Tag Archives: anxiety

Separation Anxiety

I have been blessed with a child who is flexible, pleasant, and joyful. She is also loud, opinionated, and relentless. So when Moira’s godmother and godfather offered to take her for the whole weekend to allow me some much-needed rest, I leapt at the chance, particularly when they offered to watch her over this weekend, as I have just had my last two wisdom teeth pulled and I fully intend to spend the next few days hopped-up on painkillers, eating Jello, and watching bad TV. Hey, you recover your way, and I’ll recover mine.

Jello: It's what's for dinner.
Jello: It’s what’s for dinner.

I’ve been looking forward to and dreading this weekend in equal measure. First of all, I’m not a real big fan of having teeth pulled. It’s painful and uncomfortable and it prevents me from eating solid food. On the other hand, SLEEP. I get to sleep in for two whole days in a row; a decadent, delightful vegetative treat. I’m really looking forward to indulging in that prolonged unconsciousness. On the other-other hand, though, I’m going to miss my baby. Since the day she was born and was whisked away to the NICU for the night, I’ve always been anxious when we are apart. So far, she has only ever spent isolated nights away at her grandparents’ houses and I have always rushed to pick her up the next day. When I’m home without her, I am at a complete loss as to what to do with myself. What do I do when I’m not acting as Mommy? While I’m anxious and troubled, however, Moira has proven to be as carefree and cheery as ever. I’ve never received a call in the night from a sleep-deprived Nani or Grampy with a screaming infant in the background. No desperate pleading for tips to get her to eat, or ways to decrease her crying — because she doesn’t cry. She is blissfully unperturbed. As always, my darling girl is too busy loving life to feel anything but elation.

Unbeknownst to me during my pregnancy, I had conceived the Anti-Sarah: a child so delightfully unlike me as to be persistently effervescent, filled with sunshine and happiness.
Unbeknownst to me during my pregnancy, I had conceived the Anti-Sarah: a child so delightfully unlike me as to be persistently effervescent, filled with sunshine and happiness.

This has confirmed something that I have always secretly believed about becoming a parent: by some miracle, there are times when neurotic, emotional people have kids and witness these children turn out far better adjusted than the parents have any hope to be. Hallelujah! Honestly, I consider it a triumph: so far in my daughter’s 16 months of life, I have not managed to imbue her with any of my anxieties or neuroses. She doesn’t have any trouble sleeping over at her Auntie’s house because she is loved and secure. My daughter has no worries. Score ONE for Mommy! I’m not sure how long this will last, of course. Right now, she is fairly unaware of my struggles and idiosyncrasies, but that will not always be the case. I will have to continue to monitor myself and wage my personal war in private if I am to avoid exposing Moira to my various insecurities. I know from experience how important this is — I see in myself so many of the same feelings and manifestations of self-loathing that my own mother had. That is not the legacy I want Moira to grow into. My mission in life will be to preserve my little girl’s outlook (sunshine and rainbows included), so that the only one who has to suffer separation anxiety — or any other sadness — is me.

I feel sick.

Every time the depression wells back up and takes me, I feel like a failure. This time it took me by surprise in a new way because it didn’t start with sadness, it started with success. Yes, I’ve been tremendously busy, but I’ve been on top of it all – managing my appointments, my schedule, showing up on time, in the places I’m meant to be, and feeling good. I’ve been feeling in control of myself, nigh invincible, as I have taken on more and more, chasing that glorious moment of triumph.

Something you should know about me: As long as I’ve had something that needs improvement, I have had something to prove.

This time, my descent started with an up-tick. It started with the slow, steady ascent of a wooden coaster, as the click, click, click ushers you ever onward and upward toward the peak before it surrenders you unto the nothingness, allowing you to fall.

"STOP THE RIDE, I WANNA GET OFF," she would have said, if she had better foresight.
“STOP THE RIDE, I WANNA GET OFF,” she would have said, if she had had better foresight.

But this time it would seem the problem is not really the depression, but the mania. The mania (and the anxiety and the paranoia), which previously only lasted for a few hours or perhaps a day at the most, has become recurring.

I can’t think. I can’t write. I am distracted by the tiniest of things. Glitter, stuck to my sweat-dampened skin. Moira, exploring my work area. The feel of the air in the room, how oppressively warm it is with the sliding glass door closed and the humidity inching upward each moment as the sun heats the moisture on the pavement outside. The creeping vines of anxiety as each of these press inward on my consciousness, the feeling starting in my ankles, moving inexorably upwards toward my chest, immobilizing me and robbing me of my words, setting a spark to my fight or flight response. It suddenly occurs to me that I can either sit here self-immolating, or I can get up and start pacing, picking, cleaning, starting with a lint-roller all over my body to get rid of that god-damned glitter because FUCK GLITTER. WHO LET THAT SHIT INTO MY HOUSE?!

Satan is a five year old girl with access to fairy dust.
Satan is a five year old girl with access to fairy dust.

The depression which has punctuated these last few stretches of anxious upheaval has been an almost welcome reprieve. As I have mentioned before, the contrast between the two states is, I imagine, like being catapulted from a tub of hot water into cold, and back and forth — not unlike what Inigo experienced when Fezzik forcibly removed him from his state of drunkenness in the Princess Bride.

drunkinigoBut rather than restore me to sanity, the effect has been completely destabilizing. I feel like I have nothing.

It’s in those awful moments I want to do truly terrible things to myself. Still. Even with all the treatment, the therapy, the medications, everything, all the improvements I’ve made, all the distance I’ve covered in the last few years, when I feel the control begin to slip away from me, the urge to harm myself screams back into focus with alarming alacrity. I just know, with deep, chilling certainty, that one simple act of self-harm would immediately, easily end the uneasy, frenetic scratching in my skull – the pain would calm me, my stomach would settle, and I would finally feel better.

My heart wouldn’t be fluttering any longer, and my thoughts wouldn’t be racing. My mind wouldn’t be festering with words and stories that refuse to coagulate into coherent stories worthy of telling. I could sit and enjoy my family’s company, my daughter’s play, my husband’s touch, or the simple miracle of a quiet house.

I don’t typically feel that my mental illness is particularly disabling, or that it makes me especially ill. In fact, as a colleague and I were discussing the other day, we take particular pains to obscure our mental “peculiarities” as much as possible, lest the rumor mill start a’ pumpin’. But this? I hate this. This makes me feel as though I suffer from true madness. I am provoked, then, to spit out the proverbial poison – to remove it from my person as if by force (thus, The Real Sarah C Project was born). Well, now that I think about it, it actually was by force! These 800 words took me two very painful weeks of writing, bitching to trusted friend about not being able to write, trying and failing to write other things, and then trying again.

Reader, the thing that I really want you to know is that I feel like a terrible mess. And despite feeling like a terrible mess, in these last few weeks, I have still felt very much myself – on top of my game, good at my job, able, and confident. I’m not sure precisely what that means in the long run, but in the spirit of keepin’ it real, I just wanted you to know: you can still keep it together while you’re falling apart.

Adventures in Parenting: When the doctor asks follow-up questions.

This post has been a couple weeks in the making, because, you see, I wanted to have some facts, some answers, before I told any part of this story. Otherwise too many people would have read this and then agonized right alongside me as I waited for a neurologist’s consult, a test, a diagnosis — all the things that follow the heart-stopping moment when your pediatrician starts asking too many follow-up questions.

Let me explain:

M had her six-month check up on the second. We went over the usual stuff: height (50th percentile), weight (50th percentile), head circumference (95th percentile… kid’s got a big melon). Then we talked about her eating habits and her development. That’s when I brought up the funny “head-dipping” thing that Moira had been doing the last few weeks — she’d be playing or sitting in someone’s lap, what have you, and then her head will drop until her chin hits her chest. She’ll stay like that a moment or two, then pick her head up and carry on doing whatever it is that she was doing before. I thought it was a kind of funny, idiosyncratic thing that she was doing — until our pediatrician released a litany of follow-up questions while furiously typing information into her computer. “How often is she doing this? Are her eyes open the whole time? Does she respond to her name?” When I thought about it, it was happening at least once a day. Her eyes were always open, unblinking. She didn’t always pick her head back up when we said her name.

And that, my friends, is when the red flag went up.

Once she had asked all the questions she could think of, our doc slowed down long enough to say that it looked like M was having petit mal seizures, not uncommon in children her age and mostly benign. She was going to get a neuro consult and get back to me. So we went home and waited. Ultimately, it would a week for Moira to get an EEG and another few days for the results. And thank God, or Buddha, or the Great Powers That Be: she’s fine. Nothing on her EEG to indicate that she has any kind of seizure disorder. Hallelujah.

But first, Moira got to try on a snazzy new hat.
But first, Moira got to try on a snazzy new hat.

It was a learning experience for me: coming to terms with the possibility that something could be wrong and managing to respond without the fight-or-flight response. A great deal of my anxiety stems from losing two parents to cancer and the ensuing post-traumatic stress. I’ve always been a worry-wort, but when my stepdad and later my mom got sick and died, it did a real number on my ability to codify which fears were rational and which were not. There I was at 21, living in another state far from my remaining family, having just lost both parents, just as I always feared I would. What does it do to a person to have your worst fears realized and come out on the other side? For me, it confirmed (in my addled, depressive state) that the worst possible thing can, and will, happen — so you had better be on guard at all times. That heightened sense of impending disaster became the background music to my whole worldview. I was always — always — waiting for the other shoe to drop.

I’m proud of myself for beginning to come out from under that cloud of anxiety. It’s evident in the way I responded to Moira’s potential diagnosis — I didn’t panic. I didn’t obsessively search the internet for every vague disease that she could be suffering from. I was certainly nervous, and yes, I cried a little when confronted with the possibility that my child was ill, but I handled it. And the proof is in the pudding, so to speak.

Yup, here we are, and I'm keeping my shit together like, "Whoa, I'm the mom now..."
Yup, here we are, and I’m keeping my shit together like, “Whoa, I’m the mom now…”

A work-in-progress

One of the biggest take-aways I ever received from my first interpreting mentor is that we are all, each and every one of us, a work in progress. We never stop learning, growing, developing, and becoming more of the people we are meant to be. For interpreters, this is a fairly common precept: in order to remain relevant in your field and to maintain your credential, you must earn continuing education credits in order to show a persistent commitment to professional development. In our personal lives, though, people tend to think that at a certain age who you are ought to be fossilized at a certain stage in development: your tastes, predilections, personality, mannerisms, et cetera shouldn’t change too much past an imaginary point in time. It’s true, to an extent, that some things tend to remain stable over time. My taste in music, for example, hasn’t been drastically altered in the last 15 years, though I’ve come to appreciate alternatives to my favorites. But what about our looks? At a certain age, if you deviate too much from what people have come to expect of you, you are branded a midlife crisis or said to be “going through a phase”. Change just freaks people out once we get beyond our formative years. But, honestly, shouldn’t all of our years be formative?

Case in point: my whole life, I’ve been more of a jeans-and-t-shirt kind of girl because it’s easy, if not fashionable. I’ve always liked make-up and looking pretty, but never enough to put a whole lot of effort into it. My idea of professional dress is “a nice top, and nice bottoms”. I don’t accessorize a whole hell of a lot because I can’t be bothered.

And then this happened.
And then this happened.

In the last year, I’ve started getting into vintage fashions, hair, and make-up. I always enjoyed the look of the 1950’s pin-ups like Marilyn Monroe and Rita Hayworth, but it didn’t occur to me to try it until I was well into my 20s. This morning when I was getting ready for work, I looked down at my pencil skirt and monochromatic saddle shoes and thought, “Boy, I’m in full costume today.” But it isn’t a costume. Not really. Just because I’m altering my outsides doesn’t mean that I’m not doing it to match my insides — what my insides have been all along.

I don’t think we ever complete the process of becoming who we are, even when we are suffering ill-effects in that process. I recently began seeing a new therapist, and while going through my medical history and listing my various small-kine crazy behaviors on my fingers, I mentioned that it was only in 2012 that I was diagnosed as having bipolar disorder, likely as a result of untreated long-term depression and anxiety following my parents’ deaths. My new doctor said with a smile, “Ah, well, you just hadn’t fully bloomed yet.” I found that very profound. I like the idea that my endless struggle with mental illness is actually part of the process of becoming more of, not less than, myself. So many people think that their internal struggles — depression, anxiety, mania, self-harm, OCD, what have you — detract from their true self. I beg to differ: embracing and managing my illness is helping me achieve a new level of self-actualization that I hadn’t considered before. My pursuit of happiness, I realize, is a journey fraught with pitfalls and set-backs. The long and sometimes treacherous walk down that road has imbued my being with both good and bad, and has made me, Me.

I had to get pretty sick in the head, and come to terms with my ailment, before I could start really liking myself. How’s that for a kick in the pants?

Today is an appropriate occasion to turn to this discussion: April 16th is for the Semicolon Project, a social media movement for those that suffer from depression — who self harm, are suicidal, unhappy, have anxiety, or are living with grief — to embrace their story as on-going. Semicolons represent a sentence the author chose not to end. We are the authors and the sentences are our lives. My story doesn’t end here. I am a work in progress.

Friendship

After taking a personal inventory, I have made the following observations of myself as a friend. I am:
A.) fiercely loyal,
B.) very good at social networking websites, and
C.) extremely unlikely to ever speak with you on the phone

Also, if I were to be perfectly honest with potential friends upon first meeting them, I would be absolutely friendless.

It would probably go something like this:

New Person: Hi, my name is ____.
Me: Oh, hello, _____. I’m terribly high-maintenance.
New Person: (walks away quickly from the crazy lady)

Conversely, if on occasion I managed NOT to frighten people away within the first five minutes of meeting them, it would ultimately lead to:

New Person: Hi, my name is ____. Me: Oh, hello, _____. I'm extremely high-maintenance. New Person: (walks quickly in the opposite direct of the crazy lady)
This is not conducive to long-term happiness.

Truthfully, I’m not high-maintenance in the worst sense: I don’t want to be surrounded by sycophants or anything. But I am pretty sensitive, and I have a lot of baggage and a lot of hang-ups, and, well, I can be a little crazy. Crazy = inconsistent = unpredictable, and generally speaking, people don’t find relationships with unpredictable people to be particularly effortless. And it comes down to the degree of effort involved, I think, that prevents my making significant connections with many people.

First, there is the problem of defining “effort”. I don’t need, nor do I especially want, my friends to call me on the phone for idle chit-chat. Talking on the phone makes my brain seize up and misfire. People complain that texting or writing emails leads to miscommunications because you cannot tell the affect of the person with whom you are conversing, but I beg to differ: slap some emoticons on that bitch, spice it up with affect cues in asterisks ( e.g. *sarcasm*, *rolling eyes*), whatever — it’s the talking on the phone and not being able to see your face that gets me all discombobulated. For whatever reason, in the absence of face-to-face contact, it’s easier for me to discern someone’s true voice from their writing than from their disembodied voice over the phone.  So, effort, to me, is keeping in constant contact through the avenues that cause me the least anxiety. It is no surprise then that the friends with whom I am closest are those with a 50 word-per-minute minimum texting speed.

Second, there is the issue of how we will interface and spend time together. In keeping with just how much I hate to talk on the phone, I would much rather see you in person than anything else. But there’s another wrench in the works: I’m a goddamn introvert of the highest order.

I have been known to bite.
I have been known to bite when cornered.

(This guide to interacting with introverts is essentially my Rosetta stone.)

But, I am also at the mercy of my moods, which will range from “Fuck yeah, let’s go DANCING.” to “You are welcome to sit beside me in silence while I sit in my quilted cocoon and watch a movie.” The very best friends that I’ve ever had are the ones who understand this and don’t hold it against me, while continuing to venture to bring me out of shell every now and again.

This is what a real friend looks like.
This is what a real friend looks like.

And finally, there’s the emotional crap. The Baggage. Jesus Christ, the baggage. It seems endless at times, the ways in which the emotional wounds inflicted during my youth can impact my present, and by extension, my future. It’s that ol’ ACOA thing again: We don’t know normal, we’re too hard on ourselves, we think love is a commodity that must be earned and traded, we take everything too seriously, we need constant approval and affirmation, we’re highly impulsive, and we have intimacy issues that strain the boundaries of reasonable. That is what I mean when I say that I’m high-maintenance. I don’t want to be that way — it goddamn sucks — but it’s hardwired into my brain.

It is for all of the above reasons I have come to really believe this quote from someone I really like and respect: “I have friends in spite of myself.”

Exposure therapy for sufferers of GAD

You have no idea what I went through in order to get this coffee.
You have no idea what I went through in order to get this.

Despite my love of fancy, expensive coffee drinks, the coffee shop culture is one that I have never quite assimilated to. It just encompasses too many triggers for me: having to know your order by heart, having to rapid-fire deliver it to the waiting barista, crowds of strangers. Uhg. Getting my morning cup of coffee is never so fraught as is it when I decide to go to Starbucks to get it. Since we moved into the suburbs, there is now a ‘Bucks right around the corner from our house, so I find myself there more often than before, especially because I am often too lazy/tired/forgetful to brew my own coffee. Because I find the coffee shop ordering routine so panic inducing, I try to mitigate it by rehearsing my order the night before: Ok, I’m going to want Starbucks tomorrow morning. What am I going to get? I need dairy-free, so soy. Where does “soy” factor in to the Starbucks order formula? Is it a “venti soy latte” or a “soy venti latte”? And what about syrup? I like the flavored stuff… I know they have hazelnut and vanilla… What else? They have, like, 20 different bottles of syrup back there… Maybe better to stick with what you know. Ok. So, “Soy. Hazelnut. Latte.” Shit, I forgot the size. Venti. “Venti. Soy. Hazelnut. Latte.” Venti soy hazelnut latte. Ventisoyhazelnutlatte. And I’ll just fall asleep saying my little coffee order mantra so that by the time I get to the counter the next day, it will hopefully roll off the tongue.

After going to Starbucks twice a week for the last few weeks, though, I thought I had gotten it down. This morning, I strolled in, happy to see that the line was only two people deep. I caught sight of the food stuffs and thought, “Well, I was good yesterday. Why not have a croissant and a fruit cup, too?” Then I spied the bananas. Mmm, banana. Yes, I think I’ll have one of those, too. But after I had picked it up, I remembered that I was wearing lipstick. Crud. Kind of hard to eat a banana and not mess up your carefully applied lip color. But I had already picked up the banana. I couldn’t put it back in the basket, right? That wasn’t kosher.

The line of people behind me had increased to 8 or 9. I was now surrounded. And it was my turn at the counter. The barista, a slightly grimacing young man with an air of judgmental impatience, asked me for my order just as I was trying to figure out what to do with the goddamn banana.

Barista: And what can I get you?

Me: (absolutely blank, deer-in-headlights stare, mouth open, clutching a banana in one hand and a fruit cup in the other) I… um…

What was my drink? What had I wanted? Crap, hurry up! There are people behind you, there’s only one person taking orders, hurry up, hurry up! The barista looked at me and cocked an eyebrow. I felt the room pressurize and push in on me: the people behind me in line, the smug Starbucks coffee slave, the aroma of overpriced premium grounds in the air…

Me: Uh… Venti…

Crap, what was it called… I vaguely remembered they served something with white chocolate in it.

Me: Uhm, yeah, Venti white chocolate, mmm… (Shit. Shit! What was it?) Mocha? (Pause, look at the guy’s face to ascertain whether this order made sense/was appropriate. Then remembered my dairy restriction.) Soy! I need soy milk.

Barista: (clearly questioning my sanity, because why would someone who wants soy milk order something with chocolate and whipped cream in it) Okay… and you want that hot or cold?

Me: (Oh, I know this one!) Hot! Thank you. Oh, and food. Yes, I would like a croissant, please.

Barista: …and the banana and fruit cup you’re holding?

Me: (remembering my death grip on the items in my hands) Oh, yes, of course.

By now this whole exchange has gone on for about a million years and I can feel the other people in line getting impatient. Jesus Christ, lady, get with the program! Don’t you know how it works here? Yes. Yes, I do. I’m sorry. I am a Starbucks failure.

I start to walk away, wanting this dreadful exchange to be over already. The barista called after me, “Ma’am, what’s your name?”

I whipped back around, nearly colliding with the woman behind me, who must have been so relieved that it was finally her turn after witnessing my prolonged and awkward exchange. “Sarah. My name is Sarah.” He looked back down to write on my cup and then turned to the next customer without regarding me again. Oh, thank God. It’s over.

I turned to walk over by the drink delivery counter, dumbstruck. Why the fuck did I order a white chocolate mocha? That wasn’t what I wanted. I am so under the influence of my generalized anxiety disorder that I can’t even get the kind of coffee that I want. Jesus H. Christ. I was so relieved when the girl that made my drink leaned over the counter and asked, “Ma’am, you wanted the soy white chocolate mocha? You don’t want whipped cream in that, right?”

Me, with a sigh of relief: Right.

Bless her for thinking to ask. I think next time, though, I’ll just write the whole thing down beforehand, save myself the panic attack.