Knowing where I am so I can see where I’m going. (part one)

I’m making an attempt to see situations that challenge me mentally and emotionally as opportunities. Opportunities to better understand myself, my illness, where I’m at with my illness, opportunities to help loved ones understand those things better, opportunities to see if I’m ready to test my limits or if I should respect them right now. But most of all, opportunities to see God at work in me.

This morning I woke to one of those opportunities. First of all, when I wake up is probably the most challenging moments/few minutes of my day, for some reason. I have never handled questions or pressure or hard conversations well right as I woke-even when my anxiety was under control. Sometimes though, I have to, and that’s ok! That’s the way it is. I’ve said before that I hate saying no, I struggle with guilt and shame when I need to, and that’s something I’m working on. This was an opportunity to not only engage with that part of my journey, but to go a step further in eradicating shame, by explaining what was behind my answer. This made me feel both vulnerable and empowered, and hopefully more known.

Victory! I did this and let go of the embarrassment and guilt.

It wasn’t really the right format/time for sharing an in depth analysis of my current mental state, or even this aspect of it, though, so I thought I’d do that here, for a few reasons.

  • I’d like to be able to look back at where I was in my journey, so I can see and appreciate growth better when it seems less apparent to me.
  • I know I’m not the only one who experiences things in this way, and I know I really benefit from reading others’ stories, so maybe there is someone who needs to read mine.
  • This might help my loved ones understand better where I am (and where I’m growing!) than the shorter answer I’m able to give in conversation.

This morning I have been reflecting on the way my two more specific conditions, Social Anxiety and OCD work together and a specific way that limits me.

Making plans to spend time with people is impossible for me. Just spending time with people is really really hard, but if I am asked to plan ahead, I almost never can. The social anxiety is causing the aversion to being around people, and the OCD, which mainly (but not solely) manifests for me in intrusive and sticky thoughts-which is the “O” in the OCD- gets me all wound up with all the thoughts and fears that go with that aversion. It really stinks because I am extremely extroverted and I miss that aspect of who I am. I miss people so much. The longer I have between making the plans and the actual visit, the worse it is, usually. I spend the entire time tense, having sticky thoughts, anticipating scary things. Sometimes I mentally and emotionally break down during this time, and that drains me and makes my threshold for stress even lower.

I’m usually at least moderately okay during the visit or experience, I can interact with people, and very few can even tell that I’m anxious or uncomfortable. I can manage. But afterward, ohhh afterward. I crash, and crash hard. If the anticipation has been long and/or rocky, it can take me up to a week to be functional again, and by functional, I mean doing more than getting out of bed and keeping the kids fed. There is no getting dressed, no exercise, there is no cooking, let alone meal planning, no school, no housework, maybe not even a shower, because I’m just too tired and depressed. I eat terribly, if at all, and though I’m exhausted, I cannot sleep.

Here’s the best and most dramatic example of this that I’ve ever experienced: My baby sister’s wedding six weeks ago.

She got engaged last November, the wedding was July 1. That’s a really really long anticipation, and there were some deeply personal factors and events that made it much harder. The night before we were to leave to travel to the wedding, I just melted down. The personal factors, the knowledge that I’d be around many many people for three days straight and all the thoughts and fears connected to that, and feeling I had no choice in the matter had just overwhelmed me. I was literally walking laps around our neighborhood from 2-4 AM trying to burn off energy, and it took Scott till 5:30 AM to get me to fall asleep. I also made the mistake of letting my meltdown overflow beyond my home, and that added an extra complication. I was in this position where I *had* to go, because this was once in a lifetime, it was for the person I love most outside this household, and, for better or worse, my mental health was not a good enough reason to miss it without seriously damaging relationships. I cried most of the drive to Virginia Beach, I prayed while I cried, and it was brutal.

God was with me all weekend. There’s no other explanation for how well things went. Not only did I experience minimal anxiety during that time (I only had one panic attack, and I’m pretty sure only Scott knew), but I actually had an amazing time. I hate weddings-for good reason, but that’s another post-so this was huge on that level too. I have never enjoyed a wedding so much, not even my own. My sister was the bride of my dreams, I got a new brother who not only loves my sister the way I’ve always wanted her to be loved, he loves my kids- and, he loves me. I know this because he told me. Multiple times. (Insert ugly tears) There were moments and memories made that I will treasure forever, and most of all, God was in every detail of the weekend and their relationship.

Then we went home, and the crash began. The first night we were home was fairly low key, just normal post trip fatigue everyone faces. The next day was my birthday, and I was miserable. I don’t think I got dressed until close to six that evening, when I asked Scott to take me to get a tattoo- E had given me a survival plan for the wedding and I was to give myself a big reward for surviving, and I chose a tattoo of a lotus blossom with the reference to my life verse below it. Getting the tattoo was fun, and stress/anxiety were minimal because it was entirely spontaneous, other than the design. But then I went home and back into the dark. That was July 3. I didn’t even attempt anything beyond baseline survival until a week later, July 10. That day I worked out, showered, and went to therapy. It was great therapy, and the beginning of this amazing season of healing and growth I’m in, but I was probably processing and recovering from the wedding and the lead up to it to some degree for three weeks afterward. I was dreaming about the wedding, I was waking in a panic, throughout the nights, and extremely groggy in the mornings.

To some degree, I have to take this entire scenario-anticipation, event, aftermath- into account whenever I’m faced with a social situation/plan/decision. I have to consider the potential costs, to myself and also my family, vs the benefit and really weigh it out. It’s so hard.

For example, I LOVE my mama. I miss her, the kids miss her, and my heart wants to spend time with her. But making plans to do so is impossible because of where I am with this right now. I have to consider the anticipation time, the visit, and the aftermath, and right now a visit of a few hours is not worth multiple days of stress and setbacks. Thankfully she loves me and is being patient and understanding.

But- this is not forever.

I know God is going to keep guiding me and healing me and showing His glory, and that I celebrate! Even in moments of shame, guilt, and frustration, He is working.

And…

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