Woke up this morning thinking that I’m too stressed to feel blessed. You read that right: I’m too stressed to feel blessed. My stress level is off the charts. I’m not home during a global pandemic. I’ve got my kid traveling all over, seeing people who have not been taking this pandemic seriously. The lack of masks, social distancing, and isolation here is crazy. People are totally pretending like the numbers aren’t spiking. They think wearing a mask is sufficient. What the what? I want to be back at my house, alone, ordering my groceries again. I’m scared. I’m stressed. And if you aren’t, you are not paying attention.
Don’t get me wrong I’m having a good time, occasionally. Occasionally I forget that the world is a shitbag, upside place. Occasionally I drink so much wine with my husband and best friend that I forget. Or I’m on the lake, enjoying a boat ride. Like yesterday when we rolled up at the marina to get gas and snacks. It’s called “What’s Up Dock” and it’s cute, and lively, and had all the gas, Sprite, and potato chips we needed. They also has a ton of people. People walking around aimlessly, asking about jet ski rentals, and trying on “Table Rock” t-shirts, buy one, get one free. For a split second I forgot about Covid-19. It all seemed so normal. So free. So every, other summer of my life. Then I remembered.
I saw a bumper sticker on a car coming up here: “Too Blessed to be Stressed.” I smiled and thought, wouldn’t that be nice.
Click, click. Tap, tap. Sploot.Click, click, click… These are the noises I hear at night when I am trying to fall asleep. I’ll be so close to sleep. My eyes closed, rolling back toward my brain from under my lightly pulled lids, then I will hear it. The click or the tap or the sploot. I open my eyes wide, cock my head to the side, grab hold of my husband’s sleeping arm. Do you hear that, I’ll whisper. He will respond in a snore. I’ll move my eyes toward the ceiling, imagine a squirrel scampering quickly over the layers of pine needles I haven’t willed myself to clean. It must be squirrels, I think. Then I lay my head back on my pillow, close my eyes, and try again.
I hear the noises, but the truth is, they aren’t there. They are part of a dreamlike state I get to before I fall over the cliff into dreams, into tossing and turning, sweating myself awake. The noises aren’t real, that’s why my husband doesn’t hear them, why my dogs are never jumping around barking. There is not really a click, or a tap, or a sploot. It’s all in my head.
This happens to me in times of stress. I hear things that aren’t real. Bacon sizzling in a pan. A wayward footstep. For years my doctors have blamed it on my medication. Auditory hallucinations they call it. Here, try this new pill instead. Only it isn’t the medication. The medication is doing it’s job. It is making me function all day. Allowing me to smile, even when I don’t want to. Allowing me to stay focused and motivated. But at night, when my brain is refusing to collapse into sleep, when the stress of the day catches up to me, then I’m on my own.
And all I can think right now, today as I wait to fall asleep in a cocoon of safety, my home alarm set, my husband sleeping quietly next to me, my son tucked safely in his bed, my two overly-anxious dogs at my feet, all I can think is, if I’m hearing clicks, taps, and sploots, what are other people hearing?
Yesterday I was walking around trying to figure out why I smelled burning plastic, thinking that I was probably having a stroke, when I happened by the dishwasher and realized that no, it was actually burning plastic that I was smelling because someone loaded a plastic container at the bottom of the dishwasher and it was burning. So no stroke, that’s the point here, no stroke. Then I was telling my husband and he was all, “It’s toast. They say you smell burnt toast when you’re having a stroke.” And I was all, “Bitch, you don’t know everything!” Then I huffed upstairs and Googled, “What do people smell when they are having a stroke?” and the answer is a resounding, “Toast.” But it doesn’t matter for two reasons. One, the toast thing is a myth and two, none of this has anything to do with this post.
This post is about how stressed-the-fuck-out I am, and how I have no real reason to be. So maybe there is a connection because stress causes heart problems and if I’m going out, listen, I’m probably going out that way. Just based off the amount of stored fat around my heart, and an extensive family history of heart disease. Still, what is up with all this stress? Things are actually going okay. Wasn’t it just three weeks ago where I was all, “How lucky am I to have this life?!” And now I’m all, “What the hell is wrong with my life?!”
I’ve narrowed it down to three things:
The world is a dumpster fire, upside-down, pile of steaming dog shit right now. If you ask me, it has been since 2016.
People are rude as shit to each other.
I’ve cut back on my carb intake.
That’s it. That’s all I can come up with. The problem is the first two things I can’t control, and if you’re like Patsy, my awesome therapist, then right now you’re saying to yourself, “Missy, you can’t change people.” And you’re right, but that doesn’t stop me from trying to, or desperately wanting to. I’ve read “Adult Children of Alcoholics” I know my strengths are my weaknesses. Shit, Patsy.
And honestly that’s really what I want. I want people to be nicer to people. Kids to be nicer to kids. I want all kids to be as nice as my kid, is that too much to ask?! I suppose so, my kid’s pretty fucking nice. I want all people to look at strangers and think, “Hmm, how can I connect with this person on a spiritual or human level?” Not, “I bet he’s a Republican.” Or, “I bet he doesn’t have a job.” But it seems that most people, MOST people not ALL people, are incapable of that nowadays. We’ve taken up our side of the fence post and we are not budging. But that’s not the part I’m struggling with. I’m good with my side. I know my side is the “right side of history” side and I know that I am squarely in the “Humane Middle” part.
What I’m so fucking tired of is walking this tightrope of trying to figure out which side of the fence someone else is on. Like will this person like me if I say I don’t go to church and I’m married to an Atheist? Or will this person think I’m a loser if I say, “I’m voting for anyone who isn’t Trump in 2020.” Will this person invite me to coffee if I say that I don’t work, because my husband makes enough money for me to stay at home and work on my writing? Will that person not want my kid to play with theirs if I tell them that we live far away from our families, and it’s on purpose? What if I tell people I am just meeting that I think every child should have an opportunity to experience preschool for free? Or if I leave a room when someone brings up abortion because I just so tired of having that discussion with people? I literally just want to say read my story about abortion, and shut the hell up. I’m out of steam, y’all.
So now what?
Yes, you’re right, I can control number three. So I’m going to go to Sam’s Club today, order an entire sheet cake that says, “People Mostly Suck” and I’m going to eat it alone in my car in the parking lot of Planet Fitness. Good plan.
I’m just complaining. I’ll feel better soon. Probably.
Saw this cartoon today at the New Yorker and I felt it. Felt it with all my being. I’m sure some of you are feeling this too. I’ve had four days with my husband in two weeks, and it’s bothering me. It’s bothering us both. One whole day was spent at Jackson’s Robotics competition and one whole day was spent with me in deep sadness. Sleep until noon, sulking, sadness. Dejected. Apathetic. It’s Christmastime. It’s the most wonderful time of the year, damn it, why do I not feel wonderful?!
I go back and forth with depression. One minute I think it’s the most selfish thing in the world. The way I am, the way I treat my family, the space, and time, and energy I need to feel better. Then I’m reminded that this isn’t a choice. I’m not waking up everyday saying, “Let’s make today shitty, Missy!” On the contrary. I will myself to be positive. To stay upbeat. I drink a bunch of coffee to try to stave it off. I make a to-do list. I plan a walk or a coffee with a new friend. Then something trips me up. This month it’s been my husband’s damn work schedule. It’s been having him gone in the busiest two weeks of December. It’s been him missing activities he wouldn’t normally miss. It’s been watching my son’s heart be broken when daddy has to get on a plane again. And I know, I know, this is temporary. Shit, I know. It’s a mantra I created my damn self, in a hospital bed giving birth to a dead baby. It’s temporary. This is all temporary. But Jesus it doesn’t feel like it sometimes.
December is a tough month for a lot of people. Dare I say most people? How it got this whole “Most wonderful time of the year” tag has to be some good Hallmark marketing. I mean shit. Come on you guys. We do this to ourselves. The pressure of this month is something we created. And how on Earth can you feel wonderful when there are kids without shoes walking around? And how can we feel wonderful when there are mommies and babies without food in their bellies? How can we feel wonderful when Santa doesn’t make it to whole neighborhoods? Whole schools? Whole communities? The most wonderful time of the year. Hmpf.
As you can see I’m still in the pits. The storm is still raging. I’m trying to write my way through this one, so I won’t be offended if you haven’t stuck around. I get it. Believe me. You’re looking for funny, slice-of-life shit and I’m all, “Feline AIDS is the number one killer of cats…” womp, womp, womp. Believe me, I’m looking for joy too.
Cause that’s really how we combat this time of year. The grief that sets in. The crowded stores. The parties you don’t want to attend. The people you only see once a year, for a very distinct reason. We combat it by finding, and often times manufacturing, our own joy. Maybe that’s what’s so wonderful about this time of year? Maybe it’s that all this horrendous shit is still happening, but we can somehow hit pause for one day, maybe two if we’re lucky, and pretend it isn’t happening. Maybe it’s the feeling of standing on a mountain, right when the second big snow is coming, and no one is around, and the world is completely still, and the only thing you can hear is the tap of the snow falling on the frozen ground. Maybe it’s the peace you get from that. The calm from that. From something. Maybe.
Those of us with kids, kids who still have that Christmas magic in their heart, are the luckiest ones. We are still shaken awake at six a.m. on Christmas morning with anticipating faces. We still have to run down the stairs on very little sleep, stand in awe of what Santa has brought. We still unwrap gifts in a hurry, pounce around the living room in our pajamas, make wrapping paper forts and crawl under them. Laugh. Eat chocolate for breakfast. We find our merry and bright, even just for a few hours.
Those of us fortunate enough to not work for whole weeks at a time. Those of us who can sit with our families and put big, complicated puzzles together by the fireplace, or drink wine leisurely at five p.m. on the 23rd. Those of us packing up after Christmas and hitting the road. Vacationing to see friends or family. We are the ones who can hit pause. We are the ones who understand “happiest time of the year,” and sometimes when we are down in the pits, like I am now, with no real reason except that this happens sometimes, what is coming ahead is all we have to look forward to.
A friend said to me the other day that my feelings, my emotions, and my sadness right now are all valid. She said this after I was comparing my life to people who have it much worse off. We do that, don’t we? We go, “Well, it could be worse.” Sure it could. It could also be a lot better. And it will be one day soon. And on that day we will remember this one, and we will try not to take too much for granted. Until then, let others be merry and bright, our day is coming soon.
Take care of yourself, it’s only a little longer now.
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.
It’s 5 o’clock here, in Georgia. Five a.m. to be exact. So I’m not sipping a gin and tonic on the beach. I’m in my warm, cozy bed and I’m awake and staring, once again, at the light coming from the cracks in the curtains. I do this from time to time when I’m stressed and anxious and feeling the weight of all the problems of the world on my shoulders.
Stress manifests itself in bizarre ways with me. First there is the “I can’t sleeps”, then comes the bad dreams. Eventually I wake up with a clenched jaw, clenched gut, and more recently clenched fists. The first time this happened I thought I was developing arthritis. I’d wake up at 3:00 am and my hands would ache. It would hurt at the joints, just to move them. Then one day it was my elbow. Then one day it was my knee.
A couple months later it happened again. Then again. And I started to see the trend. That’s when I realized the ways stress manifests itself into physical pains in my body.
Listen, I’m not too bright. It took me a long time to realize that stress does this. Sure people told me. Doctors told me, therapists told me, that 84-year-old woman at the Kroger check-out told me, but I didn’t listen. The stomach issues, the joint pain, the migraines and cluster headaches, the weight gain, I chalked it all up to other things. But in reality I know what it is. I just don’t know how to stop it. And that stresses me out. It’s cyclic. Duh.
So here I am. In my bed, my husband snoring peacefully along next to me, and I’m thinking about all the things I need to do. All the people I’m probably disappointing, all the ups and downs that will be my next few days, and have been my last few. And I’m warming up my hands for a new day to tackle the tasks.
Don’t get me wrong. Not all days are like this. Not all days, or weeks, or months are spent waking up at odd hours and worrying, but when they are like this, I’m glad I have an outlet to let things float out into the ether. It makes me feel less alone. Because sometimes I need reminded that I am not alone. Maybe you do too.
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.