Monday, April 2, 2018

Which Foot Forward? (I'm Just Spitballing Here)

My last post was written, as are many of mine, in a moment of intense introspection and weariness.  Out of a desire for things to just feel better, and to do better, and have better. I  frequently write from the bottom looking up.  I believe that it's important to share those moments, to offer real vulnerability and to admit that I am not some pillar of humanity and motherhood who has her shit together 'in spite of it all'.   I'm not.  I'm fumbling through this just like anyone else- maybe even more than most- and sometimes the tools I have to cope are inadequate, or my focus is off, priorities or brain power scrambled.

I  do have things to work on that have become sore spots in my life.  Things that have damaged some relationships or driven me further from my goals. And I've realized, sometimes slowly, over this last year in particular, that those things (namely my panic reactions, and to be vulnerably honest, my housekeeping) have to be addressed, and will be a thing I don't just get over, but have to be mindful of and working on for the rest of my life.

Although the discovering of these elements of myself has been often painful and embarrassing, I    still think it's important to come to them with transparency.  It is no longer acceptable to me to live in chaos, physically or emotionally.  If I continue to do so, the next half of my life will look just like the first half, with me running from one wreck to the next, looking for places to hide from myself.

I  want to be honest about those things, and the feelings that fueled them, even when it's uncomfortable to do so. I  want to offer a full picture, of a whole, complex human being, as someone who embraces hope and still struggles with despair.  I'm learning that at this point, trying to do that, especially when you don't dig out a good clear window of time between the feeling and the sharing, will alienate some people. I'm wondering if I  share too much, or the wrong things, and sometimes, I'm wondering if the people who doubt me or follow another narrative they've decided on as truth, are right.  Whether I should persist in telling my truth  in each moment for the sake of transparency and fallibility, or I should work harder to cultivate a more thoughtful, planned out story.

The truth is that I am most often described as 'intense.'  And that's accurate.  It's something I both love about myself and work to bring under control, lest it get the better of me, as it has many, many times.

I don't want to talk about trauma and panic because I want to elicit some feeling of empathy or sympathy or be told how amazing I  am. I want to talk about it because it has impacted me in a multitude of negative ways, and I  need my life to reflect more than that about me. My fear will not be the story of my family. Because it's hard work, because I  often felt alone in it, and because I know that in truth, I was never alone in it.  BUT I   DIDN'T FUCKING KNOW THAT. People in the middle of it, they don't know they're not alone in it.

None if this is to say that my life is tragic, or my kiddo's life is tragic, or that we have ever come upon the worst of experiences. The truth is, we're beyond lucky, even when it feels like shit. It's just to say that the fear of these things can sometimes eat up a lot of the good in your life, and even if it does, it's not too late to turn around. And I don't want you to miss out on those good things any more than you have to.

I    hope to share my self-work and my real emotions in a way that doesn't convey misery, but does tell anyone who needs to hear it, that I've been scared all the time, and scared of imaginary things, and running away from myself sometimes, too. Mental health is a big ol' topic du jour, full of buzzwords and clickbait. I'm not here to Elephant Journal my way through it with platitudes.  It may be one of my toughest writing assignments to date, because I  have a lot to consider in regards to how in-depth I want to get with it. But to be perfectly candid, I    could use the practice on presentation, and I do feel like I have something of value to offer by sharing my own experiences.

If you feel like any of that may be of value, bear with me.  I'm working on curbing my fight-or-flight response and exposure therapy for social anxiety.  Do you know how weird it is to realize, as an extremely extroverted human being, that you have genuine social anxiety and have developed and entire repertoire of behaviors to avoid certain social situations?  It's weird, man.  It's real weird.  However, there's a fun aspect to this.  Being able to now see my issues from the outside, and look at them objectively while still feeling them, is fascinating.

I  used to have panic attacks that manifested as just intense feelings of anxiety and avoidance.  Since embarking on this particular endeavor into self-improvement, the anxiety feelings have waned because I  can easily name them and talk them off the ledge.  So now I don't really feel emotionally anxious, but I'll start tingling in my hands and gasping for breath without ever feeling upset. But the more I  know and understand about the physiological processes that cause this, the more control I    have over them, and how I react to them, and in turn, the amount of success I have in managing them and how they impact those close to me.  I  have a tremendous community and support system, and it's important to remind myself of this when I  want to retreat and not  talk about the things that set me on edge.

To be stupid clear- I'm a show-off.  I love having a good report card. I'm equally proud of being voted 'most improved.' I  like to show just how great I am at doing things, and I  have a tremendous opportunity to master something here that has previously held me back from some types of success that I    REALLY REALLY WANT. So the conclusion we can come to, as a class, is that I'm not likely to shut up, I may have to be reminded to check the melodrama, (and I may throw myself on the fainting couch and call for my smelling salts) but I'm going to do my best to keep shit real.

(Post Script- something is funky on my keyboard and it tabs every time I  type "I ."  I    keep going back to fix it, but it doesn't always work.  Pretend you don't see it.)

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Perspective & Mental Health; Maslow's Hammer

When all you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.  

This is my coming out story about trauma, anxiety, and unhealthy coping mechanisms.  It is not a request for praise or sympathy, it is my own way of processing, admitting, and putting my intentions (and supporting actions) out in to the universe.  I’m fond of saying, “there can be no Truth and Reconciliation, without first having Truth.”  And this is my truth.

Those of you who know me, know that my adult life has been dotted with traumas.  Perhaps no greater or lesser than anyone else’s, but they impacted me nonetheless.  I developed coping mechanisms, I did what I felt I needed to in order to survive them, and I did not always do so in a healthy manner. 

I was recently approached, at a breaking point, an intervention of sorts.  It didn’t go well.  Or perhaps, it went exactly as it needed to.  And in that moment, and in the aftermath, I have heard things about myself like, “you act like a cornered animal, all the time,” and, “it’s like you put the bag over your head and just start swinging,” "it's always something with you."  Why would I listen to people who said things like that to me?

 Well, because they’re true.

 I have been constantly defensive, isolated, often looking for a fight where there wasn’t one, and ultimately running from one disaster to another blaming others and seeking shelter anywhere I could.  This is not healthy.  It is not conducive to long-term relationships of any kind, success in life, or feelings of security.  It’s harmful to myself, my family, my friends, and all of the things I want out of life. 

When you’re afraid of everything, always fighting, and always running, the hardest thing you can do is sit in a room with people you believed to be your allies, faced with every fear you already harbor about yourself, it feels a lot like the worst-case scenario. It definitely elicits a keyed-up fight-or-flight response. And that keyed-up response is my whole problem in the first place.  So, this group of people, presumably tired of my shit, but loving me anyway, enough to undertake the inescapably wild response I would give, set out to confront me with my behavior.  It went about how you’d expect.  At the end of that day, I was raw, in pain, I felt betrayed and alone.  But somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew I didn’t want to keep living the kind of life I had been living up to this point.  I don’t want to run from everything, and by god, I am so tired of fighting EVERYTHING.  I see the possibility that the rest of my life doesn’t have to look like the last twenty years.  It’s possible to have a life, that while not always sunshine and rainbows, Is not constantly painful and frightening. And I want that.  I want that badly enough to stop doing the things I’ve done my entire life and try new things, things that are strange and disorienting and don’t yet feel natural.  I am (back) in therapy.  I am dealing with social anxiety, trauma, and aspects of PTSD. I don’t like looking at myself and seeing that there’s that much work to be done.  I don’t want to admit that I’ve been that wrong and failed that much.  It makes me question why anyone would stick around me to begin with.   But I do have the opportunity to change that.  I know I’ll always have to be vigilant about these things.  I know I’ll always be prone to overreaction and unnecessary freak-outs.   But now I can at least name them, I can address them, and also that there are people who have seen and experienced those things and still love me anyway. 

This is exhausting work, but I believe it will be worth it.  I believe I can create a sense of stability and security for myself. And I believe that my family and my relationships will reflect that.  I’m scared and sad and tired a lot of the time, but I’m consistently hopeful.  I have the opportunity, the support, and the power to change something I thought would never change. And as I come to the end of my college tenure, ready to approach life and work in a completely new way there, it seems a fitting time to leave behind this old shell of myself that no longer serves any useful purpose.

I’m sharing all of this because my intention is to be open and honest about mental health in a real, tangible way.  I know I am not the only one who has a struggle.  I know that other parents of kids with CF, people who have had toxic relationships, traumas, anxiety, and depression, have been here.  I know that I am not an outlier, and I know that my openness and ability to put these things in to words is a gift I am both inspired and obligated to share.   Admitting that I have a problem with these things is the first step, right?  So here’s my admission.  I own this issue.  Going forward, I’ll talk more about my particular mental health struggles, trauma, anxiety, therapy, and my successes and failures.  There’s no need  to keep our human experiences shrouded in shame and secrecy, and I’m nothing if not a mouthpiece.