The other night, I got hit with a random wave of paranoia. It wasn't too bad, and it wasn't accompanied by anxiety, so that's good. But it did kick off a few days of depressed mood. It's a funny paranoia that's really more like part of a long term complex. I'm beginning to understand these thoughts have been with me for a very long time. I've spoken about them before. It's the belief that I'm unlikeable.
Last week, these thoughts were in the form of pity. I had a moment where I examined myself outside of myself through the social media lens. Ahhh social media. It's a thing. It started when I was struggling with faith and religion and some extended family members and some long-time friends began to say very hurtful things about me personally because I expressed questions and concerns I had about our mutual faith. It was ugly and extremely hurtful and led me to believe that my value to them was only in the context of our shared faith. And then, almost two years ago, my ex husband posted his suicide note and tagged me in it. And then 18 months later my very public long term relationship ended publicly and he moved on very quickly and very publicly.
As I began to examine all these things I began to see a woman who others would pity. I didn't like it. I didn't like at all! But I understood it. For many years and especially for the last year and half or so, my life has been hell and it has been on display for any to see. Granted, much of that I invite. I'm an open book and I love people and their stories and through sharing mine I have had some of the most amazing experiences and made deeper connections than I ever expected. But I did not and do not want to be pitied.
Pity would mean that my friends weren't really my friends -- they just felt sorry for me and when they stopped feeling sorry for me, they would move on. Pity meant that the amazing experiences and deep connections with people weren't genuine. Pity would mean that I don't actually understand people or relationships - which would mean that all this schooling and the goal of someday using it in a career would be for naught. And then I began to pity myself.
And these, folks, are what are called cognitive distortions. None of these thoughts were facts... or at least most of them aren't. They are lies that depression and anxiety have tricked me into believing. At least that's what my therapist has reassured me of.
Luckily, in addition to the best therapist, I also have amazing friends that I can share my craziest of thoughts and feelings with who reassure me that they do not pity, but rather, they love and respect me. I really am so incredibly lucky to have found some truly amazing and beautiful human beings to love and validate me when I need it (and even when I don't). So Sunday night, I went and drank wine with my beautiful friends. Monday, I went to therapy. (I cannot express how much therapy and EMDR have helped me on this journey.) And then yesterday, I picked myself up and got to work on the projects around my house that I've been putting off until this break from school. I started on my graduate school applications. I made dinner. And I took a deep breath and told myself that I like myself and that that is the most important thing.
I haven't been writing.... There are several reason for this. But they're hard to articulate exactly. The biggest one is that there was a point where being this vulnerable and exposed left me feeling somewhat violated. First of all, I got such amazing feedback and that helped me in so many ways: I felt connected to others who understood me and had been where I was and so many people who were in the middle of their own struggles. I felt validated and connected and that's an amazing feeling. But then something else happened, there were people who were using the things I had been writing to justify (what I perceived to be) mean and unjust and, hopefully, untrue opinions and thoughts of me. My boundaries were being violated in new and unexpected ways and so I felt violated. These aren't secret writings. Anyone can read this stuff and I put myself out there and should expect and be prepared for this kind of thing. But I wasn't. And then spaces that I had considered private and safe began to be violated by these same things and people. It may have been all perception. Depression changes how you see the world - more things become threatening. Even things that were once safe and trusted are now tinted by fear and distrust. It sucks so much. And it's so hard to talk myself out that fear and distrust. I don't trust that my family or friends really like me. I don't trust that they enjoy my company or value what I have to say. I don't believe that they trust me. I don't believe that my thoughts and opinions are valid. And I don't trust myself either.
I don't have these thoughts and feelings all the time though. That is how I gage my progress. These destructive thoughts used to be a nearly constant companion. I would have moments where I forgot them and just enjoyed my life and beauty and people. The moments were few and far between, but I kept telling myself - with constant reminders from my therapist and amazing family and friends - that those thoughts weren't true and that things would get better. It was hard to believe though because inside those thoughts is such a scary place. It's hard to see any light when you're so deep in those thoughts.
But those thoughts are now few and far between. I am able to go days without their destruction. Things have gotten better. They have gotten so much better.
But the last three nights have been rough - like sobbing in your bathtub rough while someone you trust helps you to see your value, and also where you can improve, because you actually can trust your friends to tell you truth. Or sobbing on your best friends' kitchen floor rough, but at least people you love and trust were there to sit on the kitchen floor with you and hold your hand and reassure you things have been better and you are making progress. Or like sobbing alone in your car rough because despite all the amazing people you have around you, you still miss the people you have lost in your life so damn much.
But it gets better. I am better. There may be moments and days where I don't like me very much. But that doesn't mean that I'm unlikeable. It is getting better. I am getting better.
The darkness is creeping in again. I had a couple of really great days last week. Like I felt almost happy. It was weird. I mean I've been doing all the work. I go to therapy religiously. I meditate. I journal. I spend time with people who love and support me. I've been limiting my social media intake, that seems to help a lot. In other words, I'm doing all the self-care stuff, but I can feel the darkness creeping in again. Israel is sick again and that is probably contributing to my depression and anxiety. My kids being sick is definitely a trigger. I laid in bed for hours last night trying to do anything I could to fall asleep, but thoughts of all the things that could be wrong with Israel kept going through my head. A google search did help this time though, 7-10 days for virus is common. Tomorrow is day 10. After tomorrow, I'll really worry. For now, I'm trying not to worry, but school and kids and homework and money and dinner and the darkness outside are all conspiring to call the darkness inside. So I write to get it outside of me again: word vomit the darkness out into the ether and hope that it helps. I'm just so tired of this. I just want to be happy and satisfied. For most of my life I've been able to choose happiness. It's scary that I can't control that anymore. Really, really scary. In other news, the #metoo movement has brought some other traumas around again and I've remembered things that I long forgot about the way that people have interacted me through the years. So many of our stories involve men acting in a way that presumes he has some sort of right to a woman's body. But at least half of my experiences have been women who have acted in inappropriate or abusive ways. And I haven't shared any details about my experiences for various reasons, but I want to shout about it. I want to yell and scream and make people see that the way we teach consent and sex and safety is leading to a culture that doesn't respect autonomy of the body. It angers and saddens me and I wish I had the magic answer to fix. I don't. But I wrote this one night while driving and having a anxiety attack and crying all over myself. I wish I could write poetry because then I could use silky words and vague metaphors to shout from the rooftops all the things I cannot bear to say. The message would be universal so that women would stomp their feet and pump their fists and yell, "Fuck yes!" We would stand arm in arm and feel each other's power and know that we are not alone. Yes. I wish I could write poetry.
One day in church, my mom turned to my dad and completely out of the blue asked, "What's the price of steel at right now?"
She had a random stream of consciousness that had started with something that the speaker had said at church and had ended with the current price of steel.
This is my "price of steel" tonight. I just realized that shivering or being too cold is a trigger. Which usually isn't a problem in Arizona. But the problem is, I can't sleep unless my face is cool. It's a hard balance to have just your face cool enough to be able to sleep, but your body warm enough to be comfortable. Plus, if anything touches my neck, I feel like I'm being choked, but if my shoulders or arms get too cold, they start to hurt. It's a very delicate balance. It's also about a 2 degree window for me and changes as the A/C switches off and on. It makes for sleepless nights of me tossing and turning and pulling blankets on and off for hours.
Which makes me think it's probably a good thing I'm single. No bedmate would enjoy this level of craziness.
But what if a partner to hold me and comfort me - someone who is there, that I love and trust, unquestionably - is the exact thing that would render that trigger powerless?
Then I wonder why I need someone? Or why I think I do? Why does that adolescent fantasy of a soulmate still hold so much weight? And look where it got me back then.
I talked to a friend tonight about running away. About the dream of driving and not stopping until you reach a place where no one knows who are and no one from your past can ever find you. Those fantasies are so real. And they feel so possible sometimes.
I had forgotten about that fantasy. I used to have that fantasy a lot when I was married. I had a plan even. I had a friend that no one knew I was in contact with. No one would have any idea about her or how to get a hold of her or anything. I was fairly certain she would help me. This was before the days of Facebook and other social media.
I haven't had that fantasy in many, many years. And when I realized that, I was proud. And I was really fucking proud of that woman who survived. She survived everyday that she had that fantasy. Every single time she thought about that possibility, she found something to keep her around. And she was eventually happy. She was so much stronger than she thought she was.
And her life isn't so bad now. She's got rad kids. She just made it through her first week of stats and got a perfect score on the quiz (something that was so beyond possible, it never even occurred to the younger woman as something to consider). And she's got really amazing family and friends. Like, she knows (and is related to) some of the most phenomenal people.
It does get better. I forget that this is true even for me. I forget that I've seen things get better for me. But luckily, I surround myself with really smart people who remind me.
I haven't felt the need to write very much lately. I take that as I sign that I'm progressing - getting better and all that. But today has been a bad day. It started last night with an anonymous message - a nice one, but anonymous - that I started wondering about. I began reading between the lines and wondering about the sender and the possible meanings behind the message. I should have just put it out of my mind, but you can't always do that. But some texts with my sister and my closest friends helped to stave off that panic attack. Then, this morning at 5:30am, my nine-year-old woke up with a fever. I am pretty sure that sick kids in early hours of the morning will forever be a trigger for me. So after I got Elijah settled with some water and some medicine, I laid in bed and began to feel the room close in on me. "Is he still breathing?" "Is the fever coming down?" "I wonder if I should have checked his temperature to know for sure before I gave him the ibuprofen." "Wait, aren't you supposed to take ibuprofen with food? Maybe I should go wake him up and make him eat something." And on and on and on. I got another message recently from a friend who practiced a little bit of Radical Honesty with me. "You've been single for a half a second. Get over it," was a long the lines of what was said. And they're right and I love them for their honesty. And I should get over it. I'm trying to get over it every day. Every. Single. Day. I am trying to get over it. But this morning was another reminder of my loneliness. I don't have a partner, which sucks, but I can handle that most of the time. I take my kids on vacations and do fun things and take care of a house and try and provide for them mostly on my own (with a lot of invaluable help from my family and friends), but being a single parent is a whole different story. There is no one else in the world that cares for my children as much as I do. There is no one else in the world to worry about them at 5:30am on a Saturday. There is no one else in the world that takes as much joy in their joy and as much pain in their pain. The weight of that is sometimes unbearable. And when there is no one in the world to hold me when the weight becomes unbearable, I reminded again of my utter aloneness. And it sucks. And then, when I develop a sore throat late in the afternoon, all that is left to do is to take a long hot shower to hide your sobs amidst the running water and then get out and get back to work and laugh at the ridiculousness of being a human.
When Randal shot himself I was studying for a math final. It was 12:30 in the morning and it was the last thing I needed to do for that first half of that semester. Needless to say, I never took that final. I ended up failing that class and dropping out of the second half of that semester. Those decisions necessitated a year long break from school. It sucked. I had put off any serious attempts at my education for a decade because of Randal and here I was in the final stretch of my undergraduate degree and needing to put it off again because of his selfish ass. Plus, I would have to take that class over again. Monday I started studying. I also got a call Monday that one of my coworkers was in the hospital in a medically induced coma. I also got a message that a friend was experiencing some major health issues. I spent all day Monday fighting off the anxiety and impending panic attack induced by too many triggers. Yesterday I took the practice final and only cried twice. This morning I studied and tried to memorize the last few things. Twenty minutes ago I finished that final. All I needed was a C on the final and I was golden. The final would be done and the class would be done and I wouldn't ever have to take it again. I did way better than I expected on the final and in the class. And it's done. Did I mention that already? The class is over and I feel the kind of relief that comes with seeing the mountain range and blizzard behind me in the rearview mirror. I failed once, but I did it again, and I did it better this time. I'm a badass. Now, onto the next mountain.