A few days ago I serendipitously ran into an old friend at a coffee shop. I had just come from my monthly check-in appointment with my psychiatrist, and headed to the coffee shop to do my usual 2-hour burst of work while Chris was at home putting Clare down for a nap.
We of course exchanged the usual “How are yous” – and because my friend has such an open demeanor I felt like I could say “I’m doing really well…but I just came from my psychiatrist and I always worry when I’m doing well that I’m one misstep away from a crash.” Rather than just the typical “good” or “fine.”
Which is a hard thing to explain to anyone who doesn’t struggle with mental ups and downs. Luckily Kathryn is just the person to not only understand that feeling but also give me some sound advice/thoughts about being in that state.
You see, much of my adult life has been characterized by bursts of busy-ness filled with lots of “get it done” attitude followed by a spiraling crash, breakdown, illness, etc. In college it usually manifested itself as sickness…and in my jobs out of college, I think it a lot of it was emotional turbulence and anger. (I know I’ve mentioned it a zillion times in these posts, but I really hated the corporate-like-looks-like-societal-success jobs I held just out of school.) They literally felt like they were sucking my soul. At one point I added a master’s program that I felt like I “should” be doing to an already stressful and frustrating job…and on top of that, tried to compensate for my sheer unhappiness by over-exercising and trying to fill the fulfillment void with too many outside activities that left me over-extended and of course led to more crashes.
Then the icing on the cake of it all was when starting a new job in February 2013, just figuring anything different would be better than where I was…and then pulling the hormonal rug out from under me by stopping the birth control pill. This one sent me completely over the edge and as my psychiatrist described it the other day “forced me to rebuild my life and the way I lived it from the ground up.” And that's really been the work for me over the last three years.
(This is not to say that those otherwise shitty experiences didn’t give me much-needed people in my life. Looking at you Lori & Curt)
But now. Now, my life is so full. In a good way – full. I’m busy, but not in an overextended way. I have found a career that allows me to be creative with my time, balance being with Clare and doing something that I truly love. I have been SO much better at making time and space for myself, creating a solid morning routine, starting to pick up a yoga practice, consistently meditating this year, making exercise / zumba and reading a priority. Working on a book, and creating and sharing a podcast that I really believe in. I just got into the amazing Sutter Davis volunteer doula program. I have built a wonderful tribe of moms who all support one another as we go through the ups and downs of motherhood. Chris and I did almost a year of couples counseling and are SO much better at communicating with one another. My parents now live close by and can lend a much-needed hand with Clare. This isn’t to say I don’t go through struggles with balancing it all, feeling burnt out, etc. Believe me, I definitely still do.
But overall, right now, I’m good. I’m feeling well, happy and strong. And yet with that wellness comes this nagging, niggling feeling that if things are going well, then something bad must be coming. It feels as if I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop. For my hormones to betray me and cause me panic attacks again. For my schedule to reach a tipping point where I can’t "handle it all.” Wanna know a weird childhood quirk? When my parents would travel, I was always terrified that they would die in a plane crash, and I somehow felt if I worried, they would be okay, but if I didn’t worry, they wouldn’t. Nuts? Maybe. The anxiety struggle is real, people.
But I’m a different person now. I’m in a different place, and I’ve got better support, boundaries and protocols in place. And as my psychiatrist also pointed out – I LOVE what I’m doing now. Although she put it more softly "I get the indication that you didn't like the work you were doing before." Duh! I hated it. But now, my work and side projects are born out of passion and love, not out of obligation, money or fulfilling someone else’s bottom line. And that’s a key difference. Even with as busy as I am, it’s all positive stuff. It’s all good. I often get people saying “I don’t know how you do everything you do.” And I think sometimes even that comment alone can shake my confidence. My monkey mind starts going Should I not be doing everything I do? Is there something wrong with it? Wrong with me? Spiral, Spiral. Anxiety. Etc.
Kathryn’s words really struck me too. She said “I hear you. I hear the story you’re telling. I hear you taking past experiences and bringing them into the present. Expecting things to follow the same old patterns. But you don’t have to do that. You don’t have to bring the past into it. You just have to stay with where you’re at in the present.”
Wow. I needed to hear that. All of that. PS People – when someone tells you something – tell them you hear them. Because isn’t that what we all want? Just to be heard. It also struck me – wait a minute, my word for the year was/is Presence, I’ve read probably six books on meditation, mindfulness, Buddhism and presence this year. But I haven’t really been living it as much as I could. Kathryn is right, my psychiatrist is right. Right NOW, I’m doing really well. And that’s all I should be focused on. Not what’s going to happen with my mental health tomorrow, next month, next year. Because I can’t predict it. And I can’t dwell on previous patterns either. Because just because they were a pattern before doesn’t mean they are going to repeat.
And not to mention, that the whole premise of my blog is that we have a choice everyday in how we act, react and see the world. So I’m choosing to be grateful for and celebrate the fact that, right now, I’m well. And I’m happy. And man, has that been a long time coming.