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.

Running While Anxious

Before joining the masses at the start of the half marathon last October I took half of a benzo. To run 13.1 miles in a crowd of other people I had to take a controlled substance that works as a sedative. I also took 3 or 4 Imodium, can’t remember which.

I have an anxiety disorder and IBS. The benzos are prescribed to me by a medical professional and I use them responsibly. The way I pop Imodium like candy is probably worse for my body. But I’m not interesting in shitting myself. Again.

The benzo brought my anxiety to a manageable level and I was able to run the damn race. But it pisses me off that I needed it. After more than two decades I’m still angry that I have an anxiety disorder. Angry and really embarrassed. And then angry that I am embarrassed.

Nearly half way through another training program for a half marathon in March, and I am discouraged. It has been weeks since I’ve completed the distance assigned for a long run. The weather hasn’t been cooperating. I suck at the treadmill under regular circumstances, but I simply don’t have it in me to do 12 miles on one.

At some point along the way I have started to tie my emotional well being and self worth to running. If I don’t do what the running app on my phone tells me to do it means the anxiety is winning and that I suck ass. Running still provides me with many more positives than it does negatives. This fall it helped me function through some intense anxiety. It has made me feel easier in my body. My self confidence has improved a bit. I have more energy.

Like all good things in my life the anxiety tells me not to trust it. Slowly running has become an adversary. If I reach my running goals, well good for me. But if I fail that is a victory for the anxiety. When the anxiety is in control I want to give up. I want to fail to provide irrefutable evidence that I am worthless and pathetic.

Well fuck that noise. Fuck it.

I have this friend who is a fantastic person. She is funny and good company. She is smart and interesting and successful. She is the kind of person that others want to be more like. In conversation she casually mentioned that she has great self confidence. A couple of minutes later I really digested what she said. And I wanted to ask her how that works. I wanted to know what it is like to look in the mirror and think the person who is looking back at you rocks. I want that so badly. But the conversation had shifted, the moment had passed.

My anxiety tells me if I think anything good about myself I am vain and self absorbed. But my friend is not vain and self absorbed. That is not what confidence means no matter what that bitch anxiety has been whispering in my ear for more than 20 years.

Last week I signed up for the Empire State Marathon. On the eve of my 37th birthday I made a resolution to run a marathon before I turn 40. October 18th is the day I try to meet that goal. And if I don’t do it that day? I still have exactly one year and two months to make it happen.

Anxiety is not going to take running from me. I am fighting back.

frozen water

Only managed 8 of the 12 I was supposed to do yesterday. It was so cold my water started to freeze.

yaktrax

Wearing Yaktrax means avoiding the treadmill for another day.

running pasta

My sisters-in-law gave me running pasta for my birthday. It made dinner a lot of fun.

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.

 

Anxiety Vignettes: #1

You want to cry while you are waiting for a lemon cake to come out of the oven? Watch the Almost Famous trailer.

Glibly posted to facebook on Saturday night. While both crying and waiting for a lemon cake to come out of the oven.

A friend asked why? and I was confounded for a moment. Doesn’t everyone cry at almost every movie trailer ever? She pointed out the movie was fun and the characters were having a good time. And it sat me right on my ass. She was, or is right. For the most part they are having a pretty fucking terrific time. Particularly in the moment I cited as a tear making, when Penny tells the kid he already is home.

In yet another moment of glibness I typed I find 95% of all human interactions sad. Funny and then sad. Because I’m broken. Good news for you, though! Happy people live longer!

Anxiety creates emotional precariousness. Tears are never far away. Neither is laughter. Both show up at the most inappropriate times. Both show up at the exact right time. When life is overwhelming and absurd they are a valve that releases enough pressure to keep me from giving up. It is why someone who has intense IBS loves poop jokes so much. If I don’t laugh I cry. If I don’t cry I laugh.

So. Introducing Anxiety Vignettes. Moments of absurdity that make me laugh or make me cry. Coping mechanisms that seem reasonable until I need to explain them to someone else.

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Dad came with me and the boys to school drop off last Monday before I took him to the airport. We lingered in the kindergarten room which meant we pulled into the preschool parking lot the the perfectly worst time. I stopped at the t-bone in the road to assess options. Most spaces on the near side were full, and every single space was taken on the far side in the half of the lot closest to school.

Dad, ” There’s a space over there.”

Me, “I can’t park there.”

Dad, “Um, ok….there is a space over there.”

Me, “I can’t park there.”

Dad, “What are you taking about?”

I pulled around to the half of the lot farther from school. My parents usually have a no-visiting-Syracuse rule when the temps fall below 60F, and it was a pretty cold morning. I believe my dad was wearing every item of clothing he brought with him.

Dad, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”

Me, “I CAN’T PARK OVER THERE!”

Dad, “WHY?”

Me, “BECAUSE SOMETHING BAD WILL HAPPEN!”

Silence.

Me, “If I park on that side something bad will happen. I have to park on this side…..so something bad doesn’t happen.”

Every space was filled on the right side, by which I mean the correct side. I pulled to the end of the lot. And I made my own space in the dirt/grass/beginning of a path.

Dad looked at me incredulously.

My face was burning, “What?”

Silence.

Me, “Um…..something bad will happen.”

I looked at him. He started laughing. I started laughing. He sighed.

We trudged toward the building. By the time we walked to the other end of the lot there were a bunch of empty spaces on the safe side. But who knows what calamity I prevented by parking on the correct side of the lot?

Please, don’t all thank me at once.

c school picture

School picture.

last soccer game

Last day of soccer. T’s level of focus was….underwhelming.

reluctant vampire

Reluctant vampire.

boy in tree

Boy in tree.

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.

Yesterday, Today, Thirteen Years Ago

On a perfect late summer afternoon the boys raced around the playground. My friend and I relaxed on the grass a short distance away. I watched my two kids lazily, and gossiped with my pal. Our friends who are brand new parents strolled over with their son and joined us. It was a lovely time even if I did have to get up every few minutes in order to force my children to apologize to whomever it was that they just hit.

A small firetruck sped down the street, sirens wailing, causing the kids to stop what they were doing and watch. It turned the corner down the long side of the park and pulled next to the basketball court. An ambulance followed along with another small firetruck. In the next few minutes six police cars joined them. By then our kids had crowded around us and started asking questions.

My friend noticed a person performing chest compressions on someone before the first rescue vehicle reached them. The teens playing basketball crowed around. Paramedics took over. But after many minutes they stopped. Put the person receiving the compressions on a gurney and into the ambulance. The doors closed. The ambulance sat. And sat. And sat. Eventually the teenagers wandered away and got back to their game. The cops milled around. No one seemed to be in the ambulance with the person.

The younger kids didn’t understand, but the pair of five year old boys in our group had so many questions. We explained how all the rescue personnel were there to help someone who had an accident. We did not explain that it was clear the person had died.

Forty-five minutes earlier the kids were playing on the playground. I was lounging on the ground, chatting with good friends. A person was walking around the perimeter of the park. And then that person wasn’t walking anymore. We were in a park with forty or so other humans, most of whom we will never know. We were all there together for a moment, hearts beating, living life, people coming and going. And then one of us was gone while the rest of us watched awkwardly from a distance.

The boys ran off and started to play again, our chitchat resumed although our eyes were on the ambulance. We left the park, went home, cooked dinner, told our spouses about it, checked local news sources to see if it was mentioned, but mostly got on with our lives.

But the people who loved the person in the park? September 10, 2014 will be a day they never forget. Their lives changed yesterday. I thought about those people last night. And somehow the thought of them got tied up in the thoughts about today.

Thirteen years later and it would be fair to say that I haven’t come to terms with September 11th. Every anniversary I feel closer and further away from what happened. I feel angrier. More lost.

When the subway I was riding on that day pulled into the Fulton Street station both planes had already hit the towers. But the majority of the people who would die there were still alive. They were alive as the subway left Fulton Street and made the short trip to the World Trade Center stop. They were alive when we arrived in the Village at the West 4th Street station. They were alive as I climbed the stairs from underground on 86th Street on the Upper West Side. They were alive when I took money out of the ATM and bought a pack of Camel Lights. They were alive while I rushed into the tiny studio apartment that served as an office. As I desperately tried to reach my boss. As I turned on the tiny TV. As I tried to comprehend that a land line in New York City did not have a dial tone. And then suddenly they were dead.

It has been thirteen years and I still don’t understand. I was so close to what happened geographically. And I was unscathed.

I was so close geographically, but I lost neither my life, nor the life of a loved one. Sometimes location means nothing. Grief doesn’t permeate my life every single day the way it does for those who lost family that day. Most of the time I can easily block out the memories. Today I can’t. The morning thirteen years ago replays over and over in my mind as I walk through life pretending that all is well.

But isn’t that how most Americans experience September 11th? Loss can take your breath away even when you don’t know the person in the park or the people on the planes, in the towers, or the government building.

I haven’t come to terms with what happened that day. But it sure as hell has shown me what poison hate and extremism are. Directed at us or by us.

photo (46)

Sometime between ’99 and ’01. A boozy night on our roof with K and a disposable camera.