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.

 

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.

—————————————

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.

No Good, Very Bad Day

My hands smell faintly of shit.

Let me back up a bit. T was warm when we put him to bed last night. This morning he clearly had a fever, how high I didn’t know because the damn thermometer only gave a reading of 97 or 98. He also had a sore throat.

I have vowed to be the kind of Mom who sends her kid to school unless the need for an ambulance is involved. On the 4th day of kindergarten I broke that vow. C had his three year well visit today at 10, so I brought sick T along for the ride.

sick t

In the doc’s parking lot. He was passed out at 9:45am. And no, I have no idea what is going on with his tongue.

Let’s just say that getting a nearly catatonic kid plus a kid having a tantrum on the scale to grab their weights was quite the workout for the nurse and me. It was also loud enough for the occupants of the waiting room down the hall and around the corner to have a blow by blow of events, which I’m sure they appreciated. Because they got to feel good that their children were not embarrassing them in public.

T doesn’t have strep. And I’m really bummed. Not because I’m a raging asshole. (Oh who am I kidding, I am a raging asshole, but that part comes later in the post) If he had strep the antibiotics would ensure that he would feel better tomorrow. And that he could go to the birthday party he was looking forward to. Along with his first swimming lesson since he was about one. Instead I can’t do anything to help him. He is going to feel like total garbage for the next several days.

I’m sure C will catch it in time to miss his first day of school preschool on Monday. Speaking of C, he has rocketed up the growth chart from the 3% in weight one year ago all the way up to 5% today. This kid is so painfully thin that I’m scared people will think I’m starving him. If we manage to get him up to double digits in weight by the time he gets there in age perhaps I’ll stop obsessing that Child Protective Services is going to show up at my door demanding that I prove I’m giving him three square meals a day.

We got home and ate our lunch. The boys finished first and T collapsed back on the couch while I gave both boys a marshmallow, a bribe for making it through the flu shot at the doc’s. And yes, the doc gave the all clear for T to get the vaccine. He’s fever was only 100.5. And yes, the nurse and I had to hold T down together while he thrashed and screamed in anticipation of the shot. And yes, I cried a little.

IMG_8216

Poor sick kid couldn’t bring himself to eat the marshmallow.

I settled back at the table to bolt the rest of my lunch before taking C up for his nap. Two minutes later C walked into the room and proclaimed, “I pooped!”

I whipped around. There was poop on his thigh and leg. There was poop hanging off his butt. There was poop all over both his hands. In what feels like slow motion I watched him put one hand and then the other in his mouth.

“NOOOOOOOOOOOO!” I screamed. But it was too late.

“DO NOT MOVE!” I’d scared the hell out of him. He wasn’t moving, but he was also weeping.

I carried him to the bathroom by his shoulders. He tried to reach out for me and it was like a demon with a voice several octaves below mine has possessed me. “DO NOT TOUCH ME!”

He cried harder.

I used baby wipes to get the chucks and streaks of poop off of him. The crying continued. I was focused on not puking, therefore I was unable to provide comfort.

We awkwardly climbed the stairs with me holding his wrists. I used an obscene amount of soap all over him, washing his hands about six times. I finally thought they no longer smelled like shit.

When I got him in bed for his nap I notice his hands still smell like shit. As do mine.

He sniffled and asked to go downstairs to pick out a toy that he could sleep with. In perhaps my worst parenting moment of the year I tell him that he can only have a toy to nap with when he figures out how to poop in the potty. Ah, there is the part where I’m a raging asshole!

It would be fair to call him potty trained when it comes to pee. He wears underwear whenever he is awake. The pee accidents are few and far between and usually my fault for not reminding him to go. And here is where my denial of a toy is even more assholic. Please, feel free to judge my shitty parenting. He is scared to poop in the potty.

I have no idea how to get past his fear. I feel bad for him. Most days I have more patience with the shit accidents. But I am so fucking sick of it. I am sick of cleaning crap off the floor, off his body, I’m sick of the ground in shit in his underwear. I’ve actually thrown several pairs away because I cannot face trying not to puke in the utility sink while I scrub.

Help me friends. Help me. How do I convince him that he doesn’t need to be scared of pooping in the toilet? Also, if you know a trick for getting the smell of shit off of C and my hands I’d love to hear it!

c cupcake

I love him. I feel terrible for losing patience with him. I want him to shit in the fucking toilet.

Who Is the Real Butthead?

“I offered him a Hershey’s Kiss and he said he couldn’t have one because he lost his treat.” my friend J told me.

“Man, I love that T is incapable of lying.”

“I asked him why he lost his treat and he told me he called you a fool.”

“Yup. Last night when I was putting him to bed. He was mad at Z. I don’t think he understood exactly what it meant. Or that he would be in so much trouble.”

This conversation happened moments before J’s husband discovered that C was evacuating his bladder and bowels hidden by my car’s driver side door.

While we were chatting I could smell myself. I didn’t get the chance to shower today and my year-old flip flops reek with an odor that can only be described as evil.

It has not been a banner day.

Z’s sister E and our niece G left this morning. We had a great visit with them, and the good news is we will see them again next month. But the thing about sharing a living space with guests is you start to see how you and your kids are acting with fresh eyes.

My fresh eyes are pretty embarrassed by what they saw. All I do is yell at the boys. All they do is give me the metaphorical finger. Thank god they haven’t learned how to give me the literal finger yet, but I’m sure it is coming.

Back when I was a fantastic mother (you know, before I actually had children) I knew I would not stand for disrespect from my kids. Man, I knew so much back then, so very much. I was so self righteous, so smart, so incredibly full of shit.

At nearly five and nearly three my boys are raging buttheads.

Nearly five years into parenting there are still days when I don’t get around to bathing.

For the life of my I cannot figure out how to potty train my nearly three year old. Today included one pee in the potty, two pees on the floor, countless trips to the bathroom in which nothing happened, and as mentioned, my friend C finding him leaning against my car with one hand as he pissed, a gigantic turd dangling between his legs like a tail. Thankfully grown up C convinced three year old C to squat on the ground until the poop broke away and fell to the driveway where it was immediately swarmed by flies. But then T ran behind the car and stepped right in the shit.

Some days parenting feels like I’ve crested the top of a roller coaster, like my stomach has fallen through my feet as the tiny car that holds me plummets back to the ground. But I never level out, I just keep falling and falling while feeling more and more out of control.

My boys are not quite five and three. If they are buttheads it isn’t their fault. Which leads me to some pretty uncomfortable conclusions about my job performance.

T and turbo

See this adorable photo? Taken moments after T kissed the damn snail and hours before he’d call me a fool.

t pic of c pic of t

See this adorable photo? Taken by T of C taking a photo of T. Very meta. Taken moments before an epic physical altercation between the boys over who got to play with the playmobil dude wearing the black outfit.

leonard cousins goodbye

See this adorable photo? Cousins saying goodbye? In the next photo I snapped it looked like T was trying to pull off a chunk of C’s flesh.

Karen’s Haircut Shop

You know those weeks when you’ve left a power point presentation till the night before? When your kids are seemingly possessed by the devil? When your clothes dryer breaks and homeownership suddenly doesn’t seem so cool? When your kid’s rash keeps getting more and more alarming but you need to ignore it until you have a bit more free time? (We went to the doc’s yesterday–it’s papular acrodermatitis, the doc printed out pages from a rash book otherwise I wouldn’t remember. And the bottom line is that while it looks alarming it isn’t hurting him or contagious) When you attempt fartleks for the first time and realize you aren’t actually in very good shape even though you’ve been jogging for almost a year? (Although how fucking awesome is it that there is a running term called fartlek?)

Well it has been one of those weeks.

And last night I did this to my child.

bad haircut

I cut his hair, felt like it looked ok (I’m blaming exhaustion and a shitty week for that astonishing lack of good judgment), and sent him to bed. Seriously. This was not in the middle of the cut. This what was the original end of the cut. When he got up this morning I saw what I’d done.

fixed kind of

Ok. So I don’t have skills with a pair of scissors. But I do have a heart somewhere deep down and went much shorter than I was planning. Look. I didn’t want to cut his hair at all. I was trying to trick him into growing it long again. But Z brought him home from T-ball on Tuesday night with a head of wet hair. From sweat. I still resisted, but Z shamed me into putting my poor child’s personal comfort over my desired aesthetics. Yes, the boys are lucky to have one sane parent.

not so bad

Then I did this guy. Comparatively not too bad!

post fartleks

Post fartleks. Feeling the pain big time.

Zoo at the Zoo

Couple of weeks ago I was taking one of those time wasting “what are you?” quizzes that have been all over facebook recently. A handful of questions and it tells you what color you are. Z was reading over my shoulder. As the curser hovered across the choices he’d say, “Oh come on. Obviously you’d nap if you got a free day to yourself!” or “Go to a party or spend a night alone? Please. Alone every time.” My biggest concern was that I’d get orange (for newer readers I have an orange-phobia), but nope. I got black. The description was something like “you are in a bad place, but it is temporary”. It’s a stupid online test that clearly has a problem with introverts. It isn’t real in any way. But it made me feel pretty awful.

Life has gotten better this spring. The seasonal affective disorder that colors the first months of the year has lifted. I’m on new meds that (fingers and toes crossed) seem to actually be working. School is over and I met my deadlines. I’ve been managing my anxiety through expectations-the trip to New York and the UN was hard. I knew it was going to be hard going in and was ready for it.

When we pulled into the Zoo parking lot this morning there they were. Six full sized school buses with a river of children pouring out of them. The parking lot was crowded with their parent’s cars. As we wound through the congested pathway towards the entrance my heart climbed out of my chest and into my throat. By the time we got to the octopus display my throat was squeezing shut, doing its best to crush my heart. My pulse raced, I was lightheaded, my eyes burned and filled with tears.

Our zoo is usually empty when it opens. I assumed it would be today. The crowds caught me off guard and triggered the first full on panic attack I’ve had in ages.

The funny thing is I’d been doing so well lately that the stupid voice in my head has piped up with her opinion. She seems to think there has never really been anything wrong with me. My mental illness is an excuse in my head to be lazy. I don’t really have trouble leaving the house or dealing with large groups. It’s a lie I tell to get out of stuff. Because I’m a terrible person.

This morning I was reminded that I really cannot handle crowds, especially when I’m not expecting them. Of course the voice just changed her tactics. She told me it was pathetic that I couldn’t deal with a couple of buses worth of kids. I kind of agree with her.

When C started crying in front of the octopus tank I was ready to grab the boys and get the hell out of there. Instead we stayed for more than an hour. I’m not saying I will win any mom of the year awards for that hour. I was short with the boys. The damn tingling in my arm that accompanies the lightheadedness never went away. I fought tears until we were safely back in the car. But the boys did get to run around a bit. And I didn’t give in to this stupid disorder.

t in k hat

He pulled the hat right off my head. Yup, it’s still chilly here in Syracuse.

cadbury creme egg

This beautiful kid can destroy a Cadbury Creme Egg.