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August 2, 2017

Over this summer, I moved. Moving stirs up all kinds of clutter and a dear friend who is organizationally blessed came to help me. She brought me selection of tubs with lids in all sizes. At first, I did not quite know how to deal with all of these organizational devices. I looked at my piles of stuff, piles that needed to be gone through, sorted, decluttered, and put in proper places. I had a habit of leaving things in my line of sight that needed to be dealt with to force myself not to ignore them; to tackle the problems head on. But these piles overwhelmed me and my kids needed the precious hours that I had to organize, so I pulled out a tub and I piled the clutter into one. I closed the lid and labeled it with the general genre of the crap. Then I did that again and again. Soon I had a very neat stack of closed tubs. My room looked organized. It was of course a sham because in those tubs, my mess of a life still existed, but for the time being, I could move past it towards the more pressing needs of my family and job.

I realized that I can wait to deal with the mess. I can hide it and bring it back out when I have the time to tackle it.

The summer passed and the school year started and it was a very rough start. There was a major upset in my class schedule that caused a week of sleepless nights trying to fix. When that week was done, I had a 2nd sleepless week with the stress of my mother-in-law coming to visit and then my brother being hospitalized. Two weeks of insomnia. I started to fear the nights, knowing that I would find no rest but only lay awake with my heart racing. My health was starting to fail. I was becoming a burden to my family, unable to function properly. I was making major mistakes at work. Hopelessness began to settle in that there was no way to find relief from the intensity of my anxiety.

I told a friend what was happening. She understood. She knew life gets really hard sometimes. She gave me a Xanax and I slept for the first time in weeks.

But the next night, without the Xanax, I didn’t sleep.

I went to my nurse practitioner and told her what was happening.

She told me all about anxiety and how it manifests itself in different people.

“You seem functional,” she said. “Some people come in here and just cry, but you are dressed for work with your makeup on and no one would know. You can hide it all day and push through but when the nights come, your body is still pushing through and can’t stop.”

Did I seem functional? I had heard that a few times when I was having a major anxiety episode. They last for days, weeks, even once for months, yet people had claimed to be surprised that I was unhealthy. How could they not see it? How many other people are walking around with this invisible illness?

She told me about the Xanax and how it wasn’t a long term solution. It functions like alcohol in your system and can be damaging.

Alcohol is the most common and most accepted anti anxiety med out there. Social anxiety? Have a drink. Stressed out about work? Happy hour. Men love their beer. Women love their chardonnays. Our society is fine with treating a serious mental health issue with alcohol but still not ok with admitting that we have a worldwide epidemic of mental illness.

Alcohol is fine. Suffering from depression and anxiety will label you as a crazy person though so drink up and hide the real issue.

And alcohol had been destroying my family for generations. It was why my brother was hospitalized, it had destroyed my childhood, and my parents’ childhoods. For generations, my people had been suffering from anxiety and using liquid Xanax to medicate.

All of this hit me while this nurse leaned in towards me in her chair and spoke with earnestness that there are ways to treat my anxiety that are safer than what I was doing.

She said my serotonin levels were off and she wanted to give me Lexapro to stabilize them. She said it was safe and non addictive.

Mood altering drugs scare me. Addiction runs in my family, but I had to trust her. She said it was safe and right now, I was unsafe. I was falling apart, unable to handle the adrenaline that constantly pumped through my body.

The anxiety had always been there, but when I had kids, it worsened. Everything was scary. I was hyper sensitive to my kids and very protective. If my husband yelled at them, I went into full mother bear mode and attacked him to turn him on me instead of them. I protected them even when I knew I was being irrational and even hurting them in the process by not allowing my husband to parent.

This past year, things get even worse. Everything was personal. Every criticism at work was a personal attack on the core of my being. I dissected benign comments from friends, working them over and over in my head for days on end. My empathy, which was once a gift, was in overdrive and I felt everything anyone around me felt. If a friend was going through a rough time, I felt her anguish and took it as my own and then took as my fault.

My friend Gabe is bipolar. I loved Gabe. He was a high school crush and the most sensitive of hearts. When he was manic, he was wild and without a care but when he went low, he told me he would watch the news and feel convinced that everything bad in the world was his fault. He knew it wasn’t rational, but that is what his brain was telling him.

I get what he felt now.

Feeling for others was once a good thing, but I had crossed over into too much feeling and was becoming a sick burden on those I loved.

Not being a burden is important. Humans should be useful when they can. My brain was stopping me from being useful. I couldn’t mother because I was exhausted from feeling. I couldn’t be a good friend because I felt every pain told to me and it hurt too much to listen. I couldn’t teach because….well….this one isn’t so easy.

Last year, I started school with the heaviest of hearts because my student Tyler took his own life. I loved Tyler. There is not enough alcohol or Xanax to numb to brokenness I feel when I think of Tyler. For him, I want to love my students and really feel for them, but because of Tyler, I am also terrified. My heart is raw and open. I am not ready to love another student like I loved him. Without something to numb the pain, my heart really will break and I can’t teach broken.

To be a mother, wife, and teacher, I needed to put some things in a tub for awhile.

I’ve been taking the Lexapro for a month now and it works. I feel less. The nervousness is less. I am not feeling constantly flooded by emotion. My life looks much better from the outside and I am a more functional parent, wife and teacher.

There are downsides though. My empathy, which has always been heightened, is numbed. Last night, my husband had to tell me that my son was upset because I had no idea. I went outside to find him in his tree fort, crying. The non drugged me would not have had to be told that my son was hurting.

And I wonder if I will miss those things that really matter. Will I be able to feel the pain of my students so that I can get them help when they are struggling? Or will I miss their pain and lose another one?

What is the risk of not feeling?

Gabe didn’t like to take his medication because it made him feel “not him.” But Gabe didn’t fit in our world when he wasn’t on his meds.

I was being too much “me” and too much of me is more than my world needs right now. I can’t fit.

Since I have to fit, I have to take the meds. Just for awhile.

But there will come a time when I will open the lid back up and pull out all these feelings and sort through them, declutter them and put them where they need to go.

Just not today.





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  1. Christina permalink

    First, this is excellent. You are great at this. But second, taking medication is not hiding your mess in a tub. We are not broken people, but are chemicals are broken. Wearing a cast for a broken bone is not refusing to deal with the problem. It’s treating the problem. You appear normal because you are. You don’t feel normal because your chemicals are not normal. You can learn strategies to structure your life and reactions to minimize the impact of the chemical imbalance, but taking medicine is not hiding from that. ❤

    • You are of course correct, my friend. It’s hard to undo the programming that medicating is hiding. When the chemicals calmed down, like a broken bone healing, I did go off the meds. But they were needed at the time and taking meds you need for a very real condition is not hiding.

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