Pre-Panicking for the Busy Professional

wackystuff - flickr - CC BY-SA 2.0This morning,* I was at my computer, trying to get some work done.

I started freaking out.

I wasn’t breathing right.

My chest hurt.

I was dying. Totally dying. Right there. Right then.

Imminent death.

Except I knew I wasn’t dying.

I felt like I was dying. I was convinced I was dying.

Except I knew I wasn’t dying.

That’s the joy of a panic attack. Once I had enough of them, my brain whispers at me that I’m not actually dying. That’s it’s my brain and my body ganging up on me and trying to trick me. That it’s not real, no matter how real it feels at that moment.

Of course, my brain also tells me that maybe – just maybe – this time it’s *not* a panic attack. Maybe this time it’s for real. Maybe this time I’m going to die.

My brain really, really hates me some days.

I did what I could to hold it together, bothering some friends in a FB chat, squeezing a little squeeze toy that looks like a penis (yes, it’s awesome), and trying to distract myself.

Eventually, it either worked or the panic attack ran out of energy. Either way, I calmed down.

I had no idea what had triggered it, and I wasn’t sure if it even mattered. Sometimes there is no trigger, and I wonder if my brain and body got bored and wanted to mess with me.

Then I figured it out. I was pre-panicking for the afternoon.

Today was the last day of ESY (Extended School Year) for my son. (Check out the blog about him here…)

For those who don’t have the time to read it, here’s the summary:
ESY is Extended School Year. It’s provided for kids with special needs who would regress if they were without schooling all summer. Excellent, right? Except that, this year, it’s only four weeks long, over a twelve week summer. On top of that, it’s only four days a week. And three hours a day. So we’re looking at a whopping 48 hours. Yeah. Better than nothing, though.

Well, my son does not do well with a lack of school. He loves ESY especially, so when there isn’t any, he gets pretty upset about it.

But back to the story.

I had done a pretty spectacular job panicking for a while in the morning, so in the afternoon, once my son was home and having his own meltdown, I was good. He got upset, he wanted to go out (multiple times), and he asked and re-asked a lot of questions about when ESY would start up again.

I knew I had things to do, and I was stressed about getting them done, but overall I survived without freaking out and managed to get some hours of work done while I dealt with the semi-mass-hysteria.

Now, I’m not saying that I have precognition, but maybe my panic attacks do.

*To be fair, this was written over a week ago. So whoops. But busy. And crazy.  

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Turning Bad Advice into Good Advice – It’s No Harder Than Turning Lead into Gold

Alchemical Apparatus - Image by Wellcome [CC BY 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
“But other people have it worse…”

Well, yeah. Just like there’s always someone cooler than you, there’s always someone worse off than you. It would probably be hard to figure out who is at the single furthest point on either end of that spectrum because I’m sure it changes.

But this isn’t a contest about who has it worse. There is no competition to be in that position. I don’t know anyone who wakes up and says, “You know what? Today is the day I win the coveted title of having it absolutely worst in the universe.”

When someone says that, your first response is probably something to the effect of wanting to shout – “FUCK YOU!”

There’s another option, though.

First, consider the fact that *they* have it worse than you. They clearly have no idea of how to interact with other human beings. They are completely incapable of providing good and helpful advice.  

Second, understand that if you can’t find the good in the trite saying that gets trotted out, you’re a hell of a lot smarter than the person who said it. You’re clever enough to examine a statement and consider its implications. Score one for you!

Third, this is your chance to learn a very good lesson: ignore everyone who wants to give you advice.

Except me.

My advice is awesome.

When I realized just how fucked up my family was, part two

Image of boxes from alvimann at morguefile.comMy mother had a few aunts. I talked about Mildred in the last blog.

Now I’m going to talk about another one.

Her name was Ethel.

Her husband’s name is not important.

He was an asshole. He cheated on her, he lied to her, and he treated her bad. One of the family stories was about how he would say he was going to work, then take off to the shore with his mistress.

His dying was possibly one of the best things that ever happened to her. Yeah, he was awesome like that.

Anyway, fast forward: Ethel was older by the time I met her. My grandfather (Ethel’s brother) had gone blind and couldn’t drive anymore, so my father had started helping out. My mother and Ethel began talking more and more, and Ethel decided to give my mother a family heirloom, a rocking chair that had come over from Czechoslovakia.  

My father and I went to Ethel’s house to get the rocking chair. 

Her house.

Ethel would have made the show Hoarders even more famous than it is.

There were paths through the house – sides a few feet high, made from piled newspapers, clothing, miscellaneous boxes, bags filled with…something? I didn’t want to know.

The rocking chair was in the attic. 

We wound through the house, up the stairs to the second floor, and then opened the door to the attic.

The stairs to the attic were lined with boxes of cereal. Unopened boxes of cereal. Well, not really unopened – the tops weren’t opened, but rats and mice had gnawed through the sides and there were bits of cereal and droppings from the rodents all over the stairs.

We went up.

The attic was actually slightly less hoarder-ing than the rest of the house, probably because she was old enough that getting up those rickety stairs were too hard. She directed us from the second floor, and we were able to find the rocking chair, covered in newspapers from the 1930s. (They were super interesting and still in one piece – mostly. But we were there for the chair, so we left them behind.)

We wrestled the chair down the stairs. It was older than the newspaper that was sitting on it, so we had to be careful with it, but there was so little space that it became a very delicate balancing act of getting it to move without breaking it.

Next up – the stairs down to the first floor!

Another nerve-wracking experience, but we made it all the way down. The rocking chair was still in one piece, and we were ready to take it outside and load it into the car.

Until we opened the front door.

Well, until we tried to open the front door.

Ethel was a New Jersey gal, through and through. When it got cold, she kept piling things behind the door to work as a wind break. Since she never opened the door all the way, it hadn’t been a problem before. But it was a problem now.

I got down and started handing things from behind the door to my father. Boxes, bags, you name it.

I had just handed off a box to my father when he stopped the process.

“Ethel,” he said, “This is a box from a funeral home. It’s never been opened.”

She came over. Look at it. Took it from him. Examined it. Shook it a little.

“Oh!” she said. “That’s where Frank is!” 

She’d been using him to block the draft. He was dead as a doornail, but he’d been used as a doorstop.

It was totally an appropriate end for him – he finally did something good for her.

When I realized just how fucked up my family was, part one

Image from Pennywise at Morguefile.comIf you read this blog, you know I’m not normal. Which is okay, if you ask me. Not being normal is nothing to sneeze at.

And since I’m not normal, I joined a Facebook group named DeathHub. (Yeah, I’m totally calling them out.)

I had been reading posts there, and they all seemed to be pretty cool. No real fighting, no insulting people, none of that kind of shit.

So I posted up one of the family stories about death.

Many years ago, when I was just a little kid, one of my mother’s aunt’s husband died. We knew him, and her, too. We used to go to their house, and she would always sneak us a few dollars. When my grandfather stopped being able to help her go shopping, my father took it over.

But before she needed help shopping, before she died, before her cats died…

Her husband died.

Her name was Mildred.

His name was Cliff.

Here’s the story I told in the FB group:

When her husband, Cliff, passed away in the hospital from complications from diabetes, she didn’t claim the body. She said that she would never go visit it, anyway, so she might as well save the money.

To me, this seemed like a good way to handle it. I’m with her – bodies are just bodies. They aren’t people anymore.

Why spend all the money on a funeral and closure when you don’t need it? They had very little family around, and she didn’t want to go through with all of it. Why should she be forced into it?

I thought this was healthy. She knew how she felt. She wanted to move on. She didn’t think of it as anything bad – he was dead. It wasn’t like he cared what happened anymore.

But when I posted it up, all the responses were negative. People remarked on how sad it was, how horrible she was for doing that, and how heartbreaking it was when a body wasn’t claimed.

Instead of sharing what I thought was a kind of funny, interesting anecdote from my life, I wound up feeling crappy because of it. I got told that her feelings – and mine – were not good.

As I said before, I know I’m not normal. But this should have been a safe place. The rules of the site told people to say nice things or move on.

They did not say nice things.

They did not move on.

They left me wondering if my family is even more fucked up than I already thought it was. Was I even more fucked up than I thought I was?

Not normal is okay. But totally broken is a bit worrisome.

(Part two coming soon – it’s about another great aunt who did even worse with his husband’s remains…or maybe it was less bad? Apparently I’m bad at judging this sort of thing…)

It’s not a tumor! (Or meningitis)

Skull image from Morguefile.comUnless it is.

Okay, so if you read my blog, you know I’m crazy. I’m not telling you anything new. But this is one of my truly crazy things.

And I blame my mother.

I know, mothers (and fathers) get a horrible rep when it comes to causing problems with their kids. But in this case, it’s totally legit.

See, when I was younger, any time I had a headache that was bad, which was often since I get migraines, my mother’s first response was to worry that it was meningitis.

“Oh my god,” she would say in a realistic yet dramatic way. “What if it’s meningitis? Is your neck sore?”

And, of course, the minute she asked, my neck would be sore. Within minutes, I’d be convinced that I did, indeed, have meningitis, and I was, indeed, dying.

Obviously, it hasn’t been meningitis yet. And I’m still alive.

But now, it doesn’t matter that I know that not every headache is meningitis. (In fact, very very few headaches are meningitis.) Every time I have a headache, I am convinced it’s meningitis.

The problem is that this morning, I woke up with a headache.

It was not my typical migraine. With a migraine, one side or the other hurts like someone has shoved a spike through my eye.

This morning, it felt like someone had put a vise on my head. There was pressure coming from seemingly everywhere, and I didn’t want to move because it made me want to throw up (which is like having a migraine).

I’ve probably had a pressure headache like that before, but I couldn’t remember when.

So it happened.

Oh. My. God.

I have meningitis.

Except I’m pretty sure I don’t. I’m up and moving around. I created PowerPoints for two classes I’m going to teach. I’ve been responding to emails. I even worked on booking a craft show. And the headache is getting better (thanks to a bunch of OTC pain meds and a lot of coffee).

But…

But…

But…

What if it’s meningitis?

Ladies and gentlemen, my panic attack

Image by Ryan ClareMe to husband: I am dizzy and cold. My stomach hurts. Oh my god, I must be dying of sepsis.

Husband: You’re not dying of sepsis. Do you want a sweater?

Me: No, I can’t sit up and put a sweater on. It will make the sepsis go faster and hurry me to my doom.

Husband: I don’t think that’s how it works.

Me: You’re the one who’ll wake up next to a corpse in the morning.

Husband: I think this may be anxiety. You don’t have sepsis.

Me: Are you a doctor?

Husband: No.

Me: So there’s no way to be sure of that, is there?

Husband: No, I don’t have medical training, but neither do you. Do you want your anxiety medication?

Me: No. I’m not having a panic attack. I’m dying of sepsis.

Husband: [Sighing heavily. Getting me a sweater.]

Me: [Bemoaning my fate at the hands of a potentially fatal disease.]

[Sat up, put on my sweater, curled up, and watched “Grounded for Life” until I fell asleep.]

Hello anxiety, my old friend…

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So as I write about my panic attack last Monday, I’m having another one tonight. Ah, the joys of anxiety.

Before I begin, please understand this.

When I say panic attack and anxiety, I don’t mean a little nervous about something, or even a lot nervous about something. I mean that feeling like your heart is going to explode, and you’re sure that you’re dying, and you need to pace and shake and rattle and roll and you are sure you’re freaking out, and you may be hyperventilating, but it sure *feels* like dying, and you don’t think you’re breathing, but obviously you are if you’re hyperventilating because you can’t do that without breathing, but maybe you’re not breathing, and that just feels like you’re hyperventilating, and your heart is most definitely bursting out of your chest, and maybe you should call the ambulance, but by the time they got there you’d be dead anyway, and why is the room spinning like that?

That’s a panic attack and a moment of anxiety for me.

Except it last a lot longer than a moment. And it’s not always obvious because a lot of the time I just try to sit it out, but others time I have to pace or jiggle my leg or shake my hand or something like that. Whatever works.

But it’s not a lot of fun.

Luckily, my doctor gave me an awesome pill for it. I’m on other meds for depression, which is a whole different thing, but when my anxiety hit that moment, then I take what I’ve nicknamed my chill pill (mostly because I can’t pronounce the damn thing).

Now let me take you back to last Monday.

I like to call this story “How I Almost Didn’t Take My Son Bowling Because I Knew I’d Meet New People There.”

My son loves bowling. Most of the time. More often than not.

Back before the summer began, I bought bowling passes for both of us. It was a great deal – three games each, per day, for a super-low fee.

I made plans to go bowling.

And I made plans to go bowling

And I made plans to go bowling.

And I made…you get the idea.

Then, a friend I kind of know, but know well enough to want to hang out with, suggested that I join in on their group of bowlers. It’s a group of other moms and their kids. It’s a whole bowling league. Except, you know, not really a bowling league. Close enough.

I kept saying I would go, but then something kept me from going. I finally made it two weeks ago, and then it turned out she hadn’t been able to make it, so my son and I bowled, and he had a great time.

Last Monday rolled around.

I’d gotten into a group message on FB about the upcoming bowling. I said I’d be there. I knew my son wanted to be there. I wanted to be there.

About 45 minutes before the appointed time, I sat at my desk, looked at the message, and freaked out.

I wouldn’t know most of the people there. I’d never met them before. I could not do it.

I sat around, freaking out, thinking of how bad a mother I’d be if I didn’t take him.

I took my chill pill.

I would go bowling.

And I did! And it was fun! And the other people were nice!

To be fair, I have no memory of their names. I didn’t talk to them very much. I’m already starting to panic about going back.

But I’m going. I’m pushing through. And maybe this week it’ll be easier. And maybe next week, it’ll be even easier. And maybe, eventually, I won’t need to take a chill pill.