b a r e

writing is healing. ask me anything.

Tag: anxiety

recovered?

A new mom asked this in a forum:

“Is there really an end to this.. Like 100% healed? I feel like what I have is too disturbing and terrible to ever go away.”

My answer:

I went through an outpatient program at a hospital and they talked about accepting a “new normal”. Now, I refuse to accept that this means my new normal is misery. But I don’t think we can ever go back to the person we were before we had our birth/postpartum experience.

Like any trauma, it has left a mark on our psyche. And so we have a choice about what to do with that. I’ve tried wallowing, and that worked for a while, but it got in the way of joy. I’ve tried hiding from the world, but I missed out on living.

So I’m at a place in the middle between where I used to be and the pit I had dropped into. Sometimes I need to wallow, and I give myself space to do so. But I don’t move back in there. Sometimes I need to hide from the world, and I accept that, that I don’t have the stamina of the extrovert I used to be. But I also challenge myself, just a little, and over time I see progress towards a new me. Wiser, stronger, but also weaker in some ways, and accepting of that part of me too.

And my story, and yours too, becomes something we can share with others who are somewhere along that tough journey of losing yourself and trying to figure who you are now. We bring each other strength because we have compassion and empathy and help heal each other. Because we understand the pain. And we’re not alone anymore.

Advertisements

sick and tired

Tired. So completely, utterly tired. Limbs heavy. Body sinking. Mind struggling to focus. Heavy like laying at the bottom of the ocean crushed by the weight. Heavy like 100 suffocating blankets. Heavy like pinned down by Sisyphus’ boulder.

The heaviness is centered in my chest. That’s where the virus settled down. 5 days of body wrenching coughs. 5 days of not being able to sleep because I wake up unable to breath. Today is the first day I’m not coughing all the time. But I can still feel the pressure, the obstruction in my lungs. An itch I can’t scratch. An uneven surface, abrasive breathing. This illness has really dragged my mood down. The racing heart, the pressure in my chest and around my throat, mimicked my panic attacks…and so resulted in panic attacks. The weakness in my body, the loss of appetite, the nausea, mimicked my depression. I had no energy to do anything but sit there. And sitting there, alone, in a darkened room with the curtains drawn, is a ticket to the bottom.

I forced myself to sit outside, in the light. Even if I still couldn’t do anything but sit there, at least I have fresh air. I forced myself to focus on specific tasks. Take myself out of the helpless stuckness. One moment at a time, get through this, get through to the other side of this shaky bridge.

I finally got my appetite back yesterday. What a relief. To be able to enjoy the taste of food again. To enjoy the process of eating, what a treat. You don’t realize how miserable eating can be until you’re forcing yourself. This will definitely help with my energy. Now if I could just sleep through the night. Piece by piece. I’m putting myself back together. It’s surprising how much mental pain can be brought on by physical discomfort. But I’ve made it through the worst of it. And though it’s a slow, tedious climb, I will get back to solid ground.

My sister / My daughter – Part 1 of a series

Dear Sister,

I am so, so, so, so sorry. There are no words that can possibly ever come close to describe how sorry I am. Our mom says we were monsters. I was a monster. I expertly studied and executed what our father demonstrated. When it came time to engage, the lever that controls all emotion was pulled down to the off position. I was calculating, cruel and efficient. I analyzed your weak spots and sliced with precision. I was good at it. I enjoyed it, the skill and expertise. I did not think about the consequences. I acted, concluded, then went back to whatever I was working on before. I was actually surprised, and somewhat annoyed, by how long it took you to “get back to normal.” I had no idea what I was doing to you. I didn’t actually understand you. I never bothered to try. I only knew my boundaries, and operated with those in every situation. It took years of confusion, of making people uncomfortable, and of offending people, before it suddenly dawned on me that other people have different boundaries.

But that’s not what this writing piece is about. This is about two girls trying to establish order after the tyrant was exiled. Two strong and stubborn leaders fighting for dominance and control. Two rulers angry over the non-compliance of the other. We were children (she 10, me 12) taking on adult roles, using the tools our parents taught us. And those tools were violent and sadistic.

This is about accepting responsibility for my actions. This is about guilt, and figuring out how to release it. I was awful. But I was a child.

This is about reframing. I have happily looked down on my sister as an example of all the things I have overcome and decided not to be – victim, martyr, high on justified anger and anxiety, drama seeking, pathetic. But it’s not that simple. She is a strong, capable human being who is using different tools to survive. And truthfully, at this point, after over 5 years of little to no contact, she’s a stranger. Think about how much I’ve changed in the last 5 years, I am a completely different person. She is too. It has been so easy to make her the bad guy. It’s so easy to make people the bad guys. And so much more complicated to see them as they really are, complex creatures worthy of love and respect.

stuff

I might have nothing to say. I sit here, reviewing old writing prompts, and nothing stands out to me. Perhaps there are large, shadowy issues swimming slowly beneath the heavy ice, but I don’t feel attracted to releasing them for analysis today. Things are good. That in itself is a surprising realization. My destiny is changing, I can feel it, and things are moving forward easily, smoothly. I don’t even feel the gray cloud that usually appears over my left shoulder, the one that says, “beware the darkness is coming!” Yes, I was fearful a few weeks ago – convinced, but trying to ignore the words telling me this wasn’t going to work. Who did I think I was, deciding to change my career, and expecting it to be successful. It was a brief stalling, but my thoughts were sure it was the beginning of the end. I pressed forward anyway. Start where I am, use what I have, do what I can. Don’t give up. Keep trying. I couldn’t ignore the frightened voice, I couldn’t shake it, so I placated it by feeding it a morsel, by allowing for the possibility of “getting a real job” if things didn’t work out by the start of the school year. Then I pushed that to the very back of my mind, stuck it deep inside a drawer, and turned my focus back to steps I could take to go in the direction I really wanted. I threw myself completely into my volunteering, giving every drop of myself. Each day I would leave exhausted, but fulfilled, and filled with a warm, relaxed joy that I have not been familiar with for years. That’s telling, that’s the Universe telling, telling me this is the right path, keep going.

What are you hiding?

I peel. I peel off the skin on my cuticles. I peel off the skin around the sides of my fingers. I find an uneven spot and dig in and pull strips of skin away. Sometimes it’s little pieces at a time. Sometimes it’s a big chunk of skin. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t peel. Over the years my fingertips have lost more and more sensitivity. Most of the time it doesn’t bleed. But when it does, it’s time to stop, those are my rules. I peel when I’m stressed. I peel when I’m bored. I peel when I’m watching tv, when I’m taking a shower, when I’m in the car driving. Sometimes it’s intentional. I’m inspecting my fingers to find spots that need to be peeled. Most of the time I don’t even realize I started doing it until it starts hurting. I get in a trance. Fingers feeling a long other fingers searching for uneven surfaces. My fingers are on autopilot, alien ants working industriously with no apparent leader. I peel to try and create smoothness, which is the exact opposite result I always get. I peel to escape the present. The tactile experience is soothing, comforting. So is the pain. It’s never too painful, it’s just the right amount of soreness, a welcome sensation to focus on, to disappear from the now. Once I start, I can’t stop until I’m done. But what is done when there is always more uneven spots that need to be peeled. I find a place in my mind that is good enough, and force myself to focus on something else. I need to stop. But I don’t want to. I don’t know how to stop. I won’t let myself stop. I’ve never told any of my doctors about it. Intentionally not peeling creates an intense level of anxiety and the inability to focus on anything else. I’m not ready to stop. But I have to, I must. My child is peeling too. She learned it from me. The guilt I feel is crushing. I tell her to stop. What a hypocrite I am. But I also tell her to stop me if I’m doing it. I do my best not to do it in front of her. I’ve made that a new rule, and I’m struggling to follow it. Even just writing about this makes the urge so strong. Here I go again.

Mold

Fear is the mold of the mind. It lives under the surface, dormant, waiting. Then one day there is a leak. It awakes with a flourish, expanding and spreading quickly. It eats up all that is around it, distorting and devastating. As it spreads it blackens what was once white and pristine. Darkness expanding, engulfing. It suffocates, greedily taking up all the space it can. It grows and covers rational thought and logic. It has the power to kill.

I am surrounded by the mold fear. It’s growing in our downstairs bathroom, around the window in my daughter’s room, on the window in our bedroom, and in my blood in frighteningly high amounts. If I could be objective, I would say it’s beautiful. Flowery circles expanding in patterns, hypnotic to look at. It’s devious in its decoration. Knowing that I’m breathing it in, that my child is breathing it in, makes it almost impossible to breath. I am strangled by the knowledge that this harming me, harming us. I am strangled by my fear. It is crushing me. Every limb is tense. The moment I wake the hot adrenaline spreads across my body, my heart beating hard. The white anxiety spreading down my arms and legs. The ball of fire crushing my chest. I can’t even take a deep breath to relax – the air itself is toxic to me. The fear, the mold, surrounds me, fills ever bit of air around me. I feel so trapped in this house, in this bed, in this body, in this fear.

the voices in my head

In my head lives an overly cautious granny. She is scared of everyone and everything. And she thinks she needs to warn me about every bad thing that could possibly happen. She’s about 5 feet tall, wears a sign that says, “The End Is Near!” and rings a loud bell to get my attention. “You are going to fail!” she yells. “They are better off without you!” she screams. She’s trying to help, thinking that if she gives me the worst case scenarios I will be able to come up with a plan now, rather than be surprised when it’s sprung on me. “He/she is going to betray you!” she wails. “You will never get better!” she howls. I can’t take it anymore, her words are carving bloody grooves into my soul. I want to reject her. Kick her out of my head. Beat her up. But that only makes her stronger and louder. How do I get rid of her? I can’t, she’s a part of who I am. So what do I do. In my head, I go into the room she’s in. I help her out of the sign she’s wearing. I gently take the bell out of her hand. She’s suddenly nervous, what is her purpose if not to warn me. I put my arms around her and give her a big hug. And I say, “Thank you for trying to protect me by warning me of the most horrible possible things. When I was young and in danger, you were an important part of my survival. But I’m not in danger anymore. I have a stable and loving home environment. I have many precious friends what love me and adore me and would do anything for me. I have positive and constructive tools in my tool bag that have worked and continue to work. I no longer need dire, apocalyptic warnings.” I let go of the hug and invite her to sit down on a comfy couch and relax. And I give myself permission to return here again in case she sneaks off and dons the sign and bell again. Then I exit with the knowledge that I have the strength to create my life in a positive and healthy and loving way.

Note: This writing piece is based on a life-changing visualization process I learned through the book, Finding Francesca, by Stephanie Correa.

what brings me peace and balance

This is my third time falling. One might say I’ve gotten good at this. And my third time picking up the pieces and putting myself back together again. This time my recovery is faster. I’m still not sleeping, but I’m not drowning in despair. The anxiety is debilitating and crushing, but it’s not constant – just early mornings, and late afternoons to evenings. I know what I’m doing this time. I’m proficient at recovery. I have my bag of tools that I know work and I can rely on.

For my worst case scenarios, when all other tools fail, I give myself permission to use ativan. I used to tell myself that I can’t/shouldn’t, and trying to hold it together by eliminating that option was a nightmare. Knowing I can, if I need to, makes it easier to hold on without it. But before it gets that bad, I have some other options. I have my meditations. When I start I’m agitated, but over the 15-20 minutes I become still, as if floating. A perfect escape-the-world snack. A brief respite that refills my mental tank just a little bit. If I need to, I will listen to meditations back to back. They work.

Walking. Even when I’m dragging and every step is a monumental effort. Even when my anxiety is high and every minute is filled with panic. Even when I’m feeling devastated and I cry the whole way. By the time I’m done my leg muscles are humming and the endorphins have lifted me out of my mind. My body feels stronger. I sit on my front steps, I watch the tree branches sway, I breath the cool air, and I feel a sense of peace. It may not last. But in that moment I memorize all the sensations. I will put this memory in my pocket and carry it with me.

Journaling. When my brain is full, swirling with thoughts that attack like birds, and I can’t quiet it and I can’t escape, I run to my bedroom and shut the door and I pull out my journal. Then I purge. I vomit up every nasty, horrible thought I have no matter how humiliating. I smear the pages with my words and my tears. No restraint. And when it’s all out and I finally feel emptied, a calm comes over me. And I am able to sort and sift through the situation, and understand it. And once I understand the why, I am able to counter the negative thoughts with realistic and positive solutions. I can see more clearly. I can see my value and my strengths and I can come up with a plan. And once I have a plan I feel stabilized and confident again. And I am ready to open the door and return to my life, my family, and my responsibilities again.

Exodus

It’s Passover today. One of my favorite holidays. The holiday where we tell the story of the Hebrews in slavery and bondage in Egypt and their escape to freedom, to Mount Sinai, and to the Holy Land. We are all slaves to something in our lives. Our cell phones. Unhealthy foods. A job. Unhealthy thoughts or feelings. We enslave ourselves. We are both the prisoner and the guard. We trap ourselves with “shoulds” and unrealistic expectations. I am enslaved by my anxiety.

It sits heavy on my chest like a large parasite, its claws digging deeply through my flesh and wrapped around muscle, tendon and bone. It’s not quite visible. I can see the reflection of its hard shell out of the corner of my eye. It is a physical sensation of weight and pressure. Sometimes it extends to my throat, choking me, gagging me. I can’t breath. I can’t eat. I’m overwhelmed with nausea, struggling for air. When I try to pull it off of me my hands meet with air. It paralyzes me from taking action. I can sit for hours, immobile, waiting for it to leave. But I don’t, not this time.

I force myself to get up and to move, to do. I try to ignore its heaviness. If I can focus elsewhere I can distract myself and I can almost not feel it. How do I escape you? How do I get rid of you? I have a trick.

When I’m at my worst and every muscle is rigid and electrified and my brain is unable to focus on anything but my complete and utter discomfort, instead of rejecting I accept. Who would want to accept this torture?? But I tell it, in my mind, “I accept you. I accept you. I accept you.” That’s the key somehow. My muscles relax and my brain has something positive to focus on. I keep repeating it, it’s my mantra, until my breathing has slowed. It’s still there, that mass, that creature, attached to my chest. But now it’s manageable. I can function again. One foot in front of the other. I will not let it win.

what is

I am not sleeping. I did not sleep. I have not slept. I can’t think. A wall. A wall of exhaustion. I am trapped. I am so tired. But I can not sleep. I pass out each night after taking my meds. Then a couple of hours later it begins. Startled awake. Adrenaline. Fire in my limbs. Heart beating so loud in my ears, so hard in my chest. Focus. Narrow my focus. Don’t let the thoughts start. Concentrate on my breathing. In. Out. In. Out. I start to drift off. Startled awake. Adrenaline. Fire in my limbs. Heart beating so loud in my ears, so hard in my chest. Focus. Narrow my focus. Don’t let the thoughts start. Concentrate on my breathing. In. Out. In. Out. I start to fall asleep. Startled awake. Over and over and over and over. I won’t look at the clock. Because then I start calculating. I keep my eyes shut under my eye mask. I wait. Is the sky light enough yet? Is it close enough to ‘morning’ to reasonably get up. I lay there and focus on my breathing. At least I could stay calm this night. I’m not always so lucky.