Monday, March 27, 2017

An apple a day--oh wait, those are lemons

The year 2014 was the year of the 365-day panic attack, and by panic attack I mean scared-to-leave-home-without-my-husband, day in, day out, talk-yourself-out-from-under-the-bed, paralyzing, heart-racing, tear-inducing fear. I cried and I cried. I cried while doing mundane chores(this was the worst, because the things your hands can do without your mind allow the mind to wander and dwell in places it shouldn't be allowed to go unchaperoned)...I cried getting ready for kids' birthday parties and "happy" family events, I cried in the shower before bedtime, I cried if I found myself in the car alone, or if I had plans or a phone call to make. I cried doing things that were supposed to be fun, cried while putting on makeup in the mornings, cried after talking on the phone to a friend or even my parents. Sometimes the tears would sneak out as I walked the aisles of the grocery store; only once did some kind soul notice that things looked a bit out of sorts: she was a college-aged girl at Whole Foods who saw me in line with a bag of chocolate candy that I had run back to grab while the family was checking out but I had missed them and was waiting to pay; she grabbed my bag, said "you look like you need a treat," and paid for my chocolate-covered pecans with her order, then gave me a hug. That was probably the kindest thing I remember from that year; I still draw strength from that moment when SOMEONE looked hard enough, saw the problem, and cared.
This is NOT the appropriate response when someone is struggling emotionally!

Not that nobody else did. My husband was as supportive as he could be in his obsessed hunt for work and perpetual attempts to find some way to bring money in during his 30-month unemployment.
Friends tried, at first, but apparently couldn't handle the intensity of emotion that inevitably flooded out when we talked, so eventually the phone calls stopped and dwindled to a text message now and again. I have already mentioned my terror at trying to make a phone call; I had to just let it go. I was physically and mentally incapable of asking for help, while those I had always believed would "be there" to understand and encourage during difficult times just floated away into happier circles, some even accusing me of isolating myself on purpose because of laziness. . . I can't blame them, really, for jumping ship, but I also can't shake the aloneness of it. That--the distancing of friends--both mine and my kids' friends--probably hurt as bad as my own body's betrayal of itself.

Emotional difficulties can cause you to be the odd one out.

It was indescribable, the feeling that my mind was betraying me and I could not control the response no matter what I tried. I know now it was depression, that a spring had been wound too tightly and just wouldn't hold its tension anymore. At the time, however, I was afraid of applying that word, as well as afraid of what was happening to me.

Searching frantically for answers, we changed our diet; I had read that wheat affects brain chemistry, so I thought that we would try going gluten-free, and it helped! Not everything, and not all the time, but as I dabbled with it, I realized I would cry for days on end after having that beautiful slice of Chantilly cake or that flour tortilla. This was important because it gave me hope that things could be improved by my efforts if I could just throw enough energy in that direction. So we went full-on gluten free. While the involuntary tears subsided somewhat, hurt came from another direction as suddenly I was at war in the kitchen with more intense meal prep AND with well-meaning friends and family who couldn't understand this sudden obsession with food. I needed to eat this way to be able to stay alive--to even function, it seemed to me, and they simply couldn't understand. I found myself learning to cook all over again, reading every label in the store every time, and preparing everything my family would eat, ever. It was exhausting and the sheer preparation load ensured that any anticipation I had for upcoming events was replaced with dread for the effort involved, I realized how much our family and social life was based around food.
They don't LOOK like bringers of sadness and gloom, do they? But I soon discovered they WERE.

I also discovered essential oils and herbs that year, in my quest to manage the anxiety that threatened to choke me at every turn. Lemon balm grew easily enough in my herb garden, and I had purchased it for the pollinators, but I soon discovered that it was a blessing I had given myself. The leaves of that 3-foot-tall plant provided tea that actually helped me calm down, and then I learned to make a glycerite of it so that it would be portable. Meanwhile, peppermint oil helped the headaches and tummy cramps subside and lavender further calmed anxious breathing; I felt like a walking apothecary with my purse full of oils and bottles, but I also knew that with my little arsenal, I could at least leave the house wearing eye makeup and expect to have it on when I got back home. This was huge!
Essential oils

As a cat and bird owner, I have read that cats and birds are simply TOO good at hiding when something is wrong until it gets really bad and then it's sometimes too late to help them get well. I, too, have struggled more I think because I am really good at looking like I've got it all together, at least on the outside, when I'm really falling to bits. This is a problem I still cannot fix about myself. Just how does a person go about saying "It's a really bad time and I need help" without sounding as if complaining is all one ever does? I discovered quickly in 2014 that NOBODY really wants to hear my struggles.

So as all this was going on in my interior, we kept homeschooling, kept attending the social functions we were invited to, kept trying to help hubby find employment and pinch pennies to make ends meet. I didn't realize then that the sacrifices we were making for the sake of economy and energy conservation were being absorbed by my children until school started back in September of 2015 and my daughter began having trouble getting her school work done.

To keep the details private for her benefit and to shorten an already long post, I will just say that she's been dealing with anxiety and depression too. I believe that my lack of coping skills caused the stress that put her into this, and so now just as I have begun to get a grip on my issues, I am watching my child suffer. I have spent every available moment this past year researching to try and help her get better, but the bottom line is that I don't know the answers nor do I know what questions to ask of whom, and she doesn't have the drive to do even little things to help herself out of the hole at this point. I'm watching as she is seriously considering dropping out of college and losing a full scholarship just to rest, and she just gives in to apathy most days as her energy is too low. Most of her friends don't know she's struggling, and none of them really know the extent of it because it's just not something you talk about. My heart breaks for her.

Meanwhile my second daughter is frustrated and feels inadequate because as high school graduation comes around, she feels that her experiences and accomplishments don't add up as high as her peers'. We didn't involve her in "enough" activities and opportunities so she's got a shorter brag list for scholarship applications. I can't say anything about it except that I did what I had to do to keep myself and the family operating. I have heard some moms say that "you do what you need to do for your kids" and it's true, until you have a physical/mental breakdown, and then you simply DO WHAT YOU CAN. Period. I hate that my weakness robbed my kids of what could have been valuable experience, but as I look back, I can't see anything it was in my power to actually change. That doesn't stop the guilty feelings.

So the lessons learned here?
I am unsure that there are any--at least, not trite and simplistic pithy ones that would make a cute meme, but let's try:

  • We all need to take better care of each other. 
  • Keep your friends close.
  • It's dangerous to give, give, give when you're not being replenished, as selfish as that sounds.
  • We all could stand to be a LOT more compassionate toward others, because we simply don't know their struggles.
  • Give grace. When in doubt, give grace again
  • Life offers many opportunities to forgive others. Never turn down the opportunity.
  • Above all else, love each other deeply, for love covers a multitude of sins.(1 Peter 4:8)