This is a post that I've been batting round for months. This blog started as a book review site, then combined with my race review site and my photo site and then became kind of a catch all for things I like. Lately though, I've been thinking more and more about not always keeping it so light and fluffy.
It's the start of a new school year for me and I've found myself reflecting on my last year. I wanted to prepare for the start of another year, make sure I do everything I can to be the best possible teacher for my students who deal with so much every day. Last year wasn't a great one. I don't like to think about regret, because the choices you make help you become who you're supposed to be, even the bad choices can lead to something great. Last year though, I look at with regret. I became a person that I don't particularly like. Made choices that I'm not particularly proud of. Let other people dictate my moods. Chose to hang out with people that weren't very good for me. With all that I began to slip back into some issues that I've been battling for years- for my whole life really. Namely anxiety. I long ago learned how to cope. How to breath through the panic, to talk myself back from the edge, to clear my mind of troubling thoughts and refocus on other things. In the past anxiety attacks have kept me from doing the things I love, but I had, for the most part, moved past that and was able to function pretty well. Most people didn't even know I had issues with anxiety attacks. This past year though found me struggling, a combination of stress and life and bad choices led to a return of the panic attacks. Where I used to have specific triggers, they now came without warning and lingered for days, affecting my work and my relationships. I was a bad teacher, a bad friend, a bad wife and a bad mother and I struggled to keep myself together. Mostly I felt like I was running in circles, stuck in a hamster wheel, with no way to hop off and reset. If I'm being honest (and I'm trying to be) I began to worry that the anxiety was morphing into something worse. A few years ago one of my cousins died by suicide, another more recently died from an OD. They were both runners, like me. They both clearly struggled, like me. I began to wonder if at some point they stood where I stood, wondering how to get off the merry-go-round, if they tried but couldn't stop it, if that would be me.
It was different when I had specific triggers. I had reasons to be afraid of the things that caused my attacks. A bad fall from a horse led to panic attacks when I rode. Even though I knew I was a good rider, but I'm also abundantly aware of what situations trigger an attack when I'm on a horse. I see a cliff coming and I know to begin to breath slowly, to repeat my mantra and to remind myself that the horse doesn't want to fall either. The problem with panic attacks that don't have a trigger is that you can't prepare and it's harder to ride through it. That's where I found myself this past year. Getting stuck in my own head, replaying situations over and over, not being able to ride the wave and come out the other side.
The thing is, when you have anxiety attacks the people that want to help you often say the wrong things. Not because they don't want to be helpful, but because they have no idea what to say and how to say it because they don't have any idea what it feels like. When someone says "You know there's nothing to worry about, it'll be fine" I would want to scream "I know there's nothing to worry about! That's what makes this hard. I know it, but I can't stop!". When someone says, "Why do you worry about things you can't control?" I want to yell "Because everything is out of control and what if something horrible happens and I did nothing to stop it? I know I shouldn't worry, but I can't stop". For me, that was the eternal struggle. Knowing in my mind that I was overthinking and over reacting, but still not being able to stop it. It made me feel crazy. And then it made me feel ashamed. The more I tried to hide it, the worse it got. I started to worry that in addition to the panic attacks, that I was depressed, because the exhaustion that hits after a panic attack began to linger for days and I stopped wanting to do some things that I loved because I was just too tired to care.
Then something strange happened. Slowly at first and then I suddenly figured out how to start fighting back. The title of the post, "How people who you've never met can help you find yourself" gives a little insight into how my brain began to wrap itself around getting better... but let me explain. I started to see actors, singers, bloggers, people I looked up to for their talents, people who seemingly had their shit together, begin to talk about their struggles. They stood in the public's eye and said "me too" and shared how they fought back. These people, who I've never met, had the strange affect of making me feel not alone. People who I saw every day, who tried to be understanding and supportive couldn't break through, but these people could because I saw my own struggles in them. They were facing their fears, so why shouldn't I face mine?. They weren't hiding, so why was I? So I told a few people when I had my next panic attack, I told them what I needed (a place to hide or to have them run interference so I could be alone while I rode out the attack) and I went to my school Psychologist and asked her to refer me to someone. Just admitting that I was falling apart made me feel better. I got new coping skills to replace the ones that were no longer sufficient, and I began to admit to myself and others that this was my normal and that it was okay. What I found, which I wasn't prepared for, was how many other people said "I struggle too". Where I thought I was alone, I found I wasn't. We all have struggles but we don't have to struggle alone.
I learned a few things, both from the people who I looked up to from afar, and from those who supported me when I finally admitted that I was in a bad place. I learned that it's okay to be broken sometimes. You don't ever have to feel less then. You don't have to let other people make you feel like there is something wrong with you. And most importantly I learned that there will always be people who don't understand, but there will also be people who will support you when you can't support yourself, who will stand by you when you are at your lowest and who will help you survive when it seems like the world is closing in around you. I walked away from last year with a handful of regrets, but I also have a handful of friends who I wouldn't trade for the world because they were there when I needed them. I look forward to the new year, hopefully that I'm able to keep on the path I've got myself back on, knowing that the nature of my job might make it difficult, and confident that I've got an arsenal of resources (both in real life and in the people who I look up) that I can pull on when I feel myself sliding back into the darkness. I know I will be okay.
This Giving credit where credit is due....
If I manage to actually pull the trigger on this post, and lets be honest, for someone with social anxiety, admitting my struggles to the world is basically inviting a panic attack to come visit, I want to make sure I recognize the people who helped me figure my shit out. They might never see this (although I fully intend on tagging the hell out of this post on twitter and facebook) but it's important to me to acknowledge that their choice to be public with their struggles helped me face mine.
The Bloggess: Jenny Lawson is a goddess. Her books are the stuff dreams are made of and her blog is a constant source of both humor and support. She doesn't shy away from telling her followers when she is struggling and asking for us all to support each other. I've been a fan for years and now I can give her some credit for showing me how to brave when you feel like hiding. I can't say enough about how much Lawson and her blog have helped me see how very much not alone I am. I have awesome friends and a great family, but sometimes you need to see that there are others who struggle with the same issues you do to make you really feel normal. We're all weird, but Lawson has amassed a unique tribe that allows us to struggle and overcome together. Go visit her site, and for the love of all that is holy, go buy her books. You will not regret it.
Jonathan Knight: Of New kids on the Block fame. He has always been my favorite. He has spoken about his panic attacks for several years and disappeared from the public eye for awhile. Recently though he's been much more visible. I went to my first NKOTB concert when I was in elementary school, I went to my most recent one last summer at the Mixtape festival. I've had a chance to see him perform multiple times, I watched him on the Amazing Race and I follow him on instagram- seeing someone who I know has some of the same issue I do be able to just live a happy life was something that reminded me that everyone struggles, but everyone can keep going. Plus, one time he commented on one of my pictures on Instagram. I wonder if celebrities realize that doing something like that can change a persons whole day? It changed mine. It was a bad day. He commented on a picture of a good day and it reminded me that even when there are bad days, there will be more good ones. When someone you look up to acknowledges your existence in a very minor way it really hammers that point home.
Kristen Bell: I'm a marshmallow. I love me some Veronica Mars, so when Bell announced that she was no longer going to be silent about depression I paid attention. Bell said “If there ever comes a time where you feel like a dark cloud is following you, you can get help. You can talk to me, talk to a therapist, talk to doctor. I want you to know that there are options.” It was something her mother said to her and now she was sharing it with everyone. It's such a simple sentiment. When you are stuck, get help. There are people that will help you. I don't know why it hit home when she said it, but it did. I talked. I got help.
Jared Padalecki: I'm a recent convert to the Supernatural family. I started watching last summer and am almost caught up- my marathon binge of season 11 will start as soon as I download the season. In some ways I see my situation mirrored in Padalecki's more than others. When he said recently that he wasn't going to let people make him feel less then or silence him I heard myself say (out loud) "me too". I was so tired of hiding and pretending to be okay. I was so tired of people asking me why I wasn't smiling (or more irritatingly "why are you acting like a bitch today?") and feeling the compulsive needs to respond with a forced smile and an "I'm okay! Just tired!" when really I was drowning. He reminded me that even if you know you have a good life (which I do) and that you are lucky (which I am), it doesn't negate the fact that you can be trapped by your anxiety or depression, you don't have to feel guilty or ashamed. Padalecki, over the course of the last year that I've been following, has been outspoken in reminding us that we are not alone, he's been honest about his own struggles and he has invited his followers to join together and help lift others up with his #AlwaysKeepFighting campaign. He has let us see him struggle and more importantly let us see how he pulls through, reminding everyone that you can come out the other side.
Family and Friends: Then there are all the people in my daily life who stand by me when I'm losing my mind. Some don't get it and some say the wrong things while trying to support me, but I know that they have my back. Some have become the best friends I could hope for, letting me lose my shit and still wanting to go get crazy and have fun. I won't name them all, because I never know who wants to be online- but they know who they are and they are the bomb.
Before I chicken out....I better hit post.
This post was hard to write. It took a few hours. It will be harder still to actually post it. I'd be lying if I didn't acknowledge the fact that my heart is racing and I can feel the tiny thread of panic bubbling up. Thoughts of "what if people think I'm crazy?" are creeping forward in my mind. I'm tired of hiding though. This is my normal and it's okay. I hope other people find the same sort of uneasy peace that I have. There will be good days and bad days, but I will remind myself that I am not alone. We are all a little weird, we all have issues, but we will all be okay.