Crisis of Confidence

My body rebelled as soon as my feet hit the treadmill. I spun around and darted down the stairs and back to the locker room to swallow some Imodium and rush to the toilet. A few minutes later I forced myself back up the stairs and onto the same machine. Less than half a mile in I felt like I was dying. At two miles I couldn’t bear it any longer and walked for the next quarter of a mile.

The Syracuse Half Marathon is just over a month away and I haven’t completed a long run over 8 miles since the half I did in October. Last week I ran 8 total. Today’s 4 was the first running I’ve done this week. And I walked a half a mile of that.

Today I realized I might not finish the race in March. I just might not have it in me. There are a million excuses why, the weather is freezing and snowy, I can’t hack treadmills, T is on winter break, we traveled to see family and brought the snow and cold temperatures with us more than 600 miles south. This is the point in the training when I am supposed to be doing more than 30 miles a week. My week so far: 4, really 3.5.

Tomorrow the windchill will be -30 and we will have several inches of fresh snow on our poorly plowed streets. We haven’t had temps above freezing since January 29th.

All of that sucks, but like I said it is also excuses. Running gives me something to hold onto, a semblance of control. If I can force my body to go ten miles without stopping I can force myself to muscle through the anxiety. Without it I am unmoored. The anxiety washes over me in waves. I call Z almost in tears from the YMCA, interrupting him while he is teaching, to tell him I don’t know how I’m going to get through the day until he gets home. I am jittery and have no patience for the kids as we make our way through airport security. I punish myself by denying myself rescue medicine for hours as the anxiety takes over and ruins the day for the whole family.

Nine more days until this evil month, the longest of the year and you cannot convince me otherwise, is over. It is exactly 0 degrees as I type this. On March 22nd I may not be able to run 13.1 miles, but it will certainly be warmer than it is today or tomorrow or the next day. If I don’t finish the race I will still be working my way back to the place where sweating through the miles proves that I can do hard things. If I can run for two hours without stopping I can face life outside the carefully constructed routine that comforts me and restricts Z and the boys.

photo (51)

Pissed.

last week snow

Last week.

 today snow

Today.

silhouette C

Beautiful C in the big bay window at my in-law’s house.

Harry Potter and the Overwhelming Anxiety Disorder

Hey, wanna hear something I’ve been really ashamed about?

In the fall I bit off more than I could chew school-wise. My independent study project was to write an article including literature review and pilot study, ready for submission to academic journals. The three graduate courses I’ve taken have been fantastic, but I am not ready to conduct a literature review, do a pilot study, and craft an article ready for peer review.

Mid November I withdrew from the course. And felt like the biggest loser on the planet. When I fail the anxiety convinces me that I will never succeed at anything ever again. That I am lazy and pathetic and a burden to my family. That the faculty in the department I would like to eventually matriculate into will think I am a waste of time who doesn’t live up to commitments. That if I don’t eventually write about it I am trying to trick people into thinking I am much more together than is the case.

It was a bad fall for anxiety. Every fall is a bad fall for anxiety. But the way that I fell apart the week after Thanksgiving showed both me and Z that I’d been handling it really well. Funny how completely falling apart will do that.

I hated myself. I hate myself. I was sure all my friends hated me. When I was in public, especially at the crowded grocery store I felt everyone’s eyes on me, felt their pity and disgust. I cried. A lot. At bedtime I started rereading the Harry Potter Series. And more times than not a Harry Potter movie was playing on the TV in our house.

The uptick in Harry Potter activity is a dead giveaway that I am unwell. Over the last month while making dinner I’ve broken down in tears again and again. Z will hold me and stroke my hair and murmur, “Do you want to watch Harry Potter and cuddle after the boys are in bed?” And I will nod and cry even harder, relieved that he is there to take care of me and ashamed that I need the care at all.

The next three months are the worst for me each year. After the holidays winter in Syracuse drags on forever. Feeling this shitty right at the start is pretty terrifying. I’ve started avoiding mirrors. Convinced that I look like a man, and much older than my age. Questioning my staunch no makeup stance. Worrying that when people meet me they pity Z for being married to someone so plain. I’ve been unable to bite back disparaging comments about myself when among friends, clearly making them uncomfortable.

I want to disappear, but my body feels huge and ungainly. It takes up too much space wherever I am. My body swells, making my fingers clumsy, filling in my windpipe, cutting off the air to my lungs and making me feel lightheaded.

I know. You know. You know all this. I’ve told you before.

Why do I write the same blog post every few months? Because this is chronic mental illness. It’s not fun to read about. It is certainly a drag to have to read about over and over. But a lot of people live this way and are too ashamed to talk about it. That sucks most of all.

So in the words of Professor Quirrell, “TROLL in the dungeon! Thought you ought to know….”

the wand chooses the wizard

This fall we gave my nephew the first two HP books for his birthday. My sister is reading them to him, the series is new to both of them and my sister is enjoying as much as G is. For Christmas I made him a Gryffindor scarf and Z made him a wand.

harry potter legos

Sadly, HP legos haven’t been made for several years. Our friends got ahold of a box and give them to us. T and I had so much fun putting it together.

goodbye grandma and grandpa

My Mom texted me this the other day. She took it as my parents were pulling out of our drive after their Thanksgiving visit.

 

Anti-Anxiety Vignettes: #1

The past week plus can pretty much bite my ass. That bitch anxiety has moved back in to the house. Actually she has been around all fall, but I’ve been doing a pretty decent job of coping. Suddenly I wasn’t coping anymore.

It’s scary when the physical symptoms come roaring back. They feel new every fucking time. I’ve been doing my damnedest to act as normal as possible around everyone in my life. But I’ve noticed constant self-criticism escaping from my mouth before I can stop. It drives Z crazy when I say bad things about myself. He thinks I sound like I’m digging for compliments. I’m not. Really. I’m just informing everyone I know that I’m in on the secret. I know I suck, too.

It’s a fantastic way to make everyone feel uncomfortable.

So. Four migraines in a week. IBS….let’s just say it is very active. Like active enough to wake me with stomach cramps in the middle of the night. Pretty consistent low grade nausea. Two pregnancy tests taken even though I’m on the most effective birth control out there. Crying. So much crying. And pretending to be a normal person when I leave the house.

I’m exhausted. Z doesn’t know what to do. A call to my shrink will be placed today.

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C is a hustler. At three years old he uses his sweet and beautiful face to get what he wants. I know, I know, of course I think he is beautiful.

sweet faced c

But he really is. Photo by Ellie Leonardsmith.

He’s a drama queen who knows how to work it.

cranky pants leonard

See? Photo by Ellie Leonardsmith.

More than a year of speech therapy has paid off tremendously. He is still working hard on enunciation, but he can express himself beautifully with words these days. It is pure pleasure to finally discover what has been going on in that mind of his. Mostly. Wasn’t so great when he told me he didn’t love me at nap time yesterday. But seriously? He did express his frustration verbally so it still felt like a tiny victory. Ok, a tiny hurtful victory, but a victory all the same.

When we drop T off at kindergarten C darts into the classroom and over to the teachers distributing breakfast. He often cons them out of a container of cereal. This morning it was Cinnamon Toast Crunch. I settled him back in his car seat for the quick drive to his school as he opened the little bowl and started chowing down.

Five minutes later I called hello to a fellow mom before bending down to unbuckle C. His lips had a thick coating of cinnamon and sugar, it was like he was wearing glitter lipstick. I burst out laughing. He smiled up at me. “My face is very cute!” he informed me.

It has been a shitty week. So the wave of joy almost knocked me on my ass. My eyes filled with tears for all the right reasons. It felt so good.

And his face is, in fact, so very cute.

It is not my boys’ job to save me. I cannot and will not depend on them to do it. But man, they keep doing it anyway. They bring joy and frustration and delight and rage into our lives on a roller coaster of emotion. Concentrating on them helps me get my head out of my ass. Having kids is obviously not necessary for happiness and a full life. But for me? It is the best thing I’ve done.

Our family made the front page of Syracuse.com last Thursday! C is in a sleigh that was used by Z’s grandmother who was born in 1908. We have used it every winter, it works like a dream. Photo by David Lassman

Anxiety Vignettes: #3

Z stayed downstairs and had a quesadilla when I went to bed last night. He came upstairs 20 minutes later. I was still up, reading in bed.

Me, “Hey.”

Z, “Hey.”

Me, “Do you know how I know I’m really anxious?”

Z, “How?”

Me, “I’ve decided that you left the stove on after making your quesadilla.”

Z, “Huh. I didn’t leave the stove on.”

Me, “I know.”

Long pause.

Me, “But I really think you left it on.”

Z, “Wow. It must take a lot of energy to be as crazy as you are.”

Me, “Dude. I said I knew it was the anxiety. I am acknowledging it is the anxiety. I know deep down that you didn’t leave the stove on. I’m just upset that you left the stove on.”

Z, “If you are so upset about it you can go down and check.”

Me, “Well, since you are the one that left it on I really think you should go check.”

Z, “I cannot handle how insane you are.”

Me, “I cannot handle how you left the stove on.”

He read for a while and I read for a while.

Z, “Shit.”

Me, “What?”

Z, “I forgot to put the whites in the dryer.”

Me, “Oh….that probably shouldn’t wait until the morning.”

Z, “I know. I’m going down.”

Me, “Will you just pop your head around the corner in the kitchen and check that the stove is off?”

 my guy

Alligator beard.

sick t 2

T had a stomach bug on Halloween and he missed the parade at school.

typical c

This captures exactly who C is right now.

Anxiety Vignettes: #2

Last night Z and I were lucky enough to attend a session about preschooler behavior at the school that provides speech and O/T services for C. Not only is this two part class being offered free of charge, childcare is also provided. Jowonio is an incredible institution.

C was evaluated and qualifies for occupational therapy (O/T). But I’m going to be honest. We don’t really understand what it all means or how the therapy is going to help him. The sensory stuff, which is C’s issue, will be covered in the second class next week. I’m hoping that what we learn can influence how we help C at home.

I’ve been both looking forward to the class and really anxious about it at the same time. The boys were having a rough time behaving yesterday afternoon and I engaged in some rage eating to try and calm myself down. Z came home early and decided we needed to get outside so we took a walk and dropped by our friends’ house. They had invited us over for dinner, but we’d declined due to the class. And then we just sort of showed up anyway. We are awesome like that.

My grazing continued and I’m not going to lie, I drank a hard cider pretty fast. My friend roasted a chicken and the last thing I did before we darted out the door was pick a bunch of crispy skin off the carcass and devour it. I am a delightful dinner guest.

In the previous several hours I’d eaten an obscene amount of cheez its, two cheese sticks, a bunch of pumpkin seeds, some pistachios, a cider, delicious mashed potatoes and carrots, chicken, and a shitload of chicken skin. My anxiety was climbing right alongside the number of bad choices I had made.

On the way to the school my stomach started to hurt. So when I saw the spread of food set out for the class I grabbed a plate and loaded up on cheese, crackers, carrots, dip, and grapes. I also snagged one of those big logs of tootsie roll. I pounded that shit back pretty fast.

The class was 90 minutes. About 20 minutes in the colossal amount of food in my belly started producing gas. As my belly expanded enough to make me look 5 months pregnant my jeans started to cut painfully into my flesh. The stabbing severe pain made me break out in a sweat. There was a group activity and everyone had to ask a question. Someone ahead of me used the one I’d been able to think of in my gastrointestinal distressed stupor, and the one that popped out of my mouth instead was both dumb and borderline offensive. I was no longer able to listen to the speakers and was pretty unsure how I was going to make it through to the end of the class.

An hour into the session we took a quick bathroom break. I was not sure what would happen if I stood up, fear kept me glued to the seat. The last 30 minutes were torture. Finally, finally the class was over. I carefully stood, clenching my butt cheeks and prayed to any deity that might exist that the gas would not exit my body quite yet.

I hobbled alongside Z to pick up T and C from a classroom. The boys were having a blast. I was trying not to cry. Z started playing with T and I knew that I did not have a lot of time before I gave birth to my gas baby. I whispered in Z’s ear that I was in terrible pain and we had to go NOW. He has been with me long enough to take that kind of proclamation seriously.

Finally, finally I sank into the drivers seat and closed the door to the car.

I let it rip.

The boys sat in awed silence. Finally T said, “Wow.” Z looked at me with his patented combination of amusement and pity. “Good lord, do you need to change your pants?” he asked.

I summoned every ounce of dignity left in my body and stiffly proclaimed that I did not, in fact, have to change my pants. And then I started laughing. We all started laughing.

Z and the boys had s’mores around our fire pit the other night. They told ghost stories and this was C’s. I recorded it before bed that night so I could text it to the grandparents.

t carving pumpkin

For the first time we let T do a little of the pumpkin carving. He was very careful with the knife and still had all 10 fingers when he was done.

star wars pumpkins

Star Wars pumpkins! We used stencils from a set our friend gave us. The boys loved them, but holy crap, it was very slow going!

Happily Wrong and Happily Running and Unhappily Anxious

Sometimes there are happy endings. The person in the ambulance? The one I was sure died in the park on September 10th? I was wrong. She lived. She was saved by her soccer coach and she lived. I still don’t understand why the ambulance sat for so very long before taking her to the hospital, or why it looked like she was alone in there. But none of that matters, it is rare that I have been so thrilled to be completely wrong.

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Yesterday I completed my final long run before the blessed taper (end of a training program during which you run progressively less in order to save up energy for the big race) begins. My running app, which is the boss of me, told me to run 13 miles. I did 13.1, the exact distance of a half marathon. Even if I screw up royally on October 19th I proved to myself I can do it.

When you run as slow as I do 13 miles provides a lot of time to think. Lately I can’t escape thinking about my anxiety, which had been unbearable this fall. It was so terrible before I left the house yesterday morning that I was sure I wouldn’t complete the distance.

But somewhere after the 3rd mile just doing the work pushed the anxiety away. The run felt impossible, it was crushingly painful, but I found a rhythm. By the way, the runner’s high people are always talking about? Fucking myth. It has never happened to me.

I’ll tell you what, though. Chasing the anxiety away? The pain is worth it.

I’m in a bad place right now. Scary bad. I drop the boys off at school, come home and sit in front of the computer. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I berate myself for not touching the overwhelming list of shit I need to get done. Sometimes I stare at nothing. I’m always choking on panic and fear.

Why don’t I just do it? Send the emails for the school project? Do the research? Start the editing of a paper? Why don’t I clean the house? Get started on dinner? Organize the avalanche of papers? Do a fucking yoga video?

I am paralyzed. I sit and I sit and I hate myself and I sit some more.

Right now the only thing I have energy for is pretending everything is just fine when I leave the house. The smiles I force on my face at school drop off and pick up, the small talk at soccer, going through the effort of wrestling the boys into bathing suits in the Y locker room before swim lessons, that stuff takes every ounce of energy I have.

Being with friends is a reprieve. I am happy getting coffee with girlfriends, or spending an afternoon at the park with our little gang, or attending birthday parties and cook outs. I can tell my friends the anxiety is bad, but we all have our shit to deal with. Going into detail feels like it would unfairly burdensome.

Admitting I have an anxiety order and that I’m struggling is easy here. In real life I can’t let my guard down. If I don’t pretend everything is just fine I will stop functioning, even at the poor level I’m at right now. That is not an option. The boys must get to school and to their activities. I must make it to my appointments. I must act normal until I can escape to the safety of the house and let myself fall apart while perched on a stool in our kitchen, my blank face lit up by the computer screen.

So yes. The pain of a thirteen mile run is worth it if it chases the more severe pain of anxiety away for a few short hours.

no nap

C naps.

big kid

T grins.

end of harry potter

Finishing up the first Harry Potter book.

Suck City

When does life stop feeling like high school?

Kindergarten drop off and pick up are quickly becoming my least favorite times of the day. T has been doing much better. We have the timing down to a science. So what is the problem? Standing in a group of adults. Some who I know casually, some who I should know but don’t, some who were at T’s preschool. My tongue swells and fills my mouth. My limbs get heavy and clumsy. I can’t make eye contact with anyone. I’m 15 years old and I just want to disappear. Why do the skinny, blond, beautiful Moms look so skinny and blond and beautiful? Why do I want to look skinny and blond and beautiful? My friend arrives and my blood pressure lowers. She is also skinny and blond and beautiful, but I forgive her for those transgressions because she is a swell human.

I feel 15 years old. Except I’m 37. Really, why do I want to look skinny and blond and beautiful?

The reality is I’m in the best shape of my life. I’m healthy. This year I can’t wait to get my cholesterol checked because I’m consistently running 20+ miles per week. I feel more at ease in my body than I ever had before. I should feel terrific. Yesterday I had to go buy new jeans because my daily ones are too big. From the parking lot of Old Navy I sent a gleeful text to a friend who would get my joy and not judge me for being superficial. So why do I see an ogre when I look at myself?

The bitch is back. And she is quite chatty these days.

She perches on my shoulder after my shower and whispers a litany of complaints as we peer into the mirror, her voice laced with disgust. The forehead wrinkles, the upper arm flab, the stretch marks surrounding my belly button, the lank and thinning hair (I do love my IUD, but like the pill it has made me shed hair in a frightening way. Should even out soon, but damn. Makes me feel like shit now.), the tree trunk legs, the sagging breasts, the masculine face, the blackheads around my nose, the developing jowls, the moles and beauty marks and freckles that are everywhere.

I dress and leave the bathroom ashamed and embarrassed.

Every social interaction is scrutinized. I want to seek out everyone I have spoken to during any given day so I can apologize. For my nervous chatter, for not enquiring about their lives, for being rude and self involved.

I have school work to do. A plumber to call. Dentist appointments to make. Grocery shopping. Cleaning. A training program to complete. That half marathon is a month from today. I have to drop off the boys and pick them up and make sure they are settled in school and happy. I have to make lunches and make dinners.

But the anxiety, that stupid bitch, is a 200 pound weight sitting on my chest. She replays everything I’ve fucked up that day in a loop. I can’t get away from her cruelty. I can’t get away from myself. I can’t help but wonder why my friends are my friends. I believe with all my heart that anyone who comes in contact with me pities me. I can’t stop obsessing about how physically repulsive I am. I can’t escape the shame of wishing I was beautiful. Me! A feminist who values brains and tells her sons what people look like on the outside doesn’t matter! I want to be skinny and blond and beautiful.

I’ve written this post again and again in the four and a half years I’ve blogged. I’ve written that I’m bored with this post. I’m bored with all of it. The anxiety. The fixation on how I look. The distress in social situations.

My anxiety disorder is cyclical. Right now is a hard time. In a few weeks or months the bitch will quiet and I will get some peace. Until she comes back.

These days the anxiety hurts as much as it always did. But the agoraphobia isn’t winning. Preschool and kindergarten drop off ensure I get out of the house twice a day. Swim lessons are Tuesday, soccer Saturday morning. And there are four runs a week. Because that half marathon is looming large. We go to dinners at our friends’ homes. We have friends over for cook outs. The damn school work will somehow get done. Life is bursting with activity and while the anxiety might cripple my self esteem and well-being it is not crippling my ability to function anymore.

I am doing a better job of living, really living with mental illness than I ever have before. Because the boys need me and Z loves me and because I want better for myself. Even on days I feel like I don’t deserve it.

House is still a mess, though. If I’m going to be honest, it is pretty much a mess when the bitch takes a vacation as well….

typical tuesday

A typical Tuesday night at our house. Friends just kept walking by so we called them back for a quick hang out and drink. Even with the bitch whispering sweet nothings in my ear, I know I’m lucky to have this support system.

kitty hoynes

Z was traveling for most of the week. C was so happy to see him again.

soccer

This kid. Soccer player. He was awesome, even in the rain and cold.