Tuesday, February 20, 2007

What??? Me Anxious?

Painting by Roy G. Tabora

My kids were in high school and I wasn't working. One day after school I picked the girls up and stopped to do some grocery shopping. I had a full shopping cart and was headed to the checker when all of a sudden, my legs became leaden. I could hardly get one to move in front of another. I became panicky, not having a clue what was happening and told my oldest daughter to park the cart along the side of the store and tell the checker we'll be back. I had to get out of that store and the sooner the better as in RIGHT NOW. The girls were alarmed, not knowing what on earth was wrong with me, thinking maybe I was getting a migraine. We went out and got into the car and I actually couldn't drive because we had a stick shift. I had my oldest go find a pay phone and call my husband at work and tell him we were stranded and needed help. He came and paid for the groceries, loaded them into the wagon. By this time I had calmed down and could drive so he followed us home. I had no idea what had come over me.

Shortly after that episode, I went back to work. A couple of years later, this occurred: I left the office to walk the two blocks down to the Bank of America building to drop off some papers. It was an average day - not too cold, not too warm, just average. I worked at an insurance office as a fire and casualty agent. The street was one of our main streets, across from the court house; lawyers and their clients hustled up and down, briefcases in hand. It was just a typical business day. I finished my business and started walking back up to the office, crossing a side street. As I got in the middle of the street an interesting thing happened. I couldn't get one foot to move in front of another. Try as I would, it was as though my feet had become mired in tar. What's up, I thought to myself, trying to move my very uncooperative feet.

Then they started to shuffle a little, as if I was a 90-year old stroke victim instead of a forty-year old. What was going on? I turned around and headed back toward the bank since it was closer than the office, taking these little shuffling steps, sometimes moving, sometimes not. I felt like some strange lurching creature had all of a sudden inhabited my body! Making my way to the bank seemed to take an hour, in reality it was just minutes as I performed this weird other-worldly dance with my feet and legs. Of course, I just knew everyone was watching me, wondering who was this strange marionette entertaining them.

I entered the bank and to my relief, the pay phone was just inside the huge front doors. I fished through my pockets and found a quarter, another huge relief, and called my office. One of the younger agents answered and I said, "This is me. Can you come pick me up? I'm at the bank and I can't walk." She started laughing, thinking I was playing some sort of joke. "No, I'm serious. Something's wrong. Please come pick me up." She wasn't real happy but said she was on her way. She pulled up next to the curb and it took me some time to make my way to her car. I collapsed on the front seat and she said, "What the hell is wrong with you?"and started to laugh again. I assured her it was no laughing matter! She pulled up in our parking lot and went on in as though I had really wasted her whole morning, leaving me to jerkily make my way in on my own.

The other woman I worked with was concerned and as I made my way through the front door, she met me and asked what was going on. I sat down and told her what had happened. She brought me my coke and I nearly downed it in one swig. After a while, I got up and walked around as though nothing had happened! My feet and legs worked like they were supposed to and I figured I must've had some weird kind of muscle cramp.

A few weeks later, I stopped at the grocery store after work for a few things and it happened again. At least this time, I had the shopping cart to hang on to. I made my way to the checkout stand as though the proverbial corn cob had availed itself of a certain part of my anatomy. I got to the car and drove home without any problems.

There were occasions at church after services where we would be visiting with friends and I would be overcome by a sensation that I had to leave. Even though I was in a room full of people I would feel as if I was totally alone. Often times I would leave and go sit in the car and wait for my husband and the kids, totally overwhelmed by a sensation of sadness.

My son was a huge source of stress in our lives. I had had to call the police when he threatened me; he tormented his sisters and step-brother; we were fairly certain that he was abusing drugs but didn't know what to do. There was constant fighting and yelling. He hated us and made no bones about it. He hated us because we tried to police his actions. It became violent one night when he cursed at me and my husband (his step-dad) grabbed him by the front of his shirt and hauled back to hit him. I calmly took his hand and told him, "It's not worth it." My husband was extremely protective of me and had reached the end of his rope, especially since my son was almost 18, not in school, not working, and we were 99% certain he was using.

There was a period of approximately six years of constant stress with problems with children's issues, my mother's death and removing my son from the house. This is a small sampling of the things we dealt with. All families deal with everyday stress and some not-so-everyday stress, like death, bills and kids, and we are no different. What is different perhaps, is how my nervous system is wired. Somewhere around this time we started with a different insurance company and I saw a counselor who explained to me that I was having panic and anxiety attacks and prescribed the appropriate meds.

Even though the stressors no longer exist my body has suffered from the compounded effects of stress. It is accumulative. So even though something happened ten years ago, ten years later your nervous system is still misfiring. This also means that living with my former husband of thirteen years and all the ups and downs of his alcoholism has left its mark as well. I'm not blaming him or anyone else. It is genetics and learning how to correctly react to stressors and most of all, take your meds!

Every job I've ever had has been extremely stressful. They've always required an extreme amount of customer service and that is stressful when you've got all the dots on your dice! When I short-circuited in early '06 all of that stress had succeeded in melting all of my wiring together. I took off for about a month and had just gotten back into the groove of things when Doug passed away. Even though I am confident in an afterlife and am also confident of his position in that afterlife, the stress of losing him completed the job of meltdown. Now, I'm trying to live in the here and now, with my limitations and not letting them reduce my significance as a human being.

Saturday, February 17, 2007


I suddenly awoke from a sound sleep, my mind instantly alert but in a heightened state of panic. What was wrong? I lay quiet for a moment, my thoughts racing and my heart beating, thump, thump, thump. I couldn't remember having a nightmare but I was reacting as if the devil himself had been chasing me in and out of the maze of my brain.

I started to roll over but, wait a minute. What's wrong? In my mind, my body was moving but in actuality, nothing was following suit. I tried again. Roll over! A simple request from brain to body, roll over. Nothing. Now my throat was closing and my heart was beating faster: Roll over!!! Still nothing. No foot moving, no leg, no arms, no torso...if anything my body seemed to have grown to the mattress. My breath was coming in and out. My heart was definitely beating. I was alive but NOTHING WOULD MOVE!

This had to be the nightmare. I was still asleep! That was it! Okay, now wake up. Go on, just wake up. Easy does it, come on, open your eyes and wake up. But my eyes are open, I am not asleep! I am awake!!! Go on, body - MOVE. MOVE! MOVE!!! Nothing. Not even a finger would wiggle. Good God, am I dead??? No, I wouldn't be able to think if I was dead...

A stroke. I've had a stroke. That's what it is! That's why nothing will move; that's what I am - paralyzed. Paralyzed. Paralyzed. The sweat was pouring off of my body and my heart couldn't beat any faster. My breathing was shallow and rapid. Dear Lord, I've had a stroke!

I could see my husband's face on the pillow across from me, just inches away. If only I could move something, open my mouth and scream, anything to get his attention. The room was dark and I could only see the outline of his face but I knew he was asleep by his breathing. Please, please, please wake up! Can't you see I need you? More than at any other time in my life I need someone. Look at me, please look at me. Help me! I can't be paralyzed. I'm too young! I have three children, a husband and a household to look after. MOVE, damn it. Dear Lord, please, I beg of you, please let me move.

I struggled in vain to move, the pressure in my chest increasing until I thought I was going to explode. Words cannot express how valiantly I tried to get my body moving, straining, willing myself to just move. I could feel tears running down my cheeks and all of a sudden, I was free!
I could move!!! I scooted over to my husband's side and grabbed him, held on tightly and burst into tears. He woke up alarmed, and asked me what was wrong. Did I have a bad dream? "No," I told him. I was paralyzed. I couldn't move. "Oh, honey, you just had a bad dream. It'll be alright." He was already on his way back to sleep. "NO!" I said. I couldn't move and tried and tried to get to you."

He pulled me tightly and rubbed my back. "It will be better in the morning." By this time, I was beginning to wonder if I HAD had a dream. But my hair was still damp and my body was feeling the tenseness from fighting the "paralysis." This had not been a dream.

The weeks went by and I didn't think too much about the awful night I had experienced. I tried to put it out of my mind, still not understanding what had happened to me. Until it happened again. The same abrupt awakening, the feeling of absolute terror and panic, the paralysis. When the "spell" was broken, I again awakened my sleeping husband and told him it had occurred once more, and once again he informed me that I'd been dreaming.

When it happened for the third time I made an appointment with my doctor. He very nonchalantly informed me that I'd been suffering from panic attacks. Oh good. It had a name. Panic had a name and it was panic + attack. Even a layman could understand that! Shortly after my revolutionary office visit I had my fourth attack. I told myself, "Okay, this is your friend, Panic. You can deal with this. Just relax, breathe slowly - in and out - deep breath, in and out. Relax."

As I worked on my mind and body, I started to feel my body loosen up and finally relax. I let out a deep sigh of relief and realized that I'd beaten it. I said a brief prayer of Thanksgiving and went back to sleep, no longer a prisoner of panic.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Bipolar Blues

This is me today. In my world today it is dreary and gray and I am all alone inside myself. I hate sinking into these spells. It's been quite a while since I've slid this far back down into the rabbit hole. I snapped at hubman last night and today the realtor, who has been conspicuously absent lately, called with a client and I told her "No." What a stupid, stupid thing to do. And then the realtor lectures me. Fine. Tell them there's an open house Sunday. If they're interested, they'll come. I've never done this before. All of the times I've had this place spic and span only to have no one show up. Today, it's not spic and span and I don't have the energy to bother with it, let alone myself. Don't lay any guilt on me - I do enough of that all by myself.

I saw my MD Tuesday and all was well. Ever since Wednesday I've been on a downhill slide. I've always had the strength to put on my "happy" mask and march off to work or to dinner or whatever was required of me. I no longer have the strength required to slide that mask over my face and pretend that all's well. I can no longer carry out the acting skills necessary to waltz my way through an evening with friends and come home totally exhausted after hiding all of the junk I carry around with me, and hoping no one sees it. What I've done now is lay it all out on the table for everyone to see and nobody knows what to do. Another self-fulfilling prophecy...

Instead, I sit in a closed up house with one little light bulb on, feeling as if I could sleep 12 hours straight. I took my afternoon dose of meds like a good little patient even though there are times I wonder if they actually do any good or if they just line the pockets of Merck and friends. Maybe I'm taking placebos. That would be the ultimate joke. The other night I had a class of wine - one of the rare times I've taken a drink due to my bypass, which cases the sugars to dump straight into my blood stream for an instant high. I could get used to that...but I don't want to pile on another risk factor. I'm not supposed to mix alcohol with my meds.

One of the things I whine about to my doctor is having knowledge and not being able to change my circumstances. He has told me to view this as one would look at diabetes. Knowing you have diabetes and eating correctly is a good thing but there's not much one can do for depression/bipolar disorder except acknowledge it and work with it. Looking back into my family history, I can easily find 3-4 close relatives that I believe were also affected. But in my family, you didn't talk about things like that. I think that was typical in the '50's-'60's. If my brother knew I was keeping a blog and divulging so much of myself to total strangers he wouldn't "get it." But of course, he doesn't "get" my depression, either.

I've had a lot of loss in my life but others have, too. God has given me a husband that is sticking with me through thick and thin. So much different than the first time around! Thank you, God!
The guilt creeps in when I think about how much he has to put up with. I'm not a hoyden on a day-to-day basis but when the siren song calls me I can be a horrible person to live with. I am by nature a nurturer and when I draw up into a ball and become so self-centered I feel as if I lose contact with the best of me.

I have been having issues with both of my computers and when I cannot "fix" something (or someone) I absolutely go to pieces. I become fixated and will spend hours on a problem. I realized that I need to reload Windows 2003 on my laptop but everything is stored away. Can't find it - so, no clipboard and I can't perform a task I was looking forward to doing. My PC won't shut off and my windows program is frozen. I'm going to have to have someone come a fix it for me and that drives me crazy. So anger come riding in on a big black horse. I feel stupid, even though my background is not in IT, I should be able to read a few simple instructions. While I've been typing this, I've been crying and stuffing my mouth with Hershey's kisses. Stuffing that anger down again! I need to be out reading Miss Bee and Katie, Heart of Rachel and others who continuily uplift me and make me a better person.

But I will spend most of today brooding, wondering, and yes, HOPE that tomorrow will be better.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Eating Anger

I love this picture. It has balance, a distinct sense of light against dark and direction. I love paintings and photos of windows. Perhaps it's the idea of light being shed into the dark, illuminating the shadows.

In my prior entry, I spoke of my anger towards my husband's lover. It was misdirected anger. She was not my friend, this is true, but she was only a actor in the role we were playing. I was the queen of all enablers. I lied to cover up his absences at work; I lied to both of our families; I lied to our friends and our church family. I didn't want anyone to know he was an alcoholic. I knew it would bring shame on us. In my immature way of thinking, if I was a better wife he wouldn't drink to excess or find other women. He would stay sober and come home to me every night.

The first time I let go of my anger after we were first married, I threw a hamburger at him; it smacked him right in the face and slid down the wall. I didn't see him for three days. Just like with my mother when I was five years old and got spanked for throwing rocks, I quickly learned that throwing things or showing my anger in any way, productive or not, would not get positive results. So I learned to stuff it all inside and keep a tight lid on it. That's how I was able to have all of those "civil" phone calls with "HER."

I couldn't acknowledge anger because the consequences were too painful. I didn't know about journaling or physical activity. I had no idea that I was bipolar, either. I didn't get that news until I was in my forties. I had miserable premenstrual syndrome but was told that it was only something that neurotic woman complained about. Never mind the incredibly awful migraines, and all of the other good stuff that accompany PMS. I was just neurotic. Okay. This was in the 90's, too.

All of my anger led me down the path of overeating. If you can't beat it, EAT IT!

to be cont...

Friday, February 2, 2007

Woman With a Purpose

I headed home from work at 5:00 that hot August evening. I was weary to the bone and just wanted to be home, my nylons and high heels off and in a cool shower. It was 1970, I was 23 years old and pregnant with my third child. My other two kids were with their dad's folks because I was due any day now, and they had gone on a two week camping trip.

As I came to my street, instead of turning in , I kept going and headed to the bar my husband frequented with his girlfriend. I felt the anger well up inside me, churning in my stomach and coursing through my very pregnant body. We had been separated for the last three months and I had actually lost weight, this last month. I lived on black coffee, cokes, cigarettes and an occasional sandwich.

It was a Friday night and already the parking lot was beginning to fill up with pick-up trucks, guys stopping for a couple of beers before heading home to a house full of kids and an unkempt, nagging wife. I wanted nothing more than a confrontation. I wanted to run into my husband and his lover, head on, full force with a bullet. I wanted to tell him to make a decision: which one of us was it going to be, make a choice once and for all!

As I entered the dark bar, it took seconds for my eyes to become accustomed to the light and I made my way over to the bar. I felt as though every eye in the place was on my bulging stomach. I had only gained a total of 12 pounds throughout all of this but every bit of it was right in front. I plopped myself onto a stool and the bartender came over and asked me what I wanted. I asked for a coke and slowly looked around the seedy joint, looking for the two people I had come to humiliate. I hadn't noticed our car in the parking lot but the slut's apartment was within walking distance so I had no way of knowing if they were inside.

As I slowly realized they weren't there I had to ask myself how long was I willing to sit and wait for them. I was still full of anger but it was beginning to dissipate as I realized I had been on a fool's errand. The bartender came over with another coke and said, "The guy over there told me to bring this to you and tell you that if he knew who you were looking for, he'd warn him and send him out the back door!"

I guess the look on my face told the story when I walked in. Pure anger. I had been ready to force a confrontation and demand that she leave my husband alone and send him home to me. Sure. As if that would do it when all of my pleading in the past had hadn't worked. What on earth made me think that confronting him in front of his drinking buddies would work magic?

I dragged myself out to my stiflingly hot car and drove home to my stiflingly hot house that had been locked up all day long. We didn't have air conditioning since the few really hot days we had didn't warrant it. I peeled off my clothes and took a cool shower and turned on the TV, just to keep me company. My aunt and uncle lived next door and she dropped by to see if I was okay. I reassured her that I was fine, just tired and was going to watch TV and go to bed early.

The heat was brutal. I had an old oscillating fan blowing on me but it wasn't providing much relief. The house was situated in such a way that there was no cross ventilation whatsoever. I'd fill up my glass with ice and before I could finish my coke the ice would melt. Thank goodness I had a couple of bags of ice from the grocery store in the freezer. I scraped some ice off the inside of the freezer compartment with a washcloth and held it to my forehead.

I kept thinking of the woman with whom my husband was sleeping. I'd only seen her once at a distance. I couldn't tell a whole lot about her but we'd spoken on the phone several times. Oh yeah. The last time she'd called, she asked, "Hi, is Bill there? He hasn't gotten home yet." Home? HOME? Just what the hell was she asking ME? This is his HOME, bitch! But I'd sweetly replied, "No, I haven't heard from him yet."

I look back and wonder how in the sweet hell did I pull it off? I always managed to stay civil with her so she couldn't tell him that she understood why he left me. But the minute the woman hung up I would call my mom or one of my friends and go off on her like a banshee! I would rant and rave until I got it out of my system, shaking and crying until my eyes were swollen. But in a strange way, I felt elevated over her because I wouldn't give her the satisfaction of acting like a guest on the Jerry Springer Show.

I wondered where they were and what they were doing. The images of them being together haunted me and made me ill. I thought of the two of us together and the pictures melded into one. I couldn't stand it any longer. I hated her! The enemy. Why had she entered our lives and stirred up this hornets nest? If only I could get my hands around her neck...

The heat became worse as the evening wore on. I went on to bed and tried to watch TV but the room was small with only one window which opened onto the front porch and there was no air moving. It was sweltering. I got up and paced throughout the house. But questions kept swirling through my mind. I tried to read for awhile but the book couldn't hold my interest. My hair was wringing wet and my body looked as though I hadn't bothered to dry off after my shower. My nightgown was soaked through and through. My head started aching so I went into the bathroom for an aspirin. I shook the aspirin into my sweaty palm and looked at it. I looked back at the bottle and saw the white, round pills and wondered...how many would it take? How long would it take? Would it be quick? Would my baby suffer? I had some liquor out on the back porch, surely a shot of that would knock me out and we could just drift away where things would be easy and cool and green and soft and...But Wait!!! What was I thinking??? I'm pregnant! I can't even be thinking like this! My God, please help me!!!

I sank down onto the bathroom floor and sobbed until I could no longer catch my breath. I laid there for what seemed like hours and finally got up, slowly because every part of me ached. I looked at the clock - it was just 11:00 p.m. I thought for certain it was early in the morning by now. Damn! How was I going to get through the rest of this horrible night? I knew my aunt and uncle were already long in bed. I just needed someone to talk to. I didn't want to call my mom and dad because I was too afraid that in my present state of mind, I'd frighten them. What was I going to do?

I went out to the couch where by now, my cola was all watery and tepid, the glass leaving a big nasty ring on the coffee table. I turned on the TV again and poured a new soda over fresh ice. Thoughts ran through my mind like a freight train, each one jockeying for first place. I seriously thought I was losing my sanity. All alone, my children with their grandparents, my husband off with some bitch he met in a bar; what was wrong with me? Why would he leave me? After all, it wasn't the first time he'd done this. I must be a horrible person or he would want to be with me. I sat with my head in my hands and wept some more.

The shop! Someone would still be at the store. My parents owned a business and it stayed open until 1:00 a.m. on Friday nights! Someone would be there...I raced to the phone, hoping dear Ellen, a close friend, would be working late. The phone rang a couple of times and a male voice answered. My heart stopped. It was Dave. Oh no. He was an old flame of mine from high school who worked for my folks - the only guy that ever broke up with me. In fact, he'd broken my heart and left me for another girl. I should hang up quickly. But I found myself saying, "Hello," and bursting into tears.

He asked who it was, and through the sobs I managed to get out my name and he asked what was wrong. Was I all right? I was sobbing so hard and choking out words that I wasn't making much sense. I finally got out that I was in trouble and just needed someone to talk with. He asked if he should call my mom and dad and I gulped out, "No!" He was quiet for a minute, then said that business was real slow and he would come on over. I thought, "This is not good..." but gave him my address.

He was at the front door within ten minutes. I had calmed down somewhat and was able to tell him what I had almost done with the aspirin and how frightened I was that I had even contemplated doing something that horrible, especially with my baby's life at stake. He took my hand and prayed with me and asked God to give me peace of mind and spirit. We talked about high school and everyday things; we talked about faith and how precious life is; we talked about how difficult relationships can be. We talked for another couple of hours until I was completely exhausted. He left around 3:00 a.m. and I went to bed. I slept until early morning, thankful that I had gotten through the night. Grace.