Monday, August 30, 2010

Like a Good Book...

I love it when I read a really good book with an author’s voice and thoughts I identify with. In fact, if the author really touches a chord I find myself thinking in similar prose; analyzing my surroundings and every day events in that ‘voice.’

It’s not just books it happens with. My friends often rub off on me in that manner. Especially my gay guy friends who have the ‘valley boy’ lingo. Man, that sticks like glue to my brain.  I digress.

Anyway, my neighbor is also a single mom, going through some of the same angst and soul searching I find myself in. We went on a long walk the other day, talking about our shared hopes, spiritual longings, heartbreak and fears. And, of course, bitching about the Ex's. That is what we do best. As we got back to our cul-de-sac, she said, “Kim, you have GOT to read this book. It’s so you.” She went inside and came out with Eat Pray Love.

Now, a disclaimer. I had no intention of reading this book. I’d heard just enough about it to turn me off – it’s about a woman’s quest for God across countries, divorce and (the final nail in the coffin to turn me off to reading this it) it's now a major motion feature. Bah. I have no need for that drivel.

But, I was out of good books. So I opened it up Thursday evening and each night since, have anxiously awaited bed time so that I can read. I feel like the author is putting words to the feelings I didn’t even know existed, but when I read them I think, damn – THAT’s how I feel, I just hadn't gone deep enough to realize the source of my anxiety and sadness. Somehow, I just could not let myself recognize my sadness lately. I knew it was there, eating at me, screaming to be recognized, but I had convinced myself that, if I acknowledged it, I would fall to too pieces like those "spilt milk" puzzles that are all white with no edges and damn near impossible to ever put back together. And I just don't have time for that kind of jigsaw puzzle right now.

But as I got deeper in the book, I began to recognize more and more of myself. The author talks a lot about depression – even giving it a name and persona, coupling it with its old buddy loneliness. Oh, how I loved that imagery. I read that chapter twice in a row. I could so identify with those characters - they are frequents at my home lately. 

The book combined with other catalysts this weekend that led me to a moment of self-discovery. On Friday night a friend told me that I don't "sparkle" like I used to - a simple, harmless thing to say, one expressed truly out of concern, but it cut me to the core. On Saturday another friend mentioned that she’d been worried about me. I’ve fallen off the blogosphere, her way of keeping a barometer on my life. And she’s right. When I stop writing, I’m brooding. And not in a good way at all.

Combine all of this, and when Sunday morning came I awoke feeling bruised and battered, desperate for help that I, for so long, have tried to deny needing. My immediate reaction was not to call a doctor (well, it was Sunday, anyway, so wouldn't have done any good), but to lace up for a run. It helped me to step back and take a look at my life and my general psyche right now. Three miles flew by, and I decided to double my distance, which was really stupid since I only run about twice a week these days, IF that. In mile 4 my knee began to hurt. By mile six I was limping back toward home. And I felt more down than ever. I mean really, can't I make myself better? Can't I run it off, read it off, rationalize it, face it head on and conquer this anxiety, this depression on my own?! My knee yelled back at me that no, unless I wanted to get a knee replacement next time I awake feeling that way, I should not tackle this alone. My heart agreed wholeheartedly (ugh, I had to write it), and offered up a heart attack if I do not address this. Stupid body always trying to undermine me.

I hate depression. I hate to think of myself as being there. I’ve been surrounded in one way or another by loved ones who battle depression and other mental illnesses all my life, and to me, it’s terrifying. Long before the loss of so many people I loved in the recent past, before Sadie’s life-or-death battle at birth, before the end of my marriage I began my own epic battle with it. It really, I think, started even before high school, but was most prevalent in the year following, and never quite went away.

The worst of it came shortly after having Katie, when I found myself alone in a college town with an infant, a spouse who completely shut down, two jobs and a full-time student schedule. At that time, I felt a tightening in my chest, something that felt like a heart attack I thought. I could barely breathe. The pain was stabbing through my chest and abdomen when the episodes occurred. It was scary, and these feelings began to happen more and more frequently, at odd times. Usually when I laid down to sleep for 2-3 hours before starting the next day. When the searing pains and lack of breath were not present, I would have argued that I was content (perhaps more content than I am now?) in life. But when they came they would last anywhere from 5 minutes to 45, and they were excruciating. It took EKGs, a few scans and blood work before I landed in a psychologists office with the diagnosis of panic attacks. She told me in the very first session that I suffer from ‘generalized anxiety disorder.’ She suggested medication. I vehemently refused, but did agree to follow up appointments to work through the condition without the aid of drugs.

I left the office and armed myself with self-help books, vitamins and began a regimented diet and exercise routine. Within two months I had a handle on the panic attacks – I’d lost weight, I felt better, I was stronger and I was much more knowledgeable about GAD, postpartum depression (my self diagnosis that the psychologist never agreed on – she said it was current-marriage-in-crisis syndrome instead), panic attacks and self reflection. But I still couldn’t get past those blues. So I finally caved and took the minimum amount of medication to help me get over the edge. And it worked. I was calm and cool and... well, numb. And to be numb meant not to hurt. So that felt good.

But I was scared of the meds. They aren't natural, and the lack of emotions began to wig me out (the psychologist rationalized this as 'leveling my emotions.' Hardly human in my book - we have emotions for a very good reason, and sometimes, they should not be kept in such close check). I didn't like being numb and merely 'content.' I wanted to be 'happy.' So six months after starting the regemine of drugs, I weaned myself. I had been much faster to wean from the psychologist (who took less than three months. I still remember the last time I saw her, when she said she felt she was no longer of value to me because my marriage SHOULD fail because it was so unhealthy for me, and that if I was unwilling to admit it, then she could not help. How dare her, I thought?! Now I'd like to go back and hug her...). A year later I had even weaned myself from the self-help books, and I could manage a panic attack if I felt it coming - I'd address it, have a little mental conversation and tell it to f* off, which was really quite effective. And I was OK. I was better, really.

Fast forward about two years, and I found myself once again battling the same demons, minus the panic attacks. But the depression was so much worse this time. I was in a new city, again. I’d gained weight, again. My husband was further than ever from me, and the last marriage counselor we had been to analyzed our relationship to be “over the edge, barely clinging. There’s little, if any, hope of saving it, and to be honest, at this point, it’s best to just let go.” We both left in a huff. But we both knew he was right, even though we couldn't admit it then. 

Anyway, once again, the anxiety returned, but it chose this time to manifest itself in new ways – obsession with work, finding the right school for Katie, focusing on Sadie's survival, a crusade to help other families 'victimized' by heart disease, etc. Anything, ANYTHING to avoid paying attention to what was hurting. Anything to avoid the emptiness inside. Anything to avoid going back to a shrink’s office and getting on drugs.

A year later and I was back in on a chaise lounge, eager for a new 'script to make me numb. I wanted a magic pill to make it all better. I wanted a pill that would make me happy since I couldn’t seem to find happiness anywhere I turned. I took them for all the wrong reasons, which the shrink (who was fantastic) quickly realized and worked with me to address. She told me I shouldn't use the drugs as a crux (well, no DUH, that's why I avoid them until the last minute, I told her) and that numbness was not a state any human belongs in. And I agreed. I didn't want to be on them either. And talking to her made me feel better, gain some new self-help skills, and again, I was quickly off of them, off my need for her, back 'on track.' Kind of. 

Fast forward two years to now, post failed marriage, post post-partum years, post allowable grieving period for losses of loved ones.  I find myself thinking, more often than not, if I just get through this hurtle I’ll be happy. If I can jump through that hoop, and the stars are aligned, and my winning lotto numbers come up that day (impossible, since I don’t play), then, THEN, I will feel better. I’ll be happier. I’ll be a better mom.I don't need drugs to get there. I'm meditating twice daily using the '10 minute miracle' method. I'm breathing, I'm eating organic lunches (mostly), I'm reading new self-help books (and apparently this self-help autobiography that spawned this post). I'm trying to focus on my kids, the great new things about my job, the lawn, the wide-open future ahead that I get to mold into whatever I want it to be.

Yet I'm sad. And anxious. And lonely. And I want to be whole again.

Truth is, I don’t know what whole is. I’ve been pieces and parts of everyone else for so long (at my own choice of course) that I have a hard time being alone and thinking about what I want, who I am, what I want to do next. Instead, I spend most of my time devising ways I can be so busy that I won’t be annoyed with my dwindling self. Kids! Bills! Lawn! Businesses! Volunteering! Friends, family, cleaning! But please, please don't make me sit alone for an hour with nothing to do, please!

Some of that goes with the territory – when you’re a mom, everything else comes second to your children. I get that, and I embrace it. But a big chunk of that is mental, and of that chunk a lion’s share can be directly my nemeses Anxiety and Depression. Screw them and the horse they rode in on.

It’s so hard to admit that there’s something broken within you. At least for me. I hate talking about it. I hate thinking about it. I hate that I can’t control it on my own. But I also don’t want to be unhealthy for my girls, unhealthy for myself.

My friends, bless their hearts, have not abandoned me during these times of turmoil. Well, a few have, or I have abandoned them perhaps, but they were peripheral. My core base of friends have held me up and supported me, bringing me soup when I’m sick, cheery messages, shared bottles of wine, commiserated and laughed over my recent misfortunes (some self-brought, others truly the roll of the dice). And I can not even begin to express in words how much they mean to me – actually, most of you that read this ARE my close friends, so to make it more personal, I can’t tell you how much YOU mean to me. And I have to apologize. I know I’m not myself lately.

So there it is - a long ramble about a book that I’ve halfway read that for some reason opened the floodgates I’d been holding barred shut for so long brings me to this – the crux of the post. I think it’s time to look into medication. I don’t think I need the psycho babble (though I did enjoy the mandala-drawing hypnotherapist I saw for a while a few years back and may seek him out if nothing else than for art therapy). I can easily identify my problems and potential solutions (non-drug) that will help me. But when you've gone this far off kilter, sometimes, I think, you need something to help you push the reset button. 

I hate the idea of drugs. I’m scared of them, actually, after the last round with Cymbalta, which left me in cold sweats for three weeks with migraine-like headaches when I was weaned off. But I also realize that I have to be better at life. I have to take control again – because I’m getting swept up in the hurricane of change without an achor, buffeting from one drama to the next, soaking up unnecessary rains of pain and sadness and spilling it, despite my best intention, on others along the way.

Even as I write this, as ashamed as I am to admit my shortcoming and need for help, I can feel the storm turning back toward sea. It’s time to dry off, pick up the pieces of my life and move to higher land.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

An overdue, very fun, relaxing weekend!

I have to admit - I was really looking forward to the every-other weekend off from parenting thing when I first moved out. It was going to be AWESOME to have free weekends. Well, I quickly found out, not so much. The girls miss being home, I miss having them with me and I'm just, well, LAME. I don't want to do much but clean, work and unpack these days. If they're here, it forces me to stop and play.

This weekend was a fun reprieve from the go-go-go lifestyle we've been having. Yeah, I still worked, but only a few hours today. I had some one-on-one time with each girl on Saturday, which was a total blast - to multiple parks with Sadie (my back is killing, though, she was tiring and out of breath a lot out there in that humidity), and to get a (gasp) cell phone for Katie. That's another story for another day. Don't judge. Shut up.

We had a great time with Kerinda and Spencer, who chilled with us a good portion of the weekend. We went to an inflatable-jumpy place with friends, had a houseful of new friends over Friday night for an impromptu cul-de-sac party, spent a couple hours at the salon today to get new cuts and ate out way too much. It was fantastic. I feel so much more... me. Yay for free time with my babies!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Single Parenthood

I think I'm finally coming to terms with it. Well, kind of. I'm starting to assimilate at least.

Katie and Sadie, on the other hand... not so much. The single parent thing was fun for them the first month. New house. New friends. New lives. Less drama.

And then came Carl's death. Sadness. New dog. New drama.

And my new job.  Long hours. Stressed out mommy. Less quality time.

And less time with their dad.

So while I've begun to settle out and find a routine, they're only now feeling the full ramifications of divorce. They see their dad a few hours every week and every other weekend. They have less time with me than ever before. And, to be honest, I'm not half the mom I was. I'm tired, I'm stressed and I've forgotten how to play. Well, mostly.

Last week I really noticed it the most. One day I looked over at their pictures on my desk and realized I hate where I have let life lead me. I missed my babies. And it was everything in my power not to walk out of the office at 1:30 that day to get home to them. But I stayed.

On the way home I was in full meltdown mode. My life, I realized, was never going to be a white picket fence, fixing dinner for the family, hanging laundry on the clothes line with countless daytime hours with my children. And it's fine. I know. But it's not what I envisioned. This is not what I pictured at all. And I have to allow myself time to adjust, to let go of old dreams and to refocus and find new ones.

And with that last sniffle, I decided to start reclaiming and quit the pity party. If I spend the few hours I have with them drowning in regret and sadness, then I'll miss out on the best parts of now. And I feel like I've been missing out on a lot lately thanks to my pity party. So, pity party is officially over.

I'm a single mom. I work full time and then some. I have an insane schedule and demands. And I'm going to kick butt as a mom despite all of that. Time to put the big girl pants on and make the most of the time we have together.