Anxiety Update

I have devoted chunks of this blog to my anxiety, that it only seems appropriate to start detailing my battle, and triumph, at gaining the upper hand over it. 
Though I’ve worked at this for well over a year, I see the story really starting in September 2016. 

My dad had just set off for San Diego in his truck to take care of some business with the home he and my mom still owned there – the house that I grew up in. The minute he told me he was leaving, I became terrified. I thought of all the turmoil being reported in the news with police officers seemingly shooting Black men for being simply that: Black. I thought of how far the trip was and how though he’s a youthful man still, my dad was indeed 60 years old. The surge of hormones happening within me as my first trimester came to a close wasn’t helpful. I tinkered on nauseous and paranoid, depressed and anxious – a real cocktail of instability. But life pressed forward despite my internal cries to just make everything stop. 

A few days after my dad took off, the first hurricane to come in off the Gulf coast in decades formed, and its projected path was set to hit our area. This would mark the first time my husband and I would experience a hurricane warning for where we lived. So, not only was my dad gone, leaving my mom alone at their home, but now a hurricane was headed for us and I had no idea how to cope. 

I called some friends and freaked out on the phone. I stayed up waiting for my husband to come home from work in the few nights before the storm hit. He shipped me off to my mom’s, likely for two reasons – 1) because he knew I would do better with her and 2) he was probably growing tired of witnessing my chaos but not being able to do anything whilst also working to secure our home and pets for the incoming storm. 

Once the storm hit, I remember my heart pounding, my stomach being in knots, having hot flashes, and feeling like I was failing my children – both my unborn and my toddler. It was at this moment, I remember clearly, that I heard a distinct voice. The message verbatim is a little foggy, but overall, it said to me, “Antoinette, how do you expect to progress as the mother you want to be if you crumble at the slightest onset of trouble? If you think you’ll be strong enough for childbirth at the end of this pregnancy by acting this way, you are wrong.”

Ouch.

The voice then went on to say, “I’ve commanded your father to leave for now. When have I ever let you down? Would it be like me to let something happen to him when I have called him to take on this challenge right now?” 

I sobbed in reply and stated, “no…”

It was at that moment that I realized that I needed to get a grip. I’ve always wanted to be seen as strong, powerful, fearless…but I wasn’t being any of those things. And it wasn’t just one day of weakness – it was a week long of weakness. Not my finest snapshot in time. I’m almost embarrassed to write these words. 

But it was this embarrassing psychological intervention that fortified my resolve. Not only was I going to stop letting myself be a victim to my thoughts and circumstances, but I was also going to start actively working to pass them. 

The first lesson I had to learn was that thoughts are simply that – thoughts. They are not reality. Like one might pick up and examine apples at the market to find the best ones for purchase, thoughts may come in, but that doesn’t mean they must then shape the narrative of my life at the time, or even ever. I can pick up a thought, and just as quickly, put it back down. So, thoughts of bad things happening to me or my family don’t have to take over. They’re just thoughts. If nothing tangible is playing out in front of me to support these thoughts, why go there? Stopping the late night/early morning rumination has been most helpful on my journey. 
The next lesson I had to learn was that I indeed am enough. We hear that phrase tossed around all the time, and I feel it means different things to different people, depending on who you ask. For me, it’s the notion that I don’t need to work any harder or be anything more to be worthy. Anyone who doesn’t see me as such when I am who I am isn’t worth it. 

And that contributed to the drastic drop in my overall social circle. I stopped paying attention to others and started focusing on myself and my family first and foremost. To them, I will always be more than enough, even on the days when I am barely at full capacity. I had to emotionally release myself from feeling responsible for certain relationships and prioritize the relationships I truly was responsible for, mainly, the ones with the people with whom I share a home, and the ones who raised me. That’s it. Everything and everyone else became peripheral with the understanding that the change was not personal, nor aimed at anyone in particular, but that this is the new normal for me. I can’t uphold the expectations of others when I’m too busy meeting the expectations I have of myself (which mostly center on making sure I’m the best mom and wife I can be). Anyone who couldn’t get down with that was phased out. 

I changed my number. Lots of folks didn’t get the new one. Oh well. It’s been a nice measure in breaking away. 

Lastly, I had to remember the true meaning of the semicolon I had tattooed onto my arm – a reminder to pause. 

Believe it or not, I’m pregnant here, too! Only about 7 weeks. No nausea yet. Hence the smile.😉


I can press pause as many times in a row as I want or need to. And though pressing pause sounds like a cop-out on the surface, it’s truthfully one of the best forms of self-care I’ve implemented. Self-care doesn’t have to mean spending tons of money on spa treatments or gifts for yourself. Self-care can simply mean carving out 30 minutes of silence to be still, meditating in the morning/afternoon/evening to re-center yourself, taking a walk alone, listening to some good music for 15 minutes, or taking a tub bath. I used to feel guilty for doing those things because my daughter might need me, or what about my husband, or look at all the chores that need to be done. But what about me? What about the internal housekeeping that we all must do to keep ourselves from becoming work-obsessed, stressed out monsters? I am worth nothing to my family if I am burnt out, and in these last few months, my husband has gotten to see what burnout can look like for me. He doesn’t like it. Neither do I. He told me thanks for always doing for he and our daughter even when I am past my limit. It wasn’t until he said that (about a month ago) that I realized I have changed. I have grown. I am stronger…

I used to think strength was something that had to be bestowed upon you; someone would have to show up and hand me “strength” in order for me to be strong. No, you’re strong the moment you decide to not succumb to your circumstances. You’re strong the minute you decide that though things may not be ideal, you will deal. Strength doesn’t always show up as being stoic or hardened – many people cry through strength. They feel themselves falling apart. But they don’t give up. I’ve faced a lot through this pregnancy alone and had to learn to toughen up for myself and for my son. It’s come with hard moments, but those hard moments have made me so much better. I’m even a better manager at work now. It’s almost over, and though I will be glad to not be pregnant anymore (seriously, it’s been a blessing and all but just gimme dat baby already!) I wouldn’t trade a single trial or challenge that’s come with it. I am propelling past my anxiety by remembering all that I am and forgetting all I do not have to be. I am enough. And I am ready. 

2016 – Oh Baby, What a Year It’s Been

I always recap the year on New Year’s Eve or some date close to it, so here I am again…but I don’t have nearly as much time to be as detailed as I’d normally be, so I’m going to do my best at summarizing my takeaways over the last 365 days.

The first thing I have to say is that 2016 has been a monumental year. One of my best. I’m ending it in a different place than I started, which is always a feather in my cap, and while my life has taken a dramatic turn from what it once was, it makes me happy that this year I finally found the courage to be myself.

1. I kept my faith first this year, and as a result, I got some of the things I’ve been longing for. No, it wasn’t always easy to choose Jesus first, to not act and wait for His word, and to stick to what He states for us is right. But I did. I chose the hard path. And He rewarded me for it by helping me grow by leaps and bounds.

2. My family is growing! I thought we couldn’t have more kids. I thought something was wrong with me. Something was definitely wrong with me, but it was my thinking, not my reproductive system. Our son will be here in March. Though Kennedy is a fantastic kiddo, she doesn’t deserve to be an only child, and as it’s looking now, she won’t be. (I’m so, so happy for that)

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Just us, the founders of Team Oesterlein. ❤️

3. My marriage is on the upswing, after a long period of downswing. We have no fairytale romance or whirlwind story to speak of. We’re just two imperfect people who like having each other around and tend to do some great stuff when we stick together. I don’t speak for him, but I will go so far as to say that we both learned this year how to put aside the bullshit, and dial up the realness. I’ve enjoyed abandoning the periphery in favor of growing closer to the person I said a vow to grow with almost nine years ago.

4. My career moved in a positive direction this year. I was finally able to move away from teaching in favor of something else related to education. I love the field, but I wasn’t in love with teaching anymore. I’m currently in love with curriculum, though.

5. I stuck to my biggest New Year’s Resolution for 2016 by abandoning Facebook…as well as Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter. Yes, it did mean I had to give up being a Beachbody coach as well, not because it’s impossible to work that business while not on social media, but because I wasn’t willing to invest the time to learn to do so. I walked away. Certain people are still mad. That’s okay, I left on a good note and have nothing bad to say. People’s opinions of me are really none of my business or concern.

6. I got the upper hand on my anxiety this year. I did this through a variety of measures including prayer, meditation, journaling, speaking to a counselor, subscribing to The Anxiety Coaches Podcast, my semicolon tattoo, setting new boundaries, being wholly honest with others about my feelings, and what I view most important: practicing emotional detachment. I found the courage to release myself from the weight of things I was under and didn’t need to be. Don’t ask me why I felt like I had to assume these burdens; in some way, I think I thought I was being a good friend or person by doing so. But no more. Especially when referring to the phenomenon that was #5 of this list, I have learned to confidently view myself as being in control of my life and its direction. I cut my obligations to others by cutting people out who only expect things of me but offer nothing. I toughened up. I’ve learned how to say no, how to stand up for myself, and how to not care about pleasing others. Did it cost me anything? Yeah, I suppose. But what I gained? Priceless. I have clear perspective on who I am. I recognize that my feelings are not my reality and therefore I don’t need to be victimized by them. I’ve learned how to pick up a thought and also put it down so that I can live in the moment. I was never like this when I was a Facebook user. I’m a better wife and mom now. I love who I am. And I’d rather love me and be hated by others than do things the other way around. My husband and daughter seem to love me for this too, and they (as well as our impending arrival) are the only ones I’m interested in making happy. (Mom and dad too, but we’re all 32 years deep, so they can’t really get rid of me. Did I mention they celebrated 35 years married this year?!)

Okay, well, I’m off to take K to my parents’ house for a bit. I can’t effing wait to see you, 2017. Many thanks to 2016 for everything it brought. I couldn’t have written a better year for myself if I’d tried.

Life Reset

Don’t know what a life reset is? No worries. I don’t exactly know what it is either. I came up with the term when I was throwing around the concept of changing not what I do in my life, but rather my approach to my life.

The infrastructure of my life is beautiful: I have a great job that pays me well and I have fun running a growing business from my house. I’m blessed with a great family and a bright future as a wife, mom, coach, and student of life. I do not want to trade or get rid of any of these things, but I’ve been sort of just, “floating” between them.

I wake up, I go to work, I check in with my challengers and team, I contribute to the curriculum department at my job to create new, cutting edge course material, I exercise, I get other people to exercise, I cook food, I hug and kiss my daughter, I hold hands with my husband…eventually it becomes a really big blur of moving pieces. I love all of these pieces dearly, but I am not truly cherishing them as I know I can. The reason? I’m spread too thin, I’m running in circles, and I’m burning my metaphoric energy candle at both ends most days.

tree photo

I was given this life because I’m strong enough to live it; I just need to start living it now. 

 

This need for change has been evident for a while, but I wasn’t truly moved to make a change until: 1) after my enlightening visit to see my cousin and his wife in Chicago, and 2) I gained some perspective on just exactly what being in my 30s means in relation to my 20s, which are already over, and my 40s which are approaching.

Being around my cousin and his wife last week showed me what potential one could have if they utilize some proper planning, but also leave space for the fun. He’s always kind of been more like an older sibling to me and I’ve watched as he’s met and married his wife, and witnessed as they became parents alongside Fabian and I as their daughter is less than three weeks older than Kennedy. They are not perfect people, but they are definitely the kind of people who you want to have rub off on you because of the cohesiveness of their union, the forward progression of their personal and professional lives, and they still manage to remain relatable, lovable people in the process, which is rare. They also enjoy their life. No, not by base jumping or swimming in diamonds or sleeping on sandy beaches every weekend, but by building simple, yet gratifying activities into their day-to-day. I felt a sense of refresh come over me by staying with them for a week because though they wrangle a lot in their lives – business trips, raising a toddler, paying bills, budgeting, and the woes of living far away from family – they still find the time, energy, patience, and ability to enjoy the life they’ve built. This was eye-opening to me.

The second event that woke me up to my need for change, believe it or not, was Ali Wong’s stand-up special, “Baby Cobra,” which I watched while nursing a cold on the couch a few nights ago. My husband watched it first and recommended it, and boy, does he know me.

Ali Wong had me in stitches. I’ll save the review of her show for another platform, as most readers don’t come here for my commentary on television specials. One reason I enjoyed her candid, vulgar set so much is because I could relate on a variety of levels.

She’s a thirtysomething. She wasn’t swept off her feet when she met her now husband (a graduate of Harvard Business School). She struggled with fertility issues before finally conceiving her first child (she’s actually in her second trimester during the special). She isn’t some dainty, pretty girl with dainty, pretty thoughts – the woman explains her obsession with porn, her envy of housewives and stay at home moms, her feelings about her maturing from a hot, young 18-year-old to a still young, but getting older 34 year old, and her resentment of teenage girls for their effortless ability to be firm, tight, gorgeous, and desirable. While maybe not all of those areas apply to me exactly, I laughed along with Ali’s audience because I could relate.

The broad beacon of reason in Ali’s special was that though she, and many other thirtysomething women in the US, might not have it all together, she’s doing her best to make sure that what she does have is freaking awesome. She spoke frankly about the fact that your 30’s are all about recharge, renewal, refocus, and inner growth as she explained that she and her husband enjoy going on yoga retreats, listening to relaxation podcasts, and taking it easy at home. Funny, because I can relate there as well! Though her journey through adulthood has included some embarrassing moments and heartbreak, she’s fixed her gaze upon looking forward and carving out a beautiful path for herself, wherever it may lead.

Funny, you’d think that the two events that moved me to want to change my life so much would be more massive and significant than one trip to see family and a comedy special, but it really is as simple as those two things that put me in a position to write this blog post today.

I am no longer 26. When I was 26, I had what seemed like endless energy. I could run in circles if I wanted to because A) I probably wouldn’t even notice what I was doing and B) I had the gas to push through something like that without becoming weary. At 32, I’m not old, but I’m certainly not as full of energy as I once was. If I’m going to exert myself, I need to be happy about it at the end of the day.

I used to think that the expectations placed on me by my job and by my friends and by my parents were obligations I’d need to live up to. I’ve learned now that the only people I’m truly obligated to are my husband, our daughter, and myself. Everyone and everything else is accessory, especially with regard to my work. I have never been labeled as lazy because I am not, but I am also no longer interested in being a workhorse. I flat out told my boss that I, “may or may not meet” a deadline when approached with a task last week. The Antoinette of 2007 would’ve worked extra hours to appease the boss, and the Antoinette of 2012 would shake in her heels while trying to take a stand. I’ve dropped all pretense.

The question I’ve had to ask myself: Who am I trying to impress? The neighbors? Some group of girls I went to college with? My coworkers? People at a party? I don’t go to parties, ever, and if I lost stature with any of the other aforementioned groups it wouldn’t make a lick of difference in my life. I’d still live in this bangin’ house. I’d still be Mrs. Oesterlein. I’d still be Kennedy’s mom. Jesus would still love me.

So, rather than throw my New Year’s resolutions down the tube for yet another year, I’m going to attempt to turn it around by truly re-centering myself so that I can better attack my anxiety, get a handle on my time management, be a better wife to my husband, be a better mom to my child, and my favorite of this already fantastic list: add more value to the world around me. I want to live purposefully, intentionally, and fully while I still have the time to.

 

Reset.

This will likely manifest in a series of other posts from me, so stay tuned.

 

 

Wrong Label

I don’t do well at creating analogies most of the time, but I’m going to take a stab at one right now.

Imagine, if you will, the assortment of soft drinks that sit neatly stacked inside a vending machine. If one is lucky enough to have the two dollars and some change these cold beverages cost (seriously – the cost of soda is one of the many reasons I don’t drink it!), as well as the patience it takes to slide their dollar bills into the narrow mouth of the machine, they get the option to select their drink of choice by pressing the corresponding button which usually has a picture of their desired soda on it. Soft drinks have come a long way and run the gamut from sugary juices and teas, to energy drinks, to bubbly favorites like Sprite, Pepsi, Fanta, and Mountain Dew. Now, more than ever, there is a wide variety of soft drinks to choose from.

Anywho, in this scenario we have a young, thirsty soda buyer on a quest for cola. It can be Pepsi, it can be Coke, hell, it can even be that dreaded RC knock-off crap, but cola is the end game. The vending patron purchases her soda from an overpriced machine and hurries off to her next destination, be it a class, a shift at work, or home. The brilliant red hue of the can and the curvy letters on the label appear all too familiar, and condensation even begins to form as the icy can makes contact with the much warmer air outside of the vending machine apartment where this soda had once lived.

When she pops the top and takes a swig, the taste is both familiar as well as surprising. It’s definitely cola, and the bubbles spring against her tongue in a familiar way, but something else is there. She drinks a little more, and can’t quite place the difference, but this isn’t cola as she’s used to it. There’s an unexpected finish to it. It isn’t a bad one; in fact, it actually tastes pretty nice. It’s a different flavor, though, and while she finishes the can, she’s left wondering why those 12 ounces of cola hit her so differently from other servings of cola she’s had in the past. This soda drinker hasn’t caught on that the contents of her plain cola can actually contained cherry cola. The sweet finish was pleasant, but not sought after, and the uniqueness of the cherry cola loses its value by being represented by the wrong can.

A similar tale could be told about my temperament.

As a child, I was always friendly, outgoing, and spritely (since I brought up soda). I had my own bouts with nervousness at giving presentations or being put on the spot to speak in school or extracurriculars, but these didn’t keep me from taking to the stage for dance recitals, performing in choir, pursuing a short-lived career in radio, appearing in two music videos for BET Network, performing at my high school’s first ever poetry slam, pledging a sorority, and even wanting to become an educator in the classroom as an adult. I’ve always been typed as “loud,” and indeed, my voice carries. Meet my mom; I get it from her.

But these traits have always garnered me the label of “extrovert,” and before age 16, I just went along because I didn’t know any wiser. It wasn’t until I was in the throes of puberty that I started to question whether or not I was really as open and outgoing as everyone had come to think I was, or if I was just someone who coped with the pressure of being put on the spot better than others around me. I can remember sitting in my 10th grade English class, hating life, watching the clock incessantly, when we (the class) stumbled upon some names within our assigned novel that our teacher had trouble pronouncing. Because my mom had many Chinese, Vietnamese, and Korean coworkers and friends, I learned tricks of pronunciation and was able to spit the names out easily. Suddenly, all eyes turned to me as she asked me to continue reading this section of text. I read it as best I could, and the students around me pressed me with questions about how it was that I spoke so clearly even with words derived from other languages. I shrugged and waited out the final moments of 6th period and booked it.

The next day, this boy I’d had a crush on, who was also my classmate in this class, sat next to me and asked if I wanted to hang out with him and his speech and debate buddies one day after school. They were part of the elitist cool at my high school – not jocks or popular – I wasn’t into those guys. I refer to them as the elitist cool because they were so smart and stuck up they built their own upper echelon. I’d later learn that those types of fake societies matter about as much as two-dollar bills, but when you’re 16 and  have just learned that when you throw on a skirt you have hips, that kind of invitation can make you feel good. But I couldn’t go. Not because mom or dad would object – I could think of a good enough lie to wiggle around them – I just didn’t want to be put on the spot. I didn’t want these people knowing who I was. I couldn’t let him see who I really was. No abuse at home, no bed wetting problems, no Rosemary Kennedy sibling hidden away in my family’s attic. I was just a nerdy girl who liked to play Zelda and listen to music for hours in her own room without fear of someone barging in because there were no siblings to share space with. I liked to research things in my spare time and write poems. I’d spend hours in my room just zoning out after school because my mind was on overload sometimes. So many people and cliques and rumors and trends to keep up on and MTV and people to call and…I didn’t want them knowing any of that about me because it was private.

That was the day my introversion and I shook hands, and we’ve been locked ever since.

Fast forward to now, where I sit in a place where I have nothing left to do but find myself as I live in a still fairly new location, reunited with family I’d been far away from, and still adjusting to my ever-changing role as a wife, mom, career woman, and entrepreneur, and I’m learning to embrace my introversion more tightly. I was always typed as an extrovert because I engage in “outgoing” activities such as socializing with strangers at gatherings and public speaking, but what nobody ever really knew (even I haven’t understood this until recently) was that those activities drained me. I needed my alone time to recover from them, and my home environment was of such where I didn’t have to put forth much effort to get this. Mom and dad were involved, but they gave me my space. I always had my own room and pretty much ruled the upstairs of our house as the guest bedroom had my computer in it. I just thought I was being an only child, and to some degree that may have been true, but as I’m learning, I was also recharging in solitude as introverts often do.

introvert advantage

From The Introvert Advantage by Marti Olsen Laney, Psy.D.

[It’s not the introvert bible – I’ve found a few questionable spots in this book and I’m almost through it – but it gives a nice perspective on what it’s like to date, parent, and be married to introverts if you are or are not one. I’m learning that I can actually relate to the world…if I want to.] 

 

Failure to do this can have grave consequences like panic attacks, sudden mood shifts, and unkind words. I hosted a bridal shower at my home in California and had two anxiety attacks trying to keep myself together as droves of strangers marched through my home, passed my 9-month old daughter around, and peered curiously at pictures of my family on the walls. I shoved my postpartum body into a sundress and tried to play hostess, but all I wanted to do was curl into a ball on the floor and try to process the upcoming move. I like for people to come over, but I don’t like for them to stay long. I can be open, but I prefer to keep myself hidden. Even the glimpses you see of me on this blog, which are more than any I share on other social media, are limited glimpses. The complex and beautiful web that I’m weaving isn’t for others to behold beyond my spouse and someday my daughter, and they even need a road map to navigate it all.

All of this, in summation, is to say that I identify very clearly with that unique cherry cola that was mistaken for classic and undervalued behind an improper label. I sit on the more extroverted side of introversion, but make no mistake that introversion is where I sit. I’ve been on the wrong shelf for quite some time, and have finally been moved, and I like it here better (there’s more room).

I’ll have more to say on this later.

My Semicolon Project

I’ve been overdue for a new tattoo, but people who know me well know that my body modifications are always tediously planned out. I don’t get inked just for the sake of doing it; my tattoos each have a story that’s tied to my soul and likely represents something more than just the illustration. Meet my newest piece: the semicolon.

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Wow! This photo is packed with symbols for things that all mean a lot to me. Such as ninja turtles. 🙂

Laurel alerted me to the Semicolon Project last year, and while I’m not affiliated with them in any way, I respect the project’s vision and have a personal investment in anything aimed at preventing anxiety, depression, suicide, and self harm to all people. The Semicolon Project is a valuable tool for a world inundated with put-down culture. It doesn’t surprise me in the slightest that people are plagued with depression in our world because most of the images and messages marketed to us center on death, destruction, criticism, and getting us to emotionally react. Innovators of the Semicolon Project urged people who were feeling suicidal, depressed, or anxious to draw a semicolon on their hand or wrist. As explained by supporters of the movement, “A semicolon is used when an author could have chosen to end their sentence, but chose not to,” empowering individuals to choose another way.

My own experience with depression, anxiety, and suicide dates back to when I was a teenager and my parents were nearing divorce. All of the fighting, stumbling on my father’s plans to move me away from my mother and not knowing how to tell him, being asked who I’d like to live with, witnessing them lying to each other – it was a lot to handle. I didn’t have a sibling to seek comfort from, and the nearest extended family member’s home was 300+ miles away. That was the earliest, and thankfully one of the only, times I felt like dying would be a better option than waking up the next day. I was not suicidal again until I faced postpartum depression after having Kennedy.

Side note: My parents didn’t end up divorcing, but it’s important to point out that even a rock solid marriage like theirs has seen its battle days.

As far as I can pinpoint, depression has been a big bubble in my life, encompassing chaptered chunks of time that happen to be in chronological order. I didn’t know it was there half the time, but I think I was able to disguise it to myself by training my mind to think otherwise. After the third year of my parents living in Florida and me in California, I’d trained my heart to think it wasn’t hurting for them to keep myself from completely falling apart watching my friends all spend time with their families. Coping mechanism? Maybe. It’s been a complicated web to untangle, and that’s the best I can come up with so far. I’m still working on it.

Anxiety is an entirely different bear and by far the one I work hardest to manage. Anxiety is what tells me to worry, tells me to second guess myself, dreams up the worst case scenario and then plays it on repeat, and who shouts ugly things at me when I’m feeling weak. I hate it. I have it. But it does not have me. This tattoo is mostly dedicated to that. I chose my bicep too because, well, it takes strength to pause and decide. Our world values moving fast, but I say we take it slow. Slow down and be intentional. Stop missing things because you were moving too quickly through them. Pause, reflect, decide what serves you and discard what doesn’t, and last but not least: do.

My tattoo is a reminder that though my pace of life can become rapid, I am still in control of how fast it plays, and how many times it gets paused for reflection, for recovery, and for peace.

Full Disclosure

anxiety

There. I said it. Can I go hide now?

First of all, I want to advise that if you’re someone who views mental wellness as a waste of time and energy, you should click the X on the tab for this window and walk away from my blog. If you think that depression, anxiety, and/or posttraumatic stress are made up disorders, you should click the X on the tab for this window and walk away from my blog. If you’re looking at your computer or mobile phone screen with the idea that this is a cry for attention, again, get the hell off my blog page because what I’m writing about here isn’t for you.

Now that I’ve hopefully filtered out trolls, skeptics, and jerks, here’s the unedited truth:

I’ve never sat in a therapist’s office and been told that this is my diagnosis. However, I’ve kept my former therapist’s number on speed dial for the last decade since connecting with her just as I was finishing college at CSUSM. No other professional in the field of mental health has ever been able to reach me quite like she has, and given that we’ve been in touch for so many years (through my marriage, entry into motherhood, and moving), she knows a lot about me. I asked her if symptoms like mine sounded like anxiety, and she told me it wouldn’t be right for her to give me a diagnosis over the phone after not seeing each other for a couple of years. She then went on to state that based on the pattern of behaviors I’ve exhibited during periods when I was under her care, anxiety symptoms like self-consciousness, excessive worry, and sleep issues are common with anxiety disorder and that if those symptoms are becoming worse for me, I should seek care with someone local to my area to address it.

Aha.

This has likely been a building issue; it definitely didn’t spring up overnight. The first time I felt something noticeable was on June 20, 2008. Some of the beautiful friends and coworkers my mom and I had gained while working for the same hospital decided to throw a grand send off party for my parents, as they would be departing for Florida six days later.

I can remember very clearly being told what time the party began and where it was located (not far from where I was living at the time) and one of my close friends at the time offered to come with me. Keep in mind that I was planning my wedding at this point, so this friend was also serving as a bridesmaid and knew the magnitude of what was about to happen for me the minute my parents flew away on a one-way flight leaving me behind in sunny San Diego. As I got ready for the party, I had to force myself through the motions of getting up, getting showered, drying my hair, picking out clothes, getting into the car, driving to pick up said friend, and then showing up at the party. It was torture. We arrived almost an hour and a half late. I had no excuse other than that I wanted my body to move, but I couldn’t do it. It was like being trapped in a tornado. I smiled and faked my way through that party, but all I kept thinking about was how my life would probably end six days later and if it didn’t, I would have no clue where to begin picking up and moving on.

The next time I can recall feeling different was two and a half years later, at the end of my masters program at National University. I struggled to get my thesis written, and I struggled to find work doing what I wanted after graduating. I hadn’t had much luck finding fulfilling work when I got my BA, so I had set myself up in my mind to have difficulty doing it again with my MA. I can remember staying up late at night scouring the internet in search of a job to get me to the next phase of my life, and my husband walking into the living room of our apartment in boxer shorts begging me to please just come back to bed. Even in bed I couldn’t relax or sleep or get comfortable.

Then, the most damning evidence that there might be a more recurrent issue worth addressing happened in 2014 leading up to my own departure for Florida. I think I’ve droned on ad nauseam about the pain I felt in that transition and fear of the unknown, but I don’t think I’ve disclosed to many the series of panic attacks I felt in those last few weeks. Scary, unchangeable (so I thought) phenomena of tension, shaking, inability to speak, inability to control tears, inability to be any of the things expected of me at the time which included a good wife and mother. I was secretly hoping someone would just have me committed because in my eyes, the future was scary and these attacks would sneak up on me unsuspectingly so I was all around sucking at life during this time.

 

Obviously, my life has taken a positive turn since that period, but that nuisance still lingers with me. I try to fight it off, and most days I succeed. Some days, I don’t.

anxiety gremlin

One of my former students is an artist. She’s working on an official graphic for me, but this represents what anxiety is like for me. A gremlin on my shoulder. This one’s kind of cute, but I promise the feeling isn’t.

Despite this, I still engage in very outwardly, uncharacteristic activities for people who routinely feel anxious or nervous. As a professor, I can’t shrink and hide behind the lectern or computer screen and expect my students to excel. If I’m asking them to step out of a comfort zone, I have to do that as well. I do so willingly, too, because teaching is a passion of mine. I also meet students in the health and fitness classroom through the Cize classes I teach. Most folks hate to dance when they’re by themselves, let alone when they’re in a group of people who can see them missing steps – me included. But I’m grateful to get the chance to teach people how to dance. As a fitness coach through Beachbody, 90% of my sales happen when I present what I have to other people. People don’t come to me – I have to put myself out there and go to them, and 90% of the time, I hear rejections from people. That’s okay. I will still always search for people to help with the products and support I offer.

Most people would call me an extrovert, but I will valiantly fight that description until the day I die. I am absolutely NOT an extrovert. I would rather sit at home with one or two friends than have to socialize with a bunch of people at a party.

On days when anxiety is weighing me down, I’ll often get asked the question, “What’s wrong?” It’s hard for me to even begin to answer because I have trouble describing it, it isn’t just one “thing,” and most people don’t have the patience to accept that someone else may be shouldering the runoff of an invisible disease that’s turned their world upside down. And when you’ve become good at being there for people, picking up the slack for others when they fall, and consistently showing up come rain or shine, people don’t often let you off the hook so you can go deal with your disease they can’t see. Having anxiety doesn’t stop Kennedy from reciting her ABC’s over and over and over and over and over and over while I load her into the car, figure out my grocery budget for that trip, fight through traffic to get to the grocery store (because Newberry Rd. is no joke), try to remember what we need at home because I forgot to make a list, shop, load the car, and drive home, all with a splitting headache. My anxiety doesn’t stop my boss from emailing me her critique – however harsh or glowing – of my classroom management for that term. It doesn’t stop my students from calling my phone 842 times a day wondering when their assignments are going to be graded despite the fact that what they submitted is technically late and I’m not obligated to grade or assign credit for it two weeks after the fact. There is no cane to carry or brace to wear. It’s just there. And no, people with anxiety, depression, schizoaffective disorder, or any of those other mental afflictions that take them out of normal don’t go around announcing their disorders to others. At least most of them don’t. Why should they? Why should WE? Our culture indicates that if you can’t stand on your own, you’re a failure, and I’m not running to get in line and be called a failure.

It’s part of the human experience to categorize others based on traits and characteristics we can see – short, tall, skinny, overweight, young, mature, male, female, stylish, plain, etc. But I challenge you to not let the absence of physical characteristics influence the judgments you make of others. People like me can smile, shout, get people moving, get people learning, and hold it together okay outwardly, but you have no idea what storm may be brewing internally. And, if someone’s kind enough to let you know that they’re dealing with a lot, back off for a bit. Offer your help, but don’t do so in expectation of return. The nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me during my bout with anxiety was:

“You do what you need to do, and I will support you because I love you.”