With my anxiety in high gear, it is easy to let my agoraphobia get out of control, too. Almost all of my anxiety is related to travel and lately my comfort area has been shrinking. I started getting really down on myself and then had to remember that I’ve been here through this before and with determination (and therapy and medication and hypnosis and support and TRYING) things did get better. My boyfriend’s parents are staying with us while they are in town and I am happy to spend time with them because I enjoy their company. However, them being here means doing more things and going more places. One of those things was a party for my boyfriend’s grandfather’s 90th birthday, which was being held about an hour from my house. I immediately didn’t want to go because I felt like it was too far to drive. I even went as far as to get myself an “out”. But this morning I decided that by using that out, I was allowing myself to go down a slippery slope. If I don’t go to one thing, it becomes easier to not go to the next and so on and so on and my comfort area continues to get smaller. So, even though it probably wasn’t a big deal to anyone else, it felt like a teeny tiny victory to me. Any day I work through it and do something, that’s a day that anxiety didn’t win. And I really, really needed a win.
When I started this, I made a deal with myself that I would write at least one blog entry a month. Here it is, 9 pm on the 31st and the only reason I am doing this is because I feel obligated due solely to my desire to not miss a month (which I have never done). I notice when I am feeling more anxious, which I am right now, I do not feel like writing, I do not want to talk to my mom on the phone, I reluctantly go to therapy. A couple of weeks ago, I decided to go back on an antidepressant/anxiety medication after years of being off it. It was not an easy decision, but I could feel my anxiety spiraling out of control. So far, it does not really seem to be helping much. I know I have to be patient and give it some time and then adjust the dose, etc., but I am anxious about being anxious and feel depressed about being depressed and then I get upset about being upset. It is frustrating because I do not really know what exacerbated it, but I suppose it doesn’t really matter because I need to focus on ways to move forward. I just really feel like no one understands and it is hard not to feel isolated and alone, which makes me feel even worse.
My sister is pregnant and is due in about a month. It is really exciting, but also sort of hard to believe that in a few weeks, there will be a little baby girl in our family. I am so happy to become an aunt and I can’t wait to meet my niece, but it has been a difficult pregnancy for her. She has been very sick throughout almost all of it and it has been hard to see her suffer so much. She has had a few complications that could result in the baby arriving earlier than expected and I think it is really hitting her- and me- how much things are going to change.
Even though this isn’t happening to me, I am very close with my sister, so it is having a big effect on my life. We live a couple of miles apart and talk several times a day. My anxiety has been peaked for a few different reasons lately, but I think her having the baby is part of it, because it is such a big change…and I am not a fan of change! For most of our lives, it has always been the two of us. Yes, we have had our individual friends and our boyfriends and we are both super close to our mother, but we have a uniquely special relationship. I think because we really had to stick together when we grew up and lived with our dad, that we survived by having each other. I cannot imagine going through the experiences of my dysfunctional family as an only child. She is three and a half years younger than me and I was always very protective of her. I guess it still a little hard to wrap my head around the fact that my little sister is about to become a mother!!
My problem with anxiety has always been the lead up to the event, not the actual event itself. My therapist has always referred to it as “anticipatory anxiety”. The weeks and days before an event cause me such distress and the majority of the time all of my worry and stress is for nothing. But, I cannot seem to control it.
For example, every year my mother, sister and I go to the Philadelphia Flower Show. It is a beautiful and amazing display of fresh flowers, all centered around a common theme. I really enjoy going…however, I live about an hour and 45 min away from Philly. I have driven there many times over the years, for both the flower show and other reasons. Yet, every year, I get myself all worked up over the distance and the drive. My anxiety has been especially bad lately with my father being in and out of the hospital and my sister expecting a baby (which is SUPER exciting, just a very big change). So for the week before the show, I was a nervous wreck and the night before I all but decided I could not go. I took a Xanax before going to sleep (I take them very sparingly) and from 4 am on, I tossed and turned, having anxious thoughts. The approach that works the best for me is to try to be logical- I tell myself that I have done the drive so many times before, that I am in control and in my own car, that I will be with my family, that if something bad happens I can go to a hospital, etc. etc. It helps a bit, but it is hard to stop the actual physical reaction of having those panicky feelings. Once we finally got in the car, I was pretty ok. Once we got to the convention center, I was fine. That is what always happens. I build something up in my head and magnify it so much, it becomes incredibly overwhelming and debilitating. Yet, when I work through it, I almost always feel like afterwards it wasn’t nearly as horrible as I expected and I get mad at myself for getting SO worked up. Yet, like clockwork, when it comes time to go somewhere again, the same thing happens. As much as I have worked through having the problems I have had with agoraphobia and anxiety and I know I have come a long way, it is still extremely frustrating and exhausting and upsetting and always feels like a setback.
I am very glad I went to the flower show. It was as spectacular as ever and was most likely the last memorable and special thing my mom and sister and I will do just the three of us before my niece arrives in May. So, I am happy I didn’t let anxiety win…this time.
Twice in the past couple of months, my father has been in the hospital. The first time, he was unable to breathe and was rushed in an ambulance and the second time, my mother drove him. Both times, he was admitted and stayed for several nights. Each time, it seems they find more things wrong with him, yet there has not been an “official diagnosis”. During these two visits, doctors found symptoms indicating that he has congestive heart failure and diabetes, in addition to his breathing problems. My father has not only been an alcoholic for over 20 years, but he has also been a heavy smoker since he was a teenager and this is what is causing the majority of his recent health problems.
My boyfriend said something to me the other day that caught me off guard, but made me think. He said, “you know, your dad is going to be in and out of the hospital from now until he dies.” I know that is most likely true and it is a sad reality. It is obviously difficult to think about losing a parent in any context. It sounds silly to say this, but it just upsets me that my father is most likely going to die due to his bad habits. He is not the victim of a genetic disease or a horrible accident…at one point in his life, he chose to smoke and chose to drink and then they became lifelong habits.
Not so coincidentally, my anxiety has been peaked lately. I talk to my mother every day, sometimes multiple times a day, usually just about everyday life like her gardening club, funny things my students said, our cats, etc. It is so hard to describe, even to people who know her well, how different her voice sounds on the phone when she calls to tell me that she called 911 for my dad. There is such a seriousness, yet I can tell that she is trying to stay calm, for both herself and for me. And now, I worry about her calling me every day and telling me that he is being rushed to the hospital again- or worse.
My supervisor is retiring at the end of this school year. I have known him since the beginning of my career, which is about 17 years now. He is one of the kindest, most genuine, and caring people I have ever known. My first year teaching I accepted a position to teach 8th grade at a middle school in my school district, even though I had my heart set on teaching high school. I had just turned 22 years old the month before school started (in retrospect, it was probably a good thing I didn’t start off teaching 17 year olds when I was so young!) Within the first month of the school year, I had already contacted the supervisor at the high school and set up a meeting with him. When we met, we talked for over two hours. When I was leaving his office, he told me he was confident that he would be able to transfer me to the high school for the next school year. I was excited at the prospect, but also learned to love my middle school in the meantime. In June, he contacted me to inform me that the district had a hiring freeze and no high school positions were being added. He promised me that he would try again the following year. With mixed emotions, I signed my contract to stay at the middle school. In August, he called me at home to tell me a teacher unexpectedly retired and her position was mine if I wanted it. I was so torn, but felt like I could not do that to my middle school administration. With a heavy heart, I declined the transfer. I hung up the phone and bawled my eyes out. I was certain that I ruined my chances to ever be moved to the high school. To my surprise, he contacted me again in September and said that he would do everything he could to get me to the high school the next year. Rather than being put off by my rejection, he was impressed that I was dedicated and loyal to the obligation I made. Sure enough, true to his word, he offered me a position in the spring of that year. I began my third year of teaching at the high school and I have been there ever since! I love my job and I owe so much to him. He is so supportive of the teachers in my department. He has always encouraged me and built my confidence so much when I was a young teacher. Every time I see him, he takes a minute to say a kind word, to tell me how special I am and what I gift I have for this profession. It is hard to believe that I will be starting my 18th year teaching next year without him. It brings tears to my eyes every time I think about it and I am finding it hard to find a way to thank him that truly shows him how much he has meant to me- as a mentor, a boss and as a man. It is hard to explain, but growing up with an alcoholic father, I was always looking for male role models. My paternal grandfather died when I was 12, right around the time my dad started drinking heavily. I was very close with my maternal grandfather, but he lived far away. I did not grow up with any uncles. When I was in college, I dated a guy for a few years and grew very close with his family. I had a wonderful relationship with his father and actually kept in touch with his parents for years after we broke up. When I was married, I did not have a good relationship with my father-in-law, as he was a difficult man. Currently, I have a great relationship with my boyfriend’s dad, which has filled a void in my life. Unfortunately, he lives several states away and we do not see him often. When I really stop and think about it, I have had very few relationships with positive “father figures”. My supervisor is the epitome of a family man, always telling us stories about his wife and adult children. When I was getting divorced, he was incredibly supportive. Now, he takes every opportunity to tell me how glad he is that I am happy and have moved on. I feel so sad that not only am I losing a wonderful boss, but one of the primary male role models I have ever had in my life.
Everyone seems to be in a happy, positive, festive mood today, but I am kind of blah and cranky and a little depressed/anxious. I have never really been a big fan of New Year’s Eve. I guess because I am not a big drinker or partier, it has always been a little anticlimactic. Today doesn’t feel any different than any other day for me. When I was younger, I used to make resolutions, but like most people, I never really kept them. Now, the only difference of a new year is just getting used to writing 2017 instead of 2016. I don’t want to fool myself into thinking anything is going to be miraculously different just because of the date. I have been sick all week and it is making me feel antsy and anxious, so perhaps I will feel differently tomorrow. I think there is a lot of pressure on NYE to be all like “Yay!” and “New year! New me!” and I appreciate that people want to feel those things, I just don’t. Obviously there are many things I want to improve and change about myself, but I am not in a great space to think about that right now. I think feeling anxious has been throwing me for a loop and once I get that under control, I will feel better. There are a lot of things to look forward to this year- my boyfriend is doing fantastic at work, my job is going well, my friends are doing great and my sister is having a baby and I will have a little niece in the spring. I am not normally a negative person, but I want to validate that this is how I feel.