Tag Archives: anxiety

Coming Back to My Senses

G caught me flapping my hands and muttering to myself this morning so he asked what was up.

“Carlos needs to get dressed, Vivi’s lunchbox is missing, I need to get the house organized because the cleaning lady is coming today, oh and the guys are coming to stain the deck, so Huck needs to be cooped up in the basement, which reminds me the pool is turning green but I don’t have time to take a water sample in at lunch today because I have an all-day class and we are out of groceries.”

G went back to getting dressed. I added “carry around a big load of resentment” to the list. Then, like most every other day, I got all that taken care of and managed to get myself ready for work.

By 3:30 p.m., I was in the office restroom crying into a paper towel and trying not to make any noise. This time of the day, this time of the week, I’m getting overwhelmed with feelings. Orlando. Senate filibuster. Cheeto Jesus. Father’s Day.

Father’s Day. At lunch, a friend had asked, “What are y’all doing for Father’s Day?” and before I could brace myself, I thought, “Nothing–I don’t have a father anymore.”

By 5:00 p.m., I was sitting in my car trying to remember what I did last Father’s Day for Daddy and all I could be sure of was that it wasn’t enough.

Back at home, there was the green pool and the deck guys who never showed and the groceries to unpack and the and and the and and the and.

I stood at the kitchen sink trying not to cry while getting dinner together. I couldn’t find one happy thought to hold on to, not one safe and still place to let my heart rest.

I rinsed the potatoes that came in the produce share from Collective Harvest. I was reminded of the first time I watched Daddy dig up potatoes in his garden. I’d never seen them growing and was delighted by how they hung down in a crowd from the plant that he’d lifted out of the soil with a wide-toothed hay fork.

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I pulled from the block the little paring knife that Daddy and Big Gay gave me for Christmas that year after Fartbuster and I split up. I had asked for a sky diving certificate or some good knives. They decided the knives were less dangerous. I carefully cut into the small purple potatoes without using a cutting board, the way I had been taught. The jeweled inside of each potato reminded me of a fig. I’ve never been one for figs, but that reminded me of Daddy laughing about how Grandmama Eunice loved figs so much that she would stop the car and climb over a three-strand barbed wire fence if she came across a fig tree standing in a pasture. It wasn’t stealing, because that fig tree had to have been planted by some farm family long ago. Even if the house just a memory, the fig tree deserved to be loved and Grandmama Eunice wasn’t about to let figs be wasted on cows.

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With the purple potatoes cooking in a little oil, I turned to snapping two handfuls of green beans. The texture of fresh green beans takes me right back to being a kid with an afternoon’s worth of beans to snap or purple hull peas to shell or corn to shuck. We had BIG gardens. The scratchy green surface of the bean, like a kitten’s tongue. The rewarding crisp ripeness of some and the floppy meh of others. The distinctive SNAP. The summer smell. The clatter as the pieces fall back into the collander and dinner grows step by step. When we were kids, the worst possible thing to hear was “Y’all get in the car–we’re going to the garden.” Now I ache for a peck basket and a row of green beans to work my way down.

 

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A pretty pint of blueberries and the rest of the strawberries from the fridge. I scoop a handful of the blueberries gently into my fingers and pour them into my mouth. Most of them perfectly sweet, but always that bitter one. Farm fresh blueberries take me back to a late June trip to Maine with Richard. We ate breakfast on the hill overlooking Bar Harbor. He ate a cinnamon roll as big as his head (I have the photo to prove it) and I devoured a blueberry muffin made with the biggest blueberries I had ever seen. We took our traditional “feet picture” with the sailboats and bay in the background. That photo turned out to be the last one of a long series. Memories. Most of them perfectly sweet, but always that bitter one. I ate another handful of blueberries then stirred the supper.

I can’t say I suddenly felt happy at that moment and all was right, but I felt more solid. When my brain is racing far ahead and my heart is twisted and panting with the struggle to keep up, I have to come back to my senses. Sight. Touch. Sound. Smell. Taste. Memory.

Hello, Friend. I Am Afraid of You.

Me on Day One of my first BlogHer!

Me on Day One of my first BlogHer!

Two years ago, when I went to BlogHer for the first time, I didn’t expect much. I’d only been writing for a few months and I knew that I knew pea turkey squat about the world of blogging. I met this one really cool woman, Heather, who was starting a blog, too. When I asked her what she wrote about, she said, “Well, I’m not really sure what my niche will be…” I looked at her with my gob hanging open and replied, “You’re a lesbian vegan parent of multiples, one of whom has special needs…and YOU can’t find a niche? I’m screwed.” Heather and I were standing on the Expo floor, surrounded by sponsors who wanted to establish relationships with bloggers–maybe like us?– who could generate content about their products. Air freshening candles, tapioca pudding, car seats, vibrators, seltzer water, hair care products from Best Buy…what the ever lovin hell?

I couldn’t figure out where I fit in. Then on Friday night, the Voice of the Year keynote blew me away. In the midst of all the expo noise and the SEO tips and the social media optimization strategies, these women were recognized for getting up on stage with a microphone and telling stories. I had found my niche. Telling stories.

20140725_210343So last year, I went for it. And I got a spot on that stage with that microphone. The entire trip to BlogHer14 in San Jose centered around that seven minutes on the stage. By that time, I knew I could sustain my blog. I knew I could tweek widgets and self-host and run ad code and learned even more about those things at the conference. But the whole conference was pre-VOTY nerves and post-VOTY high.

Something different happened after last summer’s conference. I kept my place at the blogger table on social media. I friended other writers and I followed people so I can learn from them. My friend, Dee, said, “Why are you liking stuff on a site about natural hair for Black women?” Because Patrice at Afrobella is a pro. I’ve been watching how these women build community by participating in their communities on line.

In the days leading up to BlogHer15 in NYC, I’ve found myself more anxious than I have been at the previous trips. And that’s completely weird because I know far more about blogging and branding than I ever have before. I’m not looking for a niche, or the spotlight this year.

I’m looking to meet my friends.

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I want to hug A’Driane’s neck because for a year I’ve been learning from her about how to raise boys with quirks. I want to see what shoes Luvvie will be wearing and I want to vote for her Red Pump Project HIV charity to win The Pitch. I can’t wait to see the dress that Alexandra ordered from China–it’s a gem of a clustercuss. I want to talk happiness with August and books with Thien-Kim and parenting with Vikki. I’ll listen and learn from women who aren’t like me. I’ll go to the Queerosphere party and I’m going to dance at killer karaoke like a white woman who learned her moves from Molly Ringwald sometime in the mid-80s. I want to hug the ones who are hurting and promise them that they will be OK.

All of those connections that we’ve been building over the interwebz for 12 months will have to step out into the light of day. I don’t know what anyone’s voice sounds like. I don’t recall who is tall (well, Arnebya is) and who is short (Queen of Side Eye…ahem). I know Casey is handsome and her daughter is fancy. I’ll find these dear people in a crowd and then…

I’ll be me. Simply me. And I’ll be present. And I’ll be OK, too.

Because what I realized today is that this anxiety stems from some whack idea that when I am seen in the light, I will be revealed as that awful person that the voice inside my head sometimes tells me that I am. Even if that person isn’t real, if they don’t exist anywhere except inside my head. I might be the sum total of the worst parts of me instead of the best parts of me.

Hello friends. I am afraid of you because of how I might judge myself in your presence. But I have found my niche among this band of storytellers and I am thankful for the place at the table.

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The good fortune I took to San Jose

 

A Rising Tide

rising tide

I had an ugly mental moment this morning.  I’ve been cultivating a sense of abundance this week.  Trying to focus on all that I have.  Chanting, “I am enough, I am enough.”  Rowing my little boat and keeping it low in the water, right in the middle of the channel.

This Voice of the Year thing on Friday is a big deal for me.  I’m claiming that.  Some days, I numb myself from the excitement so that I don’t confess that I am thrilled to have wanted something and gone out and gotten it. I’ve been trying to stay in a positive, happy place with it instead of moving straight into “I hope I don’t screw this up” territory.

This is not a left-handed plea for y’all to say, “You’re going to be fine!”  I’m just telling you where my head went because I learned something from it.  I learned that it’s really hard for me to accept attention for doing something well.  I crave that kind of attention.  I seek it out.  But when it comes, I am afraid that the rug will be pulled out from under me.  I am afraid that someone else will come along and take what I wanted so much just because I admitted that I wanted it.  I am afraid that the “You’re OK!” store will be empty by the time I get there.

I am afraid.

That’s the gist of it.  At the heart of perfectionism is fear.  At the heart of my anxiety is fear.  At the heart of my depression is fear.  It’s always fear that I won’t be enough.

I am enough.

And here’s where the ugly mental thing came in.  I saw that another blogger, who’s very creative and clever and funny, will be doing an event the same time I will.  My immediate reaction, instead of, “Oh, wonderful!  I can’t wait to spend some time with her!” was “Seek and destroy.  If you get near her, you will be less.”  Suddenly, I wanted her to fail so that she wouldn’t take any of my success.

What the hell????  I’ve never even met her.

Luckily, I’ve been reading Brene Brown’s book, “The Gift of Imperfection.”  I recognized a shame reaction as I was having it.  And even luckier, I had a therapy appointment already scheduled for today!

I made myself sit with the fear.  I checked my evidence and it proved that I have a right to be there, regardless of who else is around me.  I talked it through and realized that this once-in-a-lifetime event is also a big package of every inadequacy trigger I have, all rolled up into one.  People will see that I am old and overweight.  I might cry.  I might get short of breath and look like I’m panicking.  I might not be that good.  I might be good, but not the best.  I might ask for too much.  Maybe it’s arrogant of me to walk out on stage.

I’m reading a story about Richard and it might not be good enough to honor his memory.

These are my triggers.  Maybe they will make me sing and I’ll just black out altogether.

Part of going to therapy is letting these feelings come up.  Sitting with them.  Saying hello, then moving ON.  Even when they are scurrying to catch up to me.

I did my work with my therapist and I came back to the knowledge that there is enough of enough for everyone.  I don’t have to scrap with other writers for a limited number of readers.  I can be good.  She can be good.  You can be good.  We can all be wonderful together.

The creative life is not a competition; it’s a tide.  A rising tide lifts all boats.  When I occupy a space of abundance in my own heart, I can share it with others.  When I’m stuck in fear, I have nothing to give.  I am going to loosen my grasp, let the tide take me.  A rising tide, lifting all boats.

I’m not even going to reread this because I might chicken out on publishing it.  Just remember this:  fear doesn’t have to stop you.  It won’t stop me.

Yes Sir, That’s My Baby…I Think.

I had such an odd moment today.  A friend–whose son has been in the same daycare as Carlos since they were tiny babies–emailed me a photo.  Her message said, “That’s Carlos, right?”

I double clicked the attachment and recognized her son instantly.  Then I looked at the other two babies and had a moment of panic.  Um…I think that’s my baby… yes….but I can only see his profile and his feet… no?…I don’t recognize that onesie…but it’s Brasilian colors so that must be him.

Yes Sir, That's My Baby!

Yes Sir, That’s My Baby!

With a big dose of guilt, I replied, “YES!”  But I worried that I had picked the wrong baby.  What if she emailed me back and said, “Oops!  I sent you the wrong picture!  Here’s the one with Carlos…”

The moment took me back to the night after he was born when I let the nurse take him to the nursery so I could get a few hours of sleep.  He made a tiny clicking noise with every breath for about 24 hours (until his lungs cleared out).  I couldn’t turn my mom radar off and not hear it, so I hadn’t had any rest.  The nurse took him for a few hours while I napped.

But I woke up having a panic attack.  It was about 2 a.m.  G had gone home to sleep.  The unit was quiet and dark.  My heart raced like it was going to leave and go find my baby.  My skin prickled with anxiety and every part of me flushed to 104 degrees in an instant.  I couldn’t get a breath.  I didn’t want to trouble anyone so I sat on the side of the bed and tried to calm myself.

After a while, the feelings weren’t going away, so I wandered down the hall to the newborn nursery.  Two nurses worked with the fresh babies.  A couple of babies lay swaddled in bassinets.  The door was locked so I had to knock on the window.  Up popped my friend, Amy, one of the lactation consultants.  I’m so glad it was her because I didn’t feel stupid when I said, “I’m feeling really anxious and I need to see my baby.”  One of the nurses said, “He’s just starting to wake up.  Let me change his diaper for you and check him out.”  Amy sat me down in a rocking chair and brought me a little ginger ale with a bendy straw.  Then she gave me a back rub and a few pats on the head.  I started to relax.  She and I talked for a few minutes, until I started to feel like myself again.

That’s when the nurse came back over and said, “He’s all fixed up and ready to go!”  Then she went back to her tasks.

Um.

There were two bassinets by the window.  Each bore a blue card that proclaimed, “I’m a breastfed boy!”  Two swaddled bundles with little white knit caps.  I walked slowly…squinting to try to make out the names.  What if I picked the wrong one?  The anxiety came flooding back because I couldn’t find my baby.  Then I realized that I was looking for HIS last name and the card had MY last name on it.  Duh.  I found my baby.

Have you ever had a moment like that?  One where you think you’re watching your kid on the playground then you realize that your kid is standing next to the one you were watching?  You look into the crowd at Pump It Up and can’t recall what clothes they were wearing when the party started?  I’ve had moments where I stood at the one-way mirrored window at daycare, searching for a dark head in the sea of blondes.

Now I look at the picture that my friend sent of our boys and I can’t NOT see Carlos.  His lips are the same.  The curve of his ear.  Those are the shiny brown eyes that gazed up into mine while I fed him.  Even the side of his foot is familiar to me.  Every cell of his body, part of me.

So strange.  He’s my very own heart, walking around outside my body but I can’t always recognize it.

The Triple Nipple

I feel silly writing about challenges this week when I have a childhood friend who just had a brain tumor removed.  A woman at work lost everything in a fire a few days ago.  My college roommate is sorting through her father’s house and decided what to keep, what to donate, what to sell.  My friend’s husband is trying to find a job.  There are people all around me with urgent and emergent challenges.

I have annoyances.  Inconveniences.  Overscheduling dilemmas.  Middle class problems.  Chronic versus acute.

But that brings me to a challenge that saps some of my energy every day, no matter the day.  I know my life would be better if I could find a way to step away from it.  My challenge is comparing myself to others.

You’ve read this far and I still haven’t explained the Triple Nipple title.  That’s called burying the lede, kids.

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In my racing mind, every person I encounter is doing something better than I am.  If you are a stay at home mom, I’m not spending enough time with my kids.  If you are a career dynamo, I am a schlub compared to you because I want to protect my family time.  If you run, that makes me regret that I used to run.  If you dress well, I am reminded that I don’t put much effort into my clothes.  If you remember to use your crockpot, you are so much more organized than I am.  If your daughter always has a hair bow to match her dress and her shirts never have spots on them, I am a lazy slattern who can’t dress her children.  If you drive too slowly, I am a speed demon.  If you drive too fast, I am clearly in the way.  If you drink coffee, I am foolish for drinking Diet Coke.

Now don’t think you need to scroll down there to the comments and tell me how stupid and unhealthy this is.  I pay a professional to do that.  And sometimes I apologize to my therapist for taking up her time when there are people out there with real problems.  Depending on the day, she might say, “Yeah, and this crazy shit makes you one of them.”

Somewhere along the way I decided that everyone else was really acing this whole grown up life thing and I am the only one fumbling around.  I compare my blooper reel to their highlights tape.  My inside to their outside.  These comparisons are the source of my anxiety because I am constantly judging and measuring and assuming that I am being judged and measured.  And coming up short.

But I do try to remind myself of the old adage that says if we all stood in a circle and showed our problems, we would snatch back our own as quick as a wink.

One day I was sitting at lunch with some of my delightfully brilliant girlfriends when a woman walked by.  Libby said how pretty her dress was, so we all looked over and it was.  I recognized the woman from my kids’ school and said, “Y’all…I don’t know how she does it.  Her kids are adorable and she and her husband actually enjoy talking to each other and at the Easter egg hunt they all have on coordinating seersucker outfits and she brings homemade decorated sugar cookies to the potluck and she just had a baby about four months ago and her hair is so shiny and she finds time to work out and has a full-time job but her kid is never the last one picked up from daycare…”

And that’s when Nicole looked up from her salad and shrugged.

“She’s probably got a third nipple.”

Well, that’s an excellent point.  

We all have something we don’t show to everybody, something that makes us feel weird or not normal.  Now when I find myself comparing and judging, I dwell on that possible third nipple instead.  

Guess what?  One in 18 men has a “supernumerary nipple” and 1 in 50 women does too!  Even the triple nipple isn’t as uncommon as we think.

I love this cartoon.  I’m getting there–to the place of AWESOME and ALSO AWESOME–but it’s a challenge.

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Black Box Warnings

Black Box Warnings BlogHi, bad muthas!  Today I am the guest blogger on Black Box Warnings and I’d love it if you would click on over to read my essay.  Black Box Warnings is a collective of bloggers who share their personal stories about mental and physical health, parenting, daily tribulations, and life’s little moments. There, you will find an on-line community built around support, respect, and compassion.  

My contribution took me weeks to write.  It’s called “When I Have Fears That I May Cease to Be.”  I write about my experience with depression and anxiety during pregnancy–one of the darkest moments of my life.  I got through that time with the help of drugs, therapy, support and compassion.  It’s tough to talk about these things on the wide-open internet, but more good comes from telling the truth than from keeping up a facade.  

Oh, For Flux Sake…

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Last week, I packed up my office for the first time in 5 years.  And honestly, some of that stuff had been with me for the 16 years that I’ve been in my previous job.  I started in the summer of 1996, when the torch was coming through Athens.

I moved the necessary stuff to my new office.  The furniture is awkard.  There are too many drawers.  The light is strange.  I’m going to park in a different lot.  The computer didn’t work.

Then I took a week off to spend time with my daughter as she turned six.  In a week, she grew up right in front of my eyes.  Now she can read on her own.  She can take better care of herself than I remember and it makes my heart tighten up.

My son looked at me last night with his dear baby face.  I asked, “Do you want to go swimming?” and out of the blue he replied, “Yes.”  It was our first give and take conversation. Now the week is drawing to a close and I’m feeling a huge wave of anxiety because everything is changing at once.  Job.  Kids.  Home.  It’s all gotten different and I’m feeling swimmy-headed.

Oh, for flux sake.  Flux is that state of flow, always moving, like a river. After Richard died and I faced that crushing grief, my therapist suggested that I view it as a river.  If you swim against a river, you tire quickly.  But if you bob and float, taking deep breaths, you conserve your energy.  The river is going to go where it goes.  You are along for the ride.

What the flux is up with you today?