Christmas season is upon us yet again. The tree is up, lights are twinkling, every commercial is throwing Christmas magic in our faces. And yet, no matter how much I want to, I cannot feel the magic.
Depression creeps in so very slowly, like a glacier growing at an undetectable pace, until before you know it, you are under the ice. The sky may be beautifully blue above, but you cannot see it through the cold, thick layer that covers you. Next thing you know, you realize you are frozen in place, trying to find a way to chip away at the ice that has you bound.
The last couple months have been riddled with storms of change, and although they haven’t seemed too far from the normal patterns, as I reflect back I see them with more gravity. My son became a teenager, and even my daughter, as she approaches middle school, has joined him in pulling away from me. There’s a relief in the freedom at first, a rejoice in their independence (no more butt-wiping, hooray!!!) but then the realization…your babies are growing up. It’s both an amazing blessing to watch and a grieving for the childhood giggles and innocence of the past. All of a sudden there’s no talk of the Easter Bunny, you have to bribe them to dress up for Halloween, and no one wonders if Santa Claus coming to town. You’re no longer wiping tears and patching up boo-boos, you’ve become a full-time Uber driver and screen-time police and social coordinator. The pounding of little footprints that greeted you way too early on a Saturday morning have been replaced with shouts at them to wake up because it’s almost lunch time. The Wheels on the Bus is now music that you’re not sure is appropriate for their little ears…but then you realize they aren’t so little anymore.
Amid the realization that my role of motherhood is quickly changing, my grandmother also passed away very recently. She had lived a long, healthy life, but it still hit hard. She was such a constant in our lives that was now gone. A stark reminder that life moves on, that time does not stop, that loss is a certainty. The hope of Heaven is assuring, but it still doesn’t stop the pain of our grieving.
I saw so much of myself in her, in her calm, stoic mannerisms…I couldn’t help but wonder if she had longings for more as I often do. Did she have more to say beneath her quiet demeanor? Was she so accommodating and easy that she denied herself fulfillment of her dreams? It seems unkind to ponder these things now that she’s gone, but it also comes at me like an opportunity or a calling. My grandmother always recognized and encouraged my creative gifts…and it’s clear more than ever that her visions for me were partly an extension of her own dreams. I found myself thinking more and more about the twilight of my own life. Would I be haunted by unfulfilled dreams? By talents unused and taken for granted? Within the sadness of my grandmothers passing is the hidden gift of conviction and clarity; this is our one and only life.
Oh, 43 years. Right smack in the middle of life. A place that is settling yet terrifying at the same time. More sure of who I am, but unsure of where I’m going. Feeling right on time yet past due. Grasping for a changing purpose, constantly reminding myself to yield to the change and not fight it. Not to strive but to surrender. But the ice feels oh so thick.
My anxiety has climbed back into the front seat of my life, despite my attempts to banish it. I’ve found myself doubting my capability, especially when driving. Almost daily I find myself paralyzed behind the wheel, wondering how I can make it down the street. The discouragement, shame and anger that follows has slowly led me to a place of dispair. The voices of defeat have been so, so loud. You are not capable of driving without fear, so how can you be a good parent? How will you keep your family safe? How will you function? How will you hide this from people? How can you live like this???
Oh that last question. That last one is where the despair rings loudest.
Most discouraging is that I have seen victory over all this. I have done the work, years and years of counseling and medication and spiritual warfare have led me to the mountaintop, but I was so wrapped up in celebrating that I didn’t even notice all the other mountains surrounding me. Just because you reach victory doesn’t mean you won’t ever set foot in the valley again.
But I’ve beat this! I’ve fixed it! I’ve learned to control it! I’ve tamed the monster!
But I…but I…me, me, me.
How foolish to think that I alone can control this life. That I’m immune to suffering and change. How much I’ve been clinging to victory that pride had unknowingly taken the place of gratefulness. How hard I’ve been on myself lately to think that this means I’ve failed at life and there’s no way out. Despair came calling and I just let it right in, self-pity wrapped me up and carried me right off…feeling unloved, unneeded, incapable. Like there is only one choice…victory or nothing.
Sometimes we spend so much time fighting that we forget how beloved we are. We are battered and bruised and covered in scars. We find ourselves weary and tired, just needing to be held. Needing complete rest. So we put down our weapons for a bit and decide to crawl up into the loving arms of our Savior. We let the tears flow and find the permission to let it all go. It’s okay, sweet child…it’s okay. You are loved. You are forgiven. You are capable. You are never alone.
Oh beautiful, sweet grace.
We fall short and we underperform and doubt and fear and fail over and over again. And despite it all, we are utterly and completely loved.
Lord, forgive me. For I have put my ways before yours. I’ve given the enemy a foothold in my life that isn’t deserved. I’ve forgotten your truths about me, forgotten my position in the kingdom. I’ve forgotten my posture of surrender. Remind me who I am. Remind me of my belovedness. Amen.
I hear the ice start to crack, the sunlight peeking through with radiant warmth. Droplets of water slowly form, melting ever so slowly, but with oh so much promise.
As excited as I was to take some time off from the normal day to day and get down to the Georgia coast, I was pretty dang excited this morning dropping my kiddos back off at school. Grass is always greener, they say!
I have to bring awareness to the fact, however, that my anxiety levels have been heightened as of late. I’ve noticed the soundtrack in my head becoming stuck on the old what if and oh no and get me out of here more than I have in a while. Old triggers have been more noticeable and louder in the past month or so.
Of course I’ve been ruminating over why…but the sad truth is that the wild goose chase may not ever lead anywhere. Hormones? Stress? Diet? I mean, you could run yourself into the ground.
I did know that I had a long drive to make, and I was doubting myself pretty heavily.
I know I’ve mentioned that the way we think has a direct impact on our anxiety levels, among others factors. The truth was, the doubt and fear were starting to gain momentum on the feedback loop in my brain. This negative thought pattern sets us up for the perfect breeding ground for anxiety to grow.
The drive down was tough. The endless lanes of Atlanta’s interstates bearing the morning load of traffic was overwhelming. I squirmed in my seat and fought through it, although waves of disappointment and discouragement accompanied my endurance.
I’ve been doing so good! Why am I taking a step back? Am I falling back into my old ways?
Just like that, the lies began to try to persuade truth into my life. It’s amazing how powerful your thought life can be. The tiniest idea can manifest into a whole identity-stealing concept before you can blink.
After we arrived, I was mentally exhausted. That was hard, I mentioned to my mom without much detail. I kept going back and analyzing the failures of my drive, like it was some judged performance, although it was me who was the lone judge in this competition. I had the hardest time shaking off the worry that I was re-entering the dark pit of debilitating anxiety.
Sadly, ruminating on the negative has completely overshadowed the fact that I still successfully made the drive. I tackled Atlanta morning rush hour (which is no small feat…um, hello 16 LANES!!!), managed two children and a dog, fed everyone, made the necessary bathroom stops, all while making pretty darn good time. From an accomplishment stand point, I should be thrilled! Especially knowing that a handful of years ago, driving on the interstate with my children was my number one fear.
Hold up…I conquered my number one fear!!! How could I forget how awesome that is?!
It’s funny how you can desperately wish for an outcome for so long, and once you achieve it, there’s a point that the euphoria of success tapers off, and you begin to assimilate that once impossible task back into daily life. It just becomes normal. You try to remember why you struggled so much to do something that barely phases you anymore. It’s almost as if the anxiety never robbed you of all those years in the first place.
Until years later, when you receive an uninvited visitor.
Hey girl, haaay… so it’s beena while. Why don’t we hang out anymore? I know, I know…I was a bully. But I was just trying to keep you safe, remember? I mean, you could’ve been out living your life worry-free and having fun, but who wants to risk that?! You were safe in your little cage, thanks to me. You couldn’t drive, you couldn’t get on an airplane, go to concerts or movies or crowded restaurants, I mean ugh…what a hassle that is anyway! Why don’t we go have lunch and I’ll remind you that you can have your old fear-driven, anxiety-ridden life back? Can’t we just be friends again? Puh-leeeeeease?!
Ughhhh…there she is. My a-hole brain, trying to let herself back into my life. There I was, dwelling on the disappointing flashbacks of my less–than-perfect drive, when I should’ve been celebrating an amazing accomplishment. That’s what the a-hole brain does; steals your joy and tries to erase the good thoughts from taking the proper front-row seat in your brain.
She even tries to stop me from writing, that little hussy. Distracting me and doubting my abilities with every passing hour. You don’t have time or no one wants to read that or why even bother, what’s the point?
All too often, I listen to her. Or I just get lazy and pick up a book or defer to the Netflix. But not today, dang it! If I have to pick up and finish this post every time I’m in carpool line, I’m gonna make it happen. So what if spring break was a full three weeks ago…no one said this was a race.
Anyway, so we have a great break, and guess what? I will have to drive back home at the end of it, because that’s how vacation works. Of course, I would rather stay and live at the beach forever, but that’s not really the most realistic life choice at the moment. So I prepare myself by trying to think more positively about my journey. I can listen to my podcasts! I get to sleep in my bed and take a shower in my own shower (we all know we get cleanest in our actual, own shower)! Maybe the traffic will be lighter than normalin McDonough (reality check: traffic is never light in McDonough, for some mysterious reason.)!
So I start my trek, the kiddos settle into the first of many hours of technology time (an utter delight to their eyes and my ears) and I get going on the podcasts. I love a good podcast lately, and a nice long drive is the perfect time to devote some attention to them. Most of my favorites are personal development podcasts, but I have everything from pop-culture to faith to current events to business psychology in my library. I kind of love all the things.
What I really love is a hearty, deep conversation, especially within the realm of faith, and more importantly, when my soul needs to be nurtured. Sometimes I just need a good soul hug. So I sat back and took a deep dive into a few of my favorites.
In one particular interview, the speaker was talking about calming her nerves before speaking publicly. When she prayed about it, she saw the image of a target on the back wall during her speech. It was there to remind her that God should be her primary focus, especially during difficult times; all she had to do was focus on Him to get her through her struggle.
This wasn’t a new idea to me, making God my focal point. My faith-walk has been a pivotal factor in overcoming anxiety. But sometimes I need a reminder, a wake-up call, a direct-line to hear His message.
About 10 minutes after listening to the target story, I got my message. I passed a billboard with a huge, white target symbol plastered across the front. I can’t remember what the advertisement was for (I know it wasn’t my beloved Target big-box department store), but it screamed to me, loud and clear.
I’ve got you. Keep your eyes on me. I will guide you home.
Traffic was horrible, as Atlanta traffic always is on a holiday weekend. It was coming up on hour six of my drive. The sun blared down on all 16 lanes of packed cars, reflecting off their roofs like shining scales on an enormous school of fish navigating through the current. I was weary. I wanted off the interstate, and I wanted off now.
Those are the moments that you realize you have a choice. You can succumb to the chaos of your lack of control, or you can focus on your target. You can get carried away by the endless waves of uncertainty or you can stay on course and follow Him home. Once you can let go and surrender that control, it’s smooth sailing.
I don’t remember the exact moment in that sea of traffic that the peace washed over me, or how I somehow received a boost of energy that helped me through those final 45 minutes, but I do remember my overwhelming gratefulness. I relaxed in my seat, smiled at the familiar scenery of my hometown out my window, and breezed on home.
Like I do with every blog post, I start to narrate in my head, can’t wait to run to the computer when I get the chance to share my insight. But before my fingers even make it to the keyboard, my a-hole brain quickly shows up and tries to shut it down. You’re too tired. Nobody cares. Your thoughts aren’t really worth sharing anyway.
But then…Monday. I take my daughter to tennis practice and I hear her coach say, “Focus on the target.”
Tuesday. A friend sends me a rap video on my phone (we were trying to get pumped up for our tennis match, ok?!!) and guess what’s painted on a brick wall in the background? A white target.
Wednesday at my tennis practice. We ask our coach what we are going to work on today. “Target practice,” she says.
Fine, I think. I hear you!! Keep going. Keep your focus.
Symbols have always been a huge influence in my life. I can’t explain it, but I feel it in my spirit when something I see takes on a deeper meaning. I’ve never really heard God speak to me, but I know He can communicate in so many ways. Even though my faith has grown leaps and bounds recently, I’m a skeptic at heart, and I think God knows I need these reminders to stay the course. Sometimes they are whispers and sometimes they are roars, but I know when there’s a message waiting for me. All I have to do is be willing and ready to receive it.
So here I am, reminding you to stay the course. Focus on your target. Lean into your faith and trust the way forward. Do the hard things because they will help you grow, no matter how much you want to stay where you are. You will miss the mark, over and over again. But when you hit the bullseye…that is the moment that you realize all that target practice was worth it.
We are wrapping up a work/play trip to San Diego/LA, and just boarded the plane for Denver for our third leg of our western summer adventure. We brought the kids (and even one of our favorite babysitters!) and hit up beautiful Southern California, their little eyes wide at seeing it for the first time. We definitely saw our fair share of sights!
From Sea World, Del Mar, and the San Diego Zoo…to Hollywood, Santa Monica and Beverly Hills, we soaked up the perfect SoCal weather and slept in the most amazing Air Bnb’s, thanks to my husband’s uncanny ability to find the best last-minute places. We also endured classic LA traffic, whining, fighting kids, the cluster of Opening Day at Del Mar (ok, so that was also fun and perhaps the best people watching ever!) the monstrous line at In and Out Burger, and multiple Uber drivers that didn’t speak a lick of English, but alas, such is the beauty of travel. No one got kidnapped or ended up in the hospital, so I’m calling it a success.
So now here I am, just me and the kiddos, (our first flight as a threesome without daddy) and I’m trying as usual to hold it together and relax instead of imagining going down in a flaming ball of fire because, you know, being in a plane is my happy place. Oh, and did I mention that when I boarded the plane I discovered that my husband unknowingly swiped my headphones, and after the third baby cried before take off, I was cursing that sweet man a bit excessively in my head while trying not to bang my head against the seat 6 inches in front of me. And then there’s a guy behind me that clearly needs a new iPad because he is banging on his screen with brute force, so hard that it’s shaking my seat my seat as if a toddler was kicking the crap out of it. But hey, the kiddos are knee deep in plane snacks and soda and laughing their heads off together at something, so at least some of us are having fun.
On this next leg of the trip, we are meeting up with my mom, who has finally fulfilled her dream of renting an RV and trekking across the wide open space of the west. We plan to join her for some of the journey in Wyoming before heading back to Georgia for the start of school.
Before we meet up with her, we are spending a night in Denver to catch our breath and see some family. We have some cousins there, and we are meeting up with my “real” dad, who I haven’t seen in over 20 years and who has never met his grandkids. Yep, you heard me right.
So, that’s not awkward at all.
I think I wrote some time ago about how my real dad hasn’t been in my life for quite some time, several decades passing between the time I talked to him on the phone, asking if I could invite him to my wedding (which was a no-go as I’d figured) to about a year ago when I finally got the nerve to return his surprising phone call. We have had several small-talk conversations since then, but he mentioned he would love to see us.
So here we are, about to land in Denver, me trying to explain to my children that they are about to meet a total stranger who happens to be their grandfather. Just another day in the life.
There are all sorts of reasons I could not make this happen today. All sorts of hang-ups and resentment and abandonment issues that have plagued me over the years. But as my sadness and anger and confusion has gradually settled, after I’ve realized that my love and self-worth isn’t dependent on a single person or my past, I know that forgiveness and love are the ultimate healers in any situation. In that truth, I rest assured.
Our meeting today will be brief and probably totally awkward, but it also needs to happen. All I can do is take baby steps in this journey. I must trust the process and be open to it. I will let the past stay where it needs to and focus on an amazing present and future.
Just like two wrongs don’t make a right, two hurts don’t mend a heart. But an open heart, one that takes the first step, one that chooses to forgive…that’s where the magic can truly happen.
As I lay here, minutes ticking away towards 9am, kids still snoozing away in silence, I realize how much we have really settled in to our summer groove.
At the end of May, when everyone is coming down from that tornado of end-of-year-madness, we begin gearing up for summer.
What trips are y’all taking? Are you doing any camps? Swim team? Travel ball? Plans, plans, PLANS?!!!!
All of a sudden I’m plunged back into scramble mode. Desperately feeling like I should have every week plotted and activity-filled. I’m googling camps and scheduling play dates and travel planning like a crazy woman.
Our summer started out with a bang. The day after school ended, we ran off to the cabin, straight down to the beach, and then flew off to Chicago. We did have a lot of adventures, made countless memories. But somewhere during all that traveling, my body just needed to stop.
I drove home from the beach, which is still a huge feat in itself, knowing I had a little over 12 hours before I had to turn around and leave again. I flung open the door and literally made a beeline for the bed. My body ached for sleep. The hundred-mile-an-hour, action-packed summer I was so excited about was already exhausting me.
Then my son really drove it home when he turned to me sweetly and said, “Can we just have a week where we don’t go anywhere?”
All my fretting over having enough to do over the summer, and my nine-year-old had to spell it out for me: I just want to do nothing!
Of course he didn’t actually want to do nothing, but I understood. He wanted a chance to be still, to stay home and catch his breath. He didn’t want camps and activities and agenda shoved down his throat like he had during the school year. He didn’t want to spend hours in a car strapped into a seat. He just wanted space and freedomand stillness.
Isn’t that what we all want?
So we did just that. We came home and got some much-needed rest. Yes, we still had chores and errands to do here and there, the kids both spent a week away at camp, and we have another trip or two planned. But we have spaced them out better so we can fully embrace our summer rhythm. We have plenty of nothing days in-between.
Sometimes we aren’t dressed until noon.
Sometimes we have popsicles 4 times a day.
Sometimes we have cookies for breakfast and cereal for dinner.
Sometimes (okay, a lot of the time) the pool counts as bath time.
Sometimes we watch tv for hours.
Sometimes we forget to wear shoes for a whole day.
Sometimes our only outing is to get gas station ice cream.
Sometimes there’s literally nothing to do.
But sometimes, doing nothing is EVERYTHING.
Don’t be afraid of having nothing to do this summer. I admit that I was. I feared every small hole in our agenda. But as I settle in to summer, I’m realizing how much this quiet rhythm soothes my soul. How being bored can actually breed creativity. How slowing down is my love language.
I still haven’t heard a peep from my sleeping children, and that’s a beautiful thing. These sweet days won’t last forever. But soon enough, I’ll hear those thundering little footsteps coming my way, and when they come jump on my bed for their morning hugs, they’ll ask me what we are doing today.
I hesitated to write this post at first, but as I shuffled around speed-cleaning the house, the thoughts kept bubbling up, the words wanting to burst out of my head. So here I am, typing away instead of weeding through my children’s clothes to find the things they’ve outgrown (like I had planned). But as I’ve learned in my renewed love affair with writing, you can’t ignore a surge of inspiration. Poor Jack may end up sporting a crop top when he goes to put on that 4T shirt later, but at least I managed to purge my thoughts.
I’d been thinking about a phrase I’ve used lately, and frankly, too infrequently in the past. It’s a bit off the cuff, especially for me (a generally straight-laced, mild-mannered individual), but if something works for you, you go with it.
My husband had an outpatient procedure the other day that I had to accompany him to, and was also required to drive him home from. The hospital is a good distance from us, so I anticipated having to take the interstate home. I tried to avoid circling my thoughts around this too much, reminding myself that I’ve been successful lately with my highway driving, so this would be no different, right?
Two things that worried me, however; it was 8:30 am, smack in the middle of morning rush hour in metro Atlanta, and I had an adult passenger. Sure, it was just my husband. But much of my driving anxiety started with him as a passenger, so there are some pretty deep associations present when he’s in the car. Poor guy, he thinks it’s all his fault. Anyway, I briefly toyed with the idea of taking the back roads, but we had been up since 5 am, and we were ready to get home. So I put myself on auto pilot and headed for the highway.
I haven’t touched much on my social anxiety, but it plays a big factor in how my other anxieties and phobias are affected. As a people-pleaser and chronic “nice” person, you constantly worry about what other people think of you. You would rather die than ever burden anyone with your issues, so you bury your emotions. You constantly crave acceptance, so you only want to show the most acceptable side of yourself. All of this “acting” and pressure to be perfect can further contribute to anxiety by blocking any and all outlets of stress relived by showing genuine emotion. I am constantly putting pressure on myself not to fail (although I’ve drastically improved at this lately) by avoiding my real feelings and hiding behind this perception of having it all together. The “fear of man”, that I have referenced in an earlier post, carries an uneven, unhealthy amount of weight in my life.
When I’m worried about trying to drive without having a panic attack, and then you throw the social anxiety on top of it, you end up with a Double Stuff Oreo of anxiety. Not sure if this is the best metaphor, as I love me some Double Stuff Oreos. So maybe an over-flowing trash can of anxiety? Whatever works here.
Anyway, I’m driving along for a bit, while my husband is in a post-anesthetic coma but managing to make work calls, and all of a sudden, I start to feel my chest tightening up. When you start to panic, you can feel as if you don’t have enough air (this can eventually lead to hyperventilating, which ironically, is the effect of taking in too much air), and I falsely sense the oxygen thinning. I deepen my breaths and try to let the calm wash over me. I start to notice the alarming amount of cars around me, and my body stiffens at the thought of being trapped. I hang out in the far right lane for a while, giving myself an exit strategy just in case I need to pull over. I don’t worry much anymore about having to pull over with my husband in the car, as I’ve done it many times with him in the past and he has learned to be understanding. But I still have my pride, and I force myself to push through this impulse, knowing that I’ve faced this challenge before. Still, with every approaching exit sign I have the urge to give up, to take the comfortable route. My thoughts are circling again, the doubt is surfacing. My body is stiff, my chest is tight, I struggle to get enough air in, or so it feels.
Am I going too slow? Are people getting annoyed with me? Can I pass this person or will I panic if I’m in the middle lane? Will my husband be disappointed if I exit now? Will I be disappointed? Can I make it home?
Worry. Doubt. Fear.
I feel the words in my head causing physical symptoms in my body. The pressure to please. The lies of fear. The dialogue with my a-hole brain that has held me back from a full life…from freedom.
Then I remember; I have the power. It’s within me. I can talk back to my a-hole brain. It will not control me. So I fire back at it.
Who gives a shit?
You laugh, I know. This is not how I usually talk. But this is how I should talk to my a-hole brain. I mentioned in an earlier post that I needed to talk to myself more like a friend, but my a-hole brain is not my friend. It is an intruder, an annoying, trouble making creep who’s taken up residence in my brain. I spend so much energy being nice to everyone around me, but I cannot keep being nice to the a-hole. I can’t keep entertaining its thoughts and resume a passive stance.
I say this phrase silently, in my head. As soon as the words take over, the fear melts away, almost instantly.
I’m driving too slow and this might annoy people. So what?
I might panic if I switch lanes. Who cares?
I might disappoint others or myself. Who gives a shit?!!
I hardly ever curse. Not that I’m against people who do, it’s just not my thing. Unless I’m trying to learn a new sport. Then you might happen to hear a few choice words. The first time I tried to ski with my husband (who is one if those natural athlete-type people and therefore infuriating to the athletically challenged, like myself) I cursed like a sailor and at one point proceeded to throw a ski pole. But cursing at fear and doubt can be incredibly powerful, not to mention therapeutic.
I know some of you are like, this is how I think all the time, no big deal. To you I say, more power to you. Way to be resilient and confident and unaffected by the messiness of life. Not that you don’t care, but you know when to say when. You know when to stand up for yourself. For those of you like me, who care too much, who worry about everything, who can’t imagine upsetting anyone, we need some more curse words in our lives. Just stick them in your back pocket and pull them out when the too much is starting to paralyze you. Don’t feel bad about it. Don’t think you are disappointing anyone by using the power of a word. Okay, so do use your best judgment here, of course, but when talking to yourself, let it go. No one is in your head but you. You won’t offend a soul by silently cussing out the thoughts that shouldn’t be there in the first place. Go to town, my friend.
It’s truly amazing, the power of words. Words can knock you down, but just as quickly build you back up. They can hurt but they can heal. When weakness envelopes you and fear tries to trick you into imminent failure, reach into that back pocket and pull out the words that will fight back. It doesn’t have to be anything dramatic, of course. You may simply shout NO!!! STOP! when defeating thoughts begin to surface. Whatever works for you.
Of course, one of the most important things I’ve learned on my journey with anxiety and panic, is that you don’t want to stop the actual attack. When panic is coming on, it’s important to let it come, and not try to stop the actual event of a panic attack. Thinking you can stop a panic attack, and desperately trying to stop it, has the counter-effect of making it worse and more intense. But changing our thoughts in the moment is the key here.
For example, if I’m riding along worrying about a handful of things while driving on the highway in a heightened state of sensitivity, there’s a huge difference in saying “No, I cannot panic. Please don’t panic. I’m so scared that I will have a panic attack. Oh no, here it comes!!” and “Who cares if I panic? Here comes a wave of panic now. I will be just fine. It will be uncomfortable and I don’t like it, but who gives a shit? It will pass and life will go on. No one cares if I panic.” Can you pick out the better way to talk to yourself in an anxious situation? Which one is more forgiving? Which one gives you room to breathe and let go?
In the past when I would start to panic and freak out in front of my husband, he would tell me to “ride the wave”. Of course, at the time I would just get mad at him and tell him he didn’t understand. As it turns out, however, he was right (cue eye-roll). The wave of panic will come, and like any wave, you cannot stop it. It has to gradually grow, crest, and break. To prepare for this, we must learn the best way to ride the wave of panic. It will be uncomfortable, unpredictable and hard to control, but we can do our best to steady our boards and ride it out until the water eventually becomes smooth again. More waves will come, yes, and some will be bigger than others. We may be scared and unsure. But we become better riders with practice. We learn to lean into the waves and our ride becomes smoother. We are better prepared if we get tossed into the surf. We ride it out and know that eventually we will reach the safety of the shore.
It takes so much practice. That’s the scary part, starting the practice. But it can make all the difference. Don’t give your fears too much material to work with. Belittle them and they will slowly fade away. If you don’t care about them, they won’t care either. Neglect your fears and they will not survive. Don’t let them back you into a corner; just walk right past those fears and don’t give them a second glance.
I hope you care enough about yourself to not give a shit. Not when it comes to believing the lies fear throws at us. Not when our thoughts make us think less of who we are. You are too important to put up with that.
What will you say to your fear? I hope whatever it is, it’s not very nice. Frankly, I hope it has something to do with going to hell.
Okay, you can wash my mouth out now.
The soap may taste bad, but the freedom tastes oh so good.
I haven’t blogged as near as much as I’ve wanted to, and besides lack of time (or reaching for the glass and wine and a blanket instead of the laptop) there’s really no good reason not to be writing more frequently. I’m beginning to think, however, that this pesky little perfectionist in me may have something to do with it.
I keep waiting for the perfect thing to write about, edit it a hundred times, and then finally put it out there. When it’s perfect. Didn’t I promise transparency, though? Didn’t I tell you to give yourself grace and embrace your imperfections? Looks like I need to start taking my own advice.
I started following a blog recently, and the author posted a new goal of trying to blog everyday. Everyday! I can barely put make-up on everyday. Today I didn’t even get dressed until almost 11am (not that I wasn’t super productive though…it’s amazing how many household chores you can get done in your pj’s! And thank goodness no one can see my glorious outfits in morning carpool line!!).
I’ve accomplished some pretty noteworthy things in the past few months, and I have hardly written a thing about them. Why?! Part of me thinks no one really wants to read about it. That’s the other pesky friend in my head, the low self-worth one. She’s just hanging out up there with little Miss Perfect, having a cocktail and scheming away and how to rob me of a full, content life. Sorry ladies, time for last call.
In the spirit of celebrating my accomplishments, I am determined to write about my drive yesterday. I took the longest drive with the kids I’ve ever done…7 hours from Destin to Kennesaw by myself. BY MYSELF!!!!! As I traversed those long, seemingly endless stretches of highway, I thought, I need to blog about this! Yet those snarky frenemies in my head started inflicting doubt. It’s just a boring drive. Why would people want to read about that? People drive all the time. They don’t want to read about it.
So I didn’t take to the keyboard, although I was fresh off reaching this huge goal and teeming with disbelief and pride. It was partially out of pure exhaustion that I failed to capture the moment in words…I’d driven the farthest I had been in about 10 years, and I stillhad to unpack and put the kids to bed without a husband. The wine and cozy blanket were the clear winners.
Here I am though. I’m going to write about this, damn it! Sure, my kids are yelling at me from downstairs and I should be starting dinner, but they will survive a few more measly minutes. I can at least get started and stop if they start beating each other up. Clock is ticking.
While I ruminated on whether anyone would want to read about a boring drive home from the beach, I had a thought. When I first started grappling with this anxious driving business, I was desperate for answers, advice…anything to proove that I wasn’t alone in this. Enter the smart phone. I Googled driving anxiety, then searched and searched for someone with a similar story. There were some forums here and there, some technical psychology sites, links to this and that; I did read some snip-its of similar experiences, but nothing that I could really connect with. I ended up finding an anxiety Facebook group, so I put a couple of posts out there and waited. I needed support and reassurance. The most poignant response I received was from a woman who had just started driving on the highway again, after 20 years. In my reply, I remember asking her how she did it? She mentioned that it took a great support group and lots of courage. That’s one of the trickiest parts of recovering from the grips of paralyzing fear…there’s no clear answer. No one size fits all. But we crave a sense of community, a support group of our own, for whatever we may need. We cannot do it alone.
This is why I write. Because maybe there’s that one person, who was like me 6 or 7 years ago, desperately searching for a common thread, for a link to a glimmer of hope. Someone out there needs me. More than likely, it’s several someones.
Back to the drive. I have said for years, one day I want to be able to drive my kids to the beach. It has been a goal for so, so long. I really am still in disbelief that I actually did it. I’m like that though, slow to react; I kind of go into shock until reality sets in. Anyway, the opportunity kind of just presented itself unexpectedly.
We took a family trip down to Ft. Walton Beach, right outside of Destin, FL. I was so excited that Jason could finally join us; he is so hard to pin down with his work schedule. When we arrived I realized that it was booked until Monday, and we had planned to come back Sunday. By the time Saturday evening rolled around, Jason made a suggestion; what if he flew home (he had an international flight he had to catch the next day) and I drove the kids home? Then we could stay an extra day.
Could you do it? he asked.
This is where the fear wants to control you. You hesitate, you start to make excuses, you try to find every reason not to face your fear. Jack has school. I really miss my bed. I don’t know if the kids can ingest another meal of popcorn shrimp. But I knew better. Here was an opportunity. Not only to extend our wonderful, priceless family time, but to practice. To take the fear head on. I did not pause for long this time.
Yes! Challenge accepted. Was I really going to do it? Then Jason went ahead and booked his flight. It was done. I was in.
Surprisingly, I wasn’t even that worried. Usually, the anticipatory anxiety would fester and build until I was a hot mess of nerves. But we just enjoyed our last day of glorious beach vacation time, sipped frozen drinks while our kids played in the pool (side note: the day when both your children can swim unassisted in a pool is AH-MAZING!!!), Jason flew out, I enjoyed another frozen pool drink, we watched the sunset from the beach, swam until dark, ordered a pizza, and called it a day. I even slept like a rock. It wasn’t until the next day that my nerves started acting up on me.
Looking back, I think that packing the entire condo up into the truck while you are alone with two kids and a dog was maybe more annoying than the entire drive, but thanks to the trusty old iPads, I got the job done. So we all strapped into the F150 (Jason’s car, since mine was at home) and I started taking deep breaths. This is it. I have to do this.
I find necessity to be a very helpful motivator. There was only one way home, and I was it. But I was nervous. I adjusted my seat belt. I entered the address in Google Maps and dissected each possible route. I ate a protein bar. Mom, I’m ready to go! My son was clearly not in the mood for stall tactics. Time to go.
I decided to take a different way then how we came in, really only for old time’s sake. Back in high school and college I could drive to Destin with my eyes closed, we came down so many times. I can still see myself, driving in my white ’88 Honda Accord, windows down, music blasting, usually a best friend or two riding along. I used to put the car in cruise control and drive Indian-style, for goodness sakes. Please Lord don’t let my kids ever do that. There were no smart phones, no navigation systems; it was just me, a road atlas and a Sony Walkman CD player that would play through the stereo via cassette tape. Free as a bird (and probably listening to Free Bird).
So I started on the route, reminiscing over familiar sights and smells, noticing changes here and there, but mostly enjoying the scenery.
Until I came to the bridge.
The Mid-Bay Bridge seemed familiar, I’m pretty sure this was the route we used to take into Destin back in the day. These days, however, bridges are not my friend. As part of my anxiety I suffer from agoraphobia, which is a fear of being trapped or stuck in an enclosed space. A bridge leaves no room for error. I must maintain complete control and competence on a bridge.
There was a girl in college with me that was deathly afraid of bridges. I was with her once when she had to cross a bridge, and people had to literally hold her hand to help her across. I remember thinking that was crazy. How could you be scared of a bridge? I know now. I think of her all the time. Crazy how things can change.
I glance at the navigation map…wow, that’s a long bridge. I must maintain myself for how long? The impulsive thoughts come quickly…should I turn around? Should I reroute? Can I pull over if I need to? Can I do this?!
Yes. I can do this.
It is not a walk in the park. I take deep breaths. I try to control the AC so that it’s just perfect. I prepare to be uncomfortable. And then…I’m driving over the bridge. Guess what? I just go with it. Then, I turn the moment from dread into complete wonderment.
Look at the water guys! (They are engrossed in the iPads at this point) Put your iPads down!!! Look at the sailboat! Look at that pelican on the pole! Say goodbye to the ocean, guys!
This is the good stuff. The good that is happening in the moment. I declare the goodness out loud, and flush away the negative. Then, just like that, we are over the bridge.
Getting over that bridge seemed to be the push I needed to make it through the rest of the trip. After that, it was smooth sailing. The small highways didn’t look all that familiar; I’m pretty sure there were some new ones built in the 15 years since I’d driven down here. There were some pretty sketchy, remote areas (at one point the road didn’t even register on the map), but most of the route was straightforward. In the past I never had anxiety about being lost; I always considered myself having a decent sense of direction. We drove through a couple of rain storms, had to let the dog out to pee on the side of the road, then Jack had to go (which resulted in stepping in an ant hill, which he was quick to brush off, but then decided he would stick it to the ants by peeing on them). We hit up two Love’s truck stops (which were eerily similar and packed with way too many tempting kids toys), stuffed our faces with McDonalds and Pringles. We listened to Katy Perry on repeat (per Allie’s request) and laughed at Bear when he got his head stuck in the Happy Meal box scavenging for rogue french fries. Jack had a timer set on his phone to track how long it would take us to get home, but he still kept asking.
Mama, how many minutes are in 2 1/2 hours?? After many appeasing answers, I finally responded with, I can’t do math in the car.
We actually had a decent time. The kids were great. Again, thank you Apple. We had a lot of laughs. I had a lot of time to think. I sang a lot of Katy Perry. But what I didn’t have a lot of, was fear.
Every mile, every second, every hour, was another step. A step towards freedom. I was building on this experience and coming out stronger because of it.
I did stall again, however, as I approached I-85. What had been simple, two lane divided highways for most of the trip were bound to end once we inched closer to downtown Atlanta. I stopped at the end of the smaller route 185 to get gas, clean out the car, let the dog pee…putting off the inevitable. Unless I wanted to add an extra couple of hours to the trip, I had to push on.
So on I went. The kids were getting a bit antsy into hour 6, and I couldn’t blame them. More motivation to take the fastest route…and the most intimidating. Three lanes turned into four, five, and finally I was in the middle of the eight lane connector. This was the stuff I had only reserved for my nightmares, and all of a sudden I was slap in the middle of it. But I was calm. I had to work at it, but I remained that way. As I hit rush-hour traffic in downtown (fabulous timing, I know), I realized that I could hop over to the HOV lane (yes, I Googled it and kids do count), but it was all the way over to the left. Much like the bridge I had feared earlier, the left lane is not my friend either. But I was ready to get through this as fast as I could if it meant getting home quicker. So over I went.
I got some dirty looks (at one point I rolled the windows down so the kids were a bit more visible), but the HOV lane sped my commute up immensely. Next thing you know, I’m on 75 north, cruising with the rush hour crowd like it’s no big deal. I got this. I pull in the driveway and want to kiss the ground. Home. I’m exhausted. The car smells like stinky dog, sweaty kids and chicken nuggets. But we made it. I did it.
If the me from 6 years ago could read this, I’d be in shock. I wouldn’t believe it. It would be impossible to fast-forward through years of crippling fear and doubt to realize that a moment like this could exist. But what that younger, more fearful, broken me would see, is that there is hope. That fear does not win in the end. The the steps are small and painfully slow. Sometimes there will even be steps backwards, but there is hope in the end. There is always hope. No one can get you there but yourself, but you also cannot do it alone.
I met with a friend not long ago who specializes in natural healing and helps patients with anxiety, and had overcome it herself. As I explained the many outlets and paths I had been taking to find an answer somewhere out in the universe, she said something that will always resonate with me.
The answer is in YOU. You have everything you need right there, inside you.
I finally believe her. I knew she was right, even then, but like all things in life, sometimes it takes the gift of time and wisdom to see what’s right in front of us…what’s been within reach the entire time. One day, I promise, you will be able to just reach up and grab it. And when you do, hold on. Hold on tight.
And by all means, freaking celebrate it.
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It was a great one. We soaked up the sun, swam our hearts out, and ate our weight in popsicles. We had a blast at the beach, made memories in the mountains and out on the lake. We hit the water parks, museums and movies. The summer was hot, fast and magical.
I also can’t believe that I only blogged ONE time all summer.
Although as I mentioned in my last post, I take that as a pretty good sign. Instead of blogging away at night, drenched in fear, I was pretty relaxed. I was doing things I hadn’t done in forever, like actually reading whole books and watching TV (seriously y’all, I hardly ever watch TV anymore. It’s a steady diet of smart phone news and Facebook). It was a nice break. Of course, I’m obsessed with the summer Olympics, so now there’s more TV. I can’t think of a bigger oxymoron than watching the best athletes in the world sweat it out while I lay completely still and horizontal under my blanket on the couch. If only they gave gold medals for best blanket-wearer. I’d definitely be on the podium.
Anyway, I did accomplish some big things over the summer in terms of anxiety. I drove up to Cashiers, NC with the kids and my sister in the car, which was huge for me. Granted, it wasn’t a ginormous interstate, rather a series of small highways and crazy mountain roads. It was super uncomfortable and mentally exhausting, but I made it. The more I pushed through the discomfort and just maintained, the better I felt. Although having an adult passenger in the car makes driving harder, since the social anxiety kicks in and amplifies everything.
What if I start panicking in front of this person? Or have to pull over to calm down? What will they think of me?! How embarrassing!
It helped so much that my sister knows all about my issues, but it’s still not something that I’m comfortable with. And I was following my mom and grandmother in their car, which added even more pressure. I did have to finally pull over on the side of that curvy mountain road (at the ever convenient scenic lookout) to take a stretch and a brain break, something my first counselor taught me. Sometimes it helps to just stop and hit the reset button. Although when you’re driving it’s not practical to stop very often, especially when you have passengers. But eventually I made it, and had an incredible vacation, so mission accomplished. Another tiny taste of freedom.
Lately, I’ve been driving on the interstates more frequently, and have been able to stay on for an extended amount of time. This hasn’t happened in years. If I ever did get up the nerve to get on the highway, I’d usually only make it one exit. Going for more than one exit was such a scary idea; as soon as I passed the first exit I would automatically panic at the idea of being trappeduntil the next exit. If there was more than a mile between exits, it was game over. I became flooded with panic. Looking back I can’t believe how catastrophic this idea seemed. There is still a small impulse to pull off when I see an exit approaching, but it’s nowhere near the level of doom that I previously felt.
One of the biggest differences I’ve noticed when I practice highway driving is the decreased level of anticipatory anxiety. Back in April, when I really started tackling this thing head-on, just thinking about having to get on the highway made me shutter. I would work myself into a total frenzy from the time I left my house until I reached the entrance ramp. My nerves would just fester and burn until they were about to explode. I anticipated the worst scenarios possible; having a panic attack on the highway, losing control and crashing, injuring my children. Because of these twisted thoughts my brain totally rejected the idea of getting onto the highway at all, and this also caused physical sensations that would worsen the more I worried. Trying to control a car when your skin is crawling with discomfort and you feel like you’re having a heart attack is not exactly a good time. But after numerous practice sessions, the nerves are starting to settle. The purpose of exposure practice is to desensitize the brain and to re-train the thought patterns of fear. Ever so slowly, I’m beginning to regain control over my a-hole brain by proving it wrong.
Hey a-hole brain? Look at me! I’m driving on the highway and I’m not crashing. You were wrong. Nah-nah-nah-nah-nah!
Fear is such a liar.
So now when I choose to practice highway driving, I just get on and go without much of a thought. There’s still lots of discomfort and doubt, but the voice of fear isn’t quite as loud. Sure, the actual decision to practice is still a tough one, and maintaining a calm journey is extremely difficult, but I’m taking it nice and slow. Baby steps. Plenty of grace. I’m not ready to head down I-75 with the kids to the beach, but it’s on my to-do list.
Although the voice of fear was relatively quiet this summer, today it decided to turn itself up a notch. Up there with that fear was an equal amount of self doubt. I always try to pinpoint reasons for an increase in my doubts, but the truth is my self esteem issues run deep. I’ve always struggled with my self worth, to the point that it’s shaped much of who I am. Again, I can’t point to a specific cause of this generalization, but I recognize it as a lie. It’s just a lie that I have a hard time unbelieving.
The way we talk to ourselves is so automatic that it’s hard to tune into, let alone change. For different reasons, our genes and our environment shape our subconscious thoughts from the moment we are born. I’ve spent many years in talk therapy and I’ve come to the realization that I will never be able to trace back to a specific reason that I talk to myself the way I do, and there’s no one thing in my past to blame for the onset of panic disorder. Mental health is so, so complicated and such a conglomerate of factors, that the search to pinpoint a cause or find a cure is enough to drive you mad. In fact, I will never be completely cured. Similar to a recovering alcoholic, there’s always a chance that I will fall back into my old ways. It’s something that I will have to manage for the rest of my life.
Most people who suffer with anxiety or depression tend to have distorted thought patterns that end up leading them down this road. David D. Burns, author of The Feeling Good Handbook, uses the idea of cognitive distortions to treat his patients.Psychiatrist Aaron T. Beck was the originator of this idea, and Dr. Burns continued to research the concept and has even developed methods to alleviate negative thought patterns.
Cognitive Distortions are exaggerated or irrational thought patterns that are believed to perpetuate the effects of psychopathological states, especially depression and anxiety.
I tried to read Feeling Good. I really did. Heck, I may even pick it up tonight and try to get back into it. It’s a great resource. But it’s long and technical; there are charts and daily assignments and at some point my ADD kicks in and tells me to put it down and see what everyone is up to on Facebook.
He does, however, have a great method for getting rid of thought distortions. You have to chart your daily thoughts (specifically during anxious or depressive episodes) and trace them back to categories of thought distortion. It’s kind of like untying a knot in your negative thoughts by figuring out what distortions makes you think a certain way. Once you can straighten out your thoughts by disproving the distortion, you can recreate the thought in a positive, more constructive manner. This takes a lot of work, mind you. But if you really want to get down to the root of your problem, this is a highly successful way to do it.
I want to at least give you the list of cognitive distortions for reference purposes. I love this version of it:
When I first saw this list, I realized how many of my thoughts were distorted. It had become second nature to me to think like this for most of my life. I’ve been handed this list by many a therapist and psychologist, but I appreciate how this one includes pictures to help you remember easier. It’s like Cognitive Distortions for Dummies. There are many other lists online; feel free to search for the one that is easiest for you to understand.
Dr. Burns suggests that the way to “untwist” your negative thoughts is by keeping a Daily Mood Log, to track your thought patterns and assign them to one or more of the cognitive distortions. I also like this list of simple ways to examine negative thoughts:
The power of thought is amazing. The notion that a simple thought can shape your mood, your behavior, and your entire life is not to be taken for granted. The longer you’ve lived with distorted thoughts, the harder it is to unravel them. But it is possible. I am seeing the results ever so slowly.
In other news, I did make a few more noteworthy accomplishments this summer. I made it to the top of the lighthouse while on vacation in Saint Simons Island…man, if that wasn’t a hot, seemingly endless, claustrophobic journey. I drove up I-75 to the Tellus museum, and again on the way home, with my daughter in the car. And just today, I crawled through the penguin tunnel at the Georgia Aquarium. THE FREAKING PENGUIN TUNNEL! Have you been in that thing? It’s like two feet tall in there! But the smile on Allie’s face when I lifted her up and she saw herself surrounded by all those adorable little penguins, that just made the extra flutter of fear in my heart transform into joy. Okay, so I was also a little distracted by the two penguins that decided to mount one another right in front of me. Thank goodness Allie just found it funny that the one penguin was “jumping” on the other one. Good gravy.
To the “normal-brained” person, this list seems silly, but to me it is everything. To me it is proof that my work is paying off. Every little accomplishment gives me hope. I have so much more work in front of me, but I’m motivated. I have built up quite a collection of tools to help me, and hopefully I can help a few others along the way by sharing them along with my story.
The other night I was watching (guess what?) the Olympics, and the runners were getting ready to take their marks at the starting line. I said to my husband, Can you imagine the nerves they are feeling right now? I would never be able to do that! I would pass out!
They are trained for that, he says. They spend their whole lives training for that moment. This is their moment.
No matter what the goal is, there’s a way to get there. We are all running our own race. We train for it. We practice. We put in the work, the sweat, the tears. My race does not involve gold medals or world records, but it is a race towards my freedom. Freedom from the chains of fear. I don’t need to win, necessarily, I just want to finish strong. To be able to look back, with clear, non-distorted thoughts and know that I did my best. That the fear did not break me, but propelled me forward.
I will finish this.
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Yes, that’s a guy dressed up as a Krystal’s burger. More on him later.
Despite the appreciation and love I felt over this past Mother’s Day weekend, my a-hole brain decided he missed me. He was ever so quiet, tip-toeing around in the shadows, but I saw him. That sneaky little thing. Some of those old doubts that I thought were gone and done with, made their way back into my head. The “what if” statements were becoming louder.
Then this morning, as I non-chalantly merged onto the the freeway to practice, I wasn’t feeling it. There was fear, but no adrenaline. There was a job to do, but not as much inspiration or motivation. I simply felt blah, with an undertone of over-all dread. Still, I had to practice, so I settled in for a drive.
When I first started practicing my highway driving, it was scary as hell. My anticipatory anxiety and adrenaline were through the roof. However, this made my accomplishments seem even bigger. The joy was greater. The pride was overflowing. Now, I am in a different place. A place of maintaining, of work; of just plain commitment.
I have always struggled with this. As a creative, deep-thinker, I am very driven by inspiration and emotional rewards. When I’m “not feeling it”, I struggle. When you have depression/anxiety, you really struggle to feel it sometimes. It can be the most beautiful, sunny day, and all you feel is rain. So, you have to dig deep. Which is not easy by any means.
I’ve always struggled in setting reasonable goals for myself. You need to be somewhat organized to submit a goal, something my ping-pong ball, ADHD brain is not (and yes, this low-energy girl really is diagnosed ADHD). I’m lucky if I can make a grocery list and remember to look at it. But this weekend, I remembered something important about goals.
I ran a 5K with some friends this weekend, and although I love to run, I am a sporadic runner at best. I don’t normally care about my distance and am even less aware of my time. But as I was running this race with hundreds of other people, I found myself becoming motivated to pass the people around me. They become short, attainable goals. I’d go for the guy 5 feet away, then 10 feet, then I’d try to outpace the girl next to me. These small goals propelled me all the way to the finish. My friends applauded me on my time, which turned out to be pretty good! All thanks to these small, motivational goals that helped me along the way.
This is a great way to approach managing your anxiety. You will not overcome it all in a day. As stubborn as I am, this is not easy to accept. I pride myself on my patience with most things in life, but I am not a patient learner. You should see me try to learn a new sport. Let’s just say I save all the curse words for those special times. Not pretty.
Yes, I did get on the highway and drive for many fear-laden miles, but I was hard on myself for not feeling the same sense of joy and accomplishment. The smaller the goal, the more likely you are to reach it. And if you don’t, you pick yourself up and try again tomorrow. If you do meet your goal, by golly, celebrate it! You should celebrate the fact that you got out of bed today, dag nab it! But what was I doing? Beating myself up because I didn’t achieve my goal with joy. I had forgotten that there is joy in simply reaching a goal at all.
I shared my running epiphany with my husband the other night and his little business-oriented mind lit up. “You made a SMART goal!” Why thanks, dear hubby, for thinking I’m so smart. But then he explained that it’s an acronym that helps make sure you’ve created a manageable goal.
Sounds pretty organized, right? Or you can just settle for small goals, if memorizing an acronym makes you even more anxious. But good to know, my love. This is why my husband runs a company and I do not.
Back to my current state; this is the grunt-work, the maintenance, the commitment phase. It’s like getting up to workout when you don’t feel like it. It’s doing your homework when you want to go out and play. It’s getting out of bed when you really don’t want to. This is the hard stuff.
Which brings me back to the Krystal man.
This morning on my uninspired (but successful! Goal reached=credit given!) drive, I made it up I-75 north to the city of Emerson. It’s a new, sports training development area, and there was a new Krystal’s restaurant opening up. Hence the dancing mini-cheeseburger on the side of the road. He was really busting a move, let me tell you. And guess what? That silly, dancing cheeseburger just plain made me laugh. I snapped a picture and praised him for a job well done. He wasn’t just doing his job well, he was doing his job with joy. He just as well could’ve stood there and waved. But he was dancing up a storm.
You see, the Krystal man showed me what I really needed to see at that moment; that we all have a job to do. It may not be something we enjoy. It might be hard. You might have to dress up as a cheeseburger and dance on the side of the road. But you get out there and do it.
Work will not always bring us joy. But there is joy in work. We can also do our work with joy. We can’t expect it to be a given. We have to dig deep for it sometimes.
So even on the blah days, I hope you still get out there and do the work. Practice panicking with purpose. Give yourself credit for the little things. Start achieving those small goals. Start your day with a big ole’ spoonful of grace. And when things get really hard, you’d better put on that cheeseburger suit and dance your pants off.
The day is still young, but it has already surprised me.
I went to bed too late (as a result of still navigating this blog thing!) and woke up feeling dizzy. A few days a month, I will have these “dizzy days”. Whether it’s from lack of sleep or a side-effect of medication, they generally set you up for a “bad” day. If you suffer from panic disorder, I don’t need to explain this. I know everyone has bad days, but when you have frequent panic attacks, the bad days just set you up for failure; at least in your head, anyway. Just your a-hole brain playing tricks on you again.
What a little prankster.
It was off to school as usual, 7:30am for Jack and 8:45am for Allie. I really, really didn’t want to face the day. Feeling vulnerable, uncomfortable, and generally out of control. The a-hole brain feeds on this negative feedback. I almost just kept Allie home so I could chill. Sometimes we do that just for fun…we are both home bodies, and after all it’s just preschool. But I was looking for more of an excuse; a reason not to face the day with this heightened sensitivity. Then I remembered what I had recently read in good old Dr. David’s workbook. If you want to make progress, you have to practice. Even on the “bad” days. So on we went.
While buckling my sweet, smiling girl into her car seat, a pang of profound sadness came over me. This happens sometimes when I look at my happy, joyfully fearless children. Especially Allie. She has an extra dose of fearless. It sounds contradictory to how one should feel when realizing your children are happy. But I instantly mourn for my joy. I miss the childlike joy that comes so easily to them. I try to let that go as I keep talking to my silly girl, trying to siphon her joy instead of mourning my own. The a-hole brain loves when you get self-absorbed.
So I sat through an extra-long carpool line (an occasional panic trigger) with flying colors. Kissed my sweet girl good-bye, and then knew what I needed to do. I had 3 hours to kill. It was time to practice.
Dr. David recommended an hour every day, so I would shoot for that. Time to take to the highway.
I didn’t fully go into my first full panic attack on the highway, but I will brief you. I had been experiencing waves of panic while driving on the interstate, but nothing full-blown. Enough to start the ball rolling. I had full-blown panic in other areas, but highway driving was relatively minor. I had always loved driving. It gave me such a sense of freedom. I would usually offer to drive on road trips with friends, and have even driven cross-country multiple times. These are some of my best memories.
I had been nervous off and on driving until I became pregnant with my first, Jack. My anxiety completely disappeared for the entire pregnancy. Blame it on hormones or first-pregnancy excitement, but it was great. It was postpartum that put me into a tailspin.
I think I was struggling for a while and just didn’t accept it. Don’t get me wrong, having a newborn is wonderful. But stir in an overwhelming sense of responsibility, navigating work/motherhood, and total lack of sleep, and you have a recipe for disaster. At least if you are susceptible to anxiety and panic.
When Jack was about 7 months, I was heading to Lake Oconee to my in-laws house for Labor Day weekend. We were going with a bunch of our friends, and I was excited. Granted, I was the only one with a baby, but we could still have fun, right? I drove up early to help get the place ready. Me, Jack in his infant seat, and Bear, our sweet little dog, who loves riding in the car. Friday afternoon traffic on a holiday weekend in Atlanta is never a walk in the park, but it was never an issue for me. Until that afternoon. Traffic on 285 was at a standstill, and I was smack in the middle lane. I’ll never forget how beautiful of a day it was; blue sky and abundant sunshine. Sadly, driving on days like this triggers my anxiety now, thanks to this memory. All of a sudden, I feel the wave coming on. I struggle to calm myself, grasping mentally for something to stop it. My breath quickens, my heart races, my body tenses up and tingles. I start to leave my body. Besides feeling like I’m suffocating, the disassociation is always the scariest for me. You literally feel like you aren’t in control of yourself anymore, like you are literally going crazy. When you have your precious baby boy in the backseat, this is only more agonizing. You are his mother and his protector. You feel scared not only of the attack but for not keeping your child safe. Looking back as an observer, you realize that your a-hole brain is just telling you stories. But in the moment, especially when you are unaware of the panic trick, it is absolutely horrifying.
So I call my husband, bless his heart. He is a tough love kind of guy. So he just tells me, “Babe, you can’t freak out! You’re on the highway!”. Thanks my love. My thoughts precisely. He does the best he can with me, and has learned along with me in my journey. But I think men hate when they can’t do anything to fix the problem. It’s against their “manliness” code. So I quickly say good-bye, continue freaking out, but can’t exit anywhere, so I just bear it until I reach the next exit. I pull over in a Wal-Mart parking lot and eventually calm down. My mother-in-law (who has obviously heard from my hubby) calls and I just start to cry. I do remember that the crying felt so good. Most people who suffer from panic disorder try to hold in their emotions, instead of letting it go. But in my mind, I was traumatized. Driving has never been the same since.
Well, that wasn’t nearly as brief as I meant it to be. I did make it to the lake. The rest of the trip is a blur, but I surely didn’t die because of the attack. But my emotions were so strong that the experience was tattooed on my brain and started years of avoidance in multiple driving situations. But I won’t go into all those now.
Back to this morning. Yes, I was having a bad day. Yes, I was scared. I was twitching, rolling the window down, up again, changing the music, the AC…grasping for control. The anticipatory worry was starting to sink in, but I remembered what the book said about it. Ignore the “what if” statements, and if they do enter your brain, try to humor them. Basically make fun of them. Whatever it takes to take away their power. The anticipation is way worse the the actual deed. Waiting at the stoplight to get on the ramp just plain sucks. No way around it. But it turns as all lights do, and I’m in it. No turning back.
My new friend Dr. David, in Panic Attack Workbook, stresses the idea of just letting the panic come. All your instincts tell you to fight it. I’ve been fighting it for 12 years. Until now. You are so used to fighting when a challenge arises in life, but the opposite rule applies with panic. Fighting it will make it worse. So the panic comes. I try to let it come. My sensitivity is at a level 11, but I just let it float. He talks about the AWARE method in his book, so I do that. I will post a link soon explaining this useful method. I practice my belly breathing, also something a learned in the book. I have always heard to concentrate on my breathing to calm me, but I never knew the right way to breathe. Just like that, I’m driving on the highway. It’s a momentary relief, as I realize the challenge is to maintain this for AN HOUR. I’ve always struggled with not getting off at every exit (panic sufferers tend to feel “trapped” in situations where they cannot flee) but I push past the first exit. Then another. And another. My body feels like it’s on fire, buzzing with nerves. I’m crawling out of my skin. But I’m doing it. I’m practicing. I hate it, but I have accepted it.
If you drive far enough up I-575 on a clear day, you can see the silhouette of the Blue Ridge mountains. I decide this is my goal. I float through the panic, still buzzing with awareness. But I press on. At one point I start singing and roll the window down. Positive driving memories come to mind…for a moment I’m back in high-school/college on a road trip. Relaxed and carefree. I drive a particularly long stretch of highway and actually forget to panic about how far the exits are from each other. Progress.
I round a corner, and I am almost the only one on the road. Then I see the mountains. They are more beautiful that I remember. A wave of emotion comes over me, but not panic. It’s joy. I can hardly remember the feeling of joy while driving. I revel in it.
Having reached my goal, it’s time to head back. I’ll have to pick Allie up soon. I turn around and go back, and then I remember the road construction. There are cement barriers, narrow lanes, traffic ahead. Waves of panic return. I try to remember what to do, how to let it go. It’s harder on the way back. I’m mentally grasping for control. I almost exit several times. But then I remember another tidbit from the book, when you are scared to do something, do it. There’s a super slow truck in front of me, but I am more scared in the left lane. Without thinking too much, I just do it. I switch lanes. It takes away the anticipation and gives me a much needed confidence boost. Once I am there, I challenge myself to stay there. I stay there for several miles, until I finally reach the exit leading home.
So that’s it, right? I’m cured! Hardly. This was my first day of practice, and only with driving on the highway. Yes, I’m super proud of myself, (and I even had coffee this morning!!!) and I hope the confidence will help in other situations. But I have many, many more challenges ahead.
I know many of you are just sick at your stomach even thinking about facing your fears when it comes to panic. I still am. I have so much work to do. Again, it has taken me 12 years to accept the idea of practicing. I still take meds and will need more time to think of practicing without them. Today I did it without Xanax, which was huge. I even dug into my purse for the bottle at one point. But I’m trying to teach myself that these things are just like Dumbo’s feather. He thought he needed the feather to fly, but turns out he did just fine without it.
I know you will be fine too. Good days, bad days, dizzy days…be thankful just for another day.
Wow, so that was a rough start! I wasn’t prepared for how hard it would be to find a name for this here blog. But, Phew!!!! An hour later, after trying more than a handful of quirky, cutesy names that were taken, here I am. Rerouting Life. Because “Life Rerouted” was taken. That was up there with trying to think of the perfect band name. Even though you are not even a member of a band.
Anyway, rant over. Here I am. Typing with one hand on my phone because I’m too lazy to get out of bed and get to an actual keyboard. But that’s me…comfort over practicality.
I used to write. Like, a lot. I’d fill up notebooks and notebooks of stories and poems as easily as people breathe. It was my escape, my outlet, my life line. It was one of a few things I actually took pride in. When you write a story in third grade and your teacher loves it so much she wants to read it to the class, you start to think you’re on to something. You get a little nudge in the right direction and you go with it. Plus, you LOVE it. It frees you from the dark,lonely times. It becomes a friend.
And then, life happens. The journals fill with adolescent woes and dreams. Love happens, and the pen really gets going again, but then settles down. Heart break happens, and it gets quite the workout. Then you find “the one”, and the pen feverishly jots down vows and wedding plans. You fill a honeymoon journal, and not too long after, a pregnancy journal. You write a letter to your newborn baby and fill a baby book with quotes and sweet milestones. And then, real life. You trade in your pen for a glass of wine and some “me” time staring at a tv. Your second child comes along and you can’t even find a pen to save your life.
Fast-forward a few more years and here I am. No pen needed, thanks to this snazzy technology thing. But certainly a need. As a person with self esteem just about at sea level, writing is like a super power. I always feel like it’s the real, authentic me that can’t seem to make it’s way out verbally. I am a pretty awkward, distracted, nervous person, who tries with everything in me to present the exact opposite of this, which can be a bit exhausting. To other people, I am the nicest, calmest most patient person they’ve ever met. Which assures me that I am indeed presenting myself correctly. Ok, so I do think I am genuinely a nice, good person. But calm I am not. In fact, I have this fun little thing called an Anxiety Disorder.
I almost hate to give it a title, because that gives it more power. I HATE giving it power. But anyway I have been diagnosed with Panic Disorder w/agoraphobia. Sounds scary, right? I have a mental illness…awesome. Until you accept this fact, it is pretty isolating and embarrassing. Which, it still can be, but to a lesser degree now. For example: a “normal brained” person would go about their day say, driving to work on the interstate, maybe taking a subway or a business trip on an airplane, but a person with my specific mental issue has to find another way (or take lots of anti-anxiety medication) because even thinking about doing these things scares the crap out of them, and actually being in these situations makes their body go into a physical panic attack in which they feel like they are dying. This has happened to me in grocery stores, malls, loud restaurants, movie theaters, churches, carpool lines, and on Disney World rides. And no, not like, Space Mountain, like, the Little Mermaid. Thank goodness for my Xanax on that hellish journey.
Blah, blah, poor me, yada yada sob story…I sound like another victimized soul with a chip on my shoulder. But that is not what this is about. I am a lover of life that has what my homie Glennon Doyle (of Momastery genius) calls an “a-hole brain”. It’s like there’s me, and then there’s that little part of my brain that’s trying to sabotage me. I hate, HATE my a-hole brain. Sometimes it’s louder than other times. I do like parts of my brain, really. Although she’s a bit of a distracted one, bless her heart. When I think of what’s going on inside my head, I often envision a ping-pong ball just letting loose up in there. But that little voice in there; that doubt, that fear, that terror…I live frequently trying to hold it back from bursting the door down. Because when that happens, Lord help me.
Ironic literary transition…the Lord has, in fact, helped tremendously with this process. But that’s a whole other topic. Whew, I could go on and on. Save it, sister.
So, I almost completely forgot to get the the point of this first post; why I chose this title. I mentioned that my anxiety has put me in the position to be petrified to drive on the interstate. I’ve made some progress in the 10 years since this all went down, but my #1 on my anxiety list is driving on the interstate with my children. Ok, so there’s a few other scary things up there with that. But that’s a biggie. Awesomely enough, (and I’m horrible at giving myself credit, so I’m working on that) I have managed to do this, although in small measured amounts. But it’s just terrifying. I think I’d rather sit and pull all my teeth out. Usually, when I have to go somewhere far, I plug it into good old google maps, and praise Jesus, they have an option that says, “avoid freeways”. When I discovered this, I literally heard angels singing. Ok so not really, but that’s how dang excited I was. Sure, it adds an extra hour (or 3) to the journey, and the beach is out of the question, but I am the queen of some back roads.
You see, “rerouting” is something I’m a bit of an expert at. Avoiding the hard way is something I’ve managed to perfect. I avoid my fears, my triggers, my challenges. It’s just easier. Safer. But it’s also debilitating, isolating, and lonely. It’s letting the “a-hole brain” win. It’s like being imprisoned by your own mind. When you get down to it, it’s infuriating.
Rerouting Life is about changing this current path; rerouting THROUGH the hard stuff, the scary stuff, the things I avoid. I’m tired of living life halfway. I have been robbed of so many good things in life for too long. I’ve missed out on close friendships, events, and memories due to a false sense of fear. It’s time to reroute from the path of avoidance, and start walking the hard road. It may take me a lifetime to do it, but I’m going to try. I just want to ride the Little Mermaid ride without being medicated, dammit.
So, whether no one reads this or everyone, I am beyond elated just to get the words out. This expulsion of words is my therapy. And way, way cheaper, mind you. Life is good, all issues aside. I am a work in progress, and I know I was made this way for good reason. Good will, and has, come out of this. I know more good and bad is to come. Life is not meant for quick and easy answers. But when needed, we can always reroute.