AM/FM

Recently we have been struggling to interpret some maladaptive behaviors our 16-year-old high-function autistic son has been demonstrating. He has been having episodes where he is profoundly disconnected from what is going on around him, he stares off, becomes non-communicative, startles, shakes, cries, wanders, can’t comply with instructions, can’t attend classes, can’t tell us what is wrong, has left school (eloped), mumbles/moves his mouth weirdly, or falls asleep. It has been scary and frustrating. We worried about seizures, but extensive neurologic testing ruled them out. We hypothesized about dissociative disorders or severe panic attacks, but nothing makes sense or adds up. We have manipulated medications and added intensive therapy. The episodes continue to come and go. He can have periods of weeks to months where he is functioning fine and then bam…the wheels fall off. Sometimes he can get back on track and sometimes he can’t. Sometimes he just snaps out of it and sometimes it leads to a progressive, downward spiral of anxiety and hopelessness.

He essentially missed the entire second half of his spring semester last year and has fallen off the academic track he was on. Special education team members have been tying themselves in knots trying to come up with behavior plans and safety measures to manage him. As his parents we have been distraught watching as the gap between our son and his same-aged peers seems to grow exponentially. Our frustration, heart-break, and worry has been almost unbearable.

For two days this week, our son demonstrated the behaviors I described above at school. Day one, he was sent home from the nurse’s office after collapsing in a bean bag chair in his support class room and refusing to get up and go to class. The next day he remained in school but was unable to attend his normal class schedule. His current behavior plan follows the model of negative consequences being applied for non-compliant behavior (i.e. not going to class or not being where he is supposed to be). Thusly he received two detentions for failing to attend his classes and a referral to the principal for corrective counselling. As his parents we have a real problem with him being punished for something that appears so clearly beyond his ability to control and so directly related to his diagnosis of autism. The school disagrees; feeling that clear behavioral expectations, following the schools code of conduct as it applies to all students, and consistent reinforcement of the plan will modify his behavior. I wish it were that simple.

This afternoon something clicked for me as I turned the situation over and over in my mind for the umpteen-millionth time. It is like my son’s brain has two settings…like an AM/FM radio. When he is tuned to FM, he is plugged into the world around him. He is bright, engaged, alert, able to follow plans/instruction, and interact with the world in ways that are very close to neurotypical. But then there are times where, for one reason or another, his switch gets flipped to AM. When that happens, he is drawn into the deeper recesses of his autistic mind (and it does not appear to be a happy place). He is disconnected from what is going on around him, he is vibrating at a different frequency, he is upset/scared/confused, he can’t function in the way he normally is able to, and he doesn’t have the ability to flip the switch back on his own. Any system of rewards or penalties, prizes or punishments that make sense in FM mode, can’t reach him in AM mode.

So what switches him back? That is the million-dollar question. And of course, I don’t have the answer. Most times he just spontaneously flips back over. The awareness comes back into his eyes, something captures his attention in a meaningful way, and presto- he’s back. Sometimes if we are lucky, we as his parents have been able to draw him back out by engaging him in conversation regarding something he is passionate about or getting his attention with a joke or a pointing out something interesting or bringing all the fuzzy pets into his room and putting them on his bed with him…but this fails just as many times as it succeeds. We try to find the triggers that convert him into his most autistic self. Sometimes there is one and we try to address it with therapy. Other times we don’t get anything. It is so incredibly frustrating for all of us trying to help him…but just imagine how terrible it must be for him. From what he tells us, when his brain switches over to AM: he feels intense fear, vacillates wildly from hypersensitivity to numbness, he wants to come out of it, knows people are trying to help him, but is unable to flip the switch back.

Today was a better day. He went to school. He went to all his classes. He served one of his detentions. He was happy and engaged. He had a good session with his psychologist. He laughed with his friends on-line tonight and was compliant with everything asked of him. He’s tuned back to FM…for now, and I am profoundly relieved. I hope he stays here for a while, but I know eventually the switch will flip again, and again, and then again. The second detention (and the next, and then next…which I’m sure will follow) won’t keep him tuned to FM. Although, they don’t flip him to AM either, so I guess it doesn’t matter. He doesn’t care. Philosophically and morally, it upsets us as his parents more because it implies that he is choosing to do wrong and is deserving of punishment. We just don’t believe that is the case. Now if he was in FM mode, didn’t comply or do what he was supposed to, and was being a typical 16-year-old boy turd, then fine he would deserve it- detention him up! That wasn’t the deal this week. But we are the adults and in the grand scheme of all we face on a daily basis with a child with special needs; there are battles we choose to let go of, so as to live on to fight another day.

Regardless, this new way I have of thinking about what we have been seeing in our son as he makes his way in the neurotypical world with an autistic brain has helped me during what has been a difficult week. It has given me a different understanding and I feel a bit more accepting of life as it is for him and us right now. Maybe it will help someone else, so I thought it might be worth sharing.

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Harebrained

I adult hard.   My days are filled with things that must be done in support of the life I have created for my family and myself.  So much time spent putting my head down and plowing through a plethora of joyless tasks; bills, work, cleaning, shopping, transporting, meetings, laundry, rinse and repeat.  I have found myself in the unusual circumstance of having my husband’s parents (of a different culture) live with us for the past 15 years.  I am raising two teens, one of whom is on the Autistic Spectrum.  I continue to grieve for a child who died 16 years ago.  Life isn’t often easy and I struggle with the relentless grind of it all.

So in an act of utter rebellion, on a spur-of-the-moment whim with no forethought whatsoever, I went out and got myself a bunny.  A  big, beautiful, useless rabbit that makes me ridiculously happy every time I look at him.  It makes no logical sense and there is absolutely no reason for him.  I have never in my life particularly wanted a bunny.   I harbor no deep-seeded “Watership Down” fantasies nor any weird Bugs Bunny fetishes.  Nope.  I am just a grown-ass woman exercising her right to do whatever she damn well pleases and apparently…having a bunny pleases me.  Who knew?

boo

My husband and children do not understand my almost euphoric love for this silly rabbit, Apollo (better known as Boo-Nae).  I am driving my Facebook friends crazy with endless pictures and videos.   Even the daily chores of caring for said rabbit, I do with enthusiasm and a light heart.  But there is something much larger at play in my reaction to this bunny.  Somehow through this selfish, irrational act of defiance towards the mundaness of life; I have reconnected to the concept of delight and unblocked a conduit within myself to joy.

There is a magic in the tactile experience of his silky soft fur, the warm weight of his body, and the rapid flutter of his heartbeat as I hold him.  There is no immunity to the infectious cuteness of his floppy ears, expressive eyes, and wiggly nose.  But bigger than both of those factors is the fun-happy-energy he puts into the room with his exuberant sideways hops, tall sits on hind legs surveying his domain, or lazy sidelying pre-nap yawns.  Total stress reduction, a disconnection from all things demanding, a reset button for my soul.

boo 2

The day to day facts and tasks of my life will continue to be as they may.  What bunny ownership taught me is that it is up to me to seek out opportunities for indulgence, gaiety, comfort, elation, and happiness.  With the new year that is upon us, I am resolving to try to pull more metaphorical rabbits out of other metaphorical hats; to lead a personal rebellion of foolishness and frivolity, and to wage a war on the drudgery and banality of my daily life.  2018 will be the year Amy rediscovered how to play.  Stay tuned.

 

 

“What if I’m Not the Hero…What if I’m the Bad Guy?”

For years now I have been writing about the trials and tribulations with my live-in-Korean-MIL.  I have told story after story of how insane she makes me.  Whether its sewing all my sheets to my mattress, farting non-stop without rebuke, or stuffing my dishwasher full of recycling…my angst has been unending.  In all these stories, I have been the put-upon protagonist: self-sacrificing, commendable, and worthy of all the sympathy shown me.   And she has been the villain: the crazy lady, the pest, the clown.   But recently, I have begun to think that perhaps I am not the hero of this piece after all.   Maybe, just maybe…I am the bad guy.

This realization absolutely coincides with a progressive devolution of my “non-relationship” with my MIL.   We don’t speak to each other, we avoid each other’s presence, and when forced to interact we are awkward at best.  I spend most of my time at home sulking in my bedroom like a sullen teenager.  I walk around behind her back flipping her the bird and making other obscene gestures.  I glory in the few hours a week she spends outside our home.  At this point- she blinks and I am annoyed.  I am definitely not being my “Oprah’s Best Self”.

So, what is it about this woman that garners such resentment, anger, and frustration?  What is she actually doing to me?  On paper, she is a 77-year-old woman who spends her entire day taking care of our home.   She does my laundry, cleans my floors, and washes my dishes.   She prepares food for anyone who will eat it, she tolerates all my pets, and makes sure that my children are safe when I am not home.  She is religiously devout, health conscious, and family focused.  And I hate her.  Why?

If I go back to the very beginning of my feelings towards my MIL, I am forced to acknowledge that I came into this relationship with some baggage.  I was dating a guy from a different cultural background.  All along, I had been told that his parents were never going to accept me or our relationship.  The fear of the unknown, mixed with a serious feeling of inadequacy, all baked in a cake of perceived rejection is not a recipe for closeness.  But reading that sentence back, (not as the terrified 22-year-old who knew nothing, but rather as the 43-year-old woman who has been through some shit) I know there is another side to the story.  What was her experience of the beginning of our relationship?  Was she afraid?  Did she worry about judgement? Did she feel that her son was rejecting her?  And more importantly, does it change things between us if I can accept the possibility that my MIL came into our relationship with the exact same set of luggage that I did?

It might be worthwhile to examine how our co-habitation came to be.  The first time my in-laws moved in with us I was 26-years-old.  We had been married just 4 years when my FIL fell horribly ill.  We thought he was going to die.  Steve and I had just bought our first home (a real “fixer upper”) and were trying to start a family.  I honestly don’t remember the conversations that lead to his parents selling everything and moving in with us.  Basically, I think it was what had to be done and so we did it.  It was stressful and weird.  I have never (until this moment) wondered what her experience of that time was.  Losing her home, giving up their store, not knowing if her husband was going to live or die, moving in with a daughter-in-law she did not know and could not communicate with.  I have no idea what her role in the decision was or how she may have felt about it.  It must have been a terrible time for her and I never considered what she was going through.

The first attempt at living together with Steve’s parents ended abruptly when our first baby was born horrifically brain injured.  In an ironic twist of fate, not six months after my in-laws faced a health crisis, had to sell everything, and move out of their home…Steve and I suddenly had our own health crisis, had to sell everything, and move out of our home.  We ended up in a small apartment near Steve’s work and his parents ended up in an apartment in another part of Philadelphia.   The response of my MIL to the short life and ultimate death of my first child did nothing to improve our already tenuous relationship.   It is traditional in most Asian cultures that if a child dies, they are buried in silence and secret.  It is considered bad luck and an indication of being a “bad family” to have such a tragedy befall you.  Best to pretend it never happened.  While I have come to understand the customs and traditions (nee ignorance) which likely formed her behavior and attitude, I still carry a resentment about it.

A few years later, we were about to relocate out of state and Steve expressed that he was conflicted about how best to continue to take care of his parents.  This conversation I distinctly remember.  We were in the car driving to his parent’s apartment for dinner and he said that no matter what happened in his life he would always prioritize his parent’s needs.  He couldn’t live with himself any other way.  And so I said, “Well then I guess they are coming with us.”  No more than 15 minutes later, we pitched the idea to his parents and within the month we all moved.   Looking back now I can see that, based on a spur of the moment decision, made after a single conversation, we took her away from the only home she had known for the past 25 years.  Away from her sisters and brothers, her church family, and everything familiar.   We brought her to a remote and rural part of New York State, practically devoid of cultural diversity.  They had to drive 90 minutes to find a church (thankfully the Army base had a small ex-pat Korean community).  And how did she respond?  She did what I imagine she has done again and again throughout her life; she quietly went about her business and adapted.   We have moved multiple times since then, always as a single-family unit, and with no significant input from her on where or when.  How difficult has this been for her?  I have no idea.  I know, for myself, that it hasn’t been easy, but at least I had a role in the decisions.  How selfish is it that I have never taken a second to acknowledge all she has been through because of my choices?

So yes…she continues to drive me bonkers on an almost daily basis.  She exerts absolute control over my kitchen, she tries to grow vegetables in my mulch beds, she pees with the door open, she rarely leaves the house, and she rocks a muumuu with men’s sweat socks and plastic sandals.  Every day of my life is a never-ending scavenger hunt for each item that she packs away in some recycled plastic bag and stows in a random closet.  She is probably going to outlive me with her diet of pickled fermented vegetables and fish…she definitely out-farts me.  But this constant irritation and angst isn’t doing me any favors. In the end, I need to take responsibility for my role in all that has gone down to bring us to this point.  I need to remove my blinders, get out of my own head, get off my high-horse, and look at her as a whole human being with her own experiences and feelings.  She is not the caricature that I have created for you all.   She deserves my empathy, compassion, and respect.  Perhaps if I can pause to remember that during the moments of high-irritation, things will get better.   I will keep you posted.   And don’t worry…I will still tell you about all the crazy shit that goes down.  It’s too funny not to share.

 

 

**Full Disclosure:  The title of this piece is stolen from “Twilight”….I’ll always be Team Edward.

Down Boobies

In one of those “kids say the darndest things” moments, my then 5-year-old daughter sat in the bathroom as I was getting out of the shower, tilted her head to the side and innocently asked, “Mommy, how did you get down-boobies?”  I instantly had a flashback to a bath I’d taken as a small child with my paternal grandmother and recalled the curiosity I had about her set of “waaayyyy down boobies”.   Horrified at the possible comparison, I looked down into the angelic face of the little boob-wrecker in front of me and told her, “From you baby…I got them from you.”   Now, almost eight years later I am sitting in a different bathroom, as my darling daughter is getting out of the shower, and I am equally horrified by the sight of her budding booblets and what that means for the both of us.

My personal relationship with the “titular” items in this piece has been a rocky one from the beginning.  I was never one of those young girls who stood naked in front of her mirror twisting this way and that longing for the day there would be evidence of sprouting.  Perhaps that is why the universe thought it would be a hoot to send me an extra-large set of sweater stretchers.  While I didn’t pay much attention to them at first, the same can’t be said of my male peers.  Matters weren’t helped by the fact that I was active with my school swim team, which enjoyed above average attendance at meets and many prying eyes during practices.

I was in 8th grade when “the girls” started getting more attention than I was.  I wasn’t popular.  I was an average-looking, bookish, more-than-averagely insecure young girl.  I didn’t have boys passing me notes via their friends, “Do you like me? Yes or No- Circle One.”  I wasn’t asked to slow dance during those awkward middle school events.  Eventually, I became a little desperate for a boy (any boy) to like me.  So, when they started making comments and picking me out of the crowd, a part of me liked it.  Attention was attention.  Even if that attention had an inappropriate-pervy-sexual harassmenty-overtone, it was better than nothing.  In retrospect, I feel lucky that it never went much beyond ogling and name calling.  It was a dangerous road I was inadvertently tiptoeing down and while sexual assault isn’t a part of my story…many other girls can’t say the same.  As a fully formed woman in the current day and age, I can clearly see it was not a healthy situation for a young lady.  Yet, that I was willing to take whatever attention I could get still makes me feel ashamed of myself, in a “blame the victim” or “you must have been asking for it” sort of way.

College brought a bit of a reboot in the on-going saga of me and my llamas.  Frankly it was a welcome relief.  I was suddenly a big-boobed fish in a much larger pond with many more other boobed fish of all shapes and sizes.  I also noticed that as the boys got older, their appreciation for boobs got subtler…akin to the progressive development in the tastes of the connoisseurs of the finest wines perhaps.  Maybe not being as hormonally charged…they were just better able to keep their comments to themselves and I didn’t hear any public pronouncements about my personal pom-poms after that.  It was a good time for me.

Honestly, besides personal pleasure and playtime, being a well-endowed woman is mostly just a total pain in the ass.  Clothes don’t fit, dresses are impossible to find, button-up blouses gap, and minimizing bras are not cute.  Wearing two sports bras to get on a treadmill is no fun and trying to take them off afterwards without strangling yourself takes skills that would make a contortionist jealous.  They serve as little more than the perfect landing zone for spills and dribbles…making a “Tide-to-Go” pen a busty woman’s best friend.

To add insult to potential personal injury, my bouncing buddahs never actually served their physiological purpose!  I was a breast-feeding flunky.  When Gavin was born, I tried to nurse him which ended in both of us having a meltdown.  I can’t blame the poor kid…none of us knew that he was autistic and that the sensory over-load of my massive milk makers was way too much.  When he freaked out (doing a fine impersonation of a crack baby), the breast-feeding consultant actually said to me, “You can trust me and tell me if you were taking any illegal drugs while you were pregnant.”   That was the end.  I sent her packing, pulled out my double-barreled electric momma-milker, and started pumping like a pro.   But even that solution went “tits-up” after a few weeks.

While I was going for the World’s Record for the most milk pumped in the span of a week, what I failed to notice was the progressive “yellowing” of my brand-new baby boy.   When folks would remark on his curious coloring; I just laughed it off and said, “No silly!  He’s just Asian.”   I was such a moron…he wasn’t coming into his “Asian-ness”- he was jaundiced…duh!  This was confirmed by his highly competent pediatrician at his first checkup.  We tried everything…the glo-worm blanket, putting him in the sun, more frequent feedings; but none of it worked.  He was getting more “non-Asian yellow” by the minute.  You know what finally turned it all around in only half a day?  Formula.  Goddamn outta the can commercial baby formula.  That was all it took.  I shutdown my dairy that same day.  I wore ice packs in my bra for a week and then moved the hell on.   With my next baby, I banished the Le Leche Nazi’s from my room immediately upon their descent.  I told the nurses to crack open the nearest can of formula, pop a top in it, and we happily went on our way with no further mishaps.

My boobs have basically been in retirement ever since.  For those of us with heftier hindenbergs; age and gravity are not our friends.  For reason’s unbeknownst to me, my breasts have been expressing a desire to relocate themselves to enjoy the sunset of their lives.  Like many of their fellow retirees, they have decided to head south.  Or in the event that I am laying down, they are happy to settle on either coast.  I remember seeing an article once about a boob test to see if you could hold a pencil under the fold beneath.  Ha!  I can hold a whole 64 box of Crayola’s (with built-in sharper)…does that mean I win?  I don’t think so.  Oh, well.  At this point, all I care about is being comfortable and preventing my bosoms from growing some cancer that will try to kill me.   Anything else is fine.

So now here I am, watching my daughter start her own journey with her body as a woman in this world.  I wish I could spare her from her insecurities, protect her from the dangers out there, and most importantly somehow ensure her health and well-being.   But I can do none of those things.  All I can do is be here, a sister in solidarity, a wise elder who has been through some things of her own, and only hope that she will be able to laugh in the face of it all.

Where Have You Been?

2016 was not one of my banner years…and yet in some ways it was the best year I’ve had in a long time.   That says more about my recent (bad) years than the actual merits of 2016.  Perhaps it was the progressive erosion of the soul over my 43 years on the planet?  Maybe it was the accumulation of metaphorical baggage in my life that finally broke me down?  Likely, it was a little bit of both.  It doesn’t much matter…if I had gotten “too big” or “too small” for this life.  The result was the same. Total collapse.

Sounds dramatic, huh?   It wasn’t.  It was just a routine Monday about 6 months ago when I woke up in a cold sweat and decided I just couldn’t do it anymore.  It resulted in a tearful phone call to my husband telling him I was freaking out and didn’t know what to do.   It turned into him asking me to breath, try taking a walk, and see if I could get through the day until he got home.   It was me somehow getting through my day on nothing more whispered foxhole prayers every 5 minutes.  It ended at a support group meeting that night, being taken in by a group of women who somehow knew exactly what I was going through, and who then proceeded to carry me through the next few months of rediscovering and rebuilding myself.

How I ended up “a bug splattered on the cosmic windshield of the universe” is irrelevant.  In the end, I think it was the toxic combination of genetics, trauma, dysfunctional relationships, and maladaptive behaviors that did me in:  anxiety/fear, grief, responsibility, perfectionism, alcohol/food, inactivity, avoidance, anger, insomnia, withdrawal/isolation.  In a nutshell…LIFE.  It was too much for me.  I wanted out.  I didn’t want to die, but I also knew I couldn’t do even one more day in the prison of my own unhappiness.

More interesting than the “slow-speed car-wreck” that was my personal breakdown, is the glue that has managed to put this Humpty Dumpty back together again and the life I am trying to live now.  What truly brought me to my knees was isolation, fear, and spiritual neglect.  So, it is no surprise that what brought me back was connection, honesty, and spiritual reawakening.  I stumbled upon a community of like-minded women who helped me feel safe enough to re-engage, to make myself open/vulnerable, and beat back my powerful self-reliance which had overgrown its usefulness (leaving me alone and terrified).  Having that base of support allowed me to face some difficult truths about myself, my life, and my choices.   It gave me the confidence to get honest, both with myself and the other people in my life.  It empowered me to make changes with a clarity of mind that had been beyond me for years.  And most importantly, I came to understand that I had been devoid of spiritual growth for more than a decade.  I have since been able to reconstruct my understanding of the universe, my place in it, and my purpose on the planet in a way that works in my life to bring serenity and acceptance (most days).

So, what does that look like, in practical terms?  Well, for me…I start and end my day with meditation, reflection, intention setting, humility, and gratitude.  Throughout the day I work to stay connected with others, to contribute in whatever way I can to the positivity of the universe, and to let go/accept those things which are beyond my scope or control (which it turns out is most everything).  And the bottom line is, I feel better.   For the first time in a long time, I can say that I feel good.  Life is far from perfect.  I am far from perfect.  This essay is far from perfect.  But it is honest, it reflects where I am at spiritually, and it hopes to connect in some small way…so I know it will all be alright.

Twitter Guns

In this age of social media we have become accustomed to letting our rage flow.  From behind the curtain of our electronic devices, we feel we have the right to be as aggressive and hostile as we want.  When angered, we are able to instantaneously lash out with little-to-no thought of the consequences.  We attack from afar.  Essentially, we carry out verbal drone strikes from the cozy confines of our inner sanctums.  By definition, a drone strike’s goal is to kill the opponent, but killing your enemy rather than engaging them in diplomacy has been proven time and again to be losing tactic.

Anger management is a skill.  We are not born with an innate ability to mitigate our frustration.  Anyone who has raised a child will tell you that hell hath no fury like a toddler during a tantrum.  Yet in today’s society, control over one’s fury is a muscle that is atrophying to the point of extinction.  We are losing the ability to self-sooth or decompress from even the most benign of irritations (i.e. road rage, Chuck E. Cheese fights, youth sports parents).

So if we are unable to wrangle our anger over the most inconsequential of annoyances, how can we possibly expect people to remain rational when faced with situations of sincere violation, fear, or wrongdoing?   From which skill set are we supposed to draw the control necessary to respond in meaningful ways that will bring about solutions?  And now let’s add guns into the equation.

Guns allow us to kill without laying our hands upon one another.  They allow us to kill from a distance.  In the moment, you are instantaneously able to strike down your foe without actual physical contact.  Hmmm…sound familiar?   Add to that our growing desensitization to violence from media and entertainment; it is no wonder that it is open season on American’s in conflict.  A gun is a much easier tool with which to release one’s hostility than going through the high level functioning required to reach a peaceful resolution.

But then again, what the F*&^ do I know?  I am a white, suburban, middle-class, middle-aged, college-educated, mother of two.  I have never worried about my husband/father/brother/son being killed during a routine traffic stop.  I have never worried about my loved one being shot in the line of duty.  I have never been the victim of violence or a hate crime.  I have never had to tell my children that if they are approached by police officers, they need to do whatever they are told because they could get killed.  I have never feared for my life because someone near me was brandishing a gun.  I have never worried that my child would be killed just because of his or her sexual orientation or gender identity.  I have never been on a terror watch or no-fly list. I have never been concerned about my teenage son going out for a walk wearing a hoodie.  I find each and every one of these examples abhorrent and infuriating.  And if I was subjected each and every day to any one of these things and then given access to a weapon…I just don’t know what I’d do.

Maybe I am being naive, but I would hope that in that moment I would somehow be able to see that change can still happen and that help was coming.  So perhaps this is one small thing that this white, suburban, middle-class, middle-aged, college-educated, mother can do to try and help…

Black Lives Matter.   Love is love.  Freedom of Religion.  Blue Lives Matter.  Gender Equality.  Education for All.  Eliminate Hate.  Peace is Possible. Separation of Church and State.  Decriminalize Addiction.  Reform Healthcare.  End Income Inequality.  Gun Control Now.  Reproductive Freedom.

This is what I believe and this is how I vote and this is how I still have hope that things will change.

The Rime of the Ancient Worrier

My albatross is named Anxiety.  She has been with me from my earliest days; first taking the form of parental separation anxiety.  Pulling stunts that would make Houdini proud- getting out of my crib/bed so I could sneak into my parent’s room at night.  Throwing tantrums like a coked-out starlet when being left with a babysitter.  Even famously allowing my hand to be slammed in a door in an attempt to go the hospital so I could see my mother after she had given birth to my sister.    Yup…I had it bad.

Fast forward a few years and my anxiety started to morph into something more psychosomatic. I was in the 4th grade when I was promoted into the “Gifted and Talented” program at my school. (P.S. WTF- were the other kids “Dull and Useless”?) Anyway, somewhere along the line I got it in my head that I would be kicked out of the program if I ever got below an 80% on any test or quiz.  By the middle of that year, I started having headaches and stomach aches.  I spent more time in the nurse’s office and days out of school than ever before.  My parents took me to a doctor, worrying that I had some horrible disease.  The doctor informed them that I was working on an ulcer and headed for hypertension at the ripe old age of 10.  Not too long after that our family made a radical move to a rural town and a much more low-key lifestyle.  It helped; for a while.

Adolescence is a time during which anxiety consumes almost everyone.  Hormones are flooding our systems, social dynamics are fraught with drama, and emotions are all over the place.  And that is if you are a typical person.  If you start out struggling with anxiety as a child and then hit puberty….it can be a total disaster.  Interestingly enough, it was during this part of my life I discovered that if I didn’t let it get out of hand, my anxiety could actually give me an edge.  I swam faster and won more races when I was sick with nervousness beforehand.  In clutch situations- I learned to channel my anxiety and flip the switch in order to nail the presentation, ace the test, or give perfect performance.  It actually got to the point where I looked forward to the flutter in my gut, the acceleration of my heartrate, and the buzz in my ears.  It meant that it was go time.  That trick served me very well for a number of years.

What I didn’t know then and what I learned the hard way much later; was that one day the bill for all that shoved down anxiety was going to come due in a big way and it wasn’t going to be pretty.  It all came to a screeching halt my final semester of my senior year in college when the panic attacks started.  It sounds so stupid, but I honestly had no idea what was going on at first.  It wasn’t as simple as “super-stressful event A is happening” so now I am having “panic attack B.”  The way it worked for me was I would be anxious and hyper-prepare for “stressful event A”.  The time would come, I would feel fine, and would perform superbly during the task. But when I was alone again and all was quiet- I would breakdown into a clammy, nauseated, heart-racing, loose-bowelled, crawl-out-of-my-skin, shaking, crying mess.  It was awful and I thought I was going to die.

Anxiety’s sister is called Isolation.  If you want to get fancy and use her full name, it is Agoraphobia.  When you start having panic attacks, you will do ANYTHING to make them stop and avoid having another.  You naturally begin to shrink your world down to the most critical elements in order to avoid the triggers that lurk around every corner.  I knew that I had obligations and responsibilities.  I was in graduate school and newly married.  I went to classes because I had to, but then I rushed home and refused to leave.  I couldn’t go to movies or a restaurant because I was afraid I would have a panic attack in public.  I couldn’t visit friends because I might “get sick” in front of them. It actually got to the point where the only place I felt safe was in the bathroom of our small apartment.   I was so lucky that my young husband didn’t walk about on me, but rather he reached out and found someone who could help.

20 years ago I started seeing my therapist.  She taught me about the nature and mechanics of anxiety; gave me tools to use in order to start taking my life back and helped me see the patterns in my life that were contributing to my fears.  I continue to see the same therapist to this day.  I don’t think you can ever be “cured” when you have a clinical anxiety disorder.  For me it has taken on more of a relapsing and remitting pattern in my life- coming to the surface during the challenges, tragedies, and struggles I have faced over the years.  So in a way, I guess you can say that I have “domesticated” my albatross.  I have learned her ways, know how to handle her when she acts out, I have made peace with that fact that I will co-exist with her for the rest of my life.