Archive for the ‘anxiety’ Category

I’m Alive. I think.

Posted: May 31, 2012 in anxiety, healing, OCD

I know, I know.

I fell off the edge of the planet.

Just for a little while.

It’s been a crazy few weeks.


So much to write about…it’s hard to know where to start.

I’ll try to play catch up.

I made some big changes this month.

I ended a relationship that has been the cornerstone and central focus of my life for the past six years (give or take a couple of weeks where this boy and I hadn’t really decided if we were officially “dating” or not).

I packed everything I own into U-Haul boxes, secured them with brown tape, marked the sides with a bold-point permanent marker, and moved it all to a little bedroom at my brother’s house. (Thank you, brother, for the free storage space).

I packed everything that was left (minus the cat) into a few more boxes and moved into a single bedroom in a tiny apartment with a roommate I’d never met.

It’s been two weeks and I still haven’t seen very much of her, come to think of it…

So now, after six very up and down, roller-coaster kinds of years that have included some of the happiest and most miserable moments of my life, and after that same amount of time spent envisioning rings and flowers and white dresses, I suddenly find myself alone, without most of my belongings, without internet (the horror!) and without a plan for what I’m doing with my life.

It’s liberating and nerve-wracking all at the same time.

It’s been incomprehensibly difficult and strangely easier than I thought it would be.

It’s been mixed with laughter and tears and a lot of second-guessing myself along the way.

I doubt it will get any easier for at least a little while.

There are still a lot of things up in the air, and a lot of things to question. If there’s one thing I really, truly suck at, it’s navigating through the world when I don’t know what’s coming at me next. I blame the perfectionism, and the OCD, but really this is just how I’ve responded to life in the past and it’s hard to change that now, even though doing so is going to be a big step in changing how I move through the rest of my life.

My therapist thinks this will be good for me.

My brother thinks I’ve done the right thing.

My friends all say I’ve made the best decision I could have made under the circumstances.

My mind tells me I did what I needed to do.

My heart, on the other hand, is just confused and hurt and sitting in my throat.

Good inspiration for songwriting, right?

As my quest to get totally healthy and happy continues, I find myself questioning situations in new ways. The way I process things has changed significantly in the last couple of years, to the point where things I used to just do I now sometimes over-think and over-analyze.  And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, if it helps me get to the bottom of my emotions which have bounced around all over the place for most of my life.

When I stopped taking anti-anxiety and anti-depression medications about a year ago, I was afraid that I’d slide back into the place where my emotions hit peaks and valleys every few hours and made me feel like I was stuck on a bad roller coaster I couldn’t get off of. That hasn’t happened for the most part…the coping skills I learned in therapy helped me stay more balanced and to stop and consider why things were making me feel certain ways.

I found that I had to spend a lot of time working on my attitude, and my negativity. Negativity has always been kind of a knee-jerk response for me, because I’ve spent a lot of my life expecting things I want to be taken away; things I’ve worked hard for to not come out how I’d hoped. I never realized it was such a pervasive part of my life until I got help. For the most part, I’m better at catching myself when negative thinking starts to creep in, but I still struggle with not letting little things bother me.

Even things that don’t affect me.

Like this evening, when boyfriend asked if I’d heard about Paula Dean’s announcement that she has diabetes.

I have.

“It pisses me off,” I [innocently, or so I thought] informed him, “because she’s insinuating that it’s not a big deal, and that it’s fine for her to continue eating the same things even though she has a serious condition. She should be a better role model.”

Then boyfriend accused me of being too negative, which made me mad, because I felt like I was just responding to his initial inquiry, so I yelled at him and informed him that I’m sick of feeling like he’s setting me up for failure by trying to dictate how I should respond to his questions. Since I can’t know what he’s thinking, I can’t always respond how he wants me to. Am I supposed to lie, and pretend things don’t bother me when they really do?

Eventually we retreated to our respective corners and discussed things, and he told me that for him it comes down to my response…still. It’s not a problem that I think Paula Dean should be a better role model; it’s a problem in his mind that I let something that absolutely doesn’t affect me become that big of a deal that it pisses me off.

Fair enough.

This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, as I start to put my music out into the world and prepare to face the inevitable barrage of negative feedback that is sure to accompany the positive.  Getting to a point where that negativity doesn’t bother me, and recognizing that it doesn’t have to affect me unless I let it, is going to be a process, but it’s going to start with making these other little changes, like not being phased by what a TV personality does. I can disagree with it, but it doesn’t have to piss me off. It can just be what it is.

But seriously Paula Dean…behave yourself. There are kids watching you.

Visiting Seattle is a strange experience for me sometimes. I lived here for four years, but for most of that time, my anxiety prevented me from getting out and exploring the city in any meaningful way. When I come back, now, it’s a strange mixture of familiarity and newness.

Boyfriend has a work conference this week, so I get to stay for free in a suite at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel. It’s lovely. It comes with designer-brand sheets, an assortment of bath goodies, plush bathrobes, and $8 bottled water. It’s the kind of place that I usually feel out of place in – like I’m pretending, because I can’t really afford this stuff.

It’s nice to be in Seattle and be able to get out an explore it now, without feeling anxious or overwhelmed at every new turn. Last night, I met up with one of my roommates from my undergraduate years. It’s always interesting to see people who knew me back then, and hear their observations of the person I was. I compare that girl to who I am now, and sometimes I wonder where she went. Other times, I feel like she’s looking over my shoulder, waiting to see if she can force her way back in and turn this new life I’ve been building upside down. She’s the voice of self-doubt that always wants me to give up on things; who tells me it’s not worth it to keep trying whenever the slightest hint of disappointment crops up.

I’m doing a much better job, lately, of shutting her up.

I had a very interesting conversation with former roomie, over a Dry Blood Orange Soda and a delicious snack platter of roasted nuts and olives:

What was most intriguing to me, on this particular night, was her view of me, from back then.

When I look back, on the girl who struggled through undergraduate school, I don’t see much that’s positive beyond the school part. I was an excellent student. I earned grades commensurate with the hours and hours I spent locked up in my bedroom, or the library, or (on really good days, when I was feeling adventurous) a coffee shop. That part of my being then tends to fade into a background of student loans, bad fashion, damaged skin, anxiety, and bad decisions. I didn’t know how to function in that world, away from my parents’ dysfunction. I didn’t know how to be social, or how to have fun. Literally – that was a new phenomenon to me, when I worked through the walls OCD and anxiety helped me put up so early in my life.

When I look back at my undergraduate years, I tend to only see what I missed. In reality, there were parties at my house that I didn’t attend…even when I was in the house. I’d lock my door, stuff in ear plugs, and do homework. Not because I didn’t want to be social, but because I genuinely didn’t know how.

I look back, and see that girl – alone, and isolated, and miserable. I knew then, even before I got help, that I wanted something different, but it took time to make those changes. Time that I tend to look at, even now, as lost years.

I looked at my roommates as my polar opposites – friendly and outgoing; smart and funny; fearless and uninhibited. I wanted to be like them, but I assumed it just wasn’t possible.

When I finally started to unravel the deep dark secrets that hoarding and anxiety had kept hidden in my past, I learned there really was a whole new, big, exciting world out there. When I moved to Seattle, I was filled with that excitement and wonder, because back then, at 18, I really thought that if I could just get out of California, everything would be different. I would be different, because people in Seattle were different. Something had to change.

It wasn’t that easy. But it is more rewarding now, in a strange way, to come back to Seattle and see it with brand new eyes. What I wasn’t expecting from this conversation was to hear that my smart, funny, beautiful, fabulous roommate had found things to admire and envy in me, too.

While I was wishing for just a tiny bit of her talent for navigating the world, she was looking at my dedication to my studies. While I was hoping to learn from watching her how this business of making friends worked, she was watching me push through classes. She tells me I did a very good job of hiding my misery, and loneliness. Which is also interesting to me, because I assumed I must be transparent; that everyone could look right inside to see how pathetic I really felt most of the time.

Which led to another turn in the conversation. One I won’t talk about here, because there is too much at stake for too many people in its revelation. But I will say that it made me consider just how far I’ve come, that in the course of this conversation, I felt capable of doing something I didn’t feel like I could do for most of my life: I told the truth, even though it was scandalous and ugly. And I didn’t feel bad about it, because being able to take responsibility for my mistakes while also recognizing that not everything that goes wrong in the world is my fault is a big accomplishment for me. It’s been a long time coming.

We moved the conversation to a nearby sushi restaurant, where little bites of heaven came to a dark lacquered table on fancy white plates:

We sat there, talking about our hopes and dreams, and it came home to me that I’ve turned a corner here, somewhere, when I wasn’t really paying attention. The past is still there, and still a part of me, but the future is brighter and more promising now than it ever was in my wild, desperate dreams when I first left California almost a decade ago. Being realistic about the future used to mean giving up on long-shot dreams to me. Now it means finding new ways to harness and build upon them. That something real, and worthwhile, could come out of all this has been a hazy, troubling thing to try and wrap my head and heart around for a long time. But it’s there now, and real, and it’s been worth fighting for.

Boyfriend is wrapped up with conference duties all day, so this morning, I took myself to breakfast at the same little coffeehouse that served me a delicious Dry Blood Orange Soda and wonderful conversation last night:

Boyfriend seemed a little surprised that I left the hotel room by myself this morning. He’s still catching up to the place where my being alone is a choice and a treat, and not a byproduct of being too afraid to make friends. I already have dinner plans this evening… with myself.

And as for the scared, anxious, girl that spent so many nights alone when she lived in Seattle – maybe I’ll take her too. To tell her one more time to look around and appreciate how far she’s come. And that, above all else, even though she still holds me back sometimes, I’m proud of her.

Getting Over It

Posted: October 23, 2011 in anxiety, healing

This seems like the theme of my life lately. It’s getting a little frustrating. I think it’s easy for people who have never been through a traumatic experience to insist on the importance of “getting over it.” It’s easier said than done.

Sometimes I just need to take baby steps, and remind myself that it’s okay to take the time to assess and experience the changes that I’m making.

So tonight, I’m going to a cookie decorating get together, that’s being hosted by a girl I don’t really know…or necessarily have the best impression of. She has a big personality. One that can border on being aggressive. I have a hard time dealing with people like that, because I’m so sensitive, and get my feelings hurt so easily. That’s not necessarily a good thing. And it is true that in the past, I’ve been guilty of judging people before really getting to know then as a defensive gesture – I decide I don’t like them so I won’t get my feelings hurt when they decide they don’t like me.

I don’t advocate that anyone intentionally try that plan. It’s a pretty miserable place to be.

For a long time, I didn’t understand the adjustments I needed to make to change this. Now, I’m working on it in baby steps. When I got the invite to go to this party, I definitely hesitated.

Why would she invite me??

I consulted my bff, who has been with me on this journey to getting healthy since practically the beginning. In many ways, she’s really my first close friend that I’ve been able to trust with giving me an honest opinion, and setting healthy boundaries on what a friendship should be.  She’s also friends with the hostess…something we’ve talked about on numerous occasions, when I’ve expressed my aversion.

“She said she wants to get to know you better,” bff informed me.

In the past, I would have shrugged that off. I don’t know if I want to get to know this person better. I’m pretty sure we aren’t going to end up being…well, bff’s.

But I think there’s a lot to be said for being willing to engage with people, even if they aren’t going to be your bff’s. It’s a sign of maturity that I have not really been aware of for the last couple of decades. It’s probably true that my expectations of my friends have been at times too low, and others too high. I never had a good sense of what a healthy balance was in my relationships.

That will not be an overnight discovery, or a one-time learning  experience. But taking the first step, and getting outside of my comfort zone in this little way, will be a good place to start.

What 9/11 Means to Me

Posted: September 11, 2011 in anxiety, healing, rape, trauma
Tags: , , ,

This time of year is always emotional for me. September 11, 2001, impacted me in the same way it did many Americans – it shook my sense of security, made me nervous about my personal safety, and made me wonder if things would ever feel “normal” again. I wrote an article on patriotism for my high school newspaper and fully embraced my pride in my country. A few months after it happened, I watched the first images of the Iraq invasion on the news and knew the world had changed. Not too long after that, my only brother joined the Army National Guard and moved to Georgia for boot camp. I got to see him three more times before he shipped off to Iraq in 2004. He came home safe, but deeply troubled. It took a long time for us to start rebuilding that bridge.

But in the grand scheme of things, that isn’t what 9/11 means to me. It was more personal; a deeply painful and harshly transformative moment. It happened, I survived, and life went on, but nothing was ever the same.

In August of 2001, I met a boy. He was the singer in a band, and I was supposed to play bass on some demo tracks they were working on. Instead, he wrecked a car. Instead of playing the bass I ended up driving him into town to call a tow truck. Instead of starting my senior year excited about going to college, I started it wracked with anxiety about a relationship that everyone (including this boy) said was bad for me. But I was in love with a boy who knew exactly what to say to keep me coming back to him, even when I knew it would hurt.

This boy and I were total opposites. He drank; I didn’t. He did drugs; I refused to try them. He smoked cigarettes; I pretended to. He stole; I felt guilty and looked the other way. He went to jail; I accepted his collect calls and promised to do anything for him.

I bailed this boy out of jail. With $1’s and $5’s collected over the course of months working nights as a waitress. He disappeared. I waited through weeks of unanswered phone calls and rumors floating around school that he was seeing other girls.

Then one night I ran into him on my way home from work. We went back to his house. It was late. We kissed and he swore he loved me. He took my car keys and cell phone and gave them to a friend, and took me down the street to an old abandoned limousine that was a favored location for getting high, and where, I assumed, we’d make out some more before I went home. Which we did, for a while.

Then he pulled up my dress and he raped me.

I begged him to stop.

He didn’t.

He slammed my face into a window so hard it cracked my teeth.

He pinned me down, and raped me again. And again.

When I was too tired to cry anymore, he told me to put my clothes on and took me inside, to his room, reminded me that his friend would have my car until the next day, and went to sleep next to me like nothing had happened.

The next morning, I got up and wandered into the living room where his mom and her boyfriend were watching TV. The first plane had just hit the twin towers, and I stood and stared, numb.

I spent the day in San Francisco, waiting while this boy bought drugs. The streets were empty, like a ghost town. I felt on the inside the way they looked – dirty, and damaged. Late in the afternoon, he led me down inside a crypt in the middle of an old cemetery and I watched water dripping down the walls while he did meth with a friend. I wondered briefly if he planned on leaving me there. When we got back to his house later that night, my car was there – my purse and cell phone on the seat. He told me to go home like nothing had happened and watched me drive away. I remember the glow of his cigarette standing out against the charcoal gray of a foggy California sky.

I went home.

My parents barely looked up from the news when I came in; paid little attention when I spent two hours in the bathroom, washing away the blood caked between my legs with dirty, lukewarm water. A few days later I finally worked up the energy to take myself to the doctor, where I learned I had Chlamydia. The nurse handed me a prescription and a brown paper bag filled with an assortment of condoms in shiny red and orange wrappers and told me to be more careful next time. It didn’t really occur to me then that what had happened wasn’t my fault, so I nodded and left.

That’s what 9/11 means to me. The end of something – innocence; a belief that I deserved to be treated with respect.

When a teacher finally figured out something was wrong and convinced me to go to the police, almost two months had passed. In that two months, even though I had told my parents what had happened, I don’t remember a single word of comfort. I don’t remember being told it was going to be okay. Ever. I holed up in my room and focused on my homework. I cleaned the house. And I cried a lot, alone.

The police detective in charge of my case eventually called my mom and insisted that she come down to the police station after work one day. She did, but she wasn’t happy about it. At home that night, my dad insisted that going to court was a bad idea – it would be my word against a boy’s, and no one was going to believe me. That was the closest thing to comfort I ever got.

A few days later, I learned from a mutual acquaintance that just before he’d raped me, this boy had had sex with another girl, who had since tested positive for full blown AIDS. I vowed then that if I survived, I’d get the hell out of California. I signed up for the SAT’s a week before the final deadline, worked feverishly on college applications, and waited for the results of my blood work to come back.

In April, I turned 18. I learned I didn’t have HIV. I accepted an offer for an out of state school, enrolled in early admission with no idea how I was going to pay for it, packed up my car even though I was absolutely terrified to leave, and watched California disappear in my rear view mirror.

It’s hard to believe it’s been ten years.

Months of therapy finally helped me see that what happened then doesn’t have to define me now. I’ve survived, and I’ve grown.

In some ways, it still feels like yesterday.

Like a few months ago, when, during a particularly intense fight with my brother, he insisted I’d never been through anything “that difficult” in my life. I reminded him that at 17, I was raped. One of the ultimate violations.

“Yeah,” he responded after a second of consideration. “But you deserved that. You put yourself in that position.”

I cried all the way home.

A few months later, my brother finally started seeing a therapist. I doubt he’ll ever say he’s sorry.

Ten years.

I’m a few months away from earning a PhD. I owe $100,000 in student loans, but I have a life that’s worlds away from what I knew in California. No matter how things turn out, I don’t ever have to go back to that place where nothing feels safe. I’m still learning how to be happy with me, but at least I’m learning.

The boy who raped me still lives in California. I don’t wonder what he’s doing now very often. I don’t need to, because that doesn’t define me anymore. It helped me grow. It made me stronger. It pushed me to get out. But it isn’t who I am.

I mean more than that.

I Heart Thursday.

Posted: June 2, 2011 in anxiety, healing, OCD, weight loss

Friday isn’t bad either, because it’s massage day. Tomorrow I also have some therapy scheduled with my first therapist, who I haven’t been seeing very much lately, since I’ve been working with my OCD therapist. It is always good to check in with her, and it’s pretty amazing to see how far I’ve come since I started working with her. She often says she wishes she had a picture of me when I first came in to see her, and would huddle down in the easy chair in her office and attempt to become as invisible as possible. It is pretty incredible to think about the things I was terrified of then that I’m doing on a regular basis now without even thinking about it…traveling, meeting new people, spending time in social settings…just to name a few. When I started seeing the therapist, I wouldn’t have even been able to contemplate joining a band, because it opened me up to rejection and nerves. It’s good to be at this vantage point looking back on that progress.

As far as today goes, I’m off to a little bit of a slow start, but I’m getting on top of things. I treated myself to sleeping in until almost 10 this morning and enjoyed listening to the rain outside. It was soothing and very rejuvenating. I made it back to my house from house sitting at about 10:30, and after catching up on email and such I’m ready to hop on the treadclimber and get my work out on. I think after that and a shower I’ll work on my research for a little bit and get ready for band practice tonight. I love band practice, and it’s typically a high point in my week. This week we’re working on polishing off all the songs we’ve learned in order to be ready for our first show, which is coming up in just over two weeks. I’m nervous but excited! Tomorrow I’m going to start putting together outfits for band promotional photos – another exciting step forward!

Look How Far You’ve Come…

Posted: April 18, 2011 in anxiety, healing

Another week down, and sometimes it’s really gratifying to just reflect on how far I’ve come in the past year or so. The last month has been a really amazing journey that has both reminded me of just how much I’ve overcome and given me a lot of hope when I think about where I’m going. It’s really amazing to see things finally coming full circle. It has been not only a big step in the healing process, but a big step toward starting a new chapter in my life that has been a while in coming.

Everything has been going amazing with the band, and sometimes I have to stop for a minute to remind myself that it’s only been a few weeks. In fact, it will be a month this coming Wednesday. Things are going so smoothly that sometimes it seems like I must have been doing this for a lot longer. We have about 20 songs memorized, and a bunch more on the table. We’re already talking about booking shows, and everything that comes along with this whole process.

More than anything, I love the group dynamic of this band. I love feeling like part of the group, and I love how we work together. I love that all of the people in my band are people that I’ll be glad to have in my life as friends down the road. …hopefully on the road… I love the opportunity I have to learn and develop as a singer and a performer.

It’s a great testament to how much work I’ve done in the last few years and how far I’ve come that things are running so smoothly. I’ve been able to keep my anxiety and emotions in check for the most part, and it’s very rewarding to see how putting these new skills into practice pays off in real life settings and not just in my therapist’s office. Everyone else in the band has commented on how much better the group dynamic is now that I’ve joined the band, and how much more they enjoy coming to practice now. We as a group genuinely enjoy each others’ company, and that contributes to getting more accomplished in a practice.

It has been a long time since I have been this genuinely excited about anything…I can’t wait to see what is in store next. The funny thing is, I’m not even as nervous as I would have expected, because I have this amazing support network right there with me to help me through it. It’s an awesome feeling.