I needed to not be in the house today, but I wasn’t able to leave. Between the coronavirus and the weather, the best I could do was open the french doors, close my eyes, and let the rain and wind take me somewhere else. This is where I went.
I have always loved to swim. It came naturally when I was a kid, and I even swam on a team when I got a little older. Laps aren’t what does it for me though. I’m talking about the way it feels to sink as deep as you can, head all the way under, as low as you can go.
The first thing I notice is the weightlessness. Especially when I was obese, the water relieved so much physical pain and pressure. Second, the mind feels lighter. My hair floats upwards. As it rises it brushes against my shoulders and face. I feel it lift away from me. I feel the negativity lift away too. It will float up with the bubbles, and I’ll stay here under water just a little longer. In my mind I’m a glorious thick-locked Disney beauty, but in reality my hair is shaped more like the fire on top of a match.
I am aware of the breath in my chest. The air has filled my cheeks, lungs, and has even found its way to my belly. My toes stretch freely, and the tension rises upwards like my hair. My ankles relax, my legs, my hips. I feel my spine stretch taller, and my shoulders open up as my arms float to my sides. I am taller than ever, from the tip of my toe all the way up to the ends of my hair.
Under the water, outside sound begins to muffle. The deeper down, the more distant the noise becomes. Then it is gone. Just quiet. Peace, and quiet.
From the depth, I look up to the surface. There’s a spot of white, clear water from the light above. It gradients into beautiful colors as we move away from the light. White, cyan, azure, blue. Looking below me are shades of violet, grey and black. Do the colors ever end? How far do they go? The water is so vast. I feel so small in it.
I take just one more moment here, but I know I can not stay forever. Let me leave my stress, my negative thoughts, and my anxieties here, down in the depths of the water. I head to the surface, letting the passing water cleanse the last of my soul.
I return to the surface for a new breath, a new start.
When I open my eyes, I’m back at home. Staring into the backyard as the rain falls, and I’m at peace with it. Suddenly the house doesn’t feel so small, as I still have that vast ocean in the back of my mind.
Using CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) For Anxiety
Last week I suffered with some really dark thoughts. They still come and go, but I’m getting better at keeping them at bay. CBT is a great therapy to stop the ‘looping’ cycle by proving the dark thought is not real.
A perfect example of this is when I feel worthless, and my depression says things like “the kids would be better off if I wasn’t their mother.” (definitely note that I have no intention of killing myself- I question my general worth. please don’t misinterpret.) Historically, the thought would pop into my head. “They are better off without you.” I would get anxious and frustrated and try to push the thought away, but it came right back like a boomerang. This time it would be a little louder. “BETTER. OFF. WITHOUT. YOU.” It would be a battle of back and forth, the more I pushed it away the louder it came back. CBT breaks that cycle.
Yesterday was my day #1 of getting back on track. I made good nutrition choices, got outside, and have felt pretty good.. because those are the easy parts of being healthy. The hard part was facing my anxieties when they crept back into my mind. I heard, “You’re useless. The kids would be better off without you as a mother.” I wanted to swat it away and not deal with it, but that wouldn’t be progress in feeling better. I had to break the cycle. Instead I asked the voice “Why? Why would they be better off? What would Jacen, or Anna, or any of the kids say if you asked THEM if they’d be better off without me?” It stopped the voice. I kept going, kept thinking.
What would Jacen say? He would say I protect him. I keep him safe. I’ve gotten him through a lot of his own anxiety attacks, and he trusts that I would never put him in danger. He knows he can come to me when things are wrong, and I’m going to do anything in my power to make it go away. He would say that I taught my boy to read so well, so young that he is now a super star at school. School is easier for him presently because of the days we spent together when he was young.
What would Anna say? That I’ve rescued her from many failed Evel Knievel stunts just in time. It’s a miracle we haven’t had an ER trip, but those mom reflexes tend to kick in. She would say mama is the only one who clips her nails and remembers the fluoride tablets at bedtime.
And Arielle? I hope she would say nice things about me, but that girl is at an age. (Lol) She knows that I don’t always have the same interests in the beginning, like anime and monster shows, but I try my best to learn. I try to listen, support and nurture her interests. I want her to be whatever she feels to be, and do the things she wants. I want to be a part of that, and I think that behind the preteen sass, she probably would admit that she can feel it. She knows how hard I try, and how much I love her. Catch her on a good day and she might even tell you I’m pretty fun to be around.
My shame boomerang must have gotten a little scared, because it hasn’t returned since our “true talk” conversation. Are my kids better off without me as a mom? No. Absolutely not. That was the bully in my brain making me believe something that wasn’t true. CBT helped me sort out my wrong perception and the actual facts, and I saw an immediate lift of my anxiety.
Today was day 2 of kicking my ass back in gear. I got out of bed. I took a shower. I helped Jacen with home school. I put together a gift bag for a friend that I love, and it made me happy to see her reaction. I have befriended a person I never thought would be on my side, and it’s beautiful. Her kind, welcoming behavior seems to be the start of a beautiful friendship. I hope it lasts forever. I kicked my anxiety attack’s ass with my CBT. I spent some much needed down time with my husband instead of rushing into depression sleep.
I still miss my friends. I’m going to hug the crap out of my sister and niece when this thing passes. I’m going to take my nana out for a glorious day on the town. I’ll even go to bingo with her if she invites me. I’m going to let the kids pig pile on their nana and give her all the overdue hugs and kisses. Social distancing is hard. It messes with our minds, especially the minds who struggle with illness every day. Keep fighting back, because you deserve to be happy and healthy, even in a time like this. Get out of bed. Get some sun. Try your jeans on. (Trust me, quarantine snacks.)
Most of all, this too shall pass. I don’t know when. I don’t know how. But I know it will.
Until then fight for your wellness. Fight to keep our sense of community, even from afar. Fight to have good days and good relationships.
Yesterday I got slapped in the face with a real “grow the fuck up” moment. I knew going into my therapy appointment that my own quarantine habits were not helping my mental health, but damn did she lay it out for me.
Last week I snuggled in and watched movies all day. Sometimes with the kids, sometimes binging Tiger King by myself. I took a lot of naps when I could, and encouraged the kids to do quiet, indoor play on their own. I trusted that Jacen was keeping up with his Google Classroom work on his own, and didn’t intervene.
At the end of the week (Friday night) I had the biggest panic attack I’ve had in years. I couldn’t breathe, speak or stop throwing up. All coping mechanisms went out the window, I even failed to take my rescue medication. I felt like I was under rock bottom. I locked myself in the bathroom and cried on the floor by myself. The dark thoughts spiraled and they just wouldn’t stop.
‘Things with Arielle seem weird today, does she love me less?’ ‘Jacen isn’t putting enough effort into his studies and it’s my fault.’ ‘Anna is so wild, is it my fault? Am I not doing a good enough job teaching her to be a lady?’ ‘Are we watching too much tv?’ ‘Those clean clothes have been waiting to get put away forever.’ ‘The weight is getting out of control, will I ever work out again?’ ‘You’re not contributing financially.’ ‘Your mental health is a burden on the family.’ ‘you are not good enough.’ ‘you don’t contribute anything.’ ‘you are worthless.’
The tears wouldn’t stop, and I couldn’t quiet the voices in my head that were just tearing me apart. On paper I can tell you that the best things for good mental health are routine, movement, socialization, getting outdoors, organization, etc. My body just did not want to participate. I didn’t have the energy or motivation. I slept as late as I could every morning, watched tv on the couch or in bed, took an afternoon nap, and looked forward to an early bedtime. The guilt started to mound while I just ignored the healthy me inside that was screaming “Get up! Get better! You can do this!”
But no, I wasted an entire week.
Monday morning I started to whine to my therapist, but she stopped me. She was right to do so. She reminded me that antidepressants are only going to do so much, and the rest is on me. That’s partly therapy- putting in the hard work of CBT, EMDR and talk therapy. It’s also the everyday stuff- getting out of bed, taking a shower, being active, getting work done. Okay, okay. I knew this already, I was just being lazy.
Today was my new day #1. I set my alarm, and got out of bed for 9. We got through our morning and breakfast routine. Jacen and I sat at side by side desks so I could be involved with his school work. I sat down to write this. I made a schedule. Even if we don’t do every single thing on the schedule every day, or even if we don’t do them at the same time everyday, it’s at least an announcement of what our expectations should be. It’s how we are going to get motivated and stay organized. It’s going to get the whole family back on track, and I’ll be the one leading the pack. I’m excited to pull myself out of this depression, even if it still feels really, really hard at this exact moment. (I’m dying to go back to sleep! Mama wants a nap!)
So, let’s lay it out. What work do I need to put in to get back on my feet? The first thing I usually do is reference my ‘overall family wellness goals.’
My Family Wellness Goals:
Right in order, I’ve neglected my physical goals by relying heavily on processed “easy” food (due to my laziness for cooking) and skipping working out. Emotionally I have decided to wallow in my depression instead of taking time to resolve my problems. I have neglected to read, learn or grow my mind. Instead I have rotted it via Netflix. I leave Facebook messages on “received,” ignore calls, and avoid opening texts. I let myself use the “social distancing” excuse to isolate myself in every way. I have not connected spiritually as I prefer to. I have not been outdoors or seen the sun in weeks. I want to blame the quarantine, but there is no restriction to being outside as long as we still practice 6 foot distancing. Thankfully I haven’t messed up too much financially. I always feel guilty that I do not provide like Mike does, but I’m also not stupidly spending it either. I’m going to call that a point in my favor.
Simply jotting down a loose schedule has already solved so many of these problems for me. By blocking out time to cook meals, I know I will be preparing something healthy instead of microwaving something packaged at the last minute. I have time where I am expecting myself to workout, to read or listen to podcasts, to be outdoors with the kids, and to overall interact with my family more. It’s amazing that just writing these things down sparks a fire of motivation inside of me. I decided to change out of my loose, dirty sweatpants and into some workout leggings. I threw some dry shampoo in my hair, and even took out some meat to thaw for dinner.
This has not been my first day #1. It won’t be my last. Everyone goes through the cycle to some degree of fluctuating between moods, motivation and success. We can not always control the organic sources, so we have to take control of what we can change. The first being our outlook. Don’t wait for a new week, or the next Monday. Don’t wait for the first of the month. Don’t wait for another day. Don’t even wait an hour. Do it now. Think of one thing that could make tomorrow easier. Implement it today, and watch your mood lift. Trust me I’m right there with you, but I have faith we can all climb out of this darkness with effort, help, and a desire to be healthy again.
My family doesn’t usually serve alcohol at holidays or gatherings. When I turned 21 I thought it would be fun to bring sangria to Thanksgiving. It made me feel grown up, and I liked the thought of bringing something that had never been served before. I had a friend in high school who made sangria all the time. She had told me once that it was crucial to give the fruit a few days to soak in the wine. I put in about a week’s worth of work between researching recipes, shopping, and preparing. The night before the big day, I sampled the wine. It was amazing. I don’t think I’ve ever been so proud of my pot-luck contribution.
The recipe I used made A LOT more wine than I’d anticipated. I had stored it in a couple of plastic tupperware pitchers, but decided they didn’t look nice enough to bring to a family holiday. I had just started dating this guy who worked at Walmart. (9 years later, we are still together, married, and four kids between us!) He was heading to my apartment when his shift ended, so I asked him to pick up the biggest pitcher he could find.
The thing was beautiful, and huge. It looked like a giant glass wine barrel, with a fancy spigot to dispense. It was absolutely perfect, especially for a wine I was so proud of.
Mike jumped into the shower, and I focused on my wine project.. It took a bit of time to transfer all of my little plastic pitchers from the fridge into this mega barrel, and I pressed the fruit artfully against the glass. Everything was perfect.
I heard Mike shut off the water in the shower, and decided I had spent enough time on such a simple project. I grabbed the pitcher and brought it over to the fridge. How in the world did I overlook how heavy this thing would be? The pitcher itself had some serious weight to it, being so big and made of glass, and I had filled it with a massive amount of wine. Wine that had been in my refrigerator. Cold wine.Cold wine in a very heavy, glass pitcher. Cold wine that had started to accumulate condensation on the outside of the glass. I was really wishing I had thought to prop the fridge door open before picking this thing up.
You know where this is going.
As if in slow motion, the pitcher slipped from my hands. The bathroom door squeaked open, and Mike caught the last split second before the wine hit the ground. Together we watched my kitchen disappear behind an atomic bomb of sangria. I froze. What the hell just happened? Is this real life? I looked at Mike, who just dropped his head to his chest and laughed. Still gripping a towel around his waist, he shook his head, and walked away smiling. I could hear the chuckle in his voice when he yelled from the bedroom “let me find some pants.”
Mike emerged from the bedroom to find me standing in two inches of red wine. I pushed a mop back and forth, not really doing anything but spreading around the puddle and shards of glass. I looked up and met his gaze with tears in my eyes and said, “I didn’t know where to start.” As if on cue, sangria dripped from the ceiling and onto my face. I couldn’t hold back anymore. The dam broke, and the tears came flowing out.
Mike walked up to me, wrapped his hands around my upper arms and made me look him in the eye. “I got this,” he said with a smile. He kissed me on the forehead, and pulled the mop from my hand.
That was the moment, right there when he looked me in the eye. That was the moment I fell in love with my husband.
I thought of this today, and it made me smile. I hope you’ve found a smile-thought today, too.
Keeping a consistent routine is one of the basic and most useful therapies in managing bipolar disorder. Obviously COVID-19 has not made that easy. I haven’t been getting out of the house with the younger girls, we’ve been adjusting to “distance learning” for Jacen, and our custody schedule for Arielle has been all kinds of stressful. When I lost our routine, it felt like someone pulled a Jenga block from the bottom of my emotional stack: everything is pretty wobbly, I’m praying I don’t get knocked down, and I’m definitely fearful of what will be taken from me next.
My OCD is running high. I’m checking the stove burners and the locks on the door several times an hour. My husband tries to make light of it by saying things like “Kate, you’re getting your steps in today” and mockingly “wait, have you checked to see if the door is locked?” It’s really embarrassing to be aware of a strange habit but not be able to stop yourself.
By far the absolute worst part of staying home has been my anxiety. I feel completely out of control- crying spells, massive panic attacks, vomiting, restlessness, irritability. All of it. All the time.
I try to remind myself that this time is actually a gift. This is more time with the kids, and at the end of my life I know that more time with them is all I’ll be wishing I had more of. There’s just a huge difference between receiving a gift and enjoying it.
I want them to remember this time as calm, safe, and loving. I want them to remember how strong mom was when the world was scary. I want them to remember fun things we did together, and things they learned at home that they wouldn’t have been taught in school. I want to enjoy this time. I fear they will remember me crying myself dry, anxiously vomiting, pacing, and worrying. I fear I won’t be remembered as the super mom that I always aspire to be, but a weak woman who fell apart in crisis. I fear the memories we make during this time will show me as overwhelmed, anxious, confused and stressed.. And all of these fears end up feeding my anxiety, making me fear even more. It’s an endless cycle.
In both my OCD and my anxiety, I’m aware that my actions are unnecessary, but I’m unable to stop myself. I have to touch the door knob. I can’t just remind myself it’s locked and walk away. I’m aware that I appear preoccupied and unapproachable when I’m sobbing and stressing, but I just can’t stop it, no matter how much I would rather be laughing with my kids. I just want to stop. I want to change things. I want to enjoy the gift of time with my children.
This pandemic has been hard on everyone. We miss socialization. We fear for our businesses, our finances. We fear for the education of our children. We miss our family in healthcare, first responders, front liners, and essential employees whom we have not seen nearly enough of lately. We stress about getting sick, or getting someone else sick who can’t fight the virus. We fear of going without; of running out of food, soap and toilet paper. There is so much fear and sadness in the world.
I know there has to be a way to turn this around. I’m fighting every day, trying to claw my way out of the hole I’ve dug myself into. I’m still seeing my doctors via Telehealth. I take my meds. I think of the kids. I think my next small step needs to be carving out a new routine. I do better when I know what to expect next, no surprises. No stress or guilt at the end of the day due to forgotten tasks. Organization.
I know I’m not the only one scared. I’m sure you are, too; to some degree, and in some regard. The world is a crazy place right now. I’m going to start small and get into a daily routine, because I deserve to feel better than I do right now. And so do you. No matter your reason, diagnosis or situation you can feel better. What’s your next step? Think about it. Tomorrow is a new day, and a perfect day to start turning things around.
The coronavirus has my family staying home, and we are getting a little cabin fever. Yesterday we decided to move furniture to mix things up. It also made disinfecting the kids’ toys so much easier!
At one point, we had Anna’s toy buckets stacked up and drying. I bumped the pile, knocking it over and she immediately lunged for the fallen buckets. “It’s okay! It’s fine, mama! It happens!” She quickly squirreled around and collected them to restack. I was in awe for a moment. She, at two years old, had comforted me, her thirty year old mother. I wondered when she got so smart, when she became so kind and thoughtful, and how she learned how to comfort others.
I replayed her words in my head. “It’s okay. It’s fine. It happens.” Why did that sound so familiar? Oh, right. I laughed out loud at my slow realization. Those are the things I tell her when she makes mistakes. If she falls down, I try not to make a big deal of it and just say “you’re okay!” Usually this results in laughter and going back to playing instead of crying over the fall. When she spills things, I say “It’s fine. Accidents happen!”
These are phrases I use every single day, usually in times when she is upset that she has embarrassed herself, gotten a minor injury, or thinks she may get in trouble. I say them to make her feel better, so she knows things like this happen to everyone, and we have to stay calm and keep moving on. My hope is that these phrases will help her to later mentally compartmentalize accidents as ‘no big deal’ so she can focus on making them right and moving on.
I am most impressed that Anna not only remembered these words in a moment of minor crisis, but was able to apply them with the intent to comfort me. It got me thinking of a Facebook meme I’ve seen going around lately- it reads something like ‘your children will barely remember the virus. They will remember how you reacted to it. Will you react in panic and chaos, or calm?’
Anna’s reaction to the buckets falling over was my “Ah-ha” moment, and those words on the meme finally clicked in my brain. I don’t want to be the mom who panics, or makes it sound like we will immediately die if we leave the house. I don’t want to be the selfish mom, the hoarding mom. I don’t want to be the yelling, mad mom.
I want to be the mom who checks on family and neighbors. I want to be the mom sending care packages to those who need it. I want to be the mom who is rational. I want to wash my hands, stay home, and not touch my face. I want to be the mom who follows the rules during a pandemic. I want to be the calm mom, the one who sometimes gets anxious but fights through it with grounding exercises, yoga, meditation and mindfulness. I want to be the mom who talks about my feelings, and listens to others talk about theirs. I want to be the mom who comes out on the other side of this pandemic with children who remember this time at home as positive.
If Anna can learn that “it’s okay, it’s fine” just from watching me respond to accidents, I know my kids can learn how to survive this time in a positive way. All I have to do is set a good example. If it sounds silly, I would have agreed with you a few days ago.( My corona plan at the time was just to survive.) It’s different now. The kids are always watching us. They learn more from our body language and facial expressions than anything else. My two year old learned to comfort mistakes just by hearing me do it. Now she will learn how to respond during a pandemic by watching me, and you bet your ass I’m going to set the best example I can.
I don’t think a single day has gone by in the last 30 years where I haven’t stressed about my body. I’ve been 300 pounds, I’ve been 150 pounds- and every number in between. Since having baby Lucy at the end of November, I think about my regain a thousand times throughout the day. It gives me panic attacks, it messes with my depression, and can even send me manic.
Last month my therapist told me I needed to see an eating disorder specialist. It didn’t make sense to me. It DOESN’T make sense to me.When I think about eating disorders I immediately think of underweight girls- definitely not a category I fit into. She tried to find a provider who takes my insurance, but it hasn’t been easy. I was kind of relieved that it bought me some extra time. She put in a ton of work over the course of two weeks, and finally came up with a list of three names. Last monday she handed me the list and asked me to contact someone to schedule. I left her office, and put the list on my passenger seat. There it has stayed for the last five days, untouched.
Now I have really dug myself a hole. I have to face my therapist Monday morning and tell her I didn’t try to follow through, after all of the work she put in. Today being Saturday, I can’t even really slap together a last ditch effort without revealing that I waited too long. Do I lie? No, Lying only makes things worse. I have to bite the bullet and be honest that I wasted her time. It’s just another thing to be anxious about.
It doesn’t feel like I belong in this kind of treatment. If anything, I SHOULD be restricting myself to lose my remaining 27 pounds of baby weight. I wonder what the other people in the waiting room will look at me and think. I wonder if the therapist will take a look at my case and decide I don’t need to be seen. I’m embarrassed to present myself to this kind of therapy, and I don’t feel deserving of help. A big girl isn’t going to fit in with the other clientele. I don’t even know if I’ll be able to walk into that office, I know I’m going to be eyed and judged harshly.
I don’t want to go. I don’t think I fit in. I don’t think I’m deserving of this kind of attention or help. I don’t want to face any of this. Part of me is even thinking of no-showing my regular therapy appointment on Monday, I just don’t want to admit that I dropped the ball. That’s a lot of “don’ts.” I have one “do.” I DO want to set a good, healthy example for my kids.
I worry that I will mess up my kids. I don’t want them to go through everything I did as an obese child, but I also don’t want to raise them to obsess about their weight. Neither scenario is healthy, but both are anxiously playing in my head. Constantly. How can I help them when I can’t even help myself?
I’ve always carried so much guilt with food. Guilt when I diet, and stress about staying within my calorie goals. Guilt when I binge, and stress about going astronomically over my calorie goals. I don’t want the kids to think this way, or be weighed down with the negativity that I feel every time I eat.
This treatment is so awkward. I still don’t understand how someone who is mathematically, medically overweight would need to see an eating disorder specialist. I’m anxious, and dreading every part of this.
Getting these words out of my chest and into writing has already brought some clarity. Time to put on my mom jeans and get over myself. I took some time between proofreading to run out to my car and grab the list. I emailed one provider. At least it’s a start. I don’t want the kids to fear food like I do. I don’t want to put that on them. I still don’t feel like I categorically should be in this kind of therapy, but I’ll take any help in keeping my kids healthy.