"I often give myself very good advice, but I very seldom take it." Alice (Alice in Wonderland)
Published on Tuesday, 11 December 2012 22:05
Written by Jules
There are days that I spend hours on the telephone or texting members of the Chronically Awesome Community counciling very good people to find their strengths, to set aside their fears, and to do what is best for them regardless of what they feel is holding them back. I do this with great confidence, and more often than not, we (the person I am talking to and I) get great results.
I watch people that I have talked to blossom and grow into strong, Chronically Awesome individuals that get out into the world, or get off of the couch, or out of their beds and accomplish things they never thought they could. They don't do this because of me, but because of the strength that has always been in them. Sometimes we all just need an arm around our shoulder as we walk through a scary door. We need to know that someone has our back so that we ultimately realize that the one that needs to have our back is us, ourselves.
Little do these brave souls, those entrusting their problems to my ear know that the very advice I give them, I cannot take for myself. They do not know that I live in a world of self imposed exile. A world of such deep anxiety and fear that I am paralyzed from making even the simplest decisions. Beyond deciding what to wear each day, I am useless. I don't know what to eat when someone asks me what I want for dinner. I don't know what movie to choose when we sit down to choose something on pay-per-view. I have removed most of the complexity from my life by simply making no decisions. But, this is not (before you make what is the first logical jump) due to laziness. This is due to the biggest anxiety that lives deep inside of me, the greatest fear that drives my every waking moment, and every nightmare that I am told keeps me screaming throughout the dark hours of my otherwise quiet home. My fear? Making any decision that might make anyone unhappy. You see, in my mind, having someone disagree with my choice makes them unhappy, and making them unhappy makes them mad at me, and any conversation regarding that topic that might follow, in my ears is heard as "yelling at me".
I struggled with the idea of writing this blog. I didn't want to admit as the founder and executive director of The Chronically Awesome Foundation, that I was fighting this intensly crippling mental illness. Then I realized that it was my story, and stories like mine are what made the foundation what it is. That if someone like me, with all of my fears and worries, could mobilize a community of some of the most chronically ill (and incredibly talented) people in the social media world, then anyone that joined us could also make their dreams come true. My story is a story of creative problem solving and overcoming, while this illness was continuing to take me over, that eo ire itum of being eaten alive by a psychological cancer, I was moving forward to help others, and that was giving me strength in many other ways. I was building a foundation for the chronically awesome that was in turn building a foundation for my life.
You see, when you live your life to please others because not doing so scares the living shit out of you, you must build up your credentials. You have to find ways to prove to everyone around you that you are not: stupid, crazy, worthless, weak, and not worthy of having an opinion. These are all things that I, outside of my beloved community, believe myself to be. Every decision I make is based on these judgements that I think, no let me rephrase, that I KNOW the people in my personal life believe me to be. So, until I can make a great success of myself (again), I cannot stand in front of my family and the people in my "real life" and make a decision, or have an opinion. I cannot speak my mind or do a single thing that I do not feel will gain me rebuke, disdain, and until recently what I thought was the worst thing possible, being "yelled at". Now I know what is worse than being yelled at: being ignored. Being totally shunned by your family and friends because you are not living up to their standards.
This is where my anxiety has taken my mind. Where it has taken my body is to an increase in Lupus and EDS flares. Then there is the insomnia, which is a blessing when your sleep is filled with nightmares. Finally, it has taken me to that place that is behind the locked door of my home, never to leave alone.
Anxiety is not the same for me as depression. When I am not bothered by a particular fear, I am not depressed. I find joy in much simpler things. I find joy in setting up my new buisness with my partner. I find joy in working on the foundation. I find joy in reading and talking to friends on the phone or in chat. There is much joy in my life. When I can work on social media for my clients and do a good job, I know I have done well. When I can play with my dogs and we roll around and cuddle and they enjoy my company as much as I do theirs, I am very happy. When the people that I love come to visit me, I am overwhelmed with joy. There is much joy in my life when I feel safe, when my anxiety is unprovoked. It is not until something or someone with a sharp pointy stick (unbeknownst to them or otherwise) triggers some fear in me that I become a wreck of a subhuman and I am unable to function.
That led to a big step, a huge step really if you know me. After a number of years off, today I returned to therapy. I had spent years and years in therapy, and learned to overcome things like explosive anger as well as how to manage my bipolar symptoms. I learned to deal with years of sexual abuse, and the failure of my first marriage. I had a fantastic therapist I saw for five years. That is a long relationship with a therapist, and by the end of our threaputic relationship we were more like friends and that is when we knew the therapy was over. That is when I knew I needed to take time off from therapy. After about twenty years of therapy (on and off, mostly on) it was time for me to take a break.
My next return to therapy was again over anxiety. There were issues involving my current marriage, things about my husband and his life that were causing me great panic all of the time. I needed therapy to iron out some rough spots in how I dealt with his past and it's impact on our present. The therapist I got was chosen by process of elimination based on who was covered by my insurance. It's a shitty way to choose a therapist, and a mistake that was not made this time. This time someone who cared for me and knew I would not make a decision on my own did all the research and we disregarded my insurance company and decided that to get the very best care that cash would probably have to be paid.
I have never seen anyone work so hard to get me the perfect fit. We made calls and interviewed people over the phone until we found someone we wanted to meet in person. Then we went and talked to the first on the list of potential therapists that had made the final cut. We didn't need to look any further.
Just the idea that I was going into therapy and I was going to start solving this problem of living for others out of fear upsetting everyone's apple cart gave me a sense of confidence. The problem was, my confidence was untrained. I did not remember how to live for me, how to express my own personal declarations of anxiety free living. I proclaimed proudly on Facebook that from that day forward I was no longer living to make others happy. That the opinions of my family no longer would drive my decisions and that I was only going to make me happy with my decisons.
As it turns out, I did what my anxiety always made me afraid I would do. I pissed off at least my mother. I didn't know I did for some time, and finally on a phone call while she was in town and I was feeling very left out of all of the family functions did she finally tell me that I had hurt her feelings. For that I am, was, and will always be sorry. I doubt it will be the only time I fuck up as I learn to make decisons for myself.
Today, in my first hour of therapy we discussed that I am living to please too many masters. I am so worried about hurting certain people's feelings that I am living an unhappy life. I am not doing what will make me happy because I am afraid to make others unhappy. The reality is, that for those that love me, my happiness should be what makes them happy. Knowing that now I am living a life that scares the shit out of me should make them sad. They know my situation so they know what I mean when I say that every knock on my front door strikes terror in every cell in my being. While I am able to walk my dogs down my street, my neighbors judgement creates panic when I look up from the pavement, from the end of the leash, or up from my phone. I am so afraid when I am out walking, that I could smoke a pack of cigarettes on a one mile walk. Yet, walking in my community for hours at a time also brings me peace. If I walk in the middle of day with only gardners around to see me, I find peace. I can walk and walk and walk and my head becomes totally clear.
So, where do I go from here? What is next? There is a lot to do and today was just barely a scratch on the surface. I could not even drive myself to therapy. I can't deal with the traffic. I can't find my way around town in the best of situations but when I am anxious I become hopelessly lost.
It's a process. Maybe a long one, maybe shorter than I know. My path to happiness can't take forever, I can't let it. Afterall, this is my happiness we are talking about. I don't see myself living in a cabin in the woods, far away from all human contact with just the safety of the internet to keep that wall between me and people in order to avoid pain. And, who says that people on the internet can't cause you pain? Some have. Some people have hurt me greatly and justify their actions in the oddest of ways.
It's a process.
I have the patience to make the most elaborate of dishes, the most difficult pastries.
I am a recipe.
I have ingredients.
A pinch of this and a dash of that won't do. Everything must be measured just so.
I think I have the person to help me do that.
I hope the people who love me will help me. I hope they will be that arm around my shoulder that will lead me through the scary doors.
I hope that my happiness is respected whatever decisions I make. If I decide to choose the chicken instead of the steak. The comedy instead of the drama. This career over that one.
I just want some faith, a bit of unconditional love.
At least until I can be brave again.