Breakdown

I had a breakdown the other day. It had been stewing for days. I felt it, as one does, gaining momentum with each thing I did. I had to wash the dishes by hand (because the dishwasher is broken) and I cut my hand. Then I started to make lunch and I spilled the sauce. Then I dropped my phone. Then, then, then… Shit hit the fan. Finally I decided I was not doing a damn thing for the rest of the day. I was going to park it on the couch and watch a wildly entertaining documentary. So that’s what I started to do, then things got complicated.

I choose “McMillions.” Jerimiah was sitting next to me, trying to figure out my mood, but I didn’t say a word. Jackson came downstairs from doing school work and asked if I would ride bikes with him. Nah, dawg. I told him. I’m not feeling bikes. Then I immediately felt bad and tried to compromise. I asked if he wanted to take a walk. No, he didn’t. He just wanted to ride his scooter alone outside, so Jerimiah and started the show. A couple minutes later I started to feel like a shitty mom, as one does. I couldn’t concentrate on the show. I could only worry that he would talk to some random person walking down our cul-de-sac. Or that he would fall and hurt himself, which meant I’d have to take him to the ER, which is bad news bears right now, considering they are literally turning out conference center into a makeshift hospital. (We will be at 20,000 Covid-19 cases before the week is up.)

Then I heard him talking and asked Jerimiah to check on him. When he did, Jackson came to the door (he had been talking to Siri, telling her to change songs) and then I overheard Jackson say to Jerimiah, “Tell Mommy we can go on a walk now.” At this point it had been a good thirty minutes of me stewing in place, while this show played in front of me. Thinking about how horrible of a mom I am, how my son wanted to spend time with me and I didn’t oblige. Instead I watched television. Then my guilt turns to anger as it ALWAYS does, and I reacted way too strongly.

Jerimiah came back in and I said, “I can’t believe he wants to walk now! I offered that up half an hour ago!”

Jerimiah listened politely, as he does, and suggested we do take a walk because it might be good for all of us. The sun was setting fast at this point, so I mumbled something about “It’s gonna be dark soon,” then went upstairs to put real clothes on, not pajamas. Meanwhile he tried to get the dogs leashed up, since they had heard the word “Walk” one too many times and were freaking out.

When I came down Jerimiah told me that Duke was refusing his harness, and I may have screamed, “LEAVE HIS ASS HOME!” I was totally spiraling out at this point. Jerimiah was like, okay, and we walked outside. There we were met with Jackson and some “scooter” issues and I was like, “You’re the one who wanted to go for a walk!” And I could see the tears start to well up in his eyes and I thought “SHIIIIIT!” But instead of apologizing right then, I let us all go with me into this spiral.

Duke was barking at us from inside so Jerimiah asked if he should go try again with the harness and I said, “Sure!” In a really high-pitched, super fake-singing kinda way. Jackson knew the situation at this point and was looking upset. Duke wouldn’t cooperate and when I saw Jerimiah walking down the drive I knew he was now as angry as me, meanwhile Jackson was on the verge of tears, meanwhile I was totally at the bottom. So we walked.

One cul-de-ac over Jackson broke down. He was telling me that he was sorry he had ruined the evening, and I thought, “Holy hell, Missy you are legit the worst mom on the damn planet.” We stood there in the road as I hugged him and told him that I had been a mess all day and none of this was his fault. Then we walked more.

When we got home that night I went to the bathroom then came downstairs in tears. I told them I had to talk to them. They sat, stone-faced and listened as I explained where I was. I explained how I wasn’t sleeping. How I was trying, so hard, to keep my shit together for them, but that I just couldn’t anymore. How I felt like Jackson deserved a better mom sometimes. And I truly, really felt that way. I truly had felt at the bottom that day. All day. And instead of reaching for help, I went further down into myself and had come out so bad on the other side.

Jackson was crying at this point, saying that I should never say that again. That he would never want a different mom and it scared him. That he was scared. For the first time since this has all happened he admitted to being scared. I have tried to have a lot of talks with him about feelings, but he would never budge. It all came out that night. I told him about how my feelings of guilt morphed into anger. About how it all stems from fear. About how I take a pill, everyday to try to combat this, and even so it doesn’t always work. He nodded in understanding, even though he never could, and I hope he never does. Just like I hope I never turn into my own mother, who would bottle all her fear in and then blow up at me in screaming anger. I strive every day not to be that person. Like how Jerimiah strives every day not to bottle up emotions, not to be mean, not exhibit any of the behaviors he saw as a child. It is tough work, and sometimes we have breakdowns. All of us. And that’s okay. I would rather have my child witness my truth, then shove things down, down, down. Then we sat there and hugged for a long time. Went up to the bed, and all slayed together and read books until we fell asleep.

Afterward I wondered about you all.

During my breakdown my husband listened intently. My son cried with me. My family took care of me. Allowed me to lose it, then helped put me back together. But I wondered: What do people do when they don’t have a family that is supportive? When they don’t have friends that will listen? When they don’t feel comfortable sharing their truth with the ones they love? How are people coping right now with families they are stuck with, literally? Family members they can’t stand to be around? Why and how are people in relationships with people who don’t make them feel loved and wanted, even at their worst?

I can’t imagine it, y’all. And please, please, if you find yourself in one of those situations, please reach out. To me, to someone you love, to a therapist, to a medical professional. Because we can’t risk it. You can’t risk it. Times are bad right now. They are for most of us. You are not alone. You. Are. Not. Alone. Even the best, most chill of us (like my husband) need to break sometimes. And we should be allowed to do that with the people we love standing behind us, catching us, and putting us back together.

I’m gonna leave some numbers here for you to call if you need to. And I’m going to leave a reminder, one that my son told me, “I am scared. I am scared that I will lose people I love. I am scared about what the world will be like when this is over. But no one can replace you.”

No one can replace you.

M.

American Psychological Association HelpPage

Writing Through It

I’ve been attempting to write my way through this bout of the blues. I’m feeling a teensy bit better today, but I think it’s because my husband has been home for three days. He leaves again tomorrow, and today is usually the worst day. The day before he travels. Because the day before he travels I try to smush in as much as I can. And that’s difficult on everyone. It’s difficult because we all know what I’m doing. And we all know why I’m doing it. And it makes it stressful. And to top it off my own anxiety is off the charts right now. Because depression doesn’t come without its host of friends.

The stress comes first. Always. The stacking up of things that I have to do. The mounting list of activities, parties, meetings, events. This month it’s Christmas cards, and gifts to those far away, the logistics of travel, the breaking it to the family that we won’t be there again, but hey, guess what, we’re traveling to see friends for New Years! People we want to see, are not compelled to see. That’s sits well, I’m sure. The dreams come fast and furious in those moments. The stress dreams. My mother yells at me in those dreams. My husband’s plane goes down in those dreams. Sometimes, in those dreams, I am a server and I am double, sometimes triple sat. And I’ve just been told we are out of hamburgers, or french fries, or beer. I have no pens in my apron. My hair is a mess. I burned my hand on a plate. The other servers call in. Yeah, I still have server dreams, 12 years after I served my last plate. Jesus, that’s when I know things are bad.

The stress leads to anxiety. Those plane crash dreams become part of my waking life. I check his arrival and departures times. I start to Google the plane he will be on. When was it last inspected by the FAA? How many passengers does it hold? I track his flights the whole time he’s in the air. I start to think that my actions are affecting his fate. If I flip out on someone driving down the highway today, then maybe that will upset the universe. Knock her off her tilt. Worse yet, what if all my anxiety and worry, my Googling of the plane, wills the crash to happen. What if I am responsible for my husband’s own plane crash? Yeah. This is real life, y’all. My real life.

I get crazy. And then the crazy turns to sadness because I am just so fucking tired of being crazy. I cry in the shower because why does this have to happen to me? I’ve done everything I’m supposed to do. I go to the therapist. I get my vitamins and my l-Methly Folate. I’m taking my meds the right way. But it doesn’t help. My brain is still off kilter. My brain still works in a different way than other people’s and it’s not fair. But Jesus I can’t go down that “It’s not fair” route, because if I do I won’t get out of bed today. So I press on. I just do so with my mind in a million different pieces, which makes it hard to fully invest in anything. That’s when I start knocking things off my list.

That friend that wants to meet for coffee. I text her and tell her I can’t. I don’t explain because she’s a new friend, and she can’t know yet what I’m like. If she knows, she will run. I postpone that meeting about that party I am planning. I tell a friend who wants to FaceTime that I have an event so I can get out of it. If I FaceTime this friend it might help me feel better, but at this point I don’t want to feel better. I don’t deserve to feel better. I have to ride this downward spiral down, all the way down now. I am committed.

Because at some point I go on auto-pilot. I’ve been in this spot a thousand times before. I watch sad documentaries and listen to Adele. I turn my phone off so I can say, “I didn’t see your email,” and really mean it. After I pick Jackson up from school, I tell him that I have a headache, and I lay on the couch with a blanket, and I let him play video games for three hours straight. At some point I realize I’m being pathetic, and I make it up to him by playing video games with him, or at least making him a grilled cheese sandwich. Then the next day it starts over again.

It’s tougher than I thought, trying to explain what happens in your head. Tougher because I don’t have the words to explain it better, and tougher because when I see it written out like this it does, actually sound crazy. I’m ashamed of what happens. How the wiring in my brain works. How one thing leads to another, even worse thing. But it’s my truth. Something I live with, and yes sometimes I get so upset by my life being this way. By the way my brain works, but I also know that I am not the only one with messed up wiring, and I know that many of us have lived in the shadows for too long. Assuming that we are too messed up to have a meaningful life. To be loved. To love others. So I’ll keep writing, if you’ll keep going. And together we will wait for the good days. The good weeks. The good months and years. And trust, there will be some.

Be kind to yourself today.

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.


Brown Butterflies

I’ve been thinking lately about the different stages of life and how it feels like they sneak up on us, but upon closer examination, we sort of knew the changes were coming long before they came. But still they blindside us on some idle Tuesday when we feel wholly unprepared to take anymore shit from that particular Tuesday. They smack us on the hand, or the head, or if we are lucky, on the rear, and they shake us into a violent spiral of self-loathing and pitiful dread. And just like that, the person we thought we were is gone, and this new person has emerged. It’s sort of scary and weird and totally, totally jacked up.

I was complaining about this aloud to my husband last night. I complain to him a lot, especially on days when I have been complaining to myself aloud and my self hasn’t been able to come up with any answers. My husband, you see, is a saint of a different kind. He is patient with me. He listens to me while he rubs my feet or my back. He doesn’t get angry at me, unless I am down on myself and then he tells me to treat myself better. He even pretends like he doesn’t hear me talking to myself in the shower, or the bathroom, or the closet, or the kitchen, least I think of myself as crazy. He just listens and tries to help.

So there I was trying to explain to him that I don’t feel like any particular kind of “me” anymore, because the last set of changes in my life really did me in and I am super scared of the next change. He looked confused. I reasoned that approximately every three years I change. I go through a complete metamorphosis, sort of like a caterpillar, but instead of turning into a beautiful butterfly who flies through the rain forest, I get stuck being a brown butterfly. Not that being a brown butterfly is bad, it’s just that brown butterflies always seem to have short, tumultuous lives inside one of those manufactured rainforests at a children’s museum. Red butterflies with yellow and purple markings sail through the humid air of Ecuador, racing each other, making children stand in awe, and women look to the skies, close their eyes, and imagine a world unlike their own. Brown butterflies end up getting sat on by an oxygen-tank-wielding grandpa who was dumped in the “rainforest” because he couldn’t keep up with the toddlers and someone said, “You know what, I bet Dad would enjoy the butterflies.”

Again, there is nothing wrong with brown butterflies, they are just “eh” and “eh” is how I have come to see this “Missy”. The one right here, right now, in this present position in life. I’m not alone, I know that. My friend just asked me this morning, in a desperate voice in search of relief, “What the hell is in retrograde right now?” Eh.

Maybe it’s the time of the year. The “winter blues” is very real. Maybe because my whole life is in this sort of holding pattern that I have never been in before, and it is forcing me to work with and against questions that I just do not have answers for. It sucks, truly, but I am also grateful for so much. This leaves me feeling, well, eh.

I’ve been really fixated on these shifts of time lately. I remember visiting a butterfly “sanctuary” when Jackson was a toddler. (I’m using quotes for sanctuary because, uh, there is no real reason to have a butterfly sanctuary, other than to breed butterflies for human viewing in an enclosed space, yeah, I’m weird about animals in captivity.) But still it was kind of neat to see that many butterflies in one place. That is also where I learned, or maybe relearned, that butterflies have an incredibly complicated life cycle, and an incredibly short life span. Adult butterflies only live for weeks.

I started thinking about the stages of the butterfly, and of course to the stages of my own life, and I became really attune to the changes that have happened every three years or so. There seems to be a pattern. Like it takes three years for me to make any real progress. Or to make any big change. Or to even deal with simple things. I’m a slow learner I suppose. But, I’ve been able to trace my changes back as far as thirteen years, and it is a weird, ugly road.

Thirteen years ago I became a fiancée. I changed from just a girlfriend to someone who needed to start planning for a life together with this man that I loved, in a very pointed and serious way. Planning for the future was a BIG change for sixteen years ago Missy, whose only real job was to have fun. I bartended on weekends, spent money like an Arabic Sheik, and occasionally danced on tables, if the bar (more importantly the music) allowed.

Three years later I became a mother to a happy, healthy baby boy. If you don’t think parenthood pulls you into a new version of yourself, think again. And while you are at it, that isn’t just the “baby blues”. Get yourself to your doctor and say yes to the Wellbutrin with the side of Xanax, then figure out whether your body can tolerate both pills and a glass of wine each night at ten p.m. while you binge watch Netflix and secretly eat candy from the floor on the side of your bed that can’t be seen from the hallway.

Becoming a mommy was the biggest wake-up call I had ever had. Until three years later, when I became a mommy to an unhealthy, dead baby girl. Whoa. Another Missy came along. This Missy was sad most of the time. She struggled to conjure up new ideas. She regretted most of the decisions that brought her to that point. She blamed herself for much more than was her fault. She worried what this new mommy was doing to this little boy, who was tottering behind her everywhere she went.

Three years later I was no longer a mommy with a little boy tottering along behind. I became a kindergarten mom. That freaked me out so much, that in the same breath I became a grad student with two part-time jobs, and a myriad of obligations just to try to deal with the horrible quiet in my house. But, I settled nicely into that routine for, you guessed it, three years. Then last year, everything changed again. I graduated, stopped working, moved to the city, had a hysterectomy (changing both my attitude toward the future and my actual body), and I started to devote more time to myself than ever before. And I know this all seems great, and trust me it is, but sometimes the lack of things, things to learn, things to do, things to accomplish, makes me feel, well, eh. Because even though Missy keeps changing, there are some things that don’t change.

Missy has always been kind, empathetic, and open-minded. But Missy has also always been reactive, anxious, and diffident. Always. Through each set of changes. Through each three-year block. And those are the sort of things that don’t just go away with time. They also make changing and growing and being at the sort of crossroads that I am in now, hard to get through.

So now here I am. In what I am calling the “Eh Stage”. The “Eh Missy”. This Missy is not the most fun to be around, I’m really sorry you guys. This Missy likes to sleep longer, likes to dawdle over what to cook for dinner or what kind of scarf to buy. This Missy loathes small talk and would rather just sit silently, in her own mind, while others jabber around her, then get caught up in the middle of it. Content to do so. This Missy thinks slower, even slower than high school Missy who was always a little, tiny bit high, and certainly never understand chemistry.

But, like most things in life, it isn’t all bad. This Missy doesn’t shy away from waxing political, or making some waves in an attempt to better things for others. This Missy is finally able to admit that she needs to “think on things” before she can add value to the conversation. This Missy listens with her whole heart when someone needs an ear, she doesn’t let her mind race frantically to all her problems and responsibilities and just nod her head along occasionally. And like usual, some days are better than others.

Maybe this “Eh” stage is something you are going through too? And maybe it is because life has taken its toll on you. Maybe you find yourself in a rusty patch. Maybe the political world makes you want to vomit. Maybe you are almost 40 and freaking out (WE ALL DO, RIGHT?!) Maybe, probably, it is just a stage. A phase of life. Maybe today you feel like a brown butterfly. But maybe tomorrow you will end up all red and yellow and purple, and soaring through the humid, lovely air of Ecuador. Because really, it’s all so very temporary.

M.