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.

 

Radio Silence

It’s been a shit week. Started off with T informing me I was fat. There was a stressful and involved homework assignment I left to the last minute. A terrible therapy session. Yesterday I wrote 700 words about the it. But they were the wrong words. I deleted the post. Found out that someone I loved a very long time ago lost a person close to him, a person I rather adored. C got another cold. The hot water heater broke rather dramatically to the tune of nearly a grand. The boys went on a sleeping strike. Z and I haven’t spent time together in, oh, I don’t know how long. The anxiety has been…..constant.

sad C

C in this moment=how I’ve felt all week.

Many other people experienced real tragedy over the last few days. I’m just being a whiney brat. But it is why I haven’t been writing.

Today wasn’t so bad. Found out a friend from a million years ago sent a scoby to me. Sometime next week I should be trying to figure out how to brew my own kombucha. Was the room mother for T’s class and had fun with my boy. Except when he told two gals that the tree he was playing under was “No girls allowed”. Yes, I might have performed an impromptu monologue straight out of a women’s issues class. But other than that heartbreak it was delightful.

bumblebee

T’s Halloween costume arrived in the mail this afternoon. He is rocking this look. One of the cooler parts of parenthood? Six months ago I had no idea who Bumblebee was. Personally I still don’t give a shit about him, but because T adores him he has sort of crept into my heart a little.

photo (20)

After a trip to Target to score Mommy more crazy lady drugs and the boys some more play doh (What? I don’t make my own play doh? I know! Call Child Protective Services!) I decided I was pretty much done with the week. Z wasn’t home for dinner. So we got take out, I told the boys we would pretend it was a picnic, cracked open a bottle of cider, and I threw in a Harry Potter Movie. T was pissed I made him take off the Bumblebee costume. But I was not born yesterday. And no, we don’t have a flatscreen TV. I realize we might be the only people on the planet. Someday I hope we join those living in the 21st century.

friday night

So there you have it. Rough week. Better Friday. Hey next week? Can we be friends?

Hot Date

Today is the 15th Valentine’s Day Z and I have spent together. We are spotty celebrators at best. Last year I did nothing for him while he surprised me with this

valentine 2012

He found the print online and made me the frame. I was flabbergasted because we’d agreed to skip it. But that is how he likes to give gifts-when they are unexpected.

This year I got him a cheap-o 6 inch Darth Vader holding some Hershey’s Kisses that will go straight to the boys. And he ran out of time to do anything. But. We do have big plans. We know how to keep our marriage exciting and fresh. We know how to treat ourselves and carve out serious time. At 5 pm tonight we are…are you ready for it? Have I built the excitement up enough? Do you think we have an awesome and enviable and completely functional marriage? At 5pm tonight we are going to therapy. Happy Valentine’s Day Motherfucker!

Our marriage is very far from perfect. We almost split about a decade ago because marriage is impossibly difficult. And, to be fair, my epic mental breakdown played a pretty big role in all that. I still worry about the marriage falling apart. He’s less worried about it, but he worries less in general. One of the biggest things that helps get us through the day to day of this crazy endeavor is going to therapy. There isn’t a single fix for every marriage. But we can’t help it, we tell all our friends to fucking find an awesome couple’s therapist. In the wise words of Professor Lupin (movie version), “It helps, it really helps.”

Do I really want to spend Valentine’s Day talking about the shitty parts of our marriage? Nope. But it’s not like we’d be doing anything romantic if we didn’t have the appointment. It’s part of the work that we’ve agreed to do to try to keep this old truck of a marriage running. We are doing the work, damn it. And on top of it I still think he is sexy.

early morning

Early morning Valentine’s Day cuddles. Just so you know, there are totally pants happening here.

star wars valentines

Star Wars Valentine’s! He was making Vader and Boba Fett fight. I tried to explain to him that his choice made no sense in terms of the content of the movies, but he just ignored me.

moster truck valentine

And nothing says Happy Valentine’s Day like a monster truck that plays “Funky Town”. Yeah, that was a terrible choice, or should I say capitulation, on my part. And really, monster trucks? Why do they have to love monster trucks?

Thank You, Laura

When I was pregnant with C I ran out of my Singulair one night. Total pregnancy brain moment, I never noticed I was close to being out, the prescription was supposed to be on auto-refill, I just spaced it. I realized I’d been taking the drug every day for years to control my very mild asthma and allergies and I also realized I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had a problem with asthma. I decided I the prescription was totally needless. It was good I ran out because it made me come to my senses and gave me an opportunity to stop taking a drug every day.

Two nights later I woke up at about 2am gasping for breath. I frantically searched the house for my almost empty and definitely expired albuterol inhaler desperate for some relief. Remember, I was pregnant at the time and completely freaked that I was depriving the baby of oxygen. It didn’t even occur to me what was going on until the next day. Seriously, pregnancy brain is a thing. So yeah, it was the Singulair, stupid. I immediately got it refilled. Within a couple of days I was fine.

That little story is the exact reason a lot of people go off their psych meds. I’m fine! I’ve been fine for years! I don’t need this shit! It’s how I felt in 2006. Talk therapy has always been effective for me. I’d become a functioning human being again. I wanted off the drugs. At that point I was only on Zoloft, taking 200 mg a day down from my all time high of 250 mg. The thing with SSRIs is you can’t just stop one day. The withdrawal is brutal. Getting off the drugs took months.

Getting on the drugs takes months, too. You start with a tiny bit. See how you tolerate it. Increase it. Wait. Increase again. Increase again. And sometimes the drugs are misses-you get way more anxious. You need to stop taking it. You try another one that also may actually make your mental illness worse before it gets better. It’s all a guessing game. Unfortunately the game didn’t go in my favor the first few times I tried meds. In college I gave up altogether. A few years later I stuck with it until finally we figured out I could tolerate 200 mg Zoloft and I was on it for a long time. I also got fat and completely and totally lost my sex drive. The side effects of a larger dose are real and they can have a pretty big impact on one’s daily life.

I know the Zoloft helped (after the Wellbutrin, Paxil, Luvox, Abilify, and others I can’t even remember all failed spectacularly) despite the side effects. Getting there was tremendously painful. I have a very bad history with psychotropic drugs.

Last night, about an hour after I took my first dose of buspirone I started to feel a bit dizzy and lightheaded. I know that can be one of the side effects. I know that the dose I took is so small it is possible that I won’t be able to feel side effects for days. The dosage for this drug is split up to either twice or three times a day. About an hour after taking it this morning I started to feel a bit dizzy and lightheaded again.

Is it the drug? Is it me? Am I unable to tolerate it? Is this a mistake? Will it be ok if I just give it a chance? Three times a day. Timed so it isn’t near when I breastfeed. But what if C wants to nurse early? My mind will race with these questions three times a day plus all the other times I happen to remember I’m embarking on a big experiment that can go spectacularly wrong. Only this time I’m in charge of the safety of two other humans while I roll the dice.

I’m not supposed to think about the drug at first. My therapist told me I probably won’t feel anything for weeks. “Just put it out of your mind” she said. Um, I have an anticipatory anxiety disorder. Worrying things until they are bloody and raw is my specialty. It’s why we are in the drug place to begin with. How can I possibly not think about it a million times a day? How do I know if I’m feeling the drug or feeling the anxiety? How do I know if it’s working? How do I shut the anxiety up so the pill has a chance?

Last night a former colleague and friend commented on yesterday’s post over on facebook. “Anxiety=dementor…pill=patronus…use your patronus to save the lovely Karen from the dementor. xoxo”

It is one of my favorite comments ever. Thank you L, for speaking my language. You got through to me. And I’m going to give it a shot. Maybe I can get the dementor to shut up a bit, maybe I can give my patronus a chance to work. I always imagined my patronus would be a super nervous squirrel or mouse. But I guess a lozenge shaped pill can work just as well.

Expecto Patronum Motherfucker! 

T’s hair is crazy long when it’s wet. 

I’m not sure what this game is. I’m not sure I’m ok with it. But they are actually playing with each other these days which is pretty damn cool.

Ugly On the Inside

Yesterday as Z and I were having our ritual goodbye-for-the-day hug I told him that I worried he would decide he was done dealing with my crazy. He pulled his jacket around me and held me tight, “Um, if I was going to be done dealing with your crazy I would have made that decision a really long time ago.” Thank god he can make me laugh when I’m a mess, it doesn’t cure me but it makes life a little easier to bear. And thank god he is used to dealing with me. We have a version of this conversation almost every day when I’m not doing well.

Everyone who suffers from an anxiety disorder experiences it in a different way. Yes, your anxiety is its own unique little flower. Mine comes with a large side of self-loathing. When things are bad I think that every person who is interacting with me does so out of pity and just wants to be able to get away from me. I feel like I have zero redeeming qualities, nothing to offer anyone in return for their friendship.

When close friends who know how bad things are ask how I am I pause for a second-do I tell them the truth? When are they going to get sick of me being unwell? When are they going to stop wanting to be around someone who is a tremendous bummer? I feel like I offer nothing in return for their friendship. I take and take and take.

It’s like I forget how to be around people who care about me. I’m scared I will fuck up every relationship in my life because the real fear is that I’ll end up alone. The fear is that everyone I love will figure out I’m a worthless piece of crap, that they’ll realize their lives would be better without me in it. And I wouldn’t blame them one bit.

You’d never know this stuff was going through my head if we met on the street. Acting normal is of the utmost importance to me, I do it like it’s my job. T and a little gal from his preschool have fallen deeply in love. Her mom and I arranged a play date for the kiddos, T’s first with a kid from school. She, her mom, and her little sister came over for a few hours this morning. Was I a mess for the 24 hours before the get together? Yup. But I don’t know this woman well. It was imperative she think I’m normal and not in the middle of a metal health situation. I believe I passed. It felt like a rush, like I have some shred of control over my life. And on top of it I had a really nice time, the girls are sweet as hell and their Mom is lovely as well.

So what is the point here? I don’t tell you guys this so you’ll blow smoke up my ass about my friends wanting to be my friends. Do you have a loved one who suffers from mental illness? I tell you this because it is the kind of shit they are thinking. Again, they have their own special crazy, the details are different. But the result is the same. They are uncomfortable in their skin, they feel like they are living a lie, they know they are worthless. They want your help, but don’t know how to accept it. They are hurt, they are sorry, they love you, too.

Do you know what will make you fell better when you aren’t doing so hot? Israeli chocolate with pop rocks in it. Sounds kinda gross, tastes kinda magical. Perhaps chocolate is a good antidote to sadness in real life just like it is after being exposed to dementors. Lupin really was the best Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher.

See the chopsticks? They aren’t chopsticks. They were inside slippers Z got, T found them in the shoebox and put them on his plate while I was getting food for his brother. He called over, “Mom? Can you help me use my chopsticks?” He’s frustrating the hell out of me and his Dad right now, but he also injects so much fun into our day. Man, do I want to be well for him.

This morning I was in the kitchen getting food for his brother (Do you sense a theme? I’m trying to fatten C up-he has a weigh-in in less than a month!) and he called, “Mom! Look at the Lego star destroyer I built!” First of all, I love that he calls me Mom like he’s a big kid. Second of all, clearly it was a good idea to introduce him to Star Wars while he was an infant. 

Harry Potter and the Humongous Anxiety Attack

*Spoilers for the final Harry Potter movie in bullet points at the end!*

There are a number of close friends and family members that text me while they are having diarrhea. You know, to let me know they are thinking of me in their moment of discomfort.
I. Love. It.
I love being the Diarrhea Guru, it totally cracks me up. Because if you can’t laugh about literally 20 years of chronic diarrhea, you will weep with frustration that your anxiety disorder manifests in such a gross and unfair manor.

Over the last few months of this pregnancy I’ve been pretty constipated. For just about the first time in my life. And I hate it. Diarrhea sucks, but like anything you get used to it. I’d rather deal with the enemy I know than some new thing. So I haven’t had diarrhea in a few months, probably my longest run (I’m cracking myself up here) in that 20 year period. It started up again a few days ago, and I was almost relieved. At least I don’t have to deal with the constipation anymore…

I ended up not seeing HP 7.5 last night at midnight. I was stupid and thought I could get a ticket the day of. Who knew there were that many people in Syracuse that wanted to see a movie in the middle of the night? I realized later it was those damn teenagers that are out of school for the summer. They spoil everyone’s fun. As bummed as I was, it all worked out fine. I got to go to the first showing this morning and Z and I watched the first HP last night. But my stomach was a mess today. And I took Imodium for the first time in ages before the film.

On the way to the theater I was fighting back tears. I felt frighteningly alone and overwhelmingly sad and weary. Someone with my history is at higher risk for postpartum depression (which didn’t happen at all with T, thankfully) and I started worrying that the depression fairy was visiting early. I’ve only had one severe depressive episode in my life, and that was plenty. In my opinion, those who suffer from chronic depression deserve our sympathy and support. Anxiety is a million times easier to manage, depression is beyond terrible. No matter how many people who love and want to help you are nearby you feel completely and utterly alone. Everything gets fuzzy, nothing in your life has definition. You are separated from everyone and everything by an insurmountable and invisible barrier.

But it wasn’t depression. About 15 minutes into the move I had the kind of anxiety attack wherein one questions whether a trip to the ER isn’t a good idea. My heart was absolutely racing. I was sure that my blood pressure was so high that I was endangering the New Guy. I was unbelievably hot and dizzy. After about 20 minutes of wondering if I should stay or go I started to realize what was going on. It’s amazing how slow I am when having a little episode. All semblance of self-awareness goes right out the window. In another 20 minutes my heart had slowed considerably and I knew the attack was passing.

Z is sure that the attack had to do with confronting the end of something very important to me, with the last of the new HP stuff, but I don’t quite buy it. Yes, I really don’t handle change and the end of things well, but there are plenty of stressful things going on in my real life. I still have the HP books and movies for comfort. I’m more concerned with the reno project that has become more complicated and time consuming than originally planned. Z is having a hard time because he doesn’t have any help from here on out, all the work falls to him, there is a ton of work left to do, and there is a very hard deadline. He’s on edge, so I’m on edge. I’m concerned about how the next few months are going to affect T and the New Guy. I’m concerned that I won’t be up to the challenge of mothering two instead of one. I’m worried that we are broke and I really need to get a job but I don’t know what I can do or want to do and I’d have to bring in a significant amount of money to make day care fees worth it. HP ending is very sad, but it is the least of my worries.

Jeeze, this is getting long. I’m rambly when I’m feeling unwell. So a few quick thoughts on the movie and I’ll wrap it up:

  • A lot of quippy and silly little lines have been added to the battle scene stuff. I found them embarrassing and stupid. 
  • It’s easy for me to separate the books and the movies, the movies are going to be watered down. It is the nature of the beast. But some of the scenes were so beautiful that it really bugged me this time when the subtlety was lost. When Snape is dying and asks Harry to look at him in the book before we know for sure that he is a good guy it is a strong hint and a rather lovely moment. Him telling Harry he has his mother’s eyes before that moment in the movie is like getting struck over the head with a bag of bricks. 
  • That said, the journey into the Pensieve exceeded my expectations. I adore Alan Rickman and it was such an amazing emotional payoff after 7 movies to learn he was motivated by a very pure love. It was excellently done. 
  • Though I love the books more than the movies, I find it fun and interesting, rather than off putting, to see how they put big moments in different contexts, like Ron and Hermione’s kiss, Fred’s death, Percy’s return (didn’t even happen). 
  • There was a moment added in the Pensieve flashbacks of Lily telling Harry how loved he was as she was waiting for Voldemort to climb the stairs and kill them. Much like the awkward Harry/Hermione dance scene of the 7th movie, it was not from the book, but it was perfect and enriched the movie considerably. 
  • Chris Columbus and his casting director deserves major kudos for their casting work. I see most of the movie characters in my head when reading the books now, and that is rarely the case with me.
  • It’s an incredible experience to be so invested in a group of characters you’ve watch grow up over a decade, and I think it’s completely unique in movie history. That the same group of people were in all eight films creates a much stronger reaction from the viewer. We love and hate them all the more because we’ve watched them for so long.
  • There is also an incredible self reflection that happens while watching this film. Where were you guys ten years ago? How much have you changed? I was a 24 year old newlywed living in Brooklyn and desperately trying to process the events of two months prior. The breakdown hadn’t happened yet. We were happy. I hadn’t gotten better. We hadn’t worked to save our marriage. Z hadn’t decide he didn’t want to work in theater. I didn’t know I’d work in bakeries professionally, hell I was just learning to cook. We certainly weren’t parents. Yes, the kids on film have grown, but so have we. If I’d seen the clip of Lily trying to put her consuming love of her son into words in the last few moments of her life a decade ago I would have been moved, but I wouldn’t have felt it in my bones like I did today. I’m grateful that the movies have provided a framework for that reflection. Being a fan of this series has been an amazing experience. 
He’s gotten very expressive when he tells us long and complicated stories. 

 He wants to drink out of any glass or bottle, but the ones that are for him.
Photo by Ellie Leonardsmith
This is my favorite one of Z and me from the July 4th weekend. I look at it and I can see how much we love each other. It helps to look on days like today when I feel so alone and helpless. It’s hard to explain why someone who has a mostly happy and functioning relationship can feel such terror and doubt about one’s place in that relationship. Mental illness is scary and majorly fucked up. I really hate it. 

HP Recap

Finally we have internet at my parent’s new abode in Georgia.  And now that I can post something I find I’ve got a case of writer’s block.  Well, that isn’t quite right.  I know what I want to write about, but it’s almost 11pm, we have been unpacking boxes for the last 4 days, I took NyQuil a few minutes ago, I’m just too overwhelmed. 
So I’ll save what I want to write about for another time (maybe tomorrow?  Probably not because I’m going to be cooking my father’s birthday meal for most of the day and planning Thanksgiving dinner for the rest of it).  A friend asked for a Harry Potter review, and while I can’t write a proper review because I’m so in love with the series I cannot be dispassionate, I can write a jumble of sleep deprived, non-sequential impressions.    
If you haven’t seen the movie don’t read on.  Spoilers ahead!
Going to the midnight showing was completely worth it.  The next day the moving van arrived, so there was no sleeping the morning away.  I got 3.5 hours of sleep, and I don’t do well without a full 8 hours.  I mean, all through college I never pulled an all nighter.  The two times I had to spend the night working in a bakery I was able to sleep through the next day, so it does mean something when I say it was worth it. 
In my mind the HP movies and books are two different entities and it doesn’t kill me that all the detail of the books are lost in the movies. 
I started crying when Hermione modified her parent’s memories.  I thought it summed up the feeling of the scene in the book where she and Ron explain to Harry that they will be accompanying him on his quest beautifully.  I cried on and off for the whole movie.  Usually the subpar acting doesn’t bug me that much in the series, but when Bill announced Mad Eye was dead I was squirming in my seat.  I thought Daniel Radcliff did a great job playing the 7 Harrys.  I particularly loved the way he rested his head on Bill’s back after mounting the thestral.  The casting of Xenophilius Lovegood was inspired.  I didn’t like that Snape betrayed sympathy in his gaze toward Charity Burbage before Voldemort killed her.  The kid that plays Draco really is terrific.  When he told his Aunt he didn’t know if Harry was Harry my heart was full of sympathy for him.  And of course, the Doby stuff made my heart break into a million pieces.  As did the horribly awkward dance between Harry and Hermione.  It was so bad it was good for me.  Ron was outstanding.  His dangerous anger was perfect.  It was quite a bit more graphic than any of the others.  George covered in blood, and later Ron’s unfortunate splinching kind of turned my stomach.  I was sad that Kreacher’s stuff was cut.  I was looking forward to seeing him in a gleaming white towel, happily caring for the trio.  Neville’s one sentence made me love him even more.  I can’t wait to see him in the battle in part two.  The Bathilda scene was beyond creepy.  I could say a million more things.  I can’t wait to see it again.  But right now I really need to get in bed. 
In other news Z is coming tomorrow night.  I am so excited I don’t know what to do with myself.  

This may be a repeat, but I’m too tired to check.  It’s my phone wallpaper.  Back when T didn’t have any hair at all.  I can’t wait to hug my wonderful husband tomorrow. 

My sweet boy helping his Grandma unpack in the kitchen.