A Rough Christmas

I remember when I loved Christmas. There are pictures of me as a kid standing next to a pile of presents as tall as me. The cookies, the lights, the music…I loved it all.

And then I started to have panic attacks, and the holidays meant something completely different to me.

Stress.

Not that there aren’t aspects of Christmas that I don’t still love. I just have a harder time enjoying it all.

This Christmas started out pretty well. I took a Clonezapam before Lee drove us to Houston, and seeing family was fun.

But what I was truly looking forward to was a night with my husband. Alone. No dogs, just us. And a roaring fireplace that we could sleep next to.

My mom graciously came to Austin to stay with our dogs while we went to stay in Houston and offered her place to stay for the night.

It was cold and rainy when we started off for Mom’s place, and I was a bit weary, but I was looking forward to the crackling of the fire.

Then I forgot which gate to enter my mom’s apartment complex. We parked in what I thought was Mom’s parking space, walked three flights of stairs, and found that we were at the wrong building.

We drove around a little while and finally called Mom to ask for directions. By this time it was not only cold and rainy, but foggy as well. Yet I still held on to the image in my head of relaxing with Lee to get me through.

We made it to her apartment and then it hit us. We don’t have a key. We forgot to get the house key.

And then I lost it. I was cold, tired, and I needed peace and quiet.

Trying to get a hotel room on Christmas Eve night? Impossible.

We ended up back at Lee’s parents’ home. They were kind enough to let us sleep on our air mattress in the kitchen, but it was hard for me to sleep.

It’s hard enough for me to sleep with just Lee and the dogs in the room, but seven other people in the house besides us?

Luckily I was exhausted from the panic, but the downward spiral kept going…even through today.

Today we are home. Today I should be happy and relaxed. Today I’m on edge. And depressed.

I tried retail therapy, but couldn’t find anything I liked. I even dyed some fiber, but that didn’t cheer me up, either.

I’m grateful that I have an appointment with my psychiatrist in a few days. It may be time to take a look at my meds.

Or maybe the ghost of Christmas will stop haunting me by then.

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To be or not to be…alone?

Today’s prompt from BlogHer:

Do you enjoy being alone? Would you rather be around other people?

I used to think that my agoraphobia meant that I HAD to be alone. That I couldn’t stand to be around other people. I thought that, if I ever married, my husband and I would have to live in two houses next to each other so I could sleep alone at night.

And when I feel sick, even if it’s anxiety-related, I want to be by myself.

But I’m learning to handle things a bit better around people. Because, truly, I don’t want to be alone.

I mean, I like “me” time as much as the next person. But while I used to want to go solo, I don’t anymore. I think it’s because of the wonderful friends I’ve met, including my husband. I love being around them.

 

My Last Trip to Houston

When I was in college, before MySpace or Facebook, there were bulletin boards. I don’t remember how I found out about them, but I decided one day to set up a profile.

My profile name? Eros Turannos.

I had just read the poem by Edwin Arlington Robinson in my poetry class and thought it would be a good username.

What I didn’t realize, because I was very naive, was that men stopped at “Eros” and immediately thought I was promiscuous. It was annoying and upsetting.

However, I did meet a few people online who were nice, and one who I thought hung the moon.

His name was Mike, and he lived in another state. Our first phone call lasted several hours. We found that we had the same sense of humor, liked the same books, and were in sync on many things.

He wanted to come visit me, but I couldn’t go through with it. I was too nervous. As much as I liked Mike, I was still an agoraphobic. Even if I didn’t really know it yet.

Mike decided to visit another bulletin-board friend and ended up having a layover in Houston. He asked me if I would come see him at the airport. This was before 9/11, so I would be able to meet him at the gate.

I said I would, but it took a heck of a time to get to Houston Intercontinental. I was so nervous and turned around to go back to Huntsville at least three times.

When I finally got there, I had to run to the gate. I recognized him immediately. He was sitting reading Jurassic Park and was wearing the fluorescent orange hat he told me to look for.

We had only a few minutes to say hello in person for the first time. There was already a boarding call announced. We quickly kissed and then he was gone. Our relationship, whatever it was, didn’t last, but that moment stands out in my mind.

I didn’t travel to Houston for several years after that whirlwind trip. But the fact that I had made it to Houston and back was an accomplishment, and that was all that mattered.

25 Years Ago Today…

…my mom and I flew from Rochester, New York, back to my hometown of Houston, Texas. We were able to move in to the house I grew up in, with the same neighbors giving us support.

I remember how it felt to go to school with a lot of the same people, but noticing they saw me in a different light. I was no longer just “Merrie.” I was “Merrie, the one with divorcing parents.” It felt like a stigma.

It was around this time that I started having panic attacks. I know they appeared before we left upstate New York, but they became more prevalent in my life after we left.

Twenty-five years ago I was 13. I still can’t believe I’ve been dealing with panic disorder for this long, but I hope that things are finally taking a turn for the better.

I don’t want to experience panic attacks for another 25 years.

 

The Closet

Whenever one is faced with a justifiable threat, that person experiences fight-or-flight symptoms. Say you’re walking along a path and you encounter a bear. My first instinct would be to flee.

Even when there’s no justifiable threat, I sometimes have the urge to run away. But sometimes there’s nowhere to run to.

Except for the closet.

I have holed myself up in a closet a few times. It’s not because I wanted to be in a small, enclosed space. It’s only because that was the only place I could escape to.

Both times I remember happened at college. The first time was at my freshman orientation. My mom was in a hotel nearby, but I couldn’t stay with her. I had to stay in the dorm. With another person sleeping in the room.

Growing up as an only child, I didn’t sleep with anyone else in the room. The only time I was in that situation was if I had or went to a slumber party, or I went on a camping trip with my dad.

So being in new surroundings with a stranger made it harder for me to fall asleep. The “What If” thoughts ran through my head, and I struggled with wanting to run away.

Instead, I went into the closet with a pillow, a blanket, and my headphones. I stayed up all night.

In the morning, the other girl’s mother came to pick her up and I remember her saying, “She’s been in the closet all night.” I felt ashamed, but I stayed in the closet until they left. I don’t remember if I told mom what I did, but I can picture that night vividly.

The second instance happened during my first few days in college. I wanted a private dorm room, but one wasn’t available yet, so I had a roommate. She was very nice and, other than adjusting to sleeping with another person in the room, I didn’t mind living with another person.

I was nervous about going to one of my classes. K and her boyfriend were hanging out in the room, and the urge to flee hit me so hard I didn’t know what to do. I said, “Excuse me” and went into the closet with my headphones. I’m sure K thought I was mental, but she never said a word and for that I am grateful.

I got a private room shortly after and didn’t have to resort to the closet again.

It may happen again, where I feel like I have to get away, but I’m hoping that I will be able to deal with my anxiety instead of hiding away.

Tools for Anxiety

Tonight is the second time in a row that I’m hanging out with a friend. And, of course, I’m all kinds of nervous.

This is the first time J has been to our house, and I’ve never had dinner with him. That is, he has never seen me eat. I don’t know why that bothers me, but I have had people comment on how little I eat. I tend to pick at my food when I’m nervous.

It’s not that I’m dreading this dinner. On the contrary; I’m excited. J is hilarious. He and I have the same sense of humor, and I know that he and Lee will get along great. Plus, he and his partner are dog people. They will fall in love with Blue and Buddy.

I’m always anxious about people coming over. I don’t want to feel ill and leave Lee to be the entertainer. After all, I was the one to invite J and D over.

So, I’m using mental tools that my counselor has given me to handle my anxiety, and even diminish it a few points. (Remember the scale from yesterday?)

First, I look around and determine whether there is a justifiable threat. With the exception of a scorpion I killed earlier, there is no threat. The house is clean, Lee is cooking his favorite food, and the dogs are relaxing.

Then I determine what is causing my anxiety. Is it a physical sensation? No. Is it caused by thoughts? Yes. I’m having anticipatory anxiety.

What is my anticipatory anxiety about? Being ill while J and D are here.

Can I predict 100% that I will get sick while J and D are here? No.

Then I focus on my breathing. This will help me lower my anxiety.

These tools aren’t always foolproof. And it will take me a bit to take in that things are OK and that I need to live in the present moment. But I’m still looking forward to tonight.

It’s going to be a good night.

The Mother of All Issues

What did you want to be when you grew up?

Other than an actress or a banker, I wanted to be a teacher. I had my own chalkboard; I would hold classes with the kids on my street. I used the books that I had from kindergarten to tutor other kids how to read.

My other wish was to work with animals. But I didn’t want to be a veterinarian. I wanted to be a zookeeper. I wanted to work with exotic animals, and I would ask my parents for a pet. We already had a dog and a cat, and because my tastes were exotic, my mom would tell me, “When you grow up and live on your own, you can have (an iguana, a ferret, etc.).”

My parents finally relented when I was in sixth grade and I got an aquarium. I started off with fish, but that didn’t last long. The first time one of the fish died, I was devastated. I got used to the circle of life, but then all the fish died. What to do with an empty aquarium? Hermit crabs!

I had hermit crabs on and off through college, but they didn’t really satisfy my need for a warm-blooded creature that wanted to sit on my lap.

My ex bought me a hamster, which died quickly after I got him from a disease, then a gerbil which lasted a few years. After we had been in Austin for a while, we decided to adopt a couple ferrets.

Smokey and Bandit

Smokey (black nose) and Bandit (pink nose) were awesome. They played together, they slept in the same hammock, and they hid toys in our couch.

After the divorce, the ferrets came to live with me. By the time I started dating Lee, Bandit was diagnosed with insulinoma and I had to give him liquid steroids twice a day. The good part was that Bandit liked the taste, so all I had to do was hold him in my arms and he took every drop.

After Lee and I had been together for a while, we adopted a Red-Bellied parrot. It was our first joint purchase. I didn’t ever think of myself as a “bird” person, but Floyd won my heart. He was kind of a loner, but he was putty in L’s hands. The adorable coos of delight when L gave Floyd scritches (bird community term) were adorable.

Floyd getting scritches from his dad

It wasn’t long before we decided to adopt another parrot. Lee had done extensive research to find the kind he wanted, and decided on a Jardine. One day we went to Gallery of Pets and, lo and behold, there was a Jardine baby for sale. We went to the area where all the baby birds were hanging out, the Jardine ran over to us and stepped on a young Cockatoo’s head to get our attention. We couldn’t resist, and Jules came home with us six weeks later.

Hanging out with Jules

The birds were just the beginning. Once we bought a home, we got guinea pigs and fish, and most recently we adopted two dogs.

So now we have a zoo. In a way, I’ve made one of my dreams happen…in a roundabout sort of way.

A lot of women dream of being mothers. I didn’t really have that aspiration growing up, and when I was in college I only thought of having kids with certain men.

The first time I got married, my then-husband was so gung-ho about having kids as soon as possible that I got caught up in the fervor. The opportunity never happened, and once we got divorced I was grateful that we didn’t have kids. I didn’t want to ever see or talk to him again.

Once I met Lee, we wanted the same things. One of those was to not have children. Not that we didn’t love kids. Lee has a wonderful family full of nieces, cousins, and a nephew. I was so excited that I was going to be an aunt. But both of us have anxiety issues and initially thought that being parents was not for us.

That thought changed for a while and we agreed to try to have a child. I knew Lee would be an amazing father, and he told me that he knew I would be a good mother when he saw me cradling Bandit in my arms while I gave him medicine.

We were unsuccessful in trying to have biological children and thought about adoption. I talked with a couple women who advocated adoption and gave us a lot of information about traveling this path.

But the longer I thought about it, the more I became anxious. Children are amazing, but they are also a full-time commitment. Even if we adopted an older child, which we had planned to do, it came with other obstacles.

When adopted Blue, our first dog, I had a breakdown. Not because I didn’t want a dog, but because she was like a child to me. Totally dependent on me, filled with separation anxiety, and loved me unconditionally. I was filled with so much joy and fear at the same time.

Blue in her favorite spot in the car

We adopted Buddy a couple months later so that Blue could have a playmate. It has worked out well, but it hasn’t been without trials. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t change anything.

Buddy's first day with our family

With all of these animals, I realized that I don’t want to be a mother. That it would be too stressful. That I would be a nervous wreck.

It’s taken me a while to be OK with that. But I am.

 

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