I was just looking at Twitter and saw a link to Alison Gresik's post on the night she almost went crazy. I wasn't planning to post today, but then I read this:
We were nearly home when I tried to make up for how pissy I’d been. This is not about you, it’s about me, I said.
And that’s when Shawn got really angry.
How dare you get this upset and then say it’s not about me? It’s impossible for me to tell the difference, and it’ll certainly be impossible for a child to tell the difference. You can’t keep doing this.
She goes on to explain how her brain took that and spiraled it into suicidal thinking, and then the next morning pulled it together to face a challenge that to someone not afflicted with mental illness might seem like nothing: taking a broken car to a mechanic.
Last week in the midst of all the Hillary Adams beating post comments, I felt my anxiety starting to rev out of control. I had just a visceral reaction to that video. I also have noticed that since I went off The Pill a few years ago that my moods are getting more extreme at times, more like they were when I was in high school and college.
The morning after I put up the post, I took Petunia to the vet. Petunia hates the vet. She got wrapped in a towel there once when I wasn't there and ever since then she needs to be sedated to go and will still hiss and try to bite anyone, even me, who approaches her when she's there. She has to wear a bonnet that keeps her from being able to see or bite, and even so, she tries to bite. The vet is trying to desensitize her, so she sat and talked to me for what felt like hours while Petunia trembled and growled and hissed in my arms. Finally, she started talking to me about cleaning Petunia's teeth and the anxiety peaked and I started to cry. I wasn't making any noise, but the hot tears were just rushing down my cheeks and there was nothing, NOTHING I could do about it.
"You're really upset, aren't you?" the vet asked.
"I've had a hard week. I'd like to go home." I thought about trying to explain anything to this woman and realized it would be pointless. I knew it would be a while before I could stop crying, even as I understood intellectually that I wasn't really that upset about cleaning Petunia's teeth or even Hillary Adams, who is now 23 and years removed from that horrifying beating. Hillary Adams was a trigger, Petunia's growling was a trigger, just in the past Hurricane Katrina and 9/11 and my daughter's conference with her talented and gifted teacher in which the same tears ran down my face as I asked the teacher to let me know if she sensed too much perfectionism in my daughter, that perfectionism went with anxiety and eating disorders for me and I really hoped my girl wouldn't ever sit in front of a kind teacher who doesn't really know her and embarrass herself by bawling when nothing at all is wrong.
That's the thing, though -- when you have anxiety, nothing need be wrong. Life itself can feel pretty insurmountable, even as you recognize there is nothing wrong. Cats go to vets, cars need to be fixed -- it's not the end of the world.
But the part of Alison's post that really got me was the part about husbands and kids not being able to tell the difference between your being mad at them or at yourself or at nothing at all but displaying this emotion that makes no sense. I've tried to insulate my daughter as much as I can from my anxiety, but when you live with people, it can be hard. Especially when you're alone with them as much as I'm alone with my girl. As a result of seeing me cry sometimes for no reason and telling her hey, it's not you, I'm just sad and sometimes I get sad and I don't know why, hold on, I'll stop in a minute, I hope she is kind to herself if she ever cries for no reason. I want to make the world perfect for her but I know that I can't and actually I shouldn't, because if I did, she wouldn't know her own strength. She wouldn't learn to self-soothe. Just as I would tell her these things if I had a twitch or Turret's or some other behavior I couldn't necessarily control that might look alarming.
I've stopped beating myself up for irrational crying. It doesn't happen every day -- it doesn't happen now as often as it did when she was a baby and I was really messed up. When it happens, I try to do things I know will help. I sleep. I exercise really hard. I write. I read a lot. I take hot baths. And I let myself cry, because it does seem like there's something in there that needs to get flushed, and maybe the crying flushes it. Often I'll feel perfectly fine hours later and I know that is confusing to the people around me. The truth is that when that sort of crying or anger happens, it's not actually based on anything other than my brain. It's different from when I cry because something someone dies or because I know I hurt someone. I make noise when I cry like that. This crying -- it's just like a faucet.
The vet's office manager called the next day to see if Petunia was okay and if I was okay. She's a nice person and I saw on her face and the vet's face that they thought something horrible had happened to me to cause such a reaction. I don't really want to get into it. I wish I hadn't had to take Petunia to the vet when I knew I was in high gear. But life doesn't stop just because you're anxious. I don't think it should. In order to have faith in myself that I am okay, I have to get in the car and take the cat to the vet even if I'm crying. I have to make my daughter dinner and do the laundry and go to work. And because I still do all those things, because I know the difference between real sadness and anxiety sadness, I feel okay about it. I know people in my life think I should get stronger drugs or go see a therapist again, but the truth is that it passes, I don't want to hurt myself or others, I know how to care for myself and I'm learning not to drag other people into my anxiety when it's happening -- it's best to go in a room and let it go, just like a headache or other type of chronic pain. People with mental illness live like this, just like people with diabetes live like this. You manage the pain. You take care of yourself as best you can. And you try not to freak out when it escalates -- you manage it back to a safe level. It's possible my antidepressant needs to be adjusted, and I can look into that, but here's the thing: There isn't a magic pill that I'll take that will make me wake up tomorrow with anyone else's brain. It will be my brain that will still try its old tricks and maybe we can stop a few more of the downloads of chemicals from coming through, but it will still try. There might be a pill that helps a little more, but we're managing this, not fixing it, and that is okay. I don't expect to never cry for no reason again. I expect to be able to cope effectively with it when I do and to make it stop as soon as possible.
I can't always control my triggers or my reactions, but I want the people I love to know I'm okay and I love them, but I don't know that I can be "fixed." I can manage this, and I'm trying very hard.