February 14, 2018

Home is wherever I'm with you

While my medical treatment for the issue is fairly recent, I have had anxiety issues for as long as I can remember. It tends to come in waves with depression, and when I get them both at their peak, I find myself falling into patterns of feelings that are hard to navigate, let alone overcome.

Anxiety is a tricky puzzle, because there are so many components to it. It is worrying, intensified. There are all the usual parenting concerns, but also deep fears I've carried since long before my son was even born. There are moments of regret over dumb things I've said and done recently, but also nights when I am kept up from sleep beating myself up over things from middle school or even younger. There are family concerns, money concerns, work concerns, health concerns ... but amplified, incessant, and absolutely unable to be soothed.

The silly thing is that even though in the moment, these things feel so critical, my logical brain knows they are not worth worrying about. Yet my brain cannot be persuaded to relax.

One of my biggest sources of recent anxiety is my relationship with Daniel. He is incredibly loving, attentive, caring, affectionate, considerate, a terrific listener, a doting friend to not only me but my son as well. Everything looks, seems, feels so perfect.

But then, the anxiety creeps in.

If it's so perfect, then why are you worried?

In my sober, non-anxious moments, I'm trying desperately to live for each moment. To cherish each experience and recognize with gratitude everything I have now that I had once longed for with such tearful fervor.

I am beyond happy, incredibly so. It's everything I've hoped for.

And yet, it's not. Because deep down, that fear in the pit of my stomach - that anxious voice whispers it's fleeting. And it sets into motion a snowball effect of anxiety, where doubt builds upon doubt until it becomes an uncontrollable and dangerous mass.

Daniel is a PhD student at the school where I teach. His first semester, coincidentally, was the one right after I left last time, so he's already been here a while, and he'll be finishing his research and graduating at some point this year.

His post-graduate plans involve leaving this area indefinitely. He loves me, but doesn't love Central California. The Midwest is home to him, and while he understands the limitations of a job search in his field, he also is searching with the goal of getting back home. Meanwhile, I returned here last summer with the intention of staying until retirement. I've lived all over the country, and this is absolutely where I want to settle down. I spent the last five years crying and praying that my marriage and all the baggage that came with it was simply a bad dream and that I'd wake up back in California with my opportunities and uncomplicated life.

When I heard from my boss about a year ago letting me know the position was open again, it was an answered prayer. I can't go back in time and avoid the pain of my marriage, but I can take this moment and choose to do better, for myself and for my beautiful son. And this isn't a perfect place by any means, but for us, it is full of possibility and free of so many sources of stress we've experienced elsewhere. Central California isn't for everyone, but it absolutely is for us.

I loved Chicago when I lived there in grad school, but now, with every detail of my life different, I am deeply uninterested in living there again. From financial reasons to weather ones to career opportunities, it just doesn't give me or Noah our best possible life.

And here's where the anxiety starts to creep in: but if you loved him, if you really loved him, wouldn't you go anywhere?

And I don't have an answer for that at all.

In the past, of course, love would win over logic every time - don't think long-term, just follow your heart. But something Daniel and I have both brought up in this discussion is the fact that this is exactly why I left California the first time, and I'm deeply hesitant to relocate again for anyone but myself and Noah.

But if you were sure he was The One, wouldn't you go? You have doubts.

And it spirals from there.

Look at your friends. Look how happily married they are, look at those babies. This was your dream. But it's not your reality. Nothing turned out the way you wanted. Nothing looks like you had planned. He's going to graduate, he's going to leave, and that's it for you. You don't get a love that lasts. That space in your heart, the place you wanted to fill with children - the field lies fallow, and will never be satisfied. Noah will grow up and resent these tears. This is what you will pass down to your son: a devastating feeling of brokenness and insufficiency. The legacy you will pass down to him is the dark nightly tradition of crying because you've never felt like you were enough.

Again, it feels like drowning.

With medication, the worries are still there, but they're quieter. The voice of logic finds its strength and raises up to overpower the threats and accusations of anxiety.

I think something that has made this harder, besides going off my medicine, is Daniel's and my mutual anxiety over broaching the subject. I have absolutely loved our openness and candor to discuss so many deeply personal things. In only eight or nine months, I've shared more with him then I did in years of dating and marriage to Matthew. But the impending consequence of the post-graduation discussion has us both shaken, though we put on happy faces and claim we will cross that bridge when we get to it.

It's February already. We're getting closer. And anytime we are even within miles of the discussion, we find a way to change our direction entirely.

Logic tells me this: first, that if Daniel and I are meant to be together long term, we will find a way to make it work. Just because something happened one way with Matthew does not mean things will unfold in the same way with Daniel. There has not been a single aspect of overlap in terms of how either of them approached a relationship with me, and I find it hard to believe the similarities would start now.

And second, my relationship with Daniel does not have to lead to marriage and children and a "together forever" sort of happily ever after in order to be a successful relationship. If we part ways, I don't see it as time wasted or no lesson learned. I'm so grateful for this relationship and for this experience to feel like a cherished equal in a partnership. My ex-husband constantly made me feel terrible about myself for a lot of reasons, many of which were entirely outside my control. I've never felt anything but loved and supported by Daniel. We communicate. We work together. It's been an incredible learning opportunity and a critical part of my post-divorce healing and recovery. Whether or not this particular relationship ends in marriage, I have at least felt genuinely loved for the first time.

There's a saying I love, that I am trying so hard to live by especially now in the throes of anxiety: that worrying doesn't take away tomorrow's problems, it takes away today's joy. I'm trying to find the balance between concern about our next steps and also enjoying the path we're on now. I don't know what's going to happen with me and Daniel, but I know that, medication or not, it's a conversation we need to have soon. It's a tough one, and I can't guarantee it won't hurt and be tearful. But having the conversation, difficult or not, is a strong and powerful step towards quieting the anxiety.

I am very much looking forward to meeting with my doctor in just a few more days and hopefully getting back into a routine with my medicine soon. In the meantime, I'm trying my best to keep my head above the water of my worries. I'm trying to let logic be louder.


LynnieG said...

I'm sorry your anxiety is high. It's such a miserable cycle that feeds itself. It sounds like you know that you have to talk to Daniel about your future plans. That's a source of the anxiety and you're right...worrying about that is taking the joy out of each day! Pull off the Band-Aid and talk. Those future plans DO NOT mean you can't have the relationship you have now! You have to find joy in the now. If this relationship culminates in separation - do you really want to look back and think that you spent the last months being miserable with worry? I don't think you do - find the joy and make peace with whatever you find in having the talk. I know you can do it! And good luck with your doctor's appt.

Jennie Palluzzi said...

I'm glad you're writing again. Your honesty is inspiring. You are amazing, and brave. I know it's stupid to say "the universe will work it out" but I choose to believe this because if you can't believe that, what can you believe? Sending you universal vibes.


Denise said...

You are a real smarty pants, you know that? I especially loved the "my relationship with Daniel doesn't have to lead to marriage" part. Marriage isn't some gold standard, which you obviously know. It sounds like things with Daniel have their own natural ending, which is allowed. He wants to move, you do not want to move. Not every break up has to be a dramatic, garment-rendering experience.

Ugh I just love you.