When ‘Back-To-School’ Time Is ‘Back-To-Anxiety’ Time

That time of year is back.  The time of year mothers around the country are breathing a sigh of relief as they see free time returning in their future.  The time of year where we smile at the smell of paper and sharpened pencils.  That time of year where we stock up on crayons, scissors and erasers.  It is Back To School Time!  Yes!

My daughter spent the first half of summer in camp and these last remaining 3 weeks with both sets of grandparents and a good friend of hers.  Even she knew it was time to go back and she couldn’t wait.  The words, “Can I sleep in my own bed tonight?” murmuring from her mouth as she yearned to be home and not shuffled about due to her parents work schedules.  She wants to return to normalcy.  She can’t wait to go back to school (which started Monday, August 29th).  She misses her school friends dearly and wants to catch up with them and gossip.  I mean what prepubescent girl doesn’t?!

This is her year!  She’s a 5th Grader, one of the rulers of the school.  My baby is in her last year of elementary school and while this has me teary-eyed, she is ecstatic.  I am already picturing me sobbing at her Moving Up Ceremony at the end of the school year and she hasn’t even quite begun yet.  My tears are for her and for missing a school I have come to love.  The Teachers, the Principal, the Vice Principal, Staff, Custodians and fellow parents… they have truly made these years wonderful for her.  But, I will put off my sobs until that time comes.

Back to school time, the best time of year, isn’t it?!

As normal with my daughter’s school, we do not receive teacher assignments until about 2-3 days prior to the first day.  I anxiously ran home after work checking our mailbox everyday last week.  I was more excited than my daughter to find out who her teacher was.  Nothing Monday, or Tuesday or Wednesday.  For sure it would be in the mailbox on Thursday, right?!  I grew nervous, my Generalized Anxiety Disorder was elevating.  Where the f*ck is it?!  I came home Thursday and got excited when I saw a few envelopes sitting by my chair at the dining room table.  It’s here, I can feel it!  I picked up the stack… thumbed through the envelopes and said:

“You’ve got to be f*cking kidding me!”

Nothing!

At this point, I was extremely worried.  A typical person would just brush this off telling themselves it will come tomorrow or Saturday.  Worst case, she goes to school Monday and asks in the office.  But, I am far from typical.  My Anxiety ALWAYS plays out the worst scenario.  What was the worst scenario?  I already imagined Monday morning coming.  My daughter would get to the school, the school she grew up in where many teachers and administrators knew her by name, only to find out that they had forgotten her.  I imagined them checking their list and discovering her name not on it.  Then I pictured her freaking out (she has GAD too).  After that, I would get the panicked phone call as the school scrambled to find a class for her, meanwhile she being too anxious and overwhelmed to calm down.  As this played out in my head, I had quite the anxiety attack that night with hyperventilation and muscle tenseness.

“They forgot her.  How could they forget her?! She’s been is this school for years!”

My husband looked at me and muttered, “Stop.  You know they didn’t forget her.  Do you need me to help with breathing exercises?” (He knows his wife well.)

I debated taking an Ativan but I am trying coping skills that are not medication as I am attempting to slowly wean off the Ativan.  How have we not received her teacher assignment yet?  Everyone else we know got theirs!  Desperate, I decided to abuse my PTO position.  This will be my 3rd year as PTO Treasurer and my 6th being a member of the PTO.  I texted my neighbor who is PTO President and asked for the Principal’s phone number.  After receiving his number, I texted him.  He was concerned and told me to call the office the next day.

I did one better.

Friday, the PTO was sponsoring a “Welcome Back” Staff Appreciation Breakfast.  I volunteered in the morning before work helping to set up.  I had a goal in mind.  I was not leaving the building until I got my daughter’s teacher.  I was still fully convinced they forgot her and I would rather that play out in front of me than in front of her on Monday.  Stupid Anxiety Disorder!  If I had to, I would go into work late.  It was close to 8:00am when someone noticed the Vice Principal walking by.  She stopped in to check out the spread and I ceased my opportunity.

I grabbed her attention and asked if she could tell me my daughter’s teacher.  She said, “Sure,” and we walked to the office.  I admit, I was getting nervous.  Confirming the spelling of my last name (she knows me because of PTO), she scoured the list.  

“She has Mr. Fairchild,” she said, and with that I breathed naturally for the first time in almost 24 hours.

How My ‘Sleep Divorce’ Has Kept My Marriage Strong

I don’t sleep with my husband.  

We have tried for a few years to survive in the same bed at night to no avail.  We just can’t make that part of our relationship work.  We have what now seems to be termed a “Sleep Divorce”.  In fact, aside from separate beds, we have separate bedrooms.  It works, it makes us work.
From the beginning of our living-together-relationship we have always had trouble sleeping in the same bed.  He constantly suffers from Restless Leg Syndrome and every suggestion his doctor has given him to ‘cure’ it hasn’t worked.  Nightly, I would be awoken to the whole bed shaking thinking there was an earthquake occurring because earthquakes are just so prevalent in the Northeast, USA (note sarcasm).  Nope, no earthquake, just my husband’s leg.  He must be dreaming about running a marathon again.  Ugh, sleep did not come easily those years and when I don’t sleep, my Anxiety and Depression take hold very quickly.

I am not completely innocent either.  Because of my work schedule I could stay up later.  Being years before the invention of Netflix and tablets, this usually involved binge watching Frasier and Golden Girls episodes on my portable DVD player.  Problem was, I was in the bed with my husband and tended to fall asleep during episode 2 or 3, but the sound kept him awake.  I solved the sound issue by wearing headphones but now the light kept him awake.  In addition to my DVD habit, I am told I also snore a bit and chomp in my sleep, but since I have not been given proof of that, I find that hard to believe.

So when we moved into our 4 bedroom house 8 years ago, the excitement came.  I could have my own room again!  I think I was more ecstatic then my toddler child at the time.  I looked at the remaining 2 bedrooms and declared the bigger of the two mine.  It had 2 windows and a ceiling fan.  Yes, I had my own space.  I could snore, I mean, sleep in peace.  On rare occasions, when guests visited, I would vacate my room and sadly enter my husband’s room to sleep.  Luckily, those nights were few and far between.  

I know many will not see this as normal.  Let’s rewind to more than a decade ago.  My husband (then fiancé) and I were sharing an apartment with friends.  This was right after we graduated college.  We had a queen-size bed and a whole mess of issues between his Restless Leg Syndrome and the fact that I was the one who had to wake up early.  Constantly, I vacated the bed to either sleep on the den floor or the living room floor.  Our roommates did not like this and ultimately I had to return to that bedroom I shared with my husband and sleep in the maybe 18″ wide space between the bed and the dresser.  I would argue with our roomies to just give me one space to sleep in that wouldn’t inconvenience them.  There was no give and only the following response:

“How are you two going to be married if you can’t sleep in the same bed together?!”

Ah… interesting.  This response struck me.  What does sleeping in the same bed have to do with a happy marriage?  Isn’t a marriage based on love and friendship?  Where in the marriage license is there a box that we have to check that says “Thou Shall Sleep In The Same Bed Every Night”?  Where is there a vow we are forced to take in the wedding ceremony that promises we will always sleep in the same bed together?  My husband and I didn’t quite understand this necessity.  We both grew up with parents who didn’t.  Most nights, my mother would leave their bedroom to sleep on the sofa because my father’s snoring became too loud and obnoxious.  Once us kids left the roost, my parents had their own bedrooms for awhile.  The same happened with my husband’s parents.  My in-laws still have their own rooms.  And you know what… my parents have been happily married for over 50 years!  Yes, you read that right, 50 YEARS!!!  And you know what else, my in-laws aren’t that far behind them.

My husband I have been married now almost 12 years and we have been together almost 20 years.  This ‘Sleep Divorce’ keeps us happy and sane.  We are able to sleep more solid and more continuous alone.  Because of the better sleep I get, my Anxiety is lower and my Depression is kept at away.  And you know what, my mental health is more important than the stereotype of married couples sleeping in the same bed, right?!

A message to all those men and women out there, those married or about to be, it is OKAY to not sleep in the same bed as your spouse/fiancé/significant other every night.  There is no authority that says you have to.  Remember the first season of I Love Lucy where Lucy and Ricky had separate beds.  Remember the Kings and Queens of long ago who had separate wings of their castles.  It is okay.  Both of your sleep is way more important than sharing a bed.  Getting  healthy sleep keeps you mentally and physically healthy.  If your spouse/fiancé/significant other is keeping you from having healthy sleep you can make a change in the sleeping arrangements.  ‘Sleep Divorce’ is more common than you think and is way cheaper and healthier than going through a regular Divorce (so I’m told).

“I Hate You, Mommy!”

​I would have to say it was around age three when Sophia first yelled at me that she hated me.  Being so young, she had not learned just how hurtful the word “hate” could be.  I know a lot of women who have gotten upset, practically in tears, when their young toddler spews forth, “I hate you, Mommy!”  For me the tears didn’t come.  I knew she was just mad that I told her “No” for doing something wrong, or for not buying her something.  Was I wrong not to care?  How come I brushed it off so easily?  How come the bridge of emotional stability did not collapse me into tears at the uttering of “I hate you, Mommy!” like with other mothers?

As an adult, I understand how hurtful the word “hate” can be.  I continuously tell Sophia to never say that word, to always replace it with “dislike” or, in certain circumstances, “extremely dislike”.  “Hate” implies bigotry and prejudice.  We can’t hate something anymore, the word has become a swear word, something evil.  

But, I can say without a doubt, I hated my daughter in her infancy.  Only three weeks after she was born, I had racing thoughts through my head on how I could rid myself of her.  I never wanted to hurt her, I just wanted to remove myself from her presence.  I thought over and over again about running away.  Leaving in a car, train, plane or even a Greyhound bus… something that would take me far away where her cries didn’t echo in my head like a Mandrake plant from Harry Potter and the Chamber Of Secrets (See video here).  I pondered hurting myself so that I might have to be in the hospital for weeks or even months.  I even dreamed of being put into a psychiatric hospital (which would occur).  Anything to get me away from her, because my hatred of her was so strong.

Of course I was ill.  

My daughter is my only child.  She is the child I suffered severely from Postpartum Depression and Anxiety with.  She is the child I grew to hate in her first few weeks and I have told her this.  I have sat her down once she reached age eight and explained why Mommy is, well, a bit different.  She had seen my crying outbursts, my running sprees to the bathroom to dry heave, my clawing at my head, the constant rocking back and forth and my 2nd hospitalization.  I didn’t have to go back to the history of my Postpartum days, but I did.  I wanted her to know everything.  I wanted her to know about how an illness can change the way you think.  And I wanted her to know that now, I love her, as I constantly tell her, “to infinity and beyond!” (Thank you Toy Story!)

But when she uttered those words, “I hate you, Mommy!”, it didn’t faze me in the slightest way.  Why?  It was so easy for me to hate her but so hard to believe that she could actually hate me.  Believing that she had innocence on her side at age three.  The moment she said this, I instantly thought of the 7th Heaven episode (Season 2, Episode 9) where Ruthie tells her mother “I hate you” for the first time.  She’s around 4 or 5.  The mother loses it.  She’s crying her eyes out.  She seriously believes her child hated her… and for what, yelling at her for coloring the walls.  It made me wonder if a child so young could actually understand the affects of saying the word “hate”.   But the episode continues to teach us about the connotation of the word “hate” with the story of a WWII Concentration Camp survivor.

I haven’t  thought much of “I hate you, Mommy” since, until someone I know recently was in this situation and because it was the child she suffered from a Postpartum Illness with, she took it more to heart and was deeply upset that that due to their rough first few years, there was indeed still a separation amongst them.  I thought about this.  With all of Sophia’s knowledge of my Mental Illnesses, when she tells me she “hates” me now, does she really mean it?  I’ve been so honest with her that I am sure there will come a time when she really does hate me.  Who is to say she doesn’t now and, in some ways, she has every reason to.  She knows I have actually hated her.  She knows my presence in the first year of her life was more robotic.  She knows she was ignored while we were fostering a child, my Tyler.  She knows I have missed moments in her life because I was stuck shaming myself for what happened with Tyler.  I have hurt her.  I have hurt her so much.  Am I wrong to assume that eventually she will hate me?

“I hate you, Mommy!” has been said to me so many times in Sophia’s almost ten years of life.  It is usually followed an hour or two later with “I love you, Mommy!”.  At what age does that change for us?  At what age does our innocence fade and we learn how hurtful words really can be? 

Finding My Purpose In Life…

For as long as I could remember, I always wanted to be a mother.  I was drawn to my friends’ younger siblings.  I loved to coo at babies I saw.  I even transformed the bottom of my tiny closet into a “crib” for my two baby dolls.  I couldn’t wait to feel that love, a love between a mother and her child, this time from the view of being the Mommy.  At that young age, motherhood was my focus in life and I would be blessed almost two decades later with the birth of my daughter.
At six, with the purchase of my first Lego set (a tiny Viking boat), I suddenly had another desire in life… I wanted to build.  I loved sitting there for hours building Lego sets.  First I would follow the step by step instructions included with the set and then I would let my imagination run wild.  During many trips to see my aunt and uncle, I would admire the houses we would pass, studying details and running through my head how to build them with my Legos.  The building desire soon morphed with my love of houses.  I now wanted to become an architect.

A career was always a desired purpose in life for me.  Watching my mother work, I was brought up with a sense of equality, that a woman could support her family just as much as a man.  A woman’s role was not solely being confined to being a housewife.  I studied hard in college with many overnighters spent hunched over my drafting table drawing (or in some cases snoring with my head on my pillow taking a nap).  I wanted so badly to become a talented architect, rising to the same levels of Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier and Michael Graves.  I wanted to see designs I created built and enjoyed by people.  I knew that that was my purpose in life… to be a famous architect and a mother.  I would be able to succeed in both.  Nothing could stop me.

At least that is what I thought…

I was well on my way to obtaining all my necessary hours of experience to be able to sit for my exams to become a licensed architect.  With the birth of my daughter, I was sidetracked from this goal while I struggled for almost a year with Severe Postpartum Depression and Anxiety.  When my baby girl reached age 2, I was back on track and was now able to sit for the seven exams that would give me my other purpose.  I once again studied, but was interrupted many times that when I received my results with the word “FAIL” on it, I was not shocked.  Okay, I would detour my plans for a few more years when my daughter was not so dependent on her Mommy.  Still working full time and taking care of her proved a challenge with carving out niches of time to study harder.  Different exam, a few years later, results… FAIL.

I am not happy with the word “fail”.  I am an Alpha that very much strives to give 100% on everything I do.  I sat and thought about this “purpose” in life.  How important was it to me now to see the word “architect” after my name?  Would it increase my salary at the moment?  Would I really be famous?  Is that what I really wanted now?  After many weeks thinking about this and discussing it with my husband, my family and my therapist, I realized that becoming a licensed architect was no longer a purpose in life.

I knew I wanted more though, more than being a Mommy.

I flip-flopped on certain “purposes” for the next few years.  First, I wanted to take my love of nature and become a Park Ranger.  I wanted to teach people about the outdoor world.  I took a certificate course through Penn Foster on Forestry – Wildlife Conservation.  I was fascinated by the things I learned but after researching more, I realized that getting paid to be a Park Ranger was nearly impossible on the East Coast and relocating wasn’t an option.  Next up, I took my love of exercise and decided I would become a Certified Personal Trainer.  Purchasing a Groupon, I did just that.  I barely passed the proctored exam but obtained my certification and although my purpose of owning my own gym and teaching women to love their bodies was lost when I succumbed to another episode of Major Depressive Disorder, I have still kept this certification active.  I realize though, this is not my purpose in life.

With decades of therapy under my belt, I began to play therapist to myself on this topic… What is your purpose in life Stephanie?  What do you want to accomplish?  What in your mind will give meaning to your life?  Answering these questions gave me that awkward puzzled look that you try to prevent your face from making when you are given the question, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” at an interview.  Luckily, I was not put on the spot sitting in front of an interviewer as it was only me, myself and I.

I analyzed all my aspirations up to then… becoming a mother, creating buildings people needed and could enjoy, helping people enjoy nature, helping people love their bodies and realized that all these aspirations centered around helping or nurturing people.  What could I do with that that would not require going back to school because this lady did not have the money for that.  The light bulb moment happened after a friend of mine published her first book.  I always loved to write since childhood.  Writing was an outlet for me during my Depressive episodes.  I felt that if I wrote about my experiences with Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder, I would be able to help those people who were too scared to speak up, who needed someone to tell them that they are not alone, that they do not need to see the stigma as a threat.

I started my blog focusing on my 20+ years struggling with these illnesses and then decided to do more.  I began to document my journey for a future book.  I became a Climb Co-Leader and a Warrior Mom Ambassador for Postpartum Progress Inc.  I submitted several articles to Stigma Fighters and The Mighty online.  I have been published in two collaborations focused on Mental Illness, Stigma Fighters Anthology II and A Dark Secret.  In a few years, I hope to have my book published and I hope to become a Certified Peer Specialist.  I have become a Mental Health and Maternal Mental Health Advocate.  

This, this, is my purpose in life.  Helping others.  As I help my daughter with her homework, help a struggling mother find someone who has been through what she has been through, or help others shed the shame of their Mental Illness diagnosis, I know, this is what I was put here to do.

I Had A Son…

I had a son.

When I met him, he was barely 2 1/2 years old with an adjusted age of about eighteen months.  All I saw were his deep dark sienna eyes and his messy brown-black hair.

I had a son.

He was all mine from the first day I saw him anxious to give him a hug as I heard him “read” a book.

I had a son.

Soon after he moved in, scared about this new life, he began not to eat or drink, and worried for him, I began not to eat.

I had a son.

I watched him slowly develop with a curiosity a toddler is supposed to have.  

I had a son.

With each new discovery he made, I grew more love for him and more worry.

I had a son.

In that short time he was with us, we taught him how to eat, play, love.  We taught him family.

I had a son.

And when I left him, I was severely broken, pieces all over the floor.

I had a son.

I loved him so much, I craved to keep my family together, as I slowly killed myself.

I had a son.

And after he left, and the negative comments came from a certain person, my guilt grew… I was told I didn’t love him, I didn’t care for him, I acted selfishly, I ruined everything.

I had a son.

And every morning I wake up with his face in my mind, sad for him leaving, happy he was ours.

I had a son.

And I always think about him.  There is never a day in my mind where his dimpled cheek smile does not appear.

I had a son.

A little boy that looked so much like a certain baby picture of mine, he could’ve truly been birthed by me.

I had a son.

I have celebrated his past two birthdays with a candle lit cupcake and later on tears.

I had a son.

Now he lives with another Mommy and Daddy.  The hardest decision ever made, but the best for him.

I had a son.

Each day I yearn to see him, to hug him, to kiss him.

I had a son.

Often, almost two years later, I am still smelling the clothes he came with.  Inhaling everything about him.

I had a son.

My Tyler Rocco.

*****

I wrote this during a bad day recently.  Crying, full of tears. Shame and blame for Tyler leaving weighed heavily on me.  

When I wrote this, I wasn’t sure whether it was a poem or just a normal piece of writing. Still am not sure.

“When Will You Be Done?!”

I’m sitting in silence rocking slightly back and forth.  I’ve been threatened and my survival instincts are kicking in.  Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.  I am stuck… in my cubicle at work.  My stomach is repulsed by food and if I didn’t force myself not to, I would vomit anything that was in it.  My Anxiety is high.  I want to go home, I want to escape to my room and pull the covers over my head shrinking my existence.

I am being harassed, bothered on a project just given to me that I gladly accepted helping with.  I like to help people.  I tend to be a “people pleaser”.  Suddenly with a question asked by an equal, “When will you be done?!”,  I am spiraled into a whole other time and place, my last office.  Those words constantly asked over and over like a broken record…

“When will you be done?!”

“When will you be done?!”

“When will you be done?!”

Like I have a definitive answer.  Who does?  With these words come the visions of my former employment and then my body becomes restless.  I am quickly agitated and can’t sit still.  I rise, leave my cubicle and circle a couple of laps downstairs returning to my desk.  This has not cured the movement desiring beast in me and I still rock back and forth, my hands clenched in tight fists.

Slowly my body begins to release the tension and the rocking lulls.  I am completely exhausted.  I could sleep if I had a bed.  Still working, I notice I receive an email from another associate:

“When will you be done?!”

I am told in that email that I am to respond to another person with:

“When will you be done?!”

I’m overloaded, overwhelmed to the extreme.  I become restless once again, this time my legs swing back and forth, back and forth.  I respond with an email on when I thought I would be done and why it has taken me two days, two days to do almost a complete set of drawings.  Did I mention I was given this two days ago?!  I am a helpful person but not superwoman.  

Suddenly, I am being reprimanded by the “email equal”.  I am being told that my email was unacceptable and should have never been sent.  I am being made to recall said email and being threatened with the possibility of a higher up finding out.  I am beginning to feel stupid as I still do not know what in the email caused this response as all I did was answer the question:

“When will you be done?!”

There was no foul or condescending language (I know better, my parents did not raise an idiot). There was no “I’m not doing this project anymore!” There was nothing but an explanation on when I would be done and the fact the drawings would then have to be reviewed. 

Other equals are telling me there is nothing wrong with the email and not to worry about it.  That what was said to me was harassment.  I was being bullied.  Here I was trying to teach my daughter not to let kids make fun of her, not to let them bully her, and now I was a victim.  I was a hypocrite.  I was stupid.  I was shameful.  I was back to blaming myself for everything.  All the positives, everything I was complimented on, quickly vacated my head and all that was left was Depressed Stephanie, a part of me that was lying mostly dormant these last few months.  

I am still sitting here, still nauseas, body running on only a single-serve Greek yogurt from breakfast (and it is late afternoon).  I still don’t want to leave my cubicle because I don’t want to see these people.  I don’t want to be required to interact with them, at least for the rest of today.  I am now blank, empty and void listening to the drawings for this project  print. I am usually not affected like this at work but today I am.  I have finished, like I said I would, but the damage done to me is not over.  I will be okay, I always bounce back. 

“Yes, Sure, You Were ‘Sick’!”

I’ve heard this so many times.  I am not coughing.  I am not sneezing.  I am not complaining of chills.  I am not home ‘sick’ in the term that I have the flu and need to be in bed.  I would not spread my illness if I came into work.  I would not pass germs that would in turn get you ‘sick’.
But I am sick.

Dictionary.com defines the word ‘sick’ as one who is “afflicted with ill health or disease; ailing.”  Although I am not hacking or vomiting on you, I am in fact sick.  I am afflicted with ill health or disease.  I like to call them hidden diseases.  These mental illnesses, Anxiety and Depression (and at one point PTSD and OCD).  There are further definitions on Dictionary.com that include mental ailments but it shocks me that when a person calls out sick it has to be seen as a ‘real’ ailment to be deemed a ‘real’ sick day and not ‘playing hookie’.  The matter is, when I use a sick day at work, I am sick, but it is my Anxiety and Depression that are center stage.

The last time I took a sick day where I was what is considered sick to a typical person was January of 2014 when I acquired the flu.  For days I was bedridden, sleeping, going through chills alternating with being too hot, running high fevers and completely depleted of all energy.  You know what, those ‘fake’ sick days, my body wants to be bedridden.  I am usually dizzy and nauseas and it is my brain that makes me feel this way, no bacteria or virus I can fault.  My brain, an organ I will live with all my life… not a bacteria that will take up residence for a week.  How can you not call that sick?

Through the years, I have learned to mask first my Depression because I have lived with it for such a long time, more than half my life.  I have just recently perfected the fake smile and faux happy personality when it comes to my Generalized Anxiety.  This little devil has been present in my life for the last decade and I never know when it will go on a nice vacation and I never know when it will return.  Little bugger!  Recently, it has decided to become the dictator of my being.  It took over me a week and a half ago making my body rigid and me mute.  That day was the start to me feeling, well, off.  The work week following that incident, I spent most of my days hiding in my cubicle not wanting to interact with anyone.  Many times I wished I could just go home and hide in my room.  I wanted to be alone.  If I did have interact with my coworkers, I was the smiling funny person I usually am.  All I have to do is put on that fake grin and all of my inner turmoil is hidden.  Viola!  I look perfectly fine.

This past Sunday night I slept awfully.  Even pumped up on .5mg of Ativan and 2mg of Lunesta, my body would not fall asleep.  After watching the 2 hour premiere of Return To Amish because well I had nothing else to do, I decided to try and fall asleep again.  It was 1am.  Luckily, sleep came quick but my body awoke at 5:00am.  Insomnia was back.  When I finally decided to wake up for the day and not continue a fit of tossing and turning in bed in hopes I would fall back asleep it was 6:30am.  I gave in.  Brain, you won.  With a rush of dizziness and nausea, I felt it best to call out sick.

Upon returning to the office the next day, some comments were thrown at me about being ‘sick’.  Sometimes it gets to the point where I feel like the boy who cried wolf.  I have all these physical symptoms but I do not look sick.  I am on day nine of going to bed with such pain in my neck and shoulders because they have been tense all day.  I am highly unmotivated to move and feel out of it.  I don’t quite feel depressed as I do not feel hopeless or worthless, but I do not feel like myself.  Some negative thoughts are returning to me… thoughts where my husband and child deserve better.  I am frequently apologizing to both of them for being so irritable all the time.  “I don’t want to be mean, I am so sorry.”  As I am saying this, I imagine my daughter sitting in therapy in her adult years talking of her mother who snapped at her with anger all the time.  It’s not what I want, but I can’t control it.  Anxiety has taken the reigns.

And then, with the comments and the demons I live with, I begin to wonder if I am imagining these symptoms… maybe I am not really ‘sick’.  This feeling only fuels the craziness I live with… now I am debating with myself if what I feel, mental and physical, is actually real?  Am I just saying this stuff for attention?  I mean, I am the youngest child.  Youngest children usually crave attention, but that was never me.  I also am known to complain a lot, but not about my health.  I have a high pain tolerance and usually wait until the last minute to get help with any ailment.  Still, is this all in my head?  Do I just feel ignored and want to be heard?  

And then I take a step back and breathe.  Stigma.  Damn that stigma.  Just when I think I have broken through its barrier, I am sucked back into the vortex.  This stigma is the reason people do not believe me when I am sick.  I can’t fall victim to it again, it will only hurt me.  This is the reason I share my story all the time.  This is the reason I explain to people what it is like to suffer with a condition that plagues your brain, that interferes with your logical thinking.  

I am sick and some days the pressure builds up mentally, causing physical symptoms and I need to take a day off just like when having a fever.  I need to rest.  Any person deserves that without sarcastic comment.  You deserve to be trusted.

When July 4th Isn’t a Holiday Anymore…

Fireworks enchant me.  The brilliant colors of light that blast in the night sky, not knowing exactly which direction they will burst, what beautiful hues will show, and exactly how loud they will be.  I was always mesmerized by them.  A beautiful man made project dancing with physics come together cohesively to create these sky artwork masterpieces.

Then I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder.  Somehow these once beautiful displays now cripple me.  Sitting at a friend’s annual fireworks party, I felt myself tense up with each pop.  My breaths were becoming short and shallow and I honestly became frozen, unable to speak.  On the outside, I looked like any other spectator, inside I was crying.  I couldn’t believe how my body was reacting to this.  I became panicked and quickly covered any sign of it up.  I only told my husband later that evening when we got home.

And this was a planned fireworks display.  That was only July 2nd.

The next day, panic started the moment I heard the first loud bang around 8pm.  Every noise startled my body.  I was worried I wouldn’t sleep, that my “courteous” neighbors would go the whole night firing off these things.  I repeatedly told myself, “Stephanie, don’t worry, tomorrow is a holiday, you can sleep then if you want.”  A motto that repeated in my brain like a broken record.  Before midnight that night, a sonic boom was created by one said firework, it shook my whole house causing me to jump, exclaim “What the F*ck?!”, and ultimately have an anxiety attack.  Shit, this was only July 3rd.

Sleep did not come easy that night.

I woke up irritable.  It wasn’t shocking.  It took me awhile to fall asleep due to the neighbors’ earthquake producing fireworks and the fact my room was so hot.  Then I woke up several times that night.  I incessantly apologized for my mean behavior as I was being very snarky and sarcastic.  We spent the whole day introducing our daughter to Star Wars Episode VI and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone via cinema.  The holiday seemed relaxing enough.  I was just anticipating the start of the fireworks.  As my husband and I were downstairs watching Murder In The First off the DVR…

“Boom! Pop! Whizz!”

With every sound, my digits tensed.  I dug into the arm of my loveseat with my whole body.  Soon enough I was tensely wound in a huge knot, locked in the fetal position.

“Boom!”

I let out a yelp and shook.  My breathing rapid.  With each burst of a firework, a tear fell from my eyes, my breaths grew more intense and I became rigid and scared.  I am not sure when exactly my Anxiety took complete control of my body last night but over an hour later, my 9 year old daughter came down the stairs to the basement to join us.  She couldn’t fall asleep because the fireworks were loud.

“Can I stay down here?” she asked.

At this point, barely able to recognize her voice, I was like a corpse in rigor on the floor still in the fetal position making a repeated sound every time I gasped for air.  She stayed with us, hugging me, telling me it would be alright.  I kept letting out whispers of “Help me” for them to try to pry me apart as my body was riddled with pain at being locked in this position for over an hour.  My husband tried to pull my legs, my daughter my arm.  Nothing worked.  I couldn’t speak so I could not request my husband get me an Ativan.  My daughter suggested my husband give me some alcohol (yes, not the greatest parenting) which he was about to do but I was unable to drink I was so nauseated.  Anything to get me to relax enough to breathe.

Almost 2 hours in, I felt my breathing slow.  My chest no longer weighted down.  I was able to speak and asked for help once again to uncurl my exhausted body.  My husband uncoiled one arm and shook it out.  Then he did the other.  I took a deep breath.  My daughter moved the ottoman as I was on the floor and my husband pulled at one leg and then the other.  Now instead of sitting pretzel-like, my legs were straight out in front of me but fused.  Reaching out his arms, I grasped my husband’s hands with mine and was lifted straight up.  I could not walk yet, but rather shuffled to the steps as my legs were still stiff and somehow made my way up the stairs where I dropped on my bed and took my Ativan.

I was never in the military.  The mild form of PTSD I suffered from was never triggered by fireworks.  Like those former troops who fear the loud pops every 4th of July, I do too.  My Generalized Anxiety Disorder is no joke.  I don’t want to be incapable of moving and speaking because I am so panicked especially in front of my child.  I could not stop my body.  I could not stop my brain.  July 4th is no longer a holiday for me.  Yes, I still get to enjoy the day off of work with my family and friends, but the fear that is built up over the day concerning what fireworks will go off, when they will go off and how long they will last takes over my whole body.  My “holiday” turns into a nightmare at the bare minimum.

It is now Tuesday, July 5th, and I started my day off with anxiety attacks.  I sat through a meeting masking my short breaths, desiring to go home and hide.  I worry about tonight and the fireworks.  I worry about the next July 4th and am already researching countries to go to to avoid reliving what happened last night. I am still living in fear.  All I can hope for is that tonight is not a repeat of last night.

Why I Am Going To Stop Body Shaming

For as long as I can remember, the words “Fat Free” were a part of my everyday vocabulary.  I am not sure when the switch to fat free milk was made in my house but I don’t remember any other kind as a child.  It was in my elementary school years where cookies became bad, cakes were evil and chocolate was a swear word.  All of these possessed huge amounts of calories.  It didn’t mean too much back then as a small child.  I had frequent birthday parties that I went to where I had the “sinful” cake.  But it was starting, the body shaming, and I was learning it like every female before, from their mother.  I watched her turn down sweets, make lighter meals with every fat-free ingredient possible and often went with her to Ideal Weight meetings.  I even attended a few aerobic classes.  This was back in the 80s when Richard Simmons promised you a great figure if you just “Sweat To The Oldies”.  People only looked at the words “fat free” and “sugar free” , knew it wasn’t going to taste as yummy, but would be a good healthier version of the real thing.  So many times I tried to convince myself that those Snackwell cookies really did taste like chocolate heaven. What the heck was I thinking?!

My body shaming started around my pre-teens, eleven, twelve years old. It may have been a few years before.  I started to compare myself with my friends and couldn’t help but notice I was a little bit chubbier then they were. While a few of them were still in kids sizes in junior high, I had hit adult sizes and weighed almost 100lbs in my small 4′-9 1/2” frame. I looked at my thighs when sitting and just noticed how much they spread out. I saw the blob of knee fat I inherited from my mother’s side of the family. I critiqued every aspect of my body. I was absolutely ashamed.  I started dieting in high school.  Every summer I would follow Weight Watchers, nitpick at what I was eating, tell myself to do more exercise… still nothing was good enough.  My size in clothing just went up to about a women’s 8 and I was at my max height of 5′-1″.  Nothing that is really of a huge concern weight-wise but my mind was already made up.  I was fat.  I would never get a boyfriend, never be popular, never succeed.  Of course the media didn’t help.  Everywhere from magazines to TV shows, women were shown as toothpick skinny and still are.  Even as the years passed, it seems we have become comfortable showing bigger men on shows but the women seem to get skinnier.  What kind of message is that?!

So I kept myself busy.  Like I do now to keep my anxiety at bay, I do anything that prevents me from thinking.  I volunteered for the high school paper, the writing anthology, theater, anything.  Then I became sick April of my senior year and dropped ten pounds in a week due to a kidney infection that prevented me from keeping anything down.  I thought it was the greatest thing to happen to me.  Losing 10lbs in 1 week!  That was awesome in my teenaged/young adult mind.

Just when I thought I had this weight thing worked out, I went away to college and put on the freshman fifteen, but thankfully, lost it with Weight Watchers over the summer.  This cycle repeated my sophomore year.  Unfortunately, the losing part stopped with junior year.  By the time I graduated, I was thirty pounds heavier then when I started college and feeling like a big fat pig.  I could’ve taught a class in Body Shaming 101.  This weight stayed on me when I married my husband and was still there when I was told that I couldn’t continue living with my current resting blood pressure of 150/90.  I had to do something especially since we wanted to start a family the following year.

My PCP put me on a blood pressure medication, but basically told me I had to cut out all salt and actually perform some type of exercise activity instead of dreaming about it in my head.  Sure, sure, I can do that.  Day one, I put my sneakers on, disgustingly stared at myself in the mirror and did 15 minutes of Wii Fit.  Thinking some sort of weight loss miracle occurred in those 15 minutes I ran up to the bathroom and went to look at myself in the mirror again.  Nope, no change.  Why was I doing this?!  I was never going to be happy with body.  But I continued and worked my way up over the next few months to exercising 4 times a week for at least 30 minutes.  And, I lost weight.  I was thrilled!

Then I got pregnant with my daughter and was even more ecstatic until I hit that period in my pregnancy when I didn’t quite look pregnant yet, I just looked fat.  Great.  Now sporting a size 12 in pants to accommodate my little jellybean, I had to keep telling myself that there was a baby growing inside and that I wasn’t fat.   A few weeks later it was very apparent that I was indeed pregnant.  Once my daughter was born, losing the weight became very simple, but not healthy.  I developed postpartum Depression and Anxiety and was vomiting.  By the time she was a month old, I had lost about 30 of the 40 pounds I put on while pregnant.  I also was being hospitalized.  After twelve days there, I was now eating and eating a lot and gained fifteen of those pounds back.  A few months later, I started attending Weight Watcher’s meetings with my mother.  And the cycle continues.

I had a great few years when the stars were aligned and my mental, emotional and physical well-being were an amazing trifecta of strength.

Then, my mental leg slipped and dragged my emotional leg down with it.  I was hospitalized again for Major Depressive Disorder and Severe Generalized Anxiety Disorder in January 2015.  I saw my body go from 104lbs from not being able to eat when I entered the hospital and gradually rise the months following.  I had hit 130lbs, 15lbs more than I wanted to be because to me 115lbs was my ideal.  The weight only added to my Depression.  I was stagnant… no energy to do anything and eating too much.  A year later, this past January, I started counting calories.  Still nothing.  I kept up with walking at lunch, did Pilates at work, tried some fitness classes… nothing.  Feeling hopeless, I turned inward and started to blame the most logical source, the 3 medications I was on to keep me sane.  All 3 of them can cause weight gain.

What I didn’t see was my daughter.  I didn’t notice her there when I would question my husband on how exactly he cooked dinner down to every ingredient and amount used as I entered in the calories.  I didn’t see her when we went out to eat and I ordered a salad mentioning I wanted to lose weight.  I didn’t notice she was there and at the prime age to take in and absorb what I was saying.  I had continued and passed this thinking down to her.

“Mommy, I’m fat!” she told me one day.

I stared at her quizzically, “Where?  Where is there fat on your body?”

My daughter is tall and slender like her father.  She then proceeded to point to her stomach and the inherited knee fat.  What have I done?!  She’s only 9!  I don’t want her to grow up like me constantly looking for body approval and yet it has already started.  But I didn’t wake up that first time.  After brushing the comment off I still continued to track my calories, discuss my exercise, and turn away those sinful foods… still in front of her.

Then I weaned off one of my meds, the medication I thought for sure was causing the weight to stay on.  Yet, the weight didn’t come off.  I became sad and only discussed my weight obsession further in front of Sophia until I read the following 2 articles:

“I’m Afraid My Daughter Will Think It’s “Normal” to Hate Her Body — Because of Me” written on Babble by a friend from high school whose daughter is only a toddler and  “Why I’m Accepting the ‘Weight Gain’ Side Effect of My Psychiatric Medications” on The Mighty.

I reread them both and thought a lot about them over the last few days especially when my daughter complained she was “fat” again.  If I continued to shame myself, I was not only hurting myself, but affecting my daughter’s way of thinking about her body.  And why was I doing this?  Because I was 10lbs away from my goal weight, my perfect weight of 115lbs?  I am still on 2 medications that cause weight gain that I am nowhere near ready to get off of.  These meds help me live a typical life.  I am eating well, exercising when possible, basically doing everything I can do.  I can still fit it to XS and S shirts, still am a 0-4 in pants depending on brand.  I am still relatively skinny.

As I thought about all this, I thought about how I could execute the “No More Body Shaming” plan.  I have been shaming myself for around 30 years.  It would not be easy.  But like my friend Marisa states in her Babble article, I can try to not say anything in front of my daughter.  I am happy to report that for the last couple of days I have kept my mouth shut.  I still log my calories but am now doing it when she is not around.  I am learning to accept my figure and its “flaws”.  It is a start that I hope will reverse some of the damage I did to my daughter and create an appreciation for the amazing thing my body actually is.