WHATEVS…

Sierra's online journal

What If….: Quarantine Edition May 5, 2020

(Day 11: Something you always think “What if…” about)

“We are the sum total of our experiences.” -BJ Neblett

We’ve all done it. Slipped down that rabbit hole where we question our past decision and dream about how life may have been different if only…. But I realized long ago that life as I know it life as I knew it pre-pandemic is pretty awesome. And if I were to go back and alter any single decision from my past, it could’ve changed the trajectory of my life in a way that would’ve led me to Not Here. So are there experiences that I wish I’d handled differently? Absolutely. But I refuse to waste any time regretting the experiences that have made me me.

On the other end of the spectrum, some of us have also invested time into thinking about our futures and all their possibilities. Guilty as charged! What if I wrote that book? What if I changed careers? What if we had another baby? What if we moved to a new town? Dreaming about a future even brighter and more fulfilling than my (pre-pandemic) present is exciting. It used to leave me with a heady confidence, a sort of the world is my oyster sort of vibrancy. Nowhere to go but up!

And then Covid-19 happened. And the first few weeks felt….unusual? But bearable still. Working remotely? I can get used to this. Home schooling? I’ve always wanted to try that. Stores and restaurants and theaters and seemingly everything else under the sun is closed? Think of the money we’ll save by staying home!

And over the next few weeks, my optimism started to wane a bit. Getting my school-loving smarty-pants to buckle down and get her work done comes with a fight every day. She misses her teacher. Hell, I miss her teacher. And the PTO. And dropping in for library time with her class on Wednesday mornings. Dance class on Zoom is a welcomed distraction for her, but it’s just not the same as giggling in the back room before ballet or chasing her friends around in an impromptu game of tag between jazz and tap. Cranking the volume on the TV for family movie night is all well and fine but really can’t compare to the big screen. Dance competitions? Canceled. Spring soccer season? Canceled. Dance recital? Not looking good.

I waited as long as possible before breaking the news to her about the fact that we can’t throw a party for her birthday just yet. She listened excitedly as I laid out the plan which includes a car parade instead of a party for now and the promise of a big bash as soon as we’re able. Like this summer. I could practically see the images in her mind of water balloon fights and sprinkler play and all the water activities she asks for every May but is told that it’s too cold to have at her birthday party. Like every other covid-19 related blow, she took that news in stride in such a way that I was both in awe and insanely jealous of her resilience. And I thought, what if she loves celebrating her birthday later? What if this is a blessing in disguise? 

Over the past few weeks, my what if-ing has taken a darker turn. What if things never go back to how they were? What if I don’t have a job to return to? What if our country plunges into another Great Depression? What if the stores never restock and we’re faced with food and supply shortages? My anxiety has been spiraling more than usual. I cry. Often. I worry and stress and let my brain create every imaginable worst-case-scenario.

Today’s announcement from the Governor of Connecticut was not unexpected in the least, though that didn’t make reading it any easier. Schools will remain closed state-wide for the remainder of the academic year; we’ll continue with distance learning. The last shred of hope I had that my girl could finish her first grade year in class with her teacher was ripped from me. No field trip, no field day, no assemblies. (Side note: I can’t imagine what the parents of seniors are feeling!!) Nope. When my girl returns to school, she’ll be a second grader. Entering a new classroom with a new teacher and a new batch of friends. Everything familiar from early March will be gone. What if we can’t even go back in September? What if she falls behind? What if she can’t cope with this blow? 

I reached out to my husband at work, which I find myself doing when the day feels too heavy to lift. And he did what he does every time. He reminded me that this isn’t going to last forever. That things will start to return to (closer to) normal over time. That we’ll get through this, together. He suggested I take some time for self-care, which I haven’t really been doing at all lately. He told me to pause. To be in the moment. And to not think about the next thing on the list or the next thing to be missed. And he’s right. There are too many unknowns at this time. What if-ing is futile because no one knows what things will look like when businesses reopen, when kids go back to school, when covid-19 is a blip in the history book.

So today, what if what I’m doing is enough? What if the fact that my kid’s school work is done and she’s still smiling is all I need to allow myself some me time? What if I don’t vacuum the house or fold the laundry? What if we order dinner so I don’t have to cook and the kitchen stays clean just for one day? What if I just breathe and not try to posit what the future beyond today holds? What if I lay all my worries and stress down? What if this, right here, is what I’m meant to be doing? 

 

30-Day Writing Challenge

 

Living Like Me April 19, 2020

(Day 8: Share something you struggle with)

One of the many positive things I’ve seen come out of this ongoing pandemic is that many people—including several of my personal friends—have opened up about their struggles with mental health. Suddenly, talking about anxiety and depression is okay for those who are living with it. And some people are feeling it for the first time. And even those lucky enough to have no idea what it’s like first-hand seem to have a good understanding of that now’s the time to check in with the people. To ask how they’re doing. To offer moments of levity. To spread cheer. To make sure friends know that they’re there to listen if anyone needs to talk. And that’s a powerful thing.

white and brown wooden tiles

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

I’ve always been pretty open about describing myself as “an anxious person.” But I’ve never really owned the title. So here goes. I struggle with anxiety and depression.

What’s that mean, though? Well, it means that at any given moment, I am consciously working at keeping my thoughts and emotions in check. Picture it like the Whack-a-Mole carnival game. An ugly thought pops up? BAM! Not today. A niggling worry rears its head? POW! Not today. I wield my mallet and keep all the negativity at bay. And most days, I’m successful at that. I’m able to live what others would call a “normal” life. Yes, on the good days, I can make myself believe that I’m a good mom, a good wife, a good person in general. I do the right things, say the right things, and blend in.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t take much for a good day to turn bad. It often doesn’t even take any outside influence. Sometimes it’s as simple as forgetting to constantly remind myself that life is good, that I don’t need to worry so much, that I’m a good person. Other times, I don’t forget but rather am just too exhausted from constantly battling my own thoughts and simply can’t anymore. I put my mallet down and watch the moles pop up all over the place, feeling overwhelmed. And that’s when I snap or cry or stress out for what seems like no reason. Times like these, I withdraw. If I can isolate myself physically, I do. If I can’t, I try to “stay in my own bubble” by avoiding conversation and personal interactions. When this happens, I worry what “they” are thinking. I convince myself of what “normal” me knows are lies. They think I’m rude. They think I’m stupid. They don’t want to be around me. 

adult alone anxious black and white

Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

In the really bad moments, those lies about what others are thinking spiral out of control until they have solidified into facts. I’m a terrible mom. My husband should leave me. I can’t do anything right. Getting out of bed is a chore. Carrying out everyday tasks feels insurmountable. I don’t want to even try. I think life for everyone would be better if I weren’t in it.

Living with anxiety and depression has taught me a ton, not only about myself but about the world (and people!) around me. First, I’ve learned that these feelings are part of what makes me ME. It wasn’t until my first panic attack that it even occurred to me that not everyone feels like I do. It happened a little over ten years ago and landed me in the ER with uncontrollable shaking, an abnormally low body temperature, and the overwhelming feeling that I couldn’t warm up. They checked my vitals, ran their tests, and referred me back to my primary care physician for a follow-up. Nothing was physically wrong. I’d had an anxiety attack.

My doctor, in turn, referred me to a psychiatrist who, I was told, I’d have to meet with in order to obtain a prescription for anxiety medication. I told her I didn’t want medication. I just wanted to never feel that way again. She handed me a script and told me to bring it to the pharmacy to be filled, that it would tide me over until I could meet with the psychiatrist. Numbly, I followed her directions and when the pharmacist handed me that paper bag holding that amber bottle, she asked if I had any questions. And I did. I explained that my doctor had handed the script to me with no directions or explanation. What is it? When do I take it? The pharmacist read the label and told me, “Says here, three times per day by mouth.” And I was sent on my way. I took one in the car on the way home and within minutes was high as a kite. My husband read the bottle and gave me a shocked look. She had prescribed me a controlled substance intended to be taken “as needed.” But her instructions were to take it three times daily. And she had given me three refills. All before I even met with a psychiatrist.

My meeting with the psychiatrist came about a month later. He asked lots of questions, starting with the medication my doctor had given me and whether or not I felt it was working. I admitted that I had only taken a few of the pills; certainly not three times daily and I hadn’t had any need to order a refill. He asked about my life and how I’ve been feeling. We chatted for about a half hour during which time he offered me a prescription for a daily medication that would “take the edge off.” I declined. How I felt was normal to me. I didn’t want to not feel like me.

I’ve learned to cope with the feelings, to stay on top of them most times. And I’ve learned what to expect when I need a break from all the coping. I’ve learned how best to care for myself without negatively impacting those around me. I’ve learned who I can count on, to call at any hour of day or night to talk me off the ledge. I’ve learned how to fill my cup with the things that bring “good” with them and how to shield myself from the factors that most often lead to the “bad.” I’ve learned that I’m one of millions of people who live this way. I’ve learned that even at my lowest, I’m never alone.

30-Day Writing Challenge