks yesterday. The kind where I kinda start yelling irrationally and dropping curse words left and right. Compared to the panic attacks of yesteryear it was quite mild, but you don’t have those memories very clearly in your mind anymore so you just had my regular self to compare it to and it was quite ugly.

The sucky part is that you were helping me all day. I would work for a little while (we were home with a snow day) and then you would help me sort/pack for a little while. And back and forth all day. You were doing it enthusiastically and eagerly and yet…YET…you were the target of my anger when the stress just knocked me over all at once.

We had a good talk (Wes was caught in a little of it but he doesn’t take it as personally as you do) and I explained to you guys what I’m doing to try to manage my stress and that I obviously was a little overwhelmed and it was a good talk and I took solace in knowing I was teaching you all about proper mental health care.

And then you offered to help me with dinner and it happened again and I snapped at you and I finally just had to hide in a quite corner for a few minutes and count to a million taking a million deep breaths. Then, then I finally felt like I had myself calm again. We talked…again. I don’t know how many times I will apologize before you stop forgiving me. I know that – big picture – I’ve got a very good grasp on my anxiety. But this is a little more than my fragile soul can handle right now, I believe. I walk around the house and still see so much to do and we still don’t know for sure where we’ll be living. And if we do get the one place we found, it is a 75% reduction in space which is a little more extreme than we were aiming for with this whole “downsizing” adventure.

13 days.

You still…AMAZINGLY…want me to wake you up early this morning so you can help me load the first batch of stuff in our new storage unit. We do have an activity on the calendar today – we’re going with some friends to see “Hidden Figures” and then going to our favorite restaurant for a discussion afterwards. I plan on turning off the “WE HAVE TO MOVE IN 13 DAYS” part of my brain to try to REALLY enjoy the movie and meal with you. You deserve at least that. I’m going to try to be better because – one thing is for sure – it’s only 13 days. I can handle anything for 13 days.

Thank you for motivating me to try to be better. And thank you for helping me so much. I hope the big picture of life will show you I was the Mom you deserved, even if these small moments of darkness seem a bit unbearable at the time.

I love you, my beautiful angel.

Mom

The Ticking Time Bomb Of Parenting.

I woke up yesterday around 1:30am – FOR THE DAY – after getting the final counter on our contract and knowing we’d be signing it later in the day. I just could not go back to sleep as my brain worked through all of the next steps in life from that moment. THERE ARE A LOT OF STEPS. And more importantly? THERE ARE A LOT OF PLACES THINGS CAN GO VERY WRONG. I find myself suffering from a type of Analysis Paralysis where there’s so much to do I can’t figure out where to start. Some of which requires handyman type skills and while my husband has many, I have very few. I did install a new faucet once and new light fixtures once…but other than that? I’m useless. So I just stare into the abyss and wonder if I just sit really really still…will everything just happen around me and I don’t have to do anything?

No, Zoot. Unfortunately you have to get up and get some shit done. I went to bed a little before 9pm last night and still woke up at 2:30am this morning. I’m not going to be getting any shit done if I can get a handle on my sleep patterns. Tired Zoot is Useless and Emotional and Eating Zoot. None of these things are useful when trying to be productive.

Unless the productivity goal is: GAIN 20 POUNDS. If that’s the goal? I’m SUPER-Productive! Check that shit off the list, baby!

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We had a family gathering last night with the kids and I’ve been hyper-aware of the ripple effects of Wes’s non-ideal behavior which makes it so I have a lot of trouble relaxing in those situations. I am really saddened by this because he has really made such good progress lately. Ever since his Pediatrician mentioned anxiety being at the root of things, we’ve given him different language and tools to help with his anger and I really feel like it’s made a lot of difference. I see the triggers now and discuss the anxiousness first – before he spirals – and it’s helped him look at all of it the same and he does a lot of this: Stumble…Catch Footing…Deep Breath…Apologize…Move on.

This is a huge change from Stumble…Collapse…Roll down the hill tearing down every tree in your path…Crush small villages with anger…Declare hatred of all the people who love him.

So – he’s in such a good place lately – but I was so on edge and worried about how everyone would handle any of his missteps that when he just stumbled a bit (which for him is NOTHING but to an outsider might look terrible) I would get super-freaked out and panicked and OH MY GOD THIS IS WHERE IT ALL GOES WRONG!

But – it didn’t. And I was trying to keep recognizing that and commending him on resetting in moments where he wouldn’t have before. He stumbled after losing a game and there was “TANTRUM!” looming in the air but he reset and shook it off, got his mind right to give everyone thanks and hugs, and then as we left he apologized for being a sore loser. I was SO PROUD of him. But I was also SO ON EDGE from a couple hours of monitoring his every breath for a meltdown that I am not sure I praised him as much as I should have. And I’m 100% certain I was a drag on the energy at the gathering. It’s hard to relax and socialize when you’re obsessing over your child’s every move.

It’s like walking around with a ticking bomb which could explode after every tick, but probably won’t. You’re still jumping at every tick, bracing yourself for an explosion, and that anticipation can wear on your soul and make it very hard to engage with the world around you.

Parenting is hard, yo.

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It’s crazy that I feel better – in general – but worse – in specifics – lately. Like, the overwhelming feeling of anxiousness and sadness doesn’t permeate my every smile. BUT! The localized anxiety regarding current events and family and life is WAY WORSE THAN EVER. A lot of 2015 and some of 2016 were spent with this weird gray tint to everything – a sadness I just couldn’t shake. And lately that tint is gone so the happiness can feel DEEP and REAL, but the surface level stuff is out of control. I’m anxious about family and houses and politics and current events and all of the things that are happening TODAY and YESTERDAY and TOMORROW.

I guess it’s a good thing I sorted through all of the pervasive shit, right? I couldn’t imagine having to deal with real-time anxiety and depression ON TOP of the constant feeling of despair that was always a part of everything. At least now I have joy and hope and love underneath it all.

It’s just hard some days to dig down deep enough to see it.