Fear of the Unknown vs Fear of the Known

I’m having trouble.

I’m currently in the blissful weeks of pregnancy. The afternoon nausea has gone, and I’m mostly even keeled (with the exception of dealing with a very trying almost 4 year old. WHEW I WILL BE GLAD WHEN THIS STAGE IS OVER. THERE I SAID IT.) I mostly am symptom free, and not yet in the showing + feeling kicks stage.

And yet, I am petrified.

Last pregnancy I was nervous, in the “can I do this? Can I really be a parent?” naivete way. But this time around? Petrified. I see pictures online of my friends’ brand new baby and I’m propelled backward in time with all of this new knowledge and I’m like “no no no no no this can’t be happening to me.” Like, wake me up from the nightmare.

Rationally I know I’ll survive, as we do. But thrive? Boy am I concerned about that. I sit in stillness for a minute and try to imagine a tiny wriggling 8lb baby on my chest while my son yells “mommy more orange juice” from the living room and think, “what the fuck have I gotten myself into?”

The fear of the known has always been hard for me. During sports seasons I would DREAD the daily conditioning, even to the point of making myself occasionally vomit to avoid practice. Knowing what was to come was terrible. The anxiety buildup was beyond what I could control. Something sprung on me in the moment isn’t fun, but I suck it up and deal much better. So having 10 months to think about this impending doom (as I can’t help but conceptualize it) is crazy scary.

And then I get the mommy guilt trip that I’ve thus avoided with my son so far. But this worry that somehow my antepartum anxiety is going to effect this little one. That I’ll give birth to a neurotic daughter* and thus feel terrible for creating a child just like myself.

I spin and spin and annoy myself to no end. Despite the fact that I know I will be okay. I’ve been okay this whole time, and I will be okay again, but I’m petrified of the hard parts. With my son I didn’t know what to expect. And so once he was born I rushed headlong into parenting with a naivete that I’m afraid will be tampered down by my obsessional desire to conserve energy at all costs.

Can anyone at all relate? Am I completely a nutcase?

Lego Ninjago does nothing for  my liberal "it's a culture, not a costume," leanings. At what age will I have to enforce that?

Lego Ninjago does nothing for my liberal “it’s a culture, not a costume,” leanings. At what age will I have to enforce that?

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Potty Training & Pot Tea training

Potamus had five pee accidents on Friday. I was at my wits end. Because the three weeks of potty training had been going so well. At school he’s seen as a competent potty trained kid, one of their shining stars. “He doesn’t even ask us, he just goes to the bathroom and does it himself, no accidents!” At home it’s a different story. At home, like with everything else, my tiny little (perfectionist?) doesn’t hold his pee in. He screams “no potty! no potty!” when I suggest he should try. We bribe with episodes of Justin Time and chocolate chips and Daddy’s strong voice counting to 10. The poop accidents are to be expected at this stage, I feel, so while they’re quite gross (smearing on the walls while also coloring on the walls with markers?), I don’t get upset. But the pee accidents. Oh how it makes me sad and annoyed all at the same time. Not wanting to feel alone, I found comfort in Uncomfortably Honest’s Account of their No Good, Very Bad Day, which shows the shit show that is parenting sometimes (a lot).

I try to be zen about it. I try to not let it bother me, and remember that even though he’s almost 3, it is his own body. That he was a part of my body, but he is in charge of his own body now. And that he hasn’t mastered it yet. He isn’t bothered by the pee sometimes, and that’s not my fault, it’s just where he is. It’s hard to not want it all to just be better, or easy.

And in a similar vein, about wanting things to be better, or easier, or different, I have stepped outside my box and am trying a new way of managing my ailments (depression, anxiety, sometimes insomnia, sometimes nausea, chronic pain) with marijuana. It feels weird to even write that.

I grew up in a very conservative Christian household. I didn’t drink until I was 21, and I wouldn’t know pot if it was smoked under my nose (or grown in my house, by my brother, in the next room. True story). But yes, I am one of Washington’s newest medical marijuana patients. Which, was a very weird experience to get, I might add. Where I went to this doctor office that seemed to border on super-professional and like it could pack up the office and move locations in 3 hours. And then, with my newly printed (on tamper proof paper I might add), I drove my heiney to the equivalent of a weed farmer’s market. The guy at the front desk assumed I was a kindergarten teacher, despite my microdermals in my wrists, because of how I lacked any sort of knowledge about pot. As in…I had smoked 1 time, at 29, with my sister, and didn’t feel anything.

So far I’ve been surprised at the results. The better sleep. The not having to pee 5 times in one night (who knew, that’s a symptom that can be managed with cannabis?!). A general feeling of relaxation. I’m doing it all as an experiment, to see if I can control or manage my body in a way I haven’t tried before. I don’t know how it’ll go, it took me some instruction by Boof to even figure out how to smoke it (and I want to transition to a vaporizer or drops under the tongue), but thought I’d see if it even helped with my symptoms before I invested in any more paraphernalia.

I don’t know how these two things relate, except they both have the word pot in them. Which is a loose connection at best. I swear I’m not high writing this, which sounds so very high, doesn’t it?

I am Jennifer Huston

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“Did you hear? They found her body today,” I said as I was laying in bed with Boof last night. While I don’t normally like to talk about, or even watch, the news (especially when I am in the throes of crisis counseling), I felt particularly drawn to this case, to this smiling blonde woman in the pictures plastered on the news. I had just spent time in Newberg, Oregon, and her face just looked back at me from the TV and the internet news media.

I am Jennifer Huston. I could feel myself empathizing, putting myself in her shoes. And while the police haven’t yet confirmed the cause of death, and she wasn’t found in the San Juan islands like some people thought, I resonated with the mythology around her disappearance and subsequent death. I don’t know what actually happened, as the articles said she complained of headaches in the days before her disappearance, but what I do know is that there is a mythology surrounding her disappearance and death. Suicide. Maybe they will come out with this confirmation today, maybe not at all, and my heart hurts for her family and her two kids who will grow up without her.

Regadless of what happened, the story in my mind is one that mixes with my own story. My own emotions. That feeling I get inside when it all seems to much and I just want to run away from it all. As if taking off on a full tank of gas and $40 in my pocket will solve the big life problems of being a wife, a mother, a worker, an American, a person with mental illness, an adoptee. As if running away will solve any of it. Will give me a break, at all.

Lying in bed, Boof said, “I’d hope that if you needed to leave for awhile, to clear your head or get rest or whatever that you’d tell me.” And I said, “in a good  moment I would. In a sane moment I would, you know? I’d schedule it and go and get some rest, but in my crazy panicky moments, you know, the ones where I’ve found myself driving 45 minutes north only to end up at the doorstep of my childhood home? In those moments I would want to escape, leave it all behind, reinvent myself in a world without responsibilities. It crosses my mind, and I hope it’s not something I ever do.”

I’m not talking about suicide. Just leaving. Escape. That blessed freedom on the road of nostalgia to a time when I didn’t feel so tied down to it all. That feeling of the woman in Kate Chopin’s Awakening, who simply walks into the ocean and drowns in order to escape. Because sometimes it feels like it’s all too much. Though, not right now, I just know that feeling. Of wanting to leave and take my green SUV and trail mix and sleeping pills to the San Juan islands for a retreat. And I could see not wanting to come back, not wanting to face the embarrassment of a country-wide manhunt, having to explain that “I was just tired y’all, I just needed a break.”

I had hoped the story would end differently. That after a week of missing mom reports we’d learn she had checked herself into a remote spa for some downtime, or a hospital for an evaluation, or that she was camping by herself and emerged stronger and healthier. Instead we hear a story of a life lost, without a cause given (yet), and two boys and a husband who are left to pick up the pieces. I think that bit inside me, that wants to leave, is outweighed by the thought of Boof and Potamus left to pick up the pieces. My heart goes out to the family, her boys, her husband, her friends. And maybe, just maybe, a story like this can help mom’s get the rest and relaxation they need, without resorting to disappearances, or suicides, or leaving families to pick up the pieces.

 

The Impossible Sticker Chart

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Bikram yoga is pretty well known for their 30 day challenges (go 30 times in 30 days), but that is simply unreasonable for me to attempt with a job, toddler, husband, unless they offered like 5am classes and that would be ridiculous anyway. But this summer my studio is offering a 30 day summer challenge, from June 21-August 31. I felt that it was going to be a reasonable, but still not cakewalk challenge, and so I happily placed my name on the 30 Day Summer Challenge sticker chart in the lobby, and stepped into my first (challenge) class. 

At first nothing felt different, but then June clicked by, and most of July, and I realized that there had been some days that I had mentally prepped to go in advance, but things like being on-call, or doing random training, got in the way. And I saw the people around me with their stickers mounting, and I started to feel defeated. How had I felt so good about going 2-3 times a week before suddenly feel so…inadequate? Mid July came and I only had 9 stickers on my chart, and I felt like giving up. Because hello anxiety and perfectionism and those all-or-nothing-thinking of ‘welp, if I can’t do it perfectly, I might just not do it at all! And while I’m at it, lemme just gain 50lbs and eat chocolate on the couch!’ Doesn’t help that there’s this super  annoying  extroverted girl wrote “wins!” on the chart because she finished the 30 days already. And she brags about how she’s really doing a 60 day challenge, on the back of a 30 day challenge she just completed, and that up next she’s doing a 90 day challenge, and that she has endometriosis and is married to an ex professional athlete. Seriously, that chick drops some really personal stuff all in one braggy breath. 

I know I’m not alone in this struggle, but it feels weird to admit, that as an adult, I am struggling with a damn sticker chart. I am having flashbacks to childhood when I wanted to zoom through sticker charts as fast as I could, which I look back on I can’t help but wonder if it was more for the reprieve in between the sticker charts than the actual completion of the case in general. I want to kick the whole thing to the curb, and yet the Italian dinner I’ve promised myself at the end of it is still luring me. Leaving a chart half finished is so not my style, anyway, though I might be causing myself undue stress in the meantime. 

But the lovely side effect of this whole sticker chart debacle, is this immense compassion I am having toward children. As a summertime crisis counselor I meet with a lot of families, and one of the things I find rolling off my tongue with children is behavior modification and sticker charts as a way to motivate kids. And I know it works for some, but I wonder if, for others, it causes undue stress on poor little undeveloped brains. Like I must be good in order to be loved, in order to earn a sticker. 

Boof doesn’t understand. He says, “just stop if it’s stressing you out,” but keeping on is the less stressful option than failing at this challenge. And my brain would just keep tracking anyway, so stopping charting is not going to do shit. Because I’m a perfectionist. And I have an anxiety disorder. And I’m a Bikram yogi who’s gonna finish this damn summer challenge if it’s the last thing I do.

And then after the last thing, I’m gonna eat some badass Italian food with Mari, and drink an entire bottle of wine. Yeah. 

 

 

Don’t Call Me Goldilocks

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I got to the coffee shop early, to get my cappuccino order in and to make sure they had my favorite blueberry scone. I was meeting a friend from church, and her niece (and great grand nieces) to have a little ‘intervention’ type meeting. In reality I was mostly there to give some advice and de-stigmatize mental illnesss, and give some information on career development. But before the meeting started, I went and got myself a table…

I sat down at the head of a long table, nestled my purse in one chair, and spread my stuff out, thinking it’d be a good place to talk without bothering the others that were sitting around quietly doing their coffee shop thing. After I had sat there for a second, I decided that I would sit on one side of the table, letting my friend and her niece sit next to each other, thinking that they might feel more comfortable without being split up. So I shuffled my things, and switched seats, and heard a male voice say:

“What, are you like Goldilocks?”

Ignoring him, I brought out my notepad and broke my scone. I could see him out of my peripheral vision, sitting in the ‘comfy’ chairs to my right by the door.

“Did you not hear me? Everyone’s tuned out these days. Ear buds and not paying attention to things people say.”

And that when I said, without turning my head,

“No, I heard you the first time, I was just ignoring your rude commentary on my seating choice. I moved because I had a friend coming with her friend and thought they’d feel more comfortable sitting next to each other.”

Maybe I sounded bitchy. He laughed when I said the line about hearing and ignoring him. And then he started rambling to the guy next to him about the takeover of technology (that guy was reading on his iPad) and how he only has a cell phone to call his sister because she has cancer.

The crisis counselor helpful type felt bad for him. I’ve met friends (hi Yan!) in similar situations in this coffee shop before. I somehow manage to attract people with personal issues whenever I’m minding my own business. Maybe they see things that others don’t, and sometimes I’m int he mood, but today I was not. Because he called me Goldilocks, like I was a little girl. And said it in a derogatory way, with disdain in his voice.

Annoying.

And the older I get the less I can keep my mouth shut when someone annoys me. I don’t think my response was rude, just blunt and to the point. Tit for tat. He didn’t seem offended, and after awhile ambled away with is $1 refill.

Panic at the Disco

anxiety...it's SO awesome (not)

anxiety…it’s SO awesome (not)

The summer after high school graduation, I had a panic attack. It was disguised as an asthma attack (an illness I had been battling for a few years), and left me feeling ‘freaked out’ and short of breath. I had taken my inhalers, a nebulizer treatment, and finally had to have an ambulance called to take me from my job as a lifeguard to the local hospital, where they pronounced me fine. It wasn’t until I was in graduate school, studying mental health, that I realized oh…that’s what that was.

I have known for a long time that depression has been present in my life. But it wasn’t until my mid 20’s, when I went on antidepressants, that I realized how much a bigger problem anxiety was in my life. When my parents would ask “what are you worried about?” I didn’t have an answer, other than “I’m not worried.” Because I didn’t realize that thinkingalotofthingsalotofthetimeespeciallyinthemiddleofthenightwhenishouldbesleeping was anxiety. It was all I knew. My brain and I didn’t have any other point of reference, and this random word WORRY had no meaning to me.

If we’re getting technical, my diagnosis is Generalized Anxiety Disorder, which basically means everything and nothing specific make me anxious. It’s not a conscious thought process, more like a hum in the background of my mind, like listening to the radio in-between the dial of stations. It only is pronounced sometimes, like at night. Medication helps.

But lately I’ve been having unexplained symptoms. Painful stomach aches. A shortness of breath. A heartburn crackling fire that radiates from my breastbone out into my ribs and feels like my chest might shatter like an egg or a rock hurtling through a window. A swirling of thoughts that make me feel like I’m running around the room doing crazy off the wall things, while I also know that I am really just lying very still. With exception of that one “asthma attack” as an adolescent, the only other time I’ve had an episode like this was during labor, where the pain spiraled my mind into a complete crazy mess and I had to take meds to calm-the-fuck-down so I could birth the baby.

Maybe it’s a new manifestation of my anxiety disorder. Maybe it’s something else entirely. I don’t know. But in reading over the definitions again, of panic attacks, it seems to fit the criteria. So why is this happening out of the blue? And why, when the literature talks about this sudden wave of fear happening, don’t I experience that? I feel all these physical symptoms, and am bothered, uncomfortable,  want them to go away, but haven’t (yet) spiraled into a fear of them happening or even register what I’m feeling as fear, more of just a general annoyance.

So frustrating. I know I’ve been off my medication for a few months, and maybe going back on will help. It’s just weird that my body is reacting like this, especially since I know, and utilize, all the good relaxation techniques and have been avoiding triggers like caffeine. I then wonder…am I really just having an asthma attack and not knowing it? Am I sick or sensitive to foods and that’s why my stomach keeps hurting? WTF body, WTF?!

 

 

**********UPDATE**********

In graduate school, one of my instructors made sure to emphasize that if a NEW symptom of an already diagnosed disorder, or if a NEW SET of symptoms (indicating possibly a new disorder) presents themselves, then it is most like a physical issue that can be addressed before jumping to the ‘I have a new mental illness’ diagnosis.

After waking up from my nap, feeling the tell-tale signs of post-nasal drip, I decided to google sinus infection + anxiety. Apparently others have dealt with sinus infections exacerbating anxiety, and even causing (contributing to?) panic attacks. Whoa. Guess it’s time to up the neti pot…sudafed…and possibly get seen by my Dr….

Oh, and start back on my antidepressants, too. 🙂

How to Pass the Time when You’re Waiting To Hear That Your Student Is Not Dead…

“I want to die! I want to die!” is not the first thing you want to read in your Monday morning email. Especially when the email was sent at 2:24 am on Saturday, a day you don’t work nor check email. Boundaries are super important in this job, and I make sure to live up to the boundaries that I set with my students. This isn’t the 24/7 crisis work that I used to do, and technically I am not even acting in the counseling capacity for my students, but when I read an email like that my heart skips a beat (or 12).

Because I care a great deal about students, and I also take suicidal ideation seriously.

I know, as a mental health counselor, that there is a difference between wanting to die and wanting to kill myself but without the ability to do a face-to-face assessment I cannot determine the level of threat in this email. And with a student not responding to my response email(s) or phone call, I am left in the emotional lurch.

Tomorrow, at noon, I will put a welfare check out on this student, per the college’s recommendation. But, in the meantime, my heart feels bound up and my normally boundaries-of-steel are crumbling into an almost state of panic.

I’ve never lost a student to suicide. I am frank in my lectures and in my last assessment with the student I am confident they were in a depressed state but had no suicide ideation, let alone any means or plan. I am confident in that. And yet…and yet…that email…and how quickly things can spiral.

In the meantime, while I wait for that return email, or that police knock on their door, I am drinking beer and folding underwear. Because nothing puts the world at ease like sorting panties into sexy and period piles on my coffee table. I have to live this way, one foot in front of the other…focus on the mundane, the real, the things I can control right now.

And wait.

Waiting is the hardest part.

And for those of you that vibe or shake or pray or drum or send good thoughts…you wanna send them my student’s way?

Thanks.

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