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.

February 11, 2018


Anxiety, to me, feels like drowning. It's exactly like a very vivid memory I have from being a child, swimming in a pool at a friend's house. We were going back and forth to see who could get as close as possible the bottom of the deep end - I touched it, but felt myself unable to hold my breath for much longer with still several feet to go before surfacing. It was a split second that felt like ages, where I looked up through my goggles and saw the distance still to go, and felt certain that I would not reach the top again. I did, gasping, and never, ever forgot that very distinct feeling of being so close yet not having the strength or power to pull through.

Last week, I went into my Weight Watchers meeting and started crying as soon as the leader, Cassie, asked how my week had been. It was more than the scale - it was my anxiety, long-boiling and now spilling out in sobs.

I told her I'd run out of my anxiety medicine a few weeks earlier and I was deeply struggling. I told her I had finally found a local doctor who was taking new patients and scheduled an appointment, but it wasn't for another few weeks, and in the meantime, my ex-husband had just visited and my dad was back in the hospital and the new semester had just started and just all the usual stuff was overwhelming me.

I calmed down and regained my composure enough to get on the scale, and while filling out my member booklet, Cassie asked if there was anything else I was open to trying while I waited for my appointment to come - any herbal remedies or anything like that, like teas.

I was ready to try almost anything.

After the meeting, I went to the store and found something claiming to "promote tranquility" - knowing full well not to expect miracles, but rather, just hoping to carve out a few moments every day for myself with something warm and soothing. I know with entire certainty that being back on medicine is the best plan of action for me, I'm doing the best I can to create a bit of peace in the meantime.

So far, it's been nice - I don't know if it's the tea itself, or just the ritual of winding down with something comforting. I'm very much someone who soothes with food, and this feels like making peace with that. It's indulging my craving to consume, while still keeping in line with my goals.

My appointment is a week from Wednesday, and I am trying to find a peaceful place between the hopefulness of a calmer mind with the reintroduction of medicine, and the lingering anxiety of the side effects I'd experienced in the first few weeks after first beginning the medication. The worst of the side effects was profound apathy - to go from obsessing about everything to caring about nearly nothing was a huge challenge. After a couple of weeks, I balanced out, and found a good groove of where to sort my attention and how to properly distribute my worries. But getting back to that point is nerve wrecking.

Another thing that has helped tremendously is Headspace, a meditation app. My friend Marisol recommended it and I absolutely love it. The first few days I struggled a bit - without fail, a few minutes into the meditation, I'd fall asleep. But talking to folks helped me come around to it. If falling asleep is the calm peaceful quiet my mind needs right now, then it's working, even if this isn't necessarily the ideal meditation goal.

Again, I don't know if it's the tea, the meditation, or what, but I think everything together as an evening ritual has helped quiet my worries, at least at bedtime, and I'm deeply grateful for that.