Have You Found Your Thing?

When Sunshine was less than a year old, a coworker stopped me in the hallway to comment on how quickly I had lost weight.

“I cannot believe how good you look for having an infant. I never looked that good again after having kids. But look at you!”

“Thanks,” I said. “I’ve been running again.”

She said, and I will never forget this comment, “I just don’t see how you can do it. You’re away from her all day. Don’t you think you should be spending that time with her instead?”

She had taken off from work when her children were little, she said. You cannot get that time back with them, she said. Maybe you should reconsider, she said. You have your whole life to get fit again, she said.

But for me, running is not just about fitness.

I was never fit growing up. I was the pudgy one of my parents’ older children. I was not athletic. I wore the same sizes as my older sister until we hit puberty, and then, I was a size or two larger. I did not enjoy sweating or being outside or sunshine. I was a homebody through and through.  In undergrad, I put on the freshman twenty-five without any issues. I loved food and sitting around watching reruns while I drank a Coke and ate salt and vinegar potato chips or graham crackers smothered in gobs of creamy Jif.

There was no shame in my emotional eating game.

I did not become active until sophomore year. I had a horrendous roommate, and the rec center on campus gave me somewhere to go. I worked out and discovered cottage cheese and egg white omelets and portion control.

Saint Daddy and I did not see each other for six weeks that spring because of how our spring breaks lined up and he did not have a car and I could not drive. He called me one afternoon, wanting to see my new room after I had finally convinced res life to let me move out of that situation, and when he walked into my room with a cherry gelati from Rita’s in his hand and his roommate trailing behind him, he thought I had given up eating altogether.

I did not. I was eating well and working out. Food was still delicious, but it was more fresh fruit than processed carbs.

My fitness level fluctuated a lot over the next few years.

I took up running about a year after Saint Daddy and I got married. My doctor prescribed me an antidepressant and told me that I should limit my caffeine intake and take up exercise and see if the combination of the three helped curtail my daily panic attacks. He said, “The trick with exercise is to find something that works for you. That something is not what works for everyone. But you have to find your thing and love it. Then it’ll become part of your life.”

One day, I had off from work and Saint Daddy did not. I put on my sneakers, a pair of New Balance that my dad had gotten me during a BOGO event four years before that day, and walked to the park near our home. I ran two laps on the path around the park, and I went home.

Two days later, I did it again. But I did it faster. Without even trying. I thought, “I wonder how fast I could do that…” Two days later, I did it as fast as I could. I impressed myself. I did not know how far I had run, but I knew I had run.

Shortly thereafter, I looked up a Couch to 5K program, and set out to impress myself some more.

I did give up caffeine. I have been caffeine free since 2010, no easy feat for a full-time working mom with multiples. If I have more caffeine than the amount in a small cup of decaf coffee, I suffer from heart palpitations, chest pains, and nausea. Another doctor said it is an intolerance. Sometimes, I call it an allergy because people understand that term better.

And I ran.

I have been running since 2010. I am pretty good at it. I cannot run very fast. I cannot run very far. But I run with heart. That is what makes me good at it. I am a runner. The kind of runner that gets irritated by the term “jogger.”  I have been properly fitted. I have opinions on running brands. I actually use the treadmill in my basement. I rarely miss a run.

When Sunshine was born in 2013, I went back to running.

It was not only to get my body back. It was to get myself back.

When I run, my only competition is the person I thought I was. The person I thought I was did not run at all or could only run for a quarter of a mile at a time or could not run better than a twelve minute mile or did not have the endurance for a 5K. She certainly could not run a half marathon.

But I am not the person that I thought I was.

And running has helped my mental health immensely. Because I am constantly beating that person that I thought I was, I know that I am strong and capable.

Is it perfect? No. I run three times a week. I used to run four times a week. But I still have panic attacks. I still wake up in the middle of the night with racing thoughts. We still sit on the aisle at the theater. I still hate driving. Running does not cure my anxiety.

But it helps me to remember that I am the one in control of it.

I often think about that conversation with my former coworker. I have since switched jobs. I have moved on. I will likely never see her again. We are not friends on any social media platforms.

But I think of her. I think of what she represents.

This is my love letter mommas everywhere.

Find your thing.

Run or dance or draw or take bubble baths or go out for a drink with your friends.

Find your thing that helps you feel like a person. Find your thing that allows you to feel strong and capable and brilliant. Find your thing that helps you to see the good in yourself and in the world.

No one asks Saint Daddy how he can stand to be away from our children for an hour or two each week so that he can go to the gym. No one wonders how he manages to stay in shape or read or write or tutor or sleep or eat.

Mommas of the world are not required to explain to anyone why they need time for themselves.

That coworker was right. Sunshine was only a baby for a little bit. She is very much a kid now. But giving up my thirty minutes of sanity three times a week was not going to slow down that time. It was also not going to make me a better mother.

I believed then, and I believe now, that I am a better mother because I know what my thing is. I am more present when I am with my children than I would be otherwise. I feel happier because I have taken care of me. Running is how I take care of me.

Never let naysayers tell you that you should not have something for yourself just because you have babies. You do not deserve that guilt or that anxiety.

And for me, comments like that do fuel my anxiety. Now, I can look back and see that giant grain of salt. But in the moment, with my infant at home and me missing her dreadfully all day, I allowed that thought to consume me. It was unfair of her to make something simple into something so sinister. Saint Daddy understood. I understood. Sunshine was thriving. That was all that mattered.

And, mommas and daddies, taking that time for you does not make you any less of a loving parent. If anything, it makes you that much more capable of being exactly what your children need.

Have you found your thing?

Turns Out… There’s Not All That Much To Complain About

Social media causes me so many conflicting emotions.

I actually met some of my closest friends there. When I lived hours from my family, I used it to share my life quickly and effectively. I announced my second pregnancy to groups of my cousins via Facebook Messenger so that their first time learning about it would not be when I posted a public announcement. My extended family is close and having my cousins find out that I was carrying twins at the same time as the girl who sat behind me in freshman comp would not have been very fair to our relationships.

Social media allows connections that can overcome great distances.

I am glad it exists. Truly.

I am also glad it did not exist when I was a teenager. I am so happy that my Timehop cannot show me what fifteen year old me was up to. No one needs to see that. And fifteen year old me would never have understood the responsibility that comes with social media. Fifteen year old me would not believe that the internet never forgets, that screenshots last, and that not everyone who smiles is your friend. In this case, not every like is a positive connection.

But the thing with social media is… Well… It sucks.

Like… It really, really, really sucks.

It especially sucks because of my anxiety. Social media is not good for my anxiety.

There are two reasons for this. I am aware of them. I know what they are.

The first is the one I talk about more. When I deal with exceptionally high levels of anxiety, the keep me awake at night for days on end kind of anxiety, I log out of Facebook. Sometimes, if my anxiety has consumed me too much, I deactivate altogether.

I do not announce this. I just go. My best friend and oldest sister are usually the first to notice. I do not do it to get anyone’s attention. In fact, with few exceptions, I would prefer not to be contacted about it. Deleting Facebook seems like such a show of my inability to keep it together. I do not need anyone to know I am falling apart. I would tell them if I wanted to.

And why?

Social media, especially Facebook, is crammed with so much negativity. Some people simply love to complain. It seems to be all that they do online. While I am glad that they feel they have an outlet for their thoughts, when mine are spiraling, I cannot handle theirs too. I am in Facebook groups that have a steady stream of complaint threads. I ignore them because I cannot be weighed down with all that is wrong in the world.

I absorb a lot of what I read. I am deeply affected by it. Too much personal negativity becomes my own personal negativity.

And it is not only personal negativity, but news article after news article comes up on my newsfeed filled with the worst that the world has to offer. It seems that people are most likely to share articles about children being raped or beaten or murdered than anything else. I do not understand the compulsion to share that horror with the world. I know it happens. I do not need to know it happened again. I want to hold my babies and cry and promise them that I will do whatever I can to make sure that they are not one of those stories that people share because they feel compelled to share the ugliest side of the world day in and day out.

When I am already anxious, when my world is spinning out of control, these stories affect me so much more.

The first reason I hate social media is the negativity.

When I leave and my sister or my best friend notices and reaches out to me, I always say, “I needed a break from the negativity. I am trying to remain positive. Facebook does not help. Maybe in a week.”

But there is another thing. Something that I talked about with a colleague last week.

She recently recommended that I follow a particular account on Instagram. The account was that of a woman rocking her role in a similar position as mine. Like… Rocking it.

I followed her and then another like her and then a third and suddenly, I was knee-deep in follow requests for people who figured I was also sharing how I rock at what I do.

And I do rock at what I do. I am passionate about it. That is half the rocking.

But I do not post much about work on Instagram. Only occasionally. As I do here.

I made a separate account for these follows and follow requests. I began sharing how I rock too.

Last week, I was speaking with that original coworker, and I told her about the separate account.

“I figured that I could keep it all in one place as well as share what I’m doing too. I don’t need these random people seeing all the pictures of my kids, but I love what I’m seeing. Also, having a separate account lets me choose not to see their posts when I’m feeling down about myself.”

Because we all know that social media is filled with hyper-inflation of the ego. While some people breathe negativity, others only share their 110% moments.

The fact of the matter is that not every moment could be 110% for anyone. It is impossible. The truth is that we all have ups and downs and in-betweens, but social media is not really a true depiction of that.

I have mental illness. What that means for me is that I can know something is true, but I cannot make myself feel that truth.

Feeling the truth is what I struggle with.

So even though those rockstar Instagram accounts are filled with brilliance and wonder, I know that those account owners are not like that at every moment of every day.

But I cannot feel that knowledge when my anxiety is rising.

I need to be able to avoid people who are too awesome when I feel like my life is in shambles. It is too difficult not to compare lives, especially when I cannot feel the truth of its being unrealistic.

So what is someone to do when she loves social media because of the way it connects her to her friends, her family, and people who rock at what she does every day but who also has a mental illness that causes her to dwell so much on her negativity that she cannot even begin to handle the negativity or exuberance of others?

(Wow… That was one sentence. Crazy!)

What does she do?

She shuts it down.

She picks up a journal. She does better for herself.

When my anxiety is out of control, I need to think about what is positive in my own life. I need to let go of my own negativity. Social media will not help me do that.

I have a gratitude journal. I recently picked it back up again after a very long hiatus.

I keep my gratitude journal next to my bed. Every night before bed, the last thing that I do before laying down is write in my gratitude journal a short list of things that I am thankful for from that day.

Sometimes, there is repetition between days. I am almost always happy for quiet time spent with Saint Daddy after Sunshine, Grumpy, and Sleepy finally go to sleep at night. Sometimes, I feel gratitude for something large, like the fact that I come home to my family every night. Sometimes, it is something small, like that someone held the door open for me on my way into work that morning.

I use it to forget the negative that happened. At the end of the day, I do not want my final thoughts to be of the guy who cut me off or that Sleepy peed out of his diaper during his nap again. I want to think of the happy parts of my day.

It is not foolproof. Nothing I do is going to cure my mental illness. I know that. I understand it. But my gratitude journal helps me do something important. It helps me to remember that, even when it is really bad, there is something beautiful in every day.

Since I began my journal again, I have been falling asleep more quickly. I am telling my brain to let go of self-doubt and to focus on what went well each day.

It helps me see my days in a positive light and to remember that it is not always bad.

There is not really all that much to complain about.

The Case of the Missing Library Book

I hate feeling like a nuisance.

My brain regularly tells me that I am a nuisance to people, and I go out of my way to not actually be one.

Yesterday, I had to be a nuisance.

Sunshine is doing really well at school. She loves going and she is learning so much already. She has been able to identify letters for a couple of years, but her ability to recognize letter sounds has exploded in the last month. Her teacher is going awesome things with her already.

She is a little overwhelmed by the long days. Sunshine’s only experience outside of our home were 2.5 hour days of preschool, three days a week, the year she was three. We allowed her a mental health day on Friday to reset and recharge. Kids need mental health days too.

But Sunshine has been flustered by one thing. She has not been permitted to take out a library book since the very first day that they visited the library.

Sunshine was really excited about library class. I took her to the public library for the first time when she was barely three and it became a regular event for us that summer.

When she climbed into her carseat at the end of that school day, she told me all about library. They got a tour, she picked a book, and she brought it home.

“I picked the Grinch, but they must’ve known I already have it, so they gave me a cat book instead. I like cats too.”

That’s wonderful, baby. You love cats! And you don’t need the Grinch book. We already have it.

That night, I read her library book with her. In it, a cat named Chester goes to the library and learns how to properly care for the books. I found it an apt choice for her first book from her school’s library.

After reading the book, I told Sunshine to put it in her backpack so that it was ready for the next day she had library class.

I saw that book in her bag every morning when I put her lunch into it and every afternoon when I checked her take-home folder. That was the case until library day rolled around again.

Then the book disappeared, but Sunshine did not have a new book.

Didn’t you want a new book today?

“They wouldn’t let me get a new book because I didn’t bring back my first one. It must’ve been lost.”

Did you take it out of your backpack sometime today?

“I gave it to the aide. She must’ve lost it. I couldn’t get a book.”

Sunshine’s disappointment was evident. She loves books. She loves libraries. And I know she could not have loved watching her new friends select books when she could not.

I told her that I was sure it would be figured out before next library day. Maybe the aide set it in the wrong pile. She had plenty of books at home.

I try to project a calm outlook about these sorts of things. I do not want to overreact, especially in front of Sunshine or her brothers.

It’ll be fine, baby. They’ll figure it out.

But on the next library day, Sunshine still did not come home with a book. This is when I talked to Saint Daddy about it.

It doesn’t make any sense, I said. She carried that book back and forth to school for two weeks. What do they mean that she never returned it?

“I’ll email her teacher.”

Here is where my nuisance idea comes in. Teachers are busy. I know how busy they are. They have hundreds of things to deal with every day. They make countless decisions. They are responsible for so much every single moment of their day. There is so much to think about. Their jobs are difficult.

The last thing I would want to do is give Sunshine’s teacher one more thing to think about.

But on the same token, Sunshine did return her book. She did not deserve to be punished for not doing so.

Thank you.

Sunshine’s teacher said that she had borrowed How the Grinch Stole Christmas and never returned it.

I picked Sunshine up from school a few days later, and her teacher met me in the office to discuss the case of the missing library book.

I told her that Sunshine had mentioned thinking she had borrowed “the Grinch,” but that the school must have known she already owned it and sent her home with another book instead. She did not bring home “the Grinch.”

Her teacher offered to email all of the parents to see if maybe their child accidentally brought home Sunshine’s book.

A week passed.

The librarian sent an email to Saint Daddy and me. Sunshine owes this book.

Saint Daddy said I would explain what I believed happened.

I became a little flustered. I felt like a nuisance. It is one book. Should I just offer to pay for it so Sunshine can get books again? Is that the right thing to do? But what if another kid does have Sunshine’s book? Can it be located?

I told the story, a little more briefly than I did above. I hit send.

My cheeks flushed.

I know this probably seems like such a small thing to become so agitated over. I sent that email at the end of my lunch hour, and when I went to my next meeting, someone asked me if I was having a bad day.

No. Not really. I was just nervous. What if I was accused of lying? What if what I said made no sense? What if it does not help? What if Sunshine never takes home another library book from school again? What if the mistakes of adults result in punishing my child?

I needed closure for that event.

With anxiety, even small things can incite large responses. And the best way for my responses to end quickly is closure. The wait for that closure is filled with a million what-ifs. Waiting means my brain begins to wander. My waiting brain has too much of an opportunity to destroy me.

I needed a response. I needed it quickly. I needed Saint Daddy to say something to me.

By the end of my meeting, the librarian let me know that the book Sunshine brought home was on the shelf. She said she knew who checked it out and that she would check with his family to see if they had Sunshine’s book. However, she was clearing Sunshine’s account. Sunshine would definitely be coming home with a book on her next library day.

Even now, writing this, more than twenty-four hours after it happened, I am realizing how minor this whole event was. It was a non-event. Emailing about this issue was entirely appropriate.

I know that.

However, anxiety often means putting more stock into an event than it deserves. Anxiety means that I think other people think about me in the same obsessive way I think about myself or in the exact opposite way.

Saint Daddy recently told me that I sometimes operate in extremes.

That is true. I do.

That is my anxiety. That is what anxiety does for me.

I do not imagine that it works exactly the same way for everyone, but that is how anxiety affects me.

I have begun working on my awareness of that. I am trying to find my equilibrium. I am trying to remind myself that sending an email is not that big of a deal. Not in the grand scheme of things.

I am glad that Saint Daddy and I solved the case of the Missing library book.

Sunshine deserves a library day. It was worth being a little bit of a nuisance to do that for her.

Taking Care of Me

I took the day off from work today. I took a sick day. I was sick. I have been sick. I have been sick for a few weeks now, and I have powered through because mental illness and physical illness are not the same.

When you suffer from mental illness, you are supposed to get up every day and power through anyway.

Mental illness is not stay home from work illness.

Mental illness is pretend you are okay and go about your life as if everything is fine illness.

On Monday, I realized that I was too sick to keep doing that and I was not going to get better if I did not take a break sometime soon. Today, I took a break. I stayed home from work. I took a sick day. Not because I was vomiting or feverish or diarrheal or even stuffed up.

I stayed home because my soul is tired. I needed to sleep until after six and not feel compelled to respond to my email. I needed to be permitted to read and to enjoy silence.

I hate that our society is so results focused that we have lost sight of people.

Our treatment of mental illness as an inappropriate use of a sick day is one such example of that.

Today, I slept until nearly 7:00. I needed it. I had three nights in a row of middle of the night anxiety. Middle of the night anxiety is some of the worst anxiety I ever experience. I roll over in the middle of the night, and suddenly, my brain is awake. My back seizes up with tension. I feel those knife stabs of heat that radiate throughout my spinal column. And my brain tells me a hundred terrible things. It reminds me of things I forgot, things I need to do, things that I can do nothing about in the middle of the night. My brain is not kind to me in the middle of the night.

Three nights of that was enough.

I took a sick day.

And last night, I slept. According to my Fitbit, which tracks my sleep on good nights and bad, I slept three total hours more last night than any of the three preceding nights.

I slept until 7.

I rolled over, hearing Sunshine in the dining room talking to Saint Daddy, wondering why I was not awake yet.

Normally, I would have jumped right on Facebook, but I uninstalled it during that last sleepless night. Instead, I checked Timehop and got out of bed.

I did Sunshine’s hair for school and scrambled with Saint Daddy to pack her lunch, a usual morning task for me and one that Saint Daddy and I let slip our minds today.

Once Sunshine left for school, I took out my laptop and did one hour of work. A day off for my mental health would be poorly served if I did not use it to take things off my schedule for work. Work is one of my biggest stressors right now. It is 75% of my to-do list. Not doing anything for work today would have put me nowhere closer to clearing up that list of things I forgot and things I have to do.

One hour of work.

I retrieved Sleepy and Grumpy from their cribs, gave them their morning “guk” (Grumpy’s word for milk), and continued my work.

When the hour was up, I put my laptop away and made today about me.

I played with my sons, whom I see too little of during the work week and cannot focus on enough when Sunshine is around. I started a new book (We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach), which I have recently borrowed from my library’s ebook catalog. I took a bath, enjoying how the warm water relaxed muscles that have known far too much tension lately.

Basically, I worked a little on work but I worked a lot on me.

Today, I took a sick day because I was sick. I needed today.

But I also know that my bosses might not see it that way.

On my way to pick up Sunshine from school this afternoon, I stopped at the grocery store to pick up a few things. It was too early for them to be there, but I worried that I could potentially run into someone higher up at work. I imagined the scenario playing out.

“Aren’t you sick today?”

I am sick.

You look fine now. Are you feeling better?” A little condescending.

Yes and no. I’ve been sick for weeks. I’ve been sick like this before. I’ll be sick like this again. My illness is not physical. It’s all in my head. But it’s real. It is very real. It causes physical symptoms. And the treatment is time and focus and perseverance. Going to work would not have made me better and not being better is not helping me be the best me. I’m sure you understand. And if you don’t. If you truly don’t, then you are one of the lucky ones.

Because people with mental illness do understand. I know you do.

I have not been the best me the last few weeks. When I am not my best me, I do not know how to be the kind of wife and mother that my family deserves.

Today I took a sick day to treat an illness that cannot be seen. My face is not pale, my flesh is not warm, my skin is not clammy. I am not vomiting or coughing.

But I am sick.

And today, I took care of me.

Fighting the Sunday Blues

This weekend was perfectly lovely.

Saturday was rainy, but Saint Daddy and I took our babies for ice cream at our favorite Creamery anyway. I spent much of the day organizing the kids’ clothes, pulling out summer clothes and washing sweaters and jackets that had been stored in boxes given to us by generous friends.

Sunday found us at the same farm where we got ice cream, enjoying a hay ride and pumpkin picking. Grumpy was surprisingly not the grumpy gus at the pumpkin patch. Sleepy screamed his head off every time Saint Daddy set him down. It all made sense when he promptly fell asleep in the car. Classic Sleepy. We bought butternut squash at the farm, and I can smell the delicious soup I am making with it simmering in the kitchen as I type this.

We are all coming down from colds that Sunshine picked up at school. Her cold took us to her pediatrician on Friday after school for a quick ear check after she complained of echos. It is hard to say how serious that complaint was as she is currently obsessed with the notion of being “absent.” Sunshine loves school, but she has never been absent and she is hoping that someday soon Saint Daddy or I will give her the go-ahead to stay home.

I spent the last week on a major project at work, and I needed this weekend. Not that I do not need most weekends, but between the cold and the stress at work, I needed this one.

I have enjoyed my weekend. Ice cream, pumpkin picking, family time, a six mile long run, and a half-nap this afternoon? What more could I ask for?

It is almost five o’clock on a Sunday, though, and I am feeling the Sunday Blues right now.

There is tension in the back of my neck. It is pulsing up through my head. My eyes hurt from the pressure. I feel a little nauseated. I am more tired than I should be.

I am anticipating the rise in pressure that will occur from the moment I walk out of my door tomorrow morning and will continue with small increases and decreases until the moment I walk back into it on Friday afternoon, toting Sunshine’s nap supplies and a another week worth of stories.

I hate the Sunday Blues.

I researched this one too. According to Monster, 76% of Americans say that they experience unusually high levels of anxiety as the day progresses on Sundays.

76%!

That means that I am in great company on Sundays as I focus more on what the upcoming week will bring my way instead of what I have in front of me.

It is unfair to today.

I have expressed that sentiment in my blog before. Anxiety is not fair to my present. I wish I could control it.

My family deserves a mother who can pay attention to today instead of sitting her wondering what will be in my email tomorrow morning.

I am not required to check my professional email at home. I stopped doing so shortly after Sunshine was born. I received an email from a client on Thanksgiving, which I responded to. The client emailed me again during dinner and I ignored it, clearing the notification. She emailed me again the following day, also not a work day, and her email was filled with hostility. She wanted to know why I was not prioritizing her and told me she would be contacting my boss.

I immediately removed the email app from my phone and decided to wait to see what other feelings she had on Monday when I returned to work. I knew my boss would not have demanded that I respond to her email on the holiday, and it was wrong of her to bully me.

That was five years ago. I have only occasionally checked my work email at home since then and I have often regretted it. Work is for work. Home is for my family.

I did not prioritize that client. Not at home.

At home, I prioritize motherhood.

Motherhood is one of the most important tasks I will ever undertake. Being a wife is as well. Saint Daddy, Sunshine, Grumpy, and Sleepy are vastly more important than anything that will happen at work. Everything at work can wait when it is their turn to have me.

Which is why I hate the Sunday Blues. Because the Sunday Blues take my brain away from them.

Anxiety is largely just fear of the future. I am afraid of what might happen this week. I have a plan in place for the week. I know what I will be doing, what my meetings are, what I need to accomplish. I know I am good at my job. I will have a great week. I almost always do, even if I am handling a particularly stressful project.

But, much like driving, I cannot predict everything. Sometimes, things fall apart without warning. Sometimes, I get so focused on my thing that I ignore the periphery and that periphery might be burning because I accidentally left a candle burning.

I do not have a solid solution to the Sunday Blues right now. I am working on it.

Some Sundays are better than others. Actually, some Sundays I do not feel it at all. Usually, Sundays are only particularly bad when the previous week was stressful. I believe it is my brain’s way of saying “I can’t go through all of that again.”

I am trying, though.

I am focusing on Grumpy and Sleepy running around the living room after their nap. I am enjoying Sunshine sitting next to me and watching a Halloween cooking show with me. She loves Halloween because she loves spooky stuff. “Except spiders. Those are yucky!”

I am thinking about how good that soup is going to taste after the garlic and apples and onions all had a chance to really mingle with the squash.

Tomorrow will come. I will face tomorrow then.

Right now, it is time to enjoy what remains of Sunday.

An Anxious Love Story

I am a little jealous of people who can remember meeting their spouses. I know there are a billion stories of people meeting the person they would spend their lives with. Some of them are funny, some sad, some awkward, but all very real.

I do not have that story. I lost it somewhere along the line.

Saint Daddy and I met in the seventh grade lunch line. Sometimes, I think I remember it, but I cannot be sure it was him that I remember. I was new to the school. He had been in the district since kindergarten. I met over a hundred people that same day. And unfortunately for Saint Daddy and for me, I cannot remember him in the sea of other faces.

When I ask him about it, he says he remembers. And sometimes, he acts as if he knew, at that moment, that I was someone to him. He is pretty mushy sometimes.

The first real memories I have of Saint Daddy came in ninth grade. He and I had Spanish together, and in my mind, he was “the weird kid in my Spanish class.” When he tells this story, he says I was the weird kid. I, however, was not the one who brought green food coloring to tortilla making day in order to make green eggs and ham.

About a year later, my best friend at the time told me that she had a crush on Saint Daddy, and since I knew him mostly as the weird kid in Spanish, I gave her a quizzical look. She yelled at me for judging her and said she wished she had never told me anything. We were not friends much longer, and the year Sunshine was born, she was convicted of murdering her son. That is not really part of today’s story, though.

At the end of sophomore year, Saint Daddy and I spent much of our school’s Memorial Day picnic together. He told someone I was his girlfriend, and I laughed at him.

Junior year, Saint Daddy’s friend group and my friend group began mixing. We spent Saturday nights together bowling or hanging out in someone’s house. When my almost junior prom date spread rumors about me and I cancelled on him, I asked Saint Daddy to go with me instead. He said that he was not interested in dances with friends. Around the same time, when a mutual friend refused to drive three miles to pick me up so I could join the group, Saint Daddy came over himself. He said that picking me up was always going to be worth the drive.

In June of that year, we pretended to get married in our mutual friend’s living room. I had found the veil attached to a plastic tiara her mother had worn to her bachelorette party, and I demanded that a groom step up to marry me. Saint Daddy obliged. A week later, we went to see a movie at the drive-in theater and Saint Daddy said he had to be close to me because I was his wife.

I went away to astronomy camp that summer. While there, I told my roommate all about Saint Daddy. I did not think I liked him as anything more than a friend in my group, but maybe I did. When I went on vacation with my parents, I bought him a souvenir. I am not sure I ever gave it to him, but I remember seeing something and feeling it would be a nice gift for him.

By the beginning of senior year, it seemed that Saint Daddy and I dating was more a matter of when than if. A friend of ours confessed to me that she liked him but she knew he liked me, and she said, “You can have him if you want him. Do you want him?”

Saint Daddy and I would laugh about that conversation later.

Before we began dating, I knew Saint Daddy was right for me. I had a feeling, a premonition, something deep within me told me to take a chance I had never taken before. I had never dated previously because I was not willing to put myself out there. I did not want to risk the hurt. But something within me told me that I needed to this time. I knew that Saint Daddy was always going to be worth it.

We shared our first kiss late one October night. Saint Daddy had his Cinderella license and an 11:00 curfew, and I can tell you, with certainty, that it was 11:38 when we shared that first kiss. We were standing in front of a friend’s house, all of our friends were pretending not to be watching, and it was magical.

Saint Daddy was my first boyfriend, but he was not my first kiss. And let me tell you, something about that kiss… It lingered with me for days.

Saint Daddy saw my first anxious episode less than six months later. He had already told me that he was going to marry me. He had picked out the date. We were about to graduate from high school and head off to different colleges, and my brain said that there was no way that we would ever make it to that wedding date, more than five years later.

High school relationships are not meant to last.

Someone just told me that the other day actually. “It’s cute that they’re dating, but I told [my daughter] that she shouldn’t plan to marry him. High school relationships are supposed to end. High school sweethearts almost always get divorced.”

I am not sure where she gets her data, and I hope she is not saying those words in that way to her daughter.

So my brain told me that Saint Daddy and I could not make it. It was impossible. It robbed me of sleep. I mourned the loss of our relationship. I cried over it. I missed him, even though he was still mine.

I walked to his house in the middle of the night. It was a four mile walk, and I had assumed that I would feel better long before I got there. I did not. I knocked on his window and cried. He held me, but I felt like I could not tell him why I had come. I worried that if I spoke the words out loud that it would make them true. I could not imagine losing him. He meant so much to me.

Saint Daddy tried to feed me, but I could not eat. I felt a little better when the sun came up, but I would spend the next month or so filled with anxiety and unable to say the words to him that would have freed me. I was too scared, our relationship was too new, I loved him, I needed him, and I did not want to destroy us with my thoughts.

Looking back, I know that what I chose to do was more destructive than honesty ever would have been, but anxiety does not allow me to think clearly. Anxiety ruled me.

Sometimes, it still does.

Saint Daddy prayed for me one night. He came over after work, and I fell asleep watching television with him next to me. I heard him pray for me and for us. He loved me so much.

That was almost fifteen years ago.

Saint Daddy and I made it to that wedding date. Actually, we got married one day before his chosen date. He had chosen a Sunday because it was our anniversary. We got married on the Saturday preceding it. That was nine years ago.

Saint Daddy, as is clear from his name, is a saint. He is so much more to me than I could ever put into words. He is my favorite person. He is my best friend. More than that, Saint Daddy is the solid ground on which I stand and the warm pillow where I lay my head each night. He is within every breath that I take. He does not complete me necessarily, but he complements my soul. He understands my truest essence.

He knows me. The other night, I could not sleep. I woke in the morning and told Daddy that I had a terrible night, and he knew exactly what thoughts had kept me up.

One time, a relative told me that she looks at our relationship and sees that a happy marriage and mental illness can coexist. Saint Daddy loves me despite my demons. He battles them with me even when they do not make any sense to him.

The key to our success on that front has been communication. That first episode may very well have been the worst he ever saw me through, and it was so bad because I could not tell him why I felt the way that I did. As time moved on, I shared my burdens and he helped me carry them.

I have done the same for him.

Saint Daddy knows my triggers and my coping mechanisms. He can tell from the look on my face when I need air or a touch. He understands that I need silence and water and a moment to think myself down.

Neither Saint Daddy nor I are perfect angels. We have both hurt each other over the years in ways we lived to regret. Most of that hurt came from the way we were handling our respective mental illnesses. But Saint Daddy and I choose each other. We do it every single day. First and foremost, I am on his side and he is on mine. Ultimately, we are both happy people.

It is possible to love someone with mental illness. We both do it every day.

I will never remember how our love story began, but it will always be my favorite. It is a story of love and laughter. It is a story of determination and perseverance. It is a story filled with joy and hope.

One time, a random match on a cell phone game messaged me to ask if I was single. I was not. I was married. He said, “Happily?” Yes, thank you very much.

I may be a messy person, but I am happily in love with my best friend.

Behind the Wheel Fears (Part Two)

I learned to drive ten years ago. I had my accident ten years ago. I am afraid of driving.

Driving is one of those anxiety-inducing triggers that I must face every single day. I have to drive. I have to take myself to work five days a week. I have to pick Sunshine up from school five days a week. I have to run errands, go to ballet, and take my children to the doctor.

To be a functioning adult in suburbia, I need to drive.

I will always hate it. I will always be afraid of it. But I will always do it.

I know that everyone who battles anxiety must have a few triggers that they cannot avoid. That they must face every day. That they need to overcome in order to exist. I cannot avoid this trigger in the way that I avoid other ones.

Late last week, I was driving to pick up Sunshine from school. Her school is in a complex located just off one of those highways that run through commercial areas. The flow of traffic is steady, broken only by the occasional red light.

I was driving along, listening to Taylor Swift, Sunshine’s favorite artist, thinking about how much I did not like the book I was reading at the time. Maybe I should give that up and find something else. I was driving 40 miles per hour. A car waiting to turn right at the next light turned in front of me. There was plenty of space between our cars. She made a good decision. Without hesitation, the minivan behind her also made the same decision. This time, there was not enough space between us. I braked slightly, but the minivan did not speed up. My car rushed toward its rear bumper. I slammed my brakes, they squealed against the road, I hit my horn, my heart race, and I checked my options.

There was open space in the left lane, so I quickly pulled into it and passed the minivan.

My heart was in my throat when I pulled behind the last car in the parent pickup line, put my car in park, and picked up my phone.

I texted Saint Daddy.

“Driving seems like such an outmoded way to get around. There must be a better way to do it. Someone should get on that.”

I am always afraid that I will be in another accident. My accident was entirely my fault. Although, Saint Daddy did say that he had noticed that my Breeze did not maneuver turns well. He wished he would have warned me. Even if he had, though, I am sure the same thing would have happened. I did not think I was going too fast.

I am not worried about my driving, though. I know that my accident made me a hyper-aware driver. I check my mirrors, I pay attention to my blind spots, I wait my turn. I am not 100% sure if the opposite of an aggressive driver is a passive one. I do not even really know if I would consider myself to be the opposite of an aggressive driver, but I trust myself behind the wheel.

What I hate about driving is not me; it is them.

Driving is unpredictable because I do not know what other drivers might do. I was being perfectly safe and cautious in the right lane. Sunshine’s school was less than a half a mile away, so I would not have gone into the left lane of my own volition in case I had to be aggressive in getting over again. I am not interested in high emotion driving. The minivan, though, is something I could not predict.

I do not know what went on with the driver of the minivan. She made a dangerous choice, but I do not know how much thought went into it. The minivan turned out of a medical complex, the same one where I take my children to their pediatrician. Maybe she had received bad news. Maybe she was distracted and not thinking of the task at hand. There are a hundred maybes for that one driver.

And there are millions of drivers on the road.

I cannot even begin to imagine their maybes. I cannot even begin to fathom their what-ifs.

I hate driving because it is unpredictable. At any time, a white minivan could pull out in front of me. A red SUV could slam on its brakes. A black sedan could swerve into my lane.

I have to be hyper-vigilant, and I feel the weight of that bearing down on me every time I get behind the wheel. I cannot know, and that lack of knowledge threatens to throw me into a hurricane of thoughts I cannot control.

My children ride in the car with me. Recently, I drove Saint Daddy somewhere and dropped him off. I then drove our three children home with me. It was dark and raining. While we were near home, I was not very familiar with how to return to our safe little nest. Sunshine was telling me all about My Little Pony. Grumpy and Sleepy were taking turns shouting out nonsense and giggling. I missed a turn, and I tensed up.

It was early fall. 70°. And my brain told me to watch for black ice.

What if you’re in an accident with your babies in the car? What if you destroy part of them like you destroyed part of you? What if you give them scars to carry? What if you’re the problem?

Black ice!

The thought was absurd. I knew it at the time. “There’s not going to be black ice right now. What’s wrong with you?”

But how do you know?

I fought against my anxiety as I “uh-huh”-ed everything Sunshine said about Princess Celestia and Princess Cadence and their cutie marks. I told my anxiety about science as I found my way unto the bypass, a road that meant familiarity and increased speeds.

In the rain? You’re going to crash!

It meant more people around if there was a problem but also more headlights coming the other way.

Those bright lights are blinding, aren’t they? How are they even legal? You’re never going to see the turns in the road. You’re going to miss your exit. Look at that big puddle!

I hydroplaned a little bit. I always remember what Saint Daddy told me to do when that happens. I gripped the wheel, I let off the gas, I avoided my brake, and I felt traction come back under my wheels. Grumpy called for me “MA-MA!” Sleepy yelled, “DAD!” Sunshine kept prattling about the ponies.

I managed to make it to our exit and down the steep hill that led to home.

Sunshine began asking me about the reflective plastic in the middle of the road, and I explained to her that they helped drivers know where their lane ended to help everyone feel safe.

I wanted to make sure that Sunshine felt that safety, even though I rarely do in the car. Having the responsibility of three tiny souls while I drive only adds to that lack of security.

It is easier for me as a passenger. I can read or play on my phone and ignore the parts of being in a car that make me feel tension.

But I have to drive. I will always have to drive. It is a fact of my life that I cannot avoid.

I had thought that, by now, ten years later, a lot of my fears related to driving would have begun to disappear, but they have not. I am sure that is because of the unpredictable nature of my fellow drivers. I will never be able to control that variable.

So what can I do?

I make sure my babies are as safe as possible. The law says to rearface them until they are two, but science says to keep them that way until as close to four as possible. So that is what we do. Sunshine was three months shy of her fourth birthday when we switched her. Her brothers are still riding in the convertible carseats we strapped them into when we left the hospital with them right after birth. The law says to use a five point harness until four, but science says to keep them harnessed as long as possible. At the rate she is growing, Sunshine may fit in her convertible carseat until she is eight and she will be harnessed until she grows out of it. Grumpy and Sleepy will get the same seat Sunshine has when they are ready for an upgrade. Safety is worth inconvenience. Safety is worth the cost of a seat that will last longer. Safety protects my babies if something horrible does happen because of those variables that I cannot control.

For this reason, safety helps me handle my car anxiety.

I was not wearing my seatbelt when I crashed my car. Because of that, I lived and I walk. But I always wear it now.

Safety measures bring me traces of sanity when I feel powerless to overcome my thoughts.

There was no chance of black ice on that night, but my brain often tells me the impossible might be true.

I will drive, and I will be afraid. But at least I know some things that will help. And sometimes, that is the best I can hope for.

Behind the Wheel Fears (Part One)

Saint Daddy taught me how to drive. I was twenty-one years old. He was the only person I really felt comfortable sharing my ineptitude with, and he bravely took on the task of taking me on the road.

I care a lot about how how people view my intelligence and capability. And I did not like the idea that someone might think I was bad at it.

Saint Daddy never made me feel stupid. Saint Daddy is wonderful.

I had a bachelor’s degree, a mortgage, and a full-time professional career with benefits before I had my driver’s license.

A few weeks after I passed my road test, something catastrophic happened. It was one of those things that changes the course of your life forever. Occasionally, we all experience specific events that we can point to and say, with certainty, that it changed our lives.

I was in an accident.

I crashed my car.

I drove a little purple Plymouth Breeze. I was on my way to work. I had already been at work earlier in the day, but I had to go back for an important meeting. I had considered staying at work between meetings, but the prospect of being able to take a fifteen minute nap on my couch was too delicious. Rarely, do I have such opportunities. I went home.

Saint Daddy, whose title on that day was officially “boyfriend,” walked me to the car. I was telling him about a social engagement that we had been invited to.

I waved to him as I drove away.

I did not buckle my seatbelt. This is important. If I had, I may not have been alive twenty minutes later.

It is amazing how tiny little decisions create us. If I had worn my seatbelt, something I had always done and always have since, I would not have married Saint Daddy. I would not have had my three beautiful children. My life would have been a full stop instead of a pause. In failing to be fully safe, I kept myself safe.

I drove the old highway to work. It had been bypassed and the road was quiet, windy, and tree-lined.

The day was perfectly lovely. The leaves were just beginning to change. It had rained earlier in the day, but the sky was milky white and filled with clouds.

It was precisely ten miles between my house and the turn to my work on this road.

About halfway between those two points is a stone quarry. The road turns sharply and loose stones and gravel often litter the road.

I was aware of this. I had navigated this road many times over the previous month.

What I did not consider on my drive to work that day was this combination of facts: sharp curve, loose stones, and rain earlier in the day.

The road itself was not wet, but those loose stones were wet underneath.

When I hit that sharp curve, I was going precisely two miles over the speed limit. I cannot remember the posted speed limit, but I can remember that detail. I remember saying it to the officer at the scene. “How fast were you going?” he asked. I told him my speed and added, “It was only two miles over the speed limit.”

The wet loose gravel prevented me from getting traction, my wheel jerked around in my hands, I tried to control it, I avoided using my brakes as Saint Daddy had told me to do in these situations, and I careened wildly across the road and up the steep embankment separating the old highway from the bypass.

I remember that wall of green coming toward me. I remember not knowing how to stop it. I remember the loud thud as my car slammed into the embankment. I will always remember that sound.

The next thing I was aware of was how hazy my vision was. Everything looked out of focus. My periphery was non-existant. I was climbing out of a window on my hands and knees, glass littering the ground around me.

It was pure adrenaline and instinct that took me out of the car. Without that, I would have realized my injuries doing so, and I may have simply waited, lying on the ceiling of my car, for help.

When I stood, I noticed my left arm.

It hung limply and at an odd angle. It was clearly broken.

There I stood, knowing that I needed help, missing a shoe, my phone somewhere inside the car, and my arm broken on a road that might go fifteen minutes without a passing car. There were no houses in sight.

I started screaming. “Help! Please! Anyone! Please! I need help!”

No one would hear me. I yelled anyway. What else could I do?

I spotted a van in the distance. Silver and heading the opposite direction from the one that I had come.

The man driving the car pulled over to the side of the road and rushed to me. He helped me walked to his car, where his wife and two children sat. He leaned me against the hood of his car and he dialed 911.

“Can you please call my fiancé? He’s home right now. We live just three miles from here. Please?”

I know I already said Saint Daddy was only my boyfriend at the time, but even in my shock, I understood next of kin rules. Even “fiancé” is not worth much, but it is better than “boyfriend.”

He said, “We should wait for an ambulance. They’ll call someone for you.”

I do not know how long it took for the ambulance to arrive. I do know that when it did, they still did not call Saint Daddy. They told me to wait until they decided whether or not I needed to be life-flighted and then which hospital to take me to and then until I got there and then until I saw a doctor and then until my nurse checked on me again.

While I was moved to the ambulance, my neck properly supported, my eyes being repeatedly checked for dilation, a police officer began asking me questions.

Where were you coming from? Where were you heading? When did you leave home? Do you have your license on you? Was that your car? How fast were you going? Were you wearing your seatbelt?

Home. Work. 4:45. It is in my bag. Yes. Two miles over the limit. No.

“I’m going to have to cite you. I’m sorry. But not for the seatbelt thing. I know you can’t see what I’m looking at, but if you’d been wearing your belt, you’d either be dead or paralyzed. You must have rolled with the car. You’re lucky.”

Lucky.

It would take a long time before I felt truly lucky.

First, I needed Saint Daddy.

Saint Daddy has always been an instantaneous comfort to me. I needed him. My head was bleeding, my arm was broken, and…

“Can you feel that?” the EMT asked as we drove down the mountain to my second closest hospital. The nearest hospital did not have an orthopedic surgeon on call that night. So we went to the second closest one.

“Feel what?” I asked, my head strapped to the table, stabilizing my neck and spine. I could not see what he was doing, but I knew he was concerned.

“Okay. That’s all I needed to know.”

He told me jokes the whole way.

I was wheeled into the emergency room and my friendly EMT left me with the medical team there.

The doctor came in and released my neck. A nurse cleaned the glass from my scalp as the doctor continued to evaluate me.

“Can you feel that?”

This time I saw what was happening. The doctor was rubbing my left hand. I could not feel it. I shook my head. “Can you move your hand at all?” I tried. Nothing.

“Can I please call my fiancé? Please! He is the only person I really know within hours of here. Please.”

A nurse brought me a phone, and he was on his way to me. No hesitation.

Saint Daddy had known that I never showed up to work. I was expected there at 5:00. I left home with enough time to get there before my meeting. When I did not arrive by 5:10, my boss called my emergency contact, Saint Daddy, and told him that I had not arrived, wondering if maybe I might have stopped at a store on my way in. At 5:45, he called Saint Daddy again. “I just thought I’d let you know that she never arrived.” Saint Daddy got in the car and immediately drove the whole way to my work to see if he could find me. But the wreck was already cleaned up, and there was no sign of me. After that, more than an hour went by without his knowing where I might be.

I cannot imagine what that hour was like for Saint Daddy. If I am not sure where he is for five minutes, my mind starts to wander to catastrophe. I am not sure I could survive hours without information.

Maybe it is because of what I was going through, maybe Saint Daddy drove more than two miles over the speed limit, maybe he was already halfway to me when I finally called him, but I swear he was there faster than humanly possible.

The doctor came back in and talked to us. The x-ray showed a triple break in my humerus. The lack of feeling showed nerve damage, but “I’m not an arm guy. I’d deal with leg injuries, but I’m not great with arms. I’d rather not take on your case. We are going to arrange transportation elsewhere. Hang tight.”

The next doctor, the best nerve guy in the state, confirmed nerve damage. He wanted to see me in a week for a follow-up. Maybe time would clear up the swelling and the issue. He set my arm. It was the most painful experience of my life. It was nearing morning. I had not slept. I screamed out in pain, losing my vision as my brain focused on overcoming what was happening.

The lack of mobility and feeling did not clear up. When the week ended, we scheduled surgery.

My mom came up for the surgery. She would drive me the hour and a half to the hospital and drive me home afterward. Surgery, however, took longer than anticipated. I needed two pints of blood, and I spent the night at the hospital instead of going home.

My doctor, the nerve guy, said that I had utterly destroyed my radial nerve. “Ground it to a pulp. I’ve never seen anything like it before. It’s not dead, though. It may start to work again.”

The next four months were filled with appointments. My orthopedist wanted me there twice a month. I saw a physical therapist. I was told that I would never use my left hand again without a miracle. Although, there was a surgery that gave me a 70% chance of getting back a similar amount of movement. My physical therapist released me. There was nothing she could do for me. I wore a metal brace twenty four hours a day. I could not put on my own bra or pull my own hair back.

I prayed. I hoped. I prayed.

One evening, I was able to twitch my wrist. Within two weeks, I could type with both hands.

My doctor said, “You’re a miracle. Someone’s looking out for you up there. You must come from good stock.” He wrote about me in a medical journal. I named Sleepy after him seven years later.

After two months of not driving, my mom brought me her car. A coworker had been driving me to work, and one day, she simply chose not to. She said she was sick of making the extra stop and she left me to figure it out. Mom came again to save the day. She told me I had to get back on the horse, so to speak.

I was terrified. I worried about everything repeating itself. I took the bypass instead of the old highway. I drove five miles under the speed limit and cried when cars sped by me in the left lane.

It took five years before I drove the old highway to work. Even thinking about it, sent me into a tizzy of flashbacks.

I still hate driving. I think I will always hate driving. I am terrified of it in bad weather. I panic on unfamiliar roads and feel anxious at high speeds. If we are together, Saint Daddy always drives. It is an unspoken rule. I would rather not do it. Even if we are taking “my” car somewhere, I would rather he be behind the wheel. He has always liked driving. It is very win-win.

For the rest of my life, I will be unable to extend my arm fully. I will have areas of my hand that are nearly numb. I will have parts of my arm that are hypersensitive. My “funny bone” will be a little more exposed than it should be. I will have a nasty scar that runs the length of my left upper arm. And I will have a fear of getting behind the wheel.

Driving is one of those fears that I confront on a nearly daily basis. The sharp stab of anxiety is mostly worn off. I am aware of the tension in my body every time I get behind the wheel. I am just a little on edge. But the fear is more like a dull permeating ache now. I feel it everywhere, but I can survive it.

When the weather is bad or the roads may be icy or the turns come too quickly or I am not sure where I am going, that dullness becomes much more defined.

I have gotten to work after driving in the snow with red half-moon indentations on my palms from gripping the steering wheel.

After ten years, I have stopped believing that would improve.

Yes, I will always be afraid to drive, but some fears are unavoidable.

Some fears need to be confronted every day, even if they never will be overcome.

Fear will not stop me. I will not let it.

My accident defined a large part of my life, but it will not define me.

Blogception: Blogging About My Blog

I began my blogging journey five weeks ago. I had a story to tell about Sunshine beginning school, and I wanted a place to tell it.

I am glad that I found my place. Since I began this blog, I have received many messages from people telling me that they understand, they feel it too, and they want to share in their own way.

I have had requests to forward certain posts on to others because they know people who might need to see my words. People have told me that I made them cry real tears for various reasons. My baby sister set a screenshot of a paragraph from one of my posts as her phone’s background. She told me that she shared my post with her counselor. She said, “This is my family. This is who we are.”

I have been complimented on my style and supported during my journey. I have opened my heart up to people who knew me and yet did not know me. I have shared myself with the internet, which is no small undertaking.

I have been honest. My stories have all been my truth.

Yes, I am glad that I started this blog, that I have bared my soul, that I have made connections to people who fight long and hard. Tired people who needed to know that there are other tired people.

I write about my anxiety.

It is how I process my thoughts and find my balance. I have been writing about my anxiety since I was a teen. Even before I had named my anxiety, I journaled about it. I have notebooks still stashed at home filled with my fears and concerns and off-balance thoughts.

As a teenager, I had a Xanga account where I wrote and felt connections with other people who understood.

Writing about my anxiety here has been cathartic. It has been medicinal. It has been terrifying.

My anxiety blog causes me anxiety.

There are clients at my work. People who should only know me as a professional. I accept that, I acknowledge that, and I am grateful for that. I had a dream a few weeks ago that one of my clients found my anxiety blog and shared it widely. I woke in a panic, convinced that I had crossed boundaries I never would have wanted to cross. I checked to be sure that my very public blog did not in anyway contain my very private name.

I write stories about my feelings regarding certain events that, because they are tinged with the darkness of my mental illness, skew toward the negative. I say that people I know did or said little things that hurt me in ways they could not have known or expected. It is not their fault. I do not ascribe malicious intent to these events, conversations, or behaviors, but I write about them to highlight how seemingly small activities can trigger my anxiety. I then worry that people involved in those experiences will become enraged that I was honest about my own self in regard to my reaction to them. I worry that I will spark their negative self-talk. I worry that I am making it harder for someone else.

I worry that I might be too open and that someone might decide to use my words against me. I worry that I may secretly be derided for the way I have experienced certain facets of my life.

I worry that people will change who they are around me simply because I have professed anxious feelings in regards to certain minutiae.

I worry that my mother will read my blog and think I have tainted my childhood because she might cling to a specific sentence and miss the whole. She might see the tree and miss the forest.

I worry that someone might think I am lying.

My Imposter Syndrome has told me that someone might think I am making all of this up for attention and that I do not suffer as I claim to.

I worry that, when I link my posts to my Facebook page, that no one will read it or, worse, that someone, anyone, might be annoyed by another one of my posts.

Yes, my anxiety blog causes me anxiety.

My second blog post was an introductory post. I wanted to share a little about my family. Someone commented on my post critiquing my style, giving me unsolicited advice on how to improve, and telling me that I was alienating my readers. She told me to show and not tell my experiences. She said I was not revealing enough. That I should be more open and honest with my readers.

I was very gracious in my response to her, but I stood with my phone in my hand feeling a little dumbstruck.

I disagreed with her rationale. I did not see what she saw. And then, I thought, what kind of person goes to a blog about anxiety and tells the author how to write it better?

I must assume that the answer to that is “someone without anxiety.”

So, even as I write now, I am feeling anxious in case she reads this and has more critical comments to support her position.

She will probably never come back. I am sure she stumbled on my blog, said her peace, and went back into the ether, promptly forgetting her commentary. Or maybe even feeling as though she did me a favor.

I would like to thank her, though. She did do something for me, but not exactly what she thought she did.

She made me remember that part of what makes my journey difficult is that not everyone understands it. Sometimes, I am surprised by the notion that not everyone overanalyzes themselves in the way I do. Sometimes, I find it hard to believe that not everyone focuses on everyone else’s darker motives.

The truth is that not everyone has darker motives. They simply act and do without focusing on the little details because their brains do not call upon them to obsess in the way that mine does.

So while I share stories where I might feel slighted, that woman who commented on my blog with her critical eye provides some evidence that the slight is not always intentional.

I love people. I really do. I work hard to focus on the good in people. I believe that most people act in ways that they think are kind and honest and helpful to the best of their abilities.

It is my anxiety that disagrees with me.

It will always be difficult to explain the fact that I can know something completely but that my brain still needs to be convinced.

I know my blog is worthwhile, but sometimes, I have to convince my brain of that.

Luckily for me, I have received so much support for my written words that I have felt bolstered in my endeavors.

So here I am, once again, deciding to do something when my anxiety casts doubts on it.

I want to thank those of you who have read my posts. Any of them. I want to thank those of you who have reached out to me about them. Ever. I want to thank those of you who have commented on my posts. Here or anywhere I have shared them.

And I want to thank the woman who critiqued my second post.

Every moment is a lesson, and I love learning.

26 Thoughts When My Water Bottle Went Missing

1. I’m probably going to have a panic attack.

2. Nope, I’m definitely going to have a panic attack.

3. I’m going to vomit here in front of everyone. I know it.

4. What’s wrong with me?

5. What if someone threw it out?

6. Is this room running out of oxygen?

7. Oh! There’s the panic.

8. Keep breathing. Keep breathing.

9. Pretend you’re okay.

10. Smile. Smile. Laugh. Okay. Smile.

11. How could I do this to myself?

12. I can’t do anything right, can I?

13. Am I still breathing?

14. Where can I get water? Can I ask someone to get me water?

15. There’s the nausea…

16. I really need to keep a bottle of water in my bag for emergencies.

17. Code red! This is an emergency!

18. Why is my chest so heavy?

19. Am I still breathing?

20. Smile. Breathe. Smile. It’s okay.

21. No. It’s not okay.

22. I’m definitely going to die here.

23. And it’s all my fault.

24. This air is too thick to breathe. Why is this air so thick?

25. I’m better than this.

26. I said breathe! Breathe!

Today, I misplaced ubiquitous water bottle. It is black, stainless steel, and holds 26 ounces of beautiful, wonderful, sanity-saving water. I had it at one point, then my first meeting of the day started and I could not find it.

Water is my primary coping mechanism. I carry water with me everywhere. Car trips, movie theaters, long walks, short runs. I always have water. I have been in running groups where some people say they never carry water on runs of three miles or less, and I could never fathom such a decision.

I take water for three mile drives to restaurants for dinner. I need water with me at all times.

I am a fish. I dry out quickly.

I need water.

Today, I misplaced my water bottle. I could not find it anywhere. I stood in my meeting hating myself for being stupid enough to not have made sure I had it before I began. I considered the fact that my meetings were back to back this morning. That was the first and two more would happen before I had a chance to find where I had left my water. I panicked.

I felt my face flush. My shoulders felt heavy. Breathing became harder. My mind raced.

I needed water and fast. And I needed it before anyone else at the meeting knew what was happening.

At one point, I caught a break and figured out a solution. I asked a colleague to check for my water where I thought I had left it.

“Please. It’s how I maintain the appearance that I am a capable person.”

She understood.

She could not find it. She is a wonderful soul. She brought me a bottle of water from elsewhere, and I felt confident that I would survive.

I did. I made it through all three meetings this morning, only occasionally wondering where I left my water bottle.

When it comes to triggers and coping mechanisms, I have figured out much about what works for me. I cope by talking about it. I cope by being brave. I cope with water.

Figuring these things out are pivotal parts of the mental health journey. What fifteen year old me did not know is that a water bottle could change my life.

I am not saying that water can change everyone’s life if they battle anxiety, but there must be something that can help them. And knowing that something, their water, is amazing and necessary and soul-saving?

I did find my water bottle after that third meeting. It turns out that I had left it in the cup holder in my car, spout open, as it almost always is. And finally, I felt true relief.

So, dear reader, I must ask, what is your water? Have you found something that can help calm you by merely existing?

I hope that you have.