Give it to Oprah

I already have a topic on deck to discuss with my therapist this week. Is that weird? Probably so, but she has the potential to really help me with one of the two problems plaguing me right now: Trusting my intuition versus listening to my anxiety. My other problem has to do with eating too much pizza last night, and I’m positive she can’t help me with that one, but, eh, it’s worth a shot to ask.

Y’all know I suffer from a myriad of mental health conditions. I have chronic depression, generalized anxiety, a touch of OCD, and probably some personality disorder that has yet to be identified but makes it easy for me to both cry and scream in public bathrooms, then blog about it. That has to have a name. But the important thing about all of this is that I am getting help. I have been on medication for years, and I see a therapist, and a practice mindful breathing, and I write, and I order llama-shaped cookie cutters from Amazon. Which is to say that I have my ways of dealing with things. But sometimes, sometimes, my anxiety reaches a peak and I start to spiral out of control, and that’s what happened this week.

My son is going to the Midwest to spend some time with his grandmas over the next 10 days or so and I am freaking out, y’all, like Karen at a damn taping of the Oprah show in December, freaking out. Losing my mind. Unlike Karen, I am losing my mind from intrusive thoughts brought on by a flare up of anxiety. Not because I just found a ticket under my seat for an all-inclusive trip to the island that P. Diddy owns or keys to my own Chrysler Minivan. Fuck you, Karen.

I’m freaking out because he will not be with me. Plain and simple. I am freaking out because I will not know what he is eating, how he is sleeping, how much tv he will be watching. I will not be there to assess how much fun he is having at any particular outing, to remind him to change his underwear, to take his glasses off before he falls asleep. I will not be there ensure that he is doing what he wants to do, not what someone is making him do. I will not be there to control how people talk, or react, or approach him. He will meet people I do not know and so therefore do not trust. He will be with people I do know and therefore do not trust. What if someone is mean to him? What if he wonders off at the waterpark and he drowns? What is the car he is riding in is hit head-on by a semi-truck? What if this is the week the big one hits Kansas and he is swept away in a tornado? What if he can’t sleep because I am not in the next room? What if he is ignored all week? What if he has a horrible time and never wants to go back? What if he has a great time and realizes he doesn’t need me anymore?

If this all seems really dramatic, it’s because it is. This is anxiety, y’all. Welcome to it.

So last night I was tossing and turning in bed waiting for 6:00 am, when he would pile into my best friend’s car (she has been visiting and is heading back home today so he hitched a ride to his Mama’s house with her) I was thinking about all the bad things that could happen. All the fears I have started to bubble up and I started to worry. What if this is my body’s way of telling me that he shouldn’t go, I thought. What if my intuition is wrestling my anxiety, but I am brushing it all off as anxiety? I actually, for real, 100% Googled How to Tell if it is Anxiety or Intuition. I found a bunch of articles, but none of them helped. I had to talk myself off my own ledge that I created and just trust that all these people, and all these places, and all these moments (like when he threw up in my best friend’s car about two hours into the trip) are not signs that something bad will happen, rather they are ways for him to learn, and grow, and become an independent person in his own right. Even as I type this I am rolling my eyes. He’s 10 years old for crying out loud!

Christ Missy, get it together.

Okay. I do have some ways to combat this. You don’t live this way for this long without picking up a few tricks. I’ve been busy all morning. I’ve been working, and cleaning, and Googling whether or not your therapist charges per “topic” or just “hourly”, but still, there in the back of my mind is all the things. And all the things can really take it out of me. It can take it out of anyone. If I were a religious person this would probably be the time I “give it to God” or whatever. So maybe I will try that. Maybe today I will just “give it to pizza” or “Give it to Oprah” (that sounds dirty) and just see what happens.

Hope you are all coping today too.

M.

Pulling Out My Hair

All morning I have been putting my hands on my keyboard in an attempt to will myself to write something, but nothing comes out. This has been happening for about two weeks. I don’t mean with this silly, little blog. I have a million topics for this place. Climbing out of this blue spot I have been in. My recent gastro-intestinal upset. Our house-hunting trip to Atlanta. Jackson’s ongoing obsession with Harry Potter. Those are all easy topics for me to slap down here for our mutual reading pleasure. What I’m having a really hard time with is writing other things. Things I need to be writing. Short stories, and flash fiction, and creative non-fiction. Things that I write to send out for consideration. Things that, you know, a writer should care about.

A couple of weeks ago I started an essay about mental health. It’s morphed into more of a lyric essay. I talk about my penchant for weeding, then I talk about the unnerving condition I was diagnosed with shortly after the loss of my daughter. It’s called trichotillomania, which is a really long, crazy-sounding word that means at times of high stress I pull my hair out. Literally. I subconsciously run my fingers through my hair, often times when I am asleep, and I pull strands of hair out. I do it over and over again, in the same spot, until finally I have a little bald patch on my scalp and I have to part my hair to cover it. It sorta sucks. But also, I guess it sort of helps too.

It doesn’t always happen when I am asleep. Sometimes I am fully-awake, but I am distracted. When I first noticed it I was sitting on the couch with my husband. We were watching tv, toddler Jackson was asleep, and I was actually engrossed in whatever was happening in that episode of, probably, The Office. Before I knew what was happening I had taken my pony tail out and began running my fingers through my hair. At some point my husband looked over at me and asked what was wrong. I told him nothing was wrong. Because nothing was wrong. Weirdo. Then after the episode he looked at the spot next to me and asked again what was wrong. I looked over too, and there was a massive pile of my hair sitting next to me. We didn’t really know what to say. Over the next few weeks it got worse. I was waking up in the middle of the night to clumps of hair all around me, and my hand resting on my head. It was exhausting. So I finally asked the doctor and she explained this all to me. I felt relieved, but you know, not really.

So here I am, reliving all of this to write it out on the page, in hopes that I will actually finish this essay, submit it to a publication, they won’t think I’m too weird, and they will publish it, so that maybe, maybe, someone who pulls their hair out realizes, perhaps for the first time, that it is a mental health problem. Realizes they are not alone. Realizes they need to seek help. But until then, I am stuck, you see. Stuck. Unable to think. Unable to write. Unable to help. Stuck with idle hands, wanting to pull out my hair.

M.

Panic! Not Just at the Disco

The first time I remember having a panic attack I was 17 years old. I’m almost positive, looking back, that I’d had them before that, but I just didn’t know what to call it. Once, when I was about nine, I was so nervous waiting for my mom to come pick me up from a sleepover, that I had to go sit in my friend’s bathroom, away from all the noise and laughter. I was trembling, and my hands and feet were clammy, and my chest felt very tight. I sat in the bathtub, pulled the curtain closed, and waited for my friend’s mom to open the basement door and call down to tell me that my mom was there. In hindsight, that was probably one of my first panic attacks, but I didn’t know it at the time. I did know, however, that I was different than the other girls.

At seventeen I woke up in the middle of the night. I’ve always struggled with sleep, so I didn’t think much of it. This was back before you kept your cell phone charging next to your head, so I would just lie awake and stare at the ceiling listening for unfamiliar noises and worrying, mainly, about all the things that could go wrong in my life. What if I didn’t pass my next chemistry test? What if my mom found out that I had pot stashed in my dresser drawer? Those sorts of things. This particular night I remember with clarity, because it was the first time I thought about death. I wasn’t suicidal, never have been. Save for that time I was put on a medicine to help with anxiety and it didn’t react well with me. But we will save that for another time. What I mean is, I became hyper-aware for the first time, that one day I would die. That’s the funny thing about this life. It ends the same for everyone. And when you’re a kid or a reckless teenager, you don’t think too much about that. Until the day you do.

Existential dread or angst, I jokingly call it now. Jokingly because it happens to me all the time, I sort of live in this space, and it happens to a lot of us, most of use, from time to time. But when I was seventeen, I didn’t know what the hell it was. I just realized I would die, then wondered how I would die, then ventured into this whole new world of anxiety and worry that was never there before. It struck me so violently that I found myself awake for days, unable to sleep, consumed first and foremost by the idea that I was going to die, I had convinced myself, at any moment.

Of course I did the worst possible thing, I told no one. I went about life as normal as I could, all the while plagued with these constant, OCD thoughts about death. In AP English I’d think about death. In Chemistry, I’d think about death. At lunch, death. Hanging out at my friends’ houses after school, talking about crushes and pretending to care about my make-up and hair, death.

Then one day, months after the first thought, I had a total and complete meltdown. I was still a kid, as much as I thought otherwise, so I had my meltdown in a totally kid way. First, I flipped out at school. I got into a fight with my best friend, on purpose, because I wasn’t happy and she was and that pissed me off. Then I hitched a ride home halfway through the day with another friend (read: we skipped school and got high, then went to Taco Bell). Afterward, she dropped me off at home. I forgot that I don’t normally beat my mom home from work (don’t smoke weed kids, mkay), so she was confused when she got there and I was home. This led to a fight when she accused me of skipping school. I was appalled that she would “accuse” me of such a thing, then I went into my room, and slammed my door. (Ugh, moms are the worst!)

That night my mom went out and she told me not to leave the house, I was “grounded” in as much as she could ground me. So at about 8:00 pm, a friend picked me up and we left to go smoke more weed down at the river. Here’s the thing. The “river” was the cool place to hang, way down by the railroad tracks, because we were totes sad, sordid, teenagers with the weight of the world on our shoulders, oh poor, pitiful us… We were living every single scene from #MySoCalledLife.

The cops came, as they often do, and everyone took off running. Well, I don’t run, ya dig? Even when I think my life is in danger. Like if a bear came at me in the woods I would be the last one there, trying to reason with the bear, all, Listen bear, I’m mostly fat and who likes the fatty parts of the meat? So I just sort of walked away, down the railroad tracks to an old railcar. (Insert the Daria soundtrack). Turns out the cops weren’t too hellbent on arresting a few teens passing a dime bag, so they took off, but there I was alone, at night, a little high, on the train tracks. When, you guessed it, a train came.

Now, I’m not suicidal (see above), so meandering around the live tracks at night, weren’t exactly what I was going for. In fact, I was scared shitless, and I started back to the riverfront park to find my friends, but they had left my ass. That’s about the time the intrusive thoughts started up again. I know it, I told myself, I’m going to die and this is probably the night. I could smell the fire burning from the hobo village (I don’t think that is politically accurate now, but that’s what we called it) under the bridge, the train was approaching, my friends had left me, and there may or may not be cops lurking in the woods waiting to arrest me for being out after curfew. Plus, I was going to die. Maybe not that night, but certainly some day.

I made it down to the park, where there was a large mound of grass, and a well-lit walking trail. I sat down as the train approached, and all the things hit me at once. My chest tightened and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. My hands became clammy, my feet went numb. The train hit the city limits. The thoughts raced through my mind. Things are changing, it won’t always be this way. The lights on the track flashed their warning, the bars lowered. Breathe, Missy, breathe. The bells chimed. The engine gave a loud hiss. I can’t stop time, one day I will be here on this earth, and the next I will not be and the whole wide world will still spin around without me. The sound of the wheels on the wood, louder and faster. I’m going to die. The train wooshed by. All the people I love, we will all be gone. And then, just like that, it was all over.


Jesus, this all sounds dramatic. But it really felt like the end of the world. Of my world, anyway. And sometimes, some days, it still does. I wish to all the universes that this was something that I grew out of, or something that never happened again. Something that goes away every day when I take my pills. But no, it’s always here. And I’ve had about ten or so of the actual, painful, Am-I-having-a-heart-attack panic attacks in my life. I can remember each one of them with a clarity I wish I could have given to my chemistry homework. The time Jerimiah had to hold me in the living room because I couldn’t sit still. The time I had to excuse myself from class because I thought the walls were caving in on me. That time I was driving through Tennessee, my son snuggled up in the backseat, and I had to call my friend just to talk. Thankfully, I have people, and thankfully I know when to reach out.

I wanted to share this today for two reasons: 1. It is coming. I’m headed down a dark, bleak hole, and I know it and I feel it, and there is absolutely nothing I can do about it. The stress is inching up in my neck and in the next few days I will be down for the count. It’s not anything different than it was yesterday, or last year, or 10 years ago. I just know how to read the signs now. How to better equip myself for the fall. Which leads me to number 2. I’m still here. I’m still alive, and this is only temporary. One of my favorite writers likes to remind us that #DepressionLies, and shit yeah it does. But man, it doesn’t feel like it in the moment. It doesn’t feel like it when it’s 2:00 am or 2:00 pm and you are in your bed, covered to your neck in blankets because that is the only way you can get through the day. It doesn’t feel like it when you stop texting friends back, or when you just want to eat chocolate and not make eye contact with your partner or your kid. It feels like you are trapped in this dark place. It feels like you did it all to yourself. It feels like it will never be right again and that you will never be right again. But you will.

Take care of yourselves, y’all.

And I’ll take care of me.

M.