Summer is coming to a close, and the offspring head back to school on Monday. For the first time, I don't look forward to them leaving for the better part of the day. For the first time, I really wish that there was another month or two of summer still to play out. Not because this has been a particularly fabulous summer- quite the opposite, we didn't do a single thing we normally do. As summers go, it was pretty tame.
So what's the dif? Well, to be honest, me.
See, for years I've been classified as a "worrier". If there is nothing to stress out about, I'm the gal that's gonna find something. From the normal (crap, the tire got punctured, need a new one, how to pay for it?) to the truly abnormal (I hear a plane flying overhead, what if it crashes into our HOUSE? OMG!... and did I turn the stove off before going to bed? I better check...). For years and years and years... and years... I've been an anxiety-ridden woman.
I thought it was normal. NORMAL. Everyone stresses, right? I mean, life is tricky, especially when you have one. It's normal to stay up half the nite, every nite, wondering about everything that can go wrong. Normal to never ever, ever ever, never ever, never, let your kids play outside without you either a) outside too or b) sitting right by the open window so you can "keep an eye on them". And no, we're not talking about LITTLElittle kids... and we're not talking about living on a busy street... or a less than stellar 'hood. Normal. Cause, you know, they might get hurt... or picked on... or hit by a car... or kidnapped. Not might- WHEN- and only my physical presence would keep them safe.
Normal to wake your husband up in the middle of the nite because you think he might have stopped breathing. Normal to drive back home two, three, four.... maybe five times to make sure you shut the door/locked the door/turned off the stove (that you hadn't turned on)/shut all the windows before you can really leave the house. Normal to be afraid to leave your crockpot on because it might start a fire. Normal to overcook the chicken again and again and again and again because it might not be cooked enough, and you'll give your whole family food poisoning and kill them. Normal to be afraid to take anything for a headache, a cold, a sore throat because it might be poison and then what? Yup. Toooootally normal.
That's just a small taste of what my existence was like. And I seriously thought it was normal. That everyone did it. That I was just a "worrier" and a "stesser". And slowly, the years passed, and I got more and more tired, wound up, irritated, and depressed. And one day... I just couldn't. Couldn't. I couldn't even complete that sentence; I was too overwhelmed. I just knew that I... couldn't... anymore.
It took me months to actually reach out for help, even after that realization. Months of excuses, of hemming, of hawing; I didn't want to be told that I just needed to get over myself, which was what I really believed "they" would tell me. I didn't want "them" to tell me that there was something wrong with me either; what if I had to actually take medication? Oh, no! I could totally take care of this... on my own...
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, my family suffered. Not like I was abusive or anything- not remotely. But I was... not present. My overwhelmed'ness overwhelmed my abilities to function except at the most basic of levels. I did what I *had* to do to keep the family running, but was I engaged? Not really. I hid out from friends. I hid out from my own family. On the weekends, I would spend every minute of them reading in my bedroom. I was in constant need of "a break" but was too tired to do even that. I was irritated with everyone for no reason at all, just because I was tired, couldn't they see I was tired? And at the same time, I knew that I was completely failing as mother, as wife, as friend. I withdrew.
So at the close of every summer, I was more than ready for the kidlets to return to school. Guilt ridden over it, but more anxious for the "much needed" peace and quiet than guilty.
As I watched myself slipping further and further away from myself, I finally screwed up the motivation and courage to go... get... help. I actually kept the appointment with the therapist that I kept rescheduling. I actually made myself go in there. Well, my husband drove me, but he didn't have to drag me or anything.
After talking with the therapist, I made an appointment for later that same day with the psychiatrist. We spoke at length, and although I was horribly embarrassed at first at what I considered my utter failure to "get over myself", the psychiatrist, a remarkable woman, went to work explaining that I wasn't a failure, a loser, an idiot... that there was actually something going on inside my brain that caused this anxiety. That it wasn't "normal" to feel the level of anxiety I was experiencing on a daily basis, and that in fact, my level was a little extreme. Because it had gone untreated for so long (read: my entire life), she suggested medication. We discussed numerous options for someone like me, and not all of them were based on medication, one of my biggest concerns. However, I agreed to a trial basis on a low dosage of anti-anxiety medication, coupled with therapy and few other things (diet, exercise), because really, what did I have to lose?
So I went for it. I bit the bullet, took my medicine (although I had a massive panic attack about it the first few times) and waited for things to get better. And slowly... slowly... they have. They really have.
I can't explain the exact feeling, but it's akin to unclenching a muscle you didn't realize you've been clenching for your whole. entire. life. It's like losing weight- you don't realize how crappy it made you feel until some of it's gone, sloughed off. It's like waking up and realizing that you can see more clearly, hear better, smell things you missed before... It's kinda like that.
No, my life isn't perfect. Not even. It never was, and never will be, but it doesn't have to be. For a long, long time I thought life was good enough as long as it was tolerable, but now I see that that's crap. Life doesn't have to be perfect, but neither should it totally suck. This past year I've lived without that all pervading stress, the fears of catastrophe, without the constant worrying; it's not totally GONE, just... not as pervasive as it was. I can talk myself through it now. I don't fear the worst anymore.
The flip side has been that I've had so much more energy for my family and friends. I'm more relaxed, better humored, and engaged. I stopped waiting for the other shoe to drop, the ceiling to fall in, and started living. I can't get over how much I enjoy everyone in my life; I can't believe how much happier I feel without the constant anxiety. I can actually problem solve without completely freaking out first. Little things don't throw me like they used to. It's been a learning process, replacing old habits with new, and a lot work, but oh man... so much better now.
I can honestly say that it's so much better now. I had no idea it could be like this, and feel this good.
Hey, guys... guess what! I'm NORMAL!