Saturday, December 31, 2016

Princess Leia, Anxiety, and a Little Bit of Poetry.

Carrie Fisher was bi-polar.

Yes, she was Princess Leia, too, but she fought to normalize mental health issues for a good portion of her life. She included a lot of information about depression in her one woman show. She talked about her addictions and mental health problems in her book Postcards From The Edge. In an interview with Rolling Stone this year, she said about her electric shock therapy that the biggest misconception about it was that "you have convulsions, or that it's used as punishment in a mental hospital, which is how it's depicted in every movie. It's very easy and effective."

She was brave and funny and cast a different light, a brighter light, on the benefits of getting help.

In Carrie's honor, I'm sharing my final accomplishment of the year. After breaking into a cold sweat and tears every week, after feeling a mountain on my chest throughout most of my days, after being afraid for half of the year that I either would have to go outside or worse, that when I was ready to go outside I wouldn't be able to just go, I finally decided that my anti-panic methods were no longer working. I needed help.

The first thing I did was dig through my emails, because somewhere in there a dear friend, a social worker, had explained to me some things to look for in a therapist. I didn't ask her because she is one, but rather because she's one of the most compassionate people I know, and I knew she would direct me to other compassionate people.

I found a nice lady who met all the criteria, and proceeded to dread the first meeting. I asked my social worker friend in (July? Maybe?) about where to look for a good therapist. I made the appointment in the last week of December. Procrastination lives in the heart of anxiety--it is both torment and relief.

I met my new therapist, and I had prepared how to tell her what was happening. I told her about the anxiety, the agoraphobia, the physical toll. Then I explained:

"So, in the past 16 years, my Dad died of cancer in 2000, one brother of meningitis in 2001, and another brother of cancer in 2015. I've had 3 miscarriages, and I had a cancerous molar pregnancy followed by chemotherapy. I was diagnosed with celiac disease. I have three kids--two teens and a four year old--and I had really bad postpartum depression after my eldest. Oh--and my mother recently had a stroke, and surgery for breast cancer. I don't deal with things. I box them away for later.

It's 16 years later. So, I know what's causing my anxiety. I want you to fix it."

To her credit, she realized her mouth had dropped open and she closed it in time to say, "Okay. I can see you have some reasons for anxiety."

As a lover of all things Marvel, I could laugh at being given a list similar to Jessica Jones' naming-street-signs-method of coping:

5 things you can see
4 things you can touch
3 things you can hear
2 things you can smell
1 thing you can taste.

But as I practiced it, I by-passed the anxiety attack, but kept the anxiety. Instead of breaking down once and feeling deflated for an hour, I was in a state of constant fight or flight all day.

5 things you can see
4 things you can touch
3 things you can hear
2 things you can smell

1 thing you can taste

The metallic taste of fear.

I tried slow, controlled breaths. Control is not my problem. Or rather, it is, because I control myself at all times. I control the anxiety, I control the grief, I control me. Until it has control over me.

After my eldest brother died, everyone got the flu. I didn't. I drove from my house to mom's for two weeks after the wake, certain that I would have one more bad event to add to my list.

Don't worry, there are good things in my event list, too. I have 3 children (yes, it's on both lists, because the physicality of having them was stressful on my body, and teenagers fight...and yet the joy of creating them and seeing them grow is exponential.) I married an amazing man who loves me and who allows me to indulge my inner writer. My brother and I have taken martial arts together and gone running together. I've gone to Disney seven times or so, and I even got to take my mom to California and Disneyland. I get to volunteer cosplay. I get to take my kids and nieces to comic cons.


5 things I can see
4 things I can touch
3 things I can hear

2 things I can smell

My unwashed body as it gets harder to force myself to shower
The blanket I wrap around myself as I shiver.

I get cold with anxiety. I hate to be cold. But I feel it in my bones and then I can't stop shivering. I bathe in the sink and shake and shiver and wish, sometimes, that I could step in the shower, that I didn't think I'd collapse if I did. I'm TIRED.

5 things you can see
4 things you can touch

3 things you can hear

My daughter knocking on the door. For a long time I tried to cope by letting the attack take me in the bedroom, but "Mommy, open the door" doesn't take no for an answer. The blood pounding in my ears--it's trying to hold me down, and keep me there, and I'm sure that my heart will stop if I can't get a breath in. My husband's voice saying, "Come away, Mama's busy right now."

5 things you can see

4 things you can touch

One time after my brother Jay died I swore he hugged me. My then two year old eldest was talking to someone in her room at night, and when I said it's bedtime she said, "I'm talking to Jason."

I told her he was sleeping, the baby I had named after my brother who had died. She said, "Not that Jason. Your brother Jason." The breath left me and I sat down, crying. She had been three months old when he died. He was her Godfather. I asked the air if he was really there and felt the crushing bear hug that only a big guy could give....maybe what I felt was depression, or anxiety, or wishful thinking, but it felt like my brother and I've never forgotten that feeling.

5 things you can see

I see the door oppressing me.

The door leads outside and I don't like the door. Or not the door really, but the hallway before it. Like a miasma of evil designed both to hold me in and hold me back, it becomes a tunnel to victory because I am stubborn.

The keys are on the hook, the keys will unlock my doors and unblock my path and I cannot go without them. The bathroom is to my right and inevitably I must go in there for a minute, not to relieve my bladder but to relieve my anxiety. I sit on the seat as if my body will release me, but it's only enough to give me a reprieve.

A picture on the fridge because of course I need a drink I cannot leave the house if I am thirsty.

My own stupidity. I feel stupid, I feel restless, I feel like I can run out the door now and it will be fine as long as I go right this second--

"Mom, I forgot my jacket." And "I can't find my phone."


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