It has now been exactly one week since my massive panic attack, and I am still not myself.
I am okay, I guess…but I wake up every morning to a racing heart, to a stomach that is clenched as if waiting for bad news, or a swift punch.
This is NOT ME. This is not the way I wake up, the way I am. I hate it and I don’t know what to do to make it stop. I’m doing all the things I normally do that have helped me before- rest and meditation, exercise and prayer. Nothing seems to keep the moments of pure anxiety away.
It is very hard to pretend to be okay when you are anything but okay. But when you are a mom, it is important to at least try. The thing is, when I am very anxious, I am concentrating so hard on just trying not to let things spin out of control that I have little room for anything else. My patience is worn so thin. This is not the way I want to be living my life.
And I can’t help but think…what is this about? First, a panic attack at the end of December, then another one at the beginning of February. Before that, years and years and years since the last one. What is trying to come up? What is it that is asking to be healed? What am I missing?
Crazy to think that my own mind might be hiding something from me, or that my own consciousness is choosing not to understand something, but I can’t help but wonder- is this really just a fluke, or is this an opportunity for resolution? Resolution of some pain or some wound that I am just not seeing? I don’t know. Maybe I’m just bat shit crazy, but I’d like to believe that there is a reason. I’d like very much to know what that reason is.
Today, I am just going to try to be patient and loving with myself, and with others. I am going to remember that I can survive my feelings, even when it doesn’t seem like I can. I have a perfect record so far of withstanding every single one of them. I am going to take my dog for a walk, and if the walk doesn’t feel like enough, then I will run. I will run until all this nervous energy dissipates, and if it comes back, I will find another way to discharge it. I will tend to myself. I will continue to work through this. I bet there will even be moments today when I am happy, as there have been every other day.
But I am still not at all myself. And I really want to be again.
Another storm came the evening before last, only this time, it wasn’t happening outside of my house, in the sky.
This time, the storm popped up out of nowhere, inside of me, in my head.
I had another panic attack. Another really, really bad panic attack. Over 24 hours later and I am still not myself. My stomach is in knots and I feel afraid and shaky, embarrassed and ashamed of my uncontrollable mind. I had to call off work yesterday because I hadn’t slept at all the night before, and to be honest, I still have barely eaten since this all started.
I am doing everything right. I have been exercising every single day, eating healthy, praying, meditating, working hard and treating myself well. To know that I can go from the very top of my game to an utter shaking mess in a matter of one single, illogical, triggering thought…well…that is terrifying. I don’t know any other way to look at it.
I remembered everything my therapist told me the last time this happened. I told myself all the things I knew, all the logic and facts and practical wisdom I had- I threw all of it at this monster, but it pinged off his skin like nothing and continued to advance. When I am in that state, there is no safe place I can go, no way to escape, because the feeling is inside of me. You cannot outrun yourself.
I am so upset with myself for things that happened during this episode that I almost wasn’t going to write about it. I don’t want to tell the truth. I am ashamed of it. But I will tell you this- my panic started over a very minor injury that happened, not to me, but to my daughter. It should have been something we put a band-aid on and forgot about. Instead, we made two trips to the ER and didn’t make it home until 5 in the morning. The doctors were kind to me- they could see that I was not okay. But the idea that my panic can spill out onto someone else that way, that frightens me. I didn’t reach out to anyone, didn’t pick up the phone and call a friend, give them the chance to talk me down. I put my poor kid through so much because of MY fear, and that fear was so BIG, I couldn’t help it. I literally couldn’t help it.
And now the question is- how long until it happens again? Because once is an anomaly, once is…just a weird glitch that happened, and whatever. But this is twice now since December and I can’t imagine going through this again. Or regularly. I can deal with, I guess, my average daily anxiety. But this panic- no. I can’t. I won’t. I will find a way to fix it. If I have to just steam-roll it with pure stubbornness, I will.
But today, I am just so tired. I don’t want to feel like this ever again.
Gentle is my word for today. I will try to be gentle.
Not only with others, but most of all, with myself. I am my own worst critic, always thinking back to some awful thing I did in the past, or worrying about things that I might do wrong down the road, rarely able to give myself any credit for the beautiful life I have provided for myself, here and now. I am forever berating myself for almost every little thing I do- and even when I do it right, I could have done it better.
So today, I am practicing being gentle with myself. Every time my mind starts galloping off into the future or flailing away uselessly at the past, I am gently bringing it back, to right here, right now. This morning, I was morbidly imagining myself with some life-threatening illness, worrying about how my children would fare if I should die. I had to pull myself back- Courtney, you are not dying in a hospital bed. You are standing at your sink, washing your daughter’s water canteen, absolutely healthy. You are fine. You are fine.
Yesterday, while I was meditating, I was having trouble with the sheer volume of my thoughts. There were so many things my anxious brain needed me to acknowledge right NOW. All of the sudden, I had this immense compassion for myself. An image popped into my mind, unbidden, of big me holding little Courtney in her arms. I ran my hands down 7-year-old-me’s back, and could feel the little knobs of my spine, the little angel wings of my shoulder blades sticking out. I told myself “it’s okay. Shhh…it’s okay.”. I don’t know where that image arose from, but it was powerful. The little girl in me needed that hug, that acknowledgement so badly. I may be a grown woman now, but that child is still in there, somewhere. And if it is hard to be gentle with me, perhaps I won’t struggle so much being gentle with her.
Here’s the thing- I want to fully inhabit my life. I do not have a desire to be bound by all the rules and dogma that I have either grown up with or invited in myself over the years. I want to be free. And all of this is brand new to me- it’s like I woke up two weeks ago and started questioning every single thing I believed to be true. I am starting at zero, trying to figure out who I am, really, and how I want to show up in the world going forward.
And the very first gift I choose to give myself today is this- be gentle. Be gentle with yourself, and with those around you. Let other people have their thoughts and feelings and perspectives, and choose to walk around them- let things be. Just like I told little me in that meditation yesterday…Shh…it’s okay. Everything is okay.
*** Warning: This is not as happy as most of my recent posts. Teensy bit of a bummer***
I went on to have a bad day yesterday…after the beautiful weekend, after the peace and happiness I held in my heart and in my body as I wrote my post yesterday.
Work was…the same as it always is. The same, same, same. I began to wonder if maybe, reading chart after chart of sick and injured patients- if maybe I took on some of that. Some of the emotion- the fear, the worry, the sadness- that I read day in and day out. I have said before, I am very impressionable. My body grew tighter and more tense as the day went on.
By 2:30, the anxiety had started to blossom in my chest. I tried to resist it, but that never works. I tried to sit with it, to reason with it, to ignore it. Nothing. Nothing worked. The terrible thoughts began to bombard my mind- car wrecks and kidnappings and all of the ideas that plague me when my children aren’t within arms reach. My mind becomes a bitter enemy.
And now I am starting to see what comes after the anxiety rushes out- after the child is home, safe and sound, leaving this giant space inside of me where all that worry had been. After the relief of her arrival-that brief, sweet, space- has also fled. I am left with this…this awfulness. This feeling that my mind has done it, once again, splintered away from reason, led me down this dark path. And then I am angry. I am angry with myself, but it comes out in other ways. Impatience with homework, intolerance, temper. The anxiety leaves me with another mess. I am finally seeing it.
This morning, I am once again left with the task of forgiving myself. Of loving myself despite my defects. Telling myself that healing is not a straight path- there are dips and bends, and times when the road doubles back on itself. The times when I am angry and lost are so brief now, but they seem to bother me so much more. And you know…no one went to bed with hurt feelings last night. Cam crept into my room and slept beside me while I was sleeping. It wasn’t that bad. But I want it to be better. I always wish it were better.
I crave quiet this morning. I turned the radio off in the car, let the sound of the rain fill my ears, the low hum of the car. Even now, I hear nothing but the rain outside, and it is all I want. I don’t want to scroll through Facebook, or hear anymore of the godforsaken news of this fucked up world. I have enough on my plate right here. Right inside these walls. I am on my guard, of course, praying the anxiety does not return today. It gets old. It gets old not feeling safe in your own life, knowing it’s all just a lie your brain is making up. It gets old not knowing what to do to fix it.
So today, I’m just going to be quiet. I’m just going to breathe. And try to figure out how to clear this hurdle.
Have you ever had one of those strange moments where your perspective shifts, and you suddenly…I don’t know…like, see your life? All of the sudden, your own reality hits you and it’s just mind blowing? And not in a bad way at all, but in the most incredible, blessed feeling way? Gosh, I’m getting tears in my eyes just writing this.
That happened to me last night. I was drifting off to sleep, and out of nowhere it hit me that I’m a mom. I have two daughters! And you know, of course I know this- one of them is a legit adult now, the other one is 8. It’s not like it’s something new, but…it just sort of hit me. Wow. I am the mother to these two incredible people, their mother. What an honor that is. How lucky am I?
To get to have these two beautiful girls, so unbelievably different, so perfect in their own way. I have one who loves everything that grows- she plucked a giant mushroom out of my garden yesterday, and plopped it down on my butcher block, examining it like a scientist. She broke it apart, leaving a trail of dirt and possibly poisonous spores over every inch of my kitchen…but you know what? I’m so happy that she’s found something she’s passionate about- her seed packets, and all of the knowledge she has about soil and zones, water and sunlight. The way she looks when she is plucking a bean from a vine, or pulling a weed from the earth. As a parent, all you could ever want is for your child to grow up and find the thing they love most, and I think she has done that.
And then there is the little one- tender-hearted, kind, but absolutely self assured. She loves tiny, tiny things, colored pencils, blank pages, pencil sharpeners. She’ll drop everything to give me a hug, but then she rushes back to whatever it is that she is focused on. She’ll give up some of her time for me, but she is pretty clear about needing her own space, her own time. I feel like that will serve her well. She also loves jokes, loves to laugh, more than anyone I’ve ever known…and again, this will help her immeasurably in life.
I LOVE these girls. I love them so much. And it is such a miracle, such an unbelievable miracle, that I get to live this life I am living. For an addict like me to be living a life like this- gainfully employed, a real career, my bills paid, food in the fridge, these gorgeous kids, and I am CLEAN? Are you kidding me? When I think of how desperately I longed for this life, so many, many times. When I think of how little hope I had, how futile it seemed to even think about it. Because I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t stay clean. Except I did. I have. I continue to.
And because of that, I get to feel like this. Like my heart will just burst open from all of the gratitude and love and appreciation I have for my life in this moment. For the mother I get to be because I just kept showing up, day after day, and I stopped trying to change the way I felt by putting drugs in my body. I went ahead and felt my feelings instead. I went ahead and faced the truth about who I was and what I had done. I went ahead and dealt with it. And it was hard- it’s still hard sometimes. I have a lot of painful memories, painful facts about my life that I can never change. But you know what? I’m making a lot of new, really beautiful memories, too. And if I keep it up, someday they might just outweigh the bad ones.
For that, and for so many other reasons, I am deeply grateful this morning.
Yesterday marked my 8th day in a row of being happy. Maybe that doesn’t sound like a big deal, but the days that preceded that were so God-awful, at least a few of them, that I am not even going to link to the “Panic Attack Rabies Incident” here. (Hint: that’s not what the post is called, that’s just what it’s about. It might have the word rabies in it though.) It’s so crazy, it’s almost embarrassing. If you want to read it, you can just scroll back until you find it. The days prior to the really, really bad day (or four) were no picnic, either. I was fighting a lot with my older daughter, feeling uncomfortable in my own home, which, when you are someone who is home as much as I am, this really sucks. And honestly, looking back even further than that- I was trialing new medication for my ADHD that went terribly wrong, I was struggling with a sort of depression/anxiety/ unhappiness/totally-stuck-in-a-rut thing. My life just didn’t feel good anymore, for a while, and I didn’t know why. Or maybe I kind of knew why, but I didn’t feel able to do the things I needed to do to overcome it.
Lucky for me, everything blew up. First, I asked my daughter to leave. It wasn’t quite as nice as that, but it has been the best thing for both of us. Then, I stopped taking that F***ing medication. No thank you. Then I had a four day panic attack, and was pretty sure I was going to die of rabies. As soon as I stopped thinking that, I started thinking I was just crazy, and this was how life would be from here on out. Panic, waking up already afraid of…of what? Just, everything. Life. It really sucked.
But, when God or the Universe or whoever is in charge of knitting bodies and souls and brains and guts together, made me, they put in this funny little switch. It gets tripped at the oddest of times, generally when I am at my lowest. Right around the time when I am feeling hopeless and ready to give up, it activates, and I wake up and think “Like HELL. Like hell am I going to live like this. If (for instance) I’m going to die a horrible death from rabies, I’m going to enjoy the hell out of these last days on earth.” Or, “I don’t know what all this fear is from, or why it is happening, but NO. I am not going to live like this.” And then the most incredible thing happens…I just…get over it. Like, I know that doesn’t sound possible, but i’m telling you, it has happened for me so many times throughout my life. I have these horrible run-ins with crippling panic and then, I just can’t take it anymore, and I put my mental foot down.
I am in NO WAY suggesting that this is a solution for anyone else, or pretending that it is proof that the mind is so powerful, you should be able to…I don’t know, be so stubborn that you can destroy your anxiety simply by not letting it happen. I’m just so, so grateful that my particular stubborn brain has this escape hatch. Because panic and anxiety are brutal motherfuckers. I’m sorry for the language, but this is a fair and accurate description. I do not have time to be a quivering mass in the corner. I have shit to do. I am the home that all of my people come to- family or just weird, adopted, family type people. This is where their mail comes. I sign for their packages. I am that person.
Anyway, there is more to the story, of course. I remembered what I already knew, but just hadn’t been practicing. That a happy life is a life that includes both things you enjoy doing, and tasks completed that need to be done. Too much of either one, and it’s no good. So every day, I make sure to do a handful of things that need to be done- clean out the car, wash the dishes, replace light bulbs, change the sheets- and a few things I just want to do. I pick up beach glass, or make hot chocolate, read a good book in the tub. Buy some crap I don’t need on Amazon. Whatever. I remembered that exercise is so important- just taking a little walk every day is so invigorating. And of course, prayer and meditation, or whatever practice is sacred to you, is just perfection. Finally, I remembered that isolation is not the same as time alone. I must talk and interact with others, because my head will start to tell me things that are not true. I need the brightness and laughter of friends to clear things up.
So- my energy has bounced back. The fear and worry have been off somewhere else. I am better than I’ve been in months. I just hope it lasts. But I will do EVERYTHING I can to make sure that it does. And for now, I’m just going to enjoy feeling good- feeling like myself again. My good self. I like this version of me.
I woke up way too early, as usual…but I am not going to get all worked up over it. This is just who I am, and I have accepted it. I’m an early riser who has become a super early riser over the past few months. I think partially it developed as a way to save a few precious hours of peace for myself, while my older daughter and her boyfriend were staying here. This time is so important to me. I’d do just about anything to preserve it, including waking up in what is basically the middle of the night.
I did, however, get to usher in the New Year last night! I set an alarm for 11:55, and Cam and I got up long enough to do the count down, scream “Happy New Year!” once, hug each other, then scramble back to the warmth of the bed. Last night was her last official night sleeping with me. We are both more than ready to go our separate sleeping ways, but with the extra people here the past few months, we didn’t really have a choice. So tonight, I can sleep diagonally, the way I do when she is at her dad’s house. She’s a tall child, and such a bed hog, and I feel guilty for saying this, but I sleep SO much better when she is staying overnight with her father. So, bittersweet though it may be, we are both excited about this milestone. Obviously, she’s way too old to still be sleeping with her mother, and she used to sleep on her own at our old house…not sure what happened. I don’t regret it, though. They are only little for such a short time.
Anyway, I woke up this morning feeling such gratitude for my life. I have such a good feeling about the year ahead. I was thinking about the horrible panic attack and subsequent anxiety I suffered through less than two weeks ago, and I wonder if it was just a giant purge of built up negative energy- shit I needed to get rid of? Because since it faded away, I have been steadily more centered, happy, and anxiety free. Seems like more than coincidence to me- to get to begin a new year wiped clean of the dark feelings that had been plaguing me? Well, whatever it is, I’ll take it. Gladly.
You know…my house is still a mess. I meant to take down my tree last night, and never got around to it. There are dishes in the sink, and…well, it’s pretty much like it always is around here. But for once, none of it is bothering me. Because I have a plan, and I intend to stick to it. Little by little, this house will transform, and be the way I want it to be. By the time I go to bed tonight, those dishes will be gone, the counters wiped clean, the tree gone, ornaments put away. It still won’t be perfect- I doubt it will ever be perfect. But eventually, it will be the way I want it to be. I feel quite sure of that.
The thing is, I have started this year with peace in my heart. I don’t know that I’ve often felt peace like this. It feels solid to me, as if it is not dependent on outside circumstances, but more like it stems from within me. It’s the kind of peace that comes when you have finally started to trust yourself, to know that most likely, you are going to be okay. I’ve survived a lot- I’ve survived MYSELF, which was no simple feat. This is my fourth consecutive New Years clean, and I’ve grown stronger every year. And I am so grateful for that- for the peace, and for surviving myself, and surviving the dark parts of my own mind. I’m so grateful for making it out of that last, awful, dark place, and for the wonderful new spot it wound up leaving me.
I’m starting this shiny, fresh new year with a grateful heart. And I don’t think there is a better place to begin than that.
May your year be blessed, happy, full of hope and laughter. Happy New Year!