With anxiety, you’re pretty damn sure something is wrong. Something has happened. Or is going to happen. Or you did something wrong. Or you will. Or there will be too many people looking at you. Or no one will ever notice you. Or.. or… or. It can be never ending and it really is so hard to function like this. To find your center and do what you have to do.
I was trying to describe panic disorder & anxiety to a high school friend of mine and it really is tough if they haven’t been through it. They can have sympathy and support you but unless you’ve been through it, it’s so hard to really understand how helpless you feel. In panic mode, your mind and body are screaming that something is wrong. It’s like fight or flight has been kicked into high gear without warning for no apparent reason and you can’t shut it off. No amount of “It’s okay” or “You’re fine” or “Try to relax” sentiments makes the panic go away.
Trust me. I’ve been there. I still go there. I’ve gained friends who get it. I’ve lost friends because of it. (“You’re too needy.” Or “I can’t go through this with you again every few months.“) But it’s not a choice to have anxiety. You do have a choice in how you can help yourself.
Show up. That’s all. Just show up for yourself every day. Say “I am going to get up, get dressed, and maybe I’ll go do something that scares me a little.” You might only reach the “Get up” part but you showed up for yourself. That is a step in the right direction! Show up. Tell yourself at least once a day something good. Just a nugget. It doesn’t cure things but it doesn’t hurt. I don’t know anyone who has said, “I’ve had an awful day. I’ve just had too many positive thoughts.“
And remember, especially in that heightened state of anxiety that this is temporary. It’s just some stupid thing your brain does to lie to you and freak you out. And it works. But it won’t always. And you won’t always feel this way. And in that moment, know you are not alone. There are a lot of us carrying a lot of anxiety. Anxiety that has kept us away from friends, family, events, parties…life. We get it. Baby steps and you’ll get out of this scary, dark place. I promise.
21 years drug free. 21 years. It feels weird to say. Or think. Or comprehend. Or actually? To celebrate. I got it into my head that it’s been 21 years so it’s time to “get over” the hoopla and just give a silent nod to the day.
I didn’t tell anyone what the day meant until it had passed. I got a casual “cool” from two people. My middle son talked to me about it and asked me questions and really made me realize every day I’m not using or drug seeking (and I was really good at it) is something to be proud of. Let me tell you something. If you walked up to me right now and handed me a full bottle of painkillers, it would make that addiction part of my brain that remembers the pleasure, itch so badly I can’t promise you’d ever see those pills again.
Here’s the part where God, fate, and the world laughs. I’m a chronic pain sufferer. I have chronic daily headaches, chronic migraines, fibromyalgia, inflammatory autoimmune diseases, and RA. And? I need to avoid prescription pain meds. You tell me that’s not life laughing at me. My only solutions are to be a) checked into the hospital when it is literally unbearable or b) find every alternative pain management trick I can and c) an ER visit and anything meds I receive to take at home go straight to my husband to dole out as needed. “As needed” That is the key. I don’t do “as needed” if my addict brain is in charge. I do when I want, as many as I want, and hope I don’t die.
So, maybe 21 years isn’t the “no big deal” I’ve been blowing it off as this year. Maybe, just maybe, I can step back out of my own way and be proud of myself for fighting so hard for over 2 decades. I did this. I’m doing this. In a damn pandemic. Without my sister’s support. With very sick family members. I’m doing this drug free.
This year’s birthday hit differently. So much has happened in the last year and a half and I am flat out tired. I finally came to that breaking point where, to paraphrase a quote by Maya Angelo, I belong everywhere and no where. I’m not looking for belonging in everyone else anymore. Even though I so often feel like I’m standing alone, I know it’s something I have to do. Someone, somewhere will say something to remind me that I’m strong and loving and I’m not alone but I no longer need them to confirm that. I can be surrounded by people I love who love me and yet I’m learning I don’t feel the need to seek validation from them to know that I’m worthy.
This next year I have goals for myself. Things I need to do to live life with a wild open heart.
I’m going to love with no expectations.
I’m going to be fierce but I’ll be kind.
I’m going to be tougher yet I’ll still be tender with everyone I come across.
I’m going to be open to people who come into my life. I will soften my heart and be better to those who choose to stay in my life. I will throw my arms open wide and love wholeheartedly those who return to my life. And I shall guard my heart with cautious optimism but never shutting it off to the love and possibilities of good friends, new experiences, and the hope of second chances.
This is the year I’m going to live as I should’ve been living for a long time now. I’ve lost so much in the past few years. Friends. Opportunities. My sister was obviously the worst to knock me off my feet. I’ve faced loss before. The “they’ve left your life by choice but are still around” loss but I’ve had forever loses too. I know the loss of losing a baby. I know the loss of losing my Mom. And now I know the loss of losing my sister. I’ve always leaned on friends for each of those.
I think the loss of my sister is what opened my eyes to how truly alone I am and threw me into the deepest of depressions. I wasn’t surrounded by friends when she died. I’ve lost most of them. Some because my depression kept me from being better at keeping in touch. Some chose to move on. Some I guess just “weren’t that into me” as they say. I’ve never needed a tight-knit group of friends like I did then. And I didn’t have it anymore. And I broke. I shut down. A year and a half later and my therapist and I are just now beginning to deal with the loss of my sister. I am just that good at shoving trauma down deep enough to not consciously feel it. I’ve never known how to do it alone. I still don’t know how to do it alone but I’m learning how when I have to and also (and this is the hardest) trying to learn how to ask for help. That last one is a bitch when you don’t know who to ask. But it’s time. Picking myself up sucks. It hurts. I will learn how to do this while I keep an open heart. But, damn, pulling yourself out of quicksand without a rope isn’t easy.
But this is my birthday gift to myself. I’m taking this year by the [fill in your word of choice] and remembering not only who I am but what I can and should do to make myself happy. This year I will do what I can to be a better me. Part of that has to do with you.
If I ever told you you’re my friend, you still have a place in my heart. Say hi. Kick me and remind me not to disappear.
If I’ve ever told you I love you, I still love you. I may be afraid that too much time and life has passed to reconnect but know you’re still in my heart and I’d be overjoyed if we did reconnect.
If I’ve ever sat with you and laughed or cried or both, I miss that. Can we do it again?
I suppose in this new year of being older and becoming wiser what I’m trying to say is… I need you. I really do.
And that’s not as scary to say as it used to be but it’s also terrifying.
Here’s what I am going to do. It’s my new project for myself for the year. I’m going to snail mail everyone I hear from at the very least a letter. If you want to reconnect, connect, or just see if I’ll follow through, drop me a comment. Either here or on Instagram. Who knows what else. If only a few reply, I might learn to crochet and make you a whole blanket. (But I really hope more than a few of you do! I am not very good at crocheting.)
I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to do this damn thing.
On Thursday I turn fifty. For those of you looking for a number that is 50! 5-0! The BIG five- zero. Honestly? Bring it on. I have lived through a lot in those 5 decades. I mean, some of the hands I was dealt were pretty freaking hard. Some of them were downright awesome. Someone said I was middle-aged. I’m looking forward to the next 50!
But here’s my question: When do I get to start blaming things on age? You know, situations like when I start searching for my glasses and they are on my head. Or worse? On my face. (For real. I have had them on my face while I have been looking for them.) Or how about when I walk into a room and stand there as if I have never even seen the room before because I have no idea why I walked into that room in the first place. Lets not even get into phones left in the refrigerator, keys left anywhere from an end table to the bathroom, and having to depend on Google to ring my phone so I can find it.
Now let us talk about the telltale signs of “you’re getting older” syndrome. When everyone becomes “that kid” to you. “You wouldn’t believe how that kid at the store was disrespectful.” or “Did you see how those kids were driving?” Everyone just seems young. And what about when your doctors are suddenly becoming younger than you are? When is it okay to call them Doogie Houser? (If you understand that reference, I think you’re with me and can call them that.)
Now, I know you’re with me on this one. Hasn’t the music at the grocery store become so much better than when we were younger? I mean before it was so old and elevator-y. It certainly wasn’t anything you could sing to and you definitely couldn’t get your jam on to it. Now? Well, just recently I was caught singing along to an old tune “…I think we’re alone now. There doesn’t seem to be anyone around…” Yes, I got my hips a-movin’ and my shoulders rollin’ to some Tiffany. Eighties teen pop that toured the malls. Shopping malls. Tiffany and Debbie Gibson. Teen Mall Pop Queens. Why didn’t stores play good music you could move to long before this point in time? During one trip I heard that song, Journey, Belinda Carlise, and Prince. Pretty eclectic. The music has become better. I don’t think that’s a sign of getting older, though. I think it is a sign of the stores finally having better taste.
I am not even sure I want to get into movies but I feel I must. Why do magazines such as People and Us, etc. insist on having “Anniversary” issues? I mean, come on, y’all. I grew up on The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, Sixteen Candles, Ferris Bueller, and the like. I can recite most of the dialogue in at least half of those. Now? They’re celebrating 30 years here, 30-plus years there. Unnecessary. These movies are not old enough to be called classics, y’all. They are timeless treasures that are ageless. Ageless. Then they tell me their actors are hitting up their 60’s. So? They are just having birthdays every year. Simply celebrating life with cake. Enjoying another journey around the sun. Not getting old in the traditional sense of the word.
I haven’t written about my sister since she died. (I cannot even express how hard that sentence was to write. I had to stop writing because I couldn’t catch my breath.) I don’t know why I haven’t talked about her. Writing was how I processed everything when my Mom died. But with my sister? It’s just not there. The words. The feelings are there. It’s like someone took hundreds of LiteBrite pieces and threw them on the floor. Where once there was a bright, beautiful picture of my sister and me, there’s now just a jumbled pile of faded, dull pieces of plastic that have no rhyme or reason. No light behind them. I know I have to pick up those pieces. Some people say I can make a new image with them. One where I shine for both of us. But seriously, how do you make half of a Lite Brite shine? I want to take every damn piece and hurl it across the room. It doesn’t work without both of us. Suggesting it would is ridiculous. It will never shine as it did before. Never. The whole damn Lite Brite has been shattered beyond repair.
So, how do I find a new reality? How do I find a new me without her?
I wish there were a name for someone who loses their sibling. If you lose your parents, you are an orphan. If you lose your husband, you’re a widow. If you lose your sister, you are … lost? Alone? Sisterless? She was my person.
There were times she would withdraw into herself and not return texts or phone calls, and it would piss me off. Oh, that would piss me off so much! And she heard about it. But, you see, I did that, too. And we always came back to each other and talked about things. That’s the thing. We always came back to each other.
We used to send each other quotes or songs that reminded us of each other. Sometimes they were funny. Sometimes they were meant to say “I see you and I am here.” Sometimes they were just “Hey! Get me this on Amazon.” (Not much of the latter one because we didn’t have that kind of money but it was fun. I was very close to getting that T-Rex costume I want.) It was our way of always staying connected through the good times and the bad. It was our way of reminding one another that we had each other’s backs. For life.
I could never imagine “for life” would be cut so short.
The turning point in our relationship was when I asked her to be the maid of honor at my wedding. She was shocked. Her initial response was to ask if I wouldn’t rather have a friend or someone closer to me fill that role. When I told her that was exactly who she was and I couldn’t imagine anyone else, well, I think that was the first time in as long as I could remember that she hugged me- without trying to strangle me down in a wrestling hold. A real hug. It was the best feeling in the world. It marked the transition from dueling sisters to real friends.
Oh, and as friends, we did have fun. I am sure we were responsible for my Dad’s grey hair and the hair he lost. We tended to revert a bit to giggling kids when we got together. Once our funny bone was tapped, we were gone. Everything was going to be funny. Family get-togethers? Forget about it! We weren’t going to check how much longer something had to cook or if we had enough clean dishes for the crew. Nope. We had to leave the room to laugh at something. To express the ridiculousness of something that happened or was said. Sometimes it was just because we needed to laugh and wanted some sister time.
I still laugh about one of the times she visited me for an extended time. It was a full house. All three of my kids. Both of her boys. Me and my husband. And Chelle. Well, if you know anything about me or my family, you can well imagine we didn’t have a quiet house. (Still, one of my greatest joys when it’s a full, loud house.) There were boys peacock calling each other from one end of the house to the other. Two of the kids playing a very intense Wii game. The Dobie loving the action with an occasion bark. One kid watching TV. I’m just walking through the house trying to talk over it while I am trying to clean the kitchen or grab laundry or bark orders to one group of kids or another. Well, there Michelle sat on the couch flipping through a People magazine as calm as can be and said, “Boy is your house loud.” Never looking up (and her voice never above a normal conversational tone) and just went right on reading her magazine. It struck me at that moment it was the perfect Jenn vs Michelle moment. I’m swimming through the chaos not even noticing it was loud and chaotic while she was very aware and totally unflappable (and slightly amused) by it.
We were best friends. We had a relationship no one in this world was privy to. We had a bond that no one in this world had. We had secrets that no one in this world will ever know. She and I had something that I will never have with anyone else in this world. No one knows what we had because it was ours. No one. Because that’s what sisters do for each other. They carry each others’ secrets, share each others’ joys, and share each others’ burdens. No one can know one hundred percent about another person and I don’t claim to here. We weren’t perfect but we were pretty damn good sisters to each other.
I don’t know how to do this. I have picked up the phone more than once to call her and tell her about the latest thing I found on Amazon. Or the latest celebrity gossip. Or the calls I go to make when I need her the most. When I am hurting. When I am scared about life changes. When I need to talk to her about our kids in college and how much we miss them. Or to cry over a really hard situation we should be helping each other through but that I am now navigating all alone.
And the phone call that is the worst of the worst, when the only person I want to talk to and the only person who knows me the way she did, the person who could help me through my pain is the one phone call I want to make to make the most. I want to talk about how much it hurts that my sister died. And how hard it is. And how fucking hard it is to breathe sometimes because I cannot imagine this world without her. She was my person. She would know what to say. If she didn’t, she would at least talk to me and help me through it. She would be with me. And now? She is the only person who can never help me through this and it sucks. It is the hardest thing I have ever had to deal with in my life.
This hurts. Oh, my sweet lord, this hurts. Unlike anything. And I know I will never be the person I was before she died. There is “before Jenn” and “after Jenn” and my job is to make sure that I find a way to make “after Jenn” have a life that means something. For her. For me. For all of us that were left behind.
But for now? I’m going to have to try to figure out what that picture looks like. I don’t know how. But I will. In time.
Happy 29th Anniversary to my best friend and amazing husband, Clint. (Damn. We’re getting up there in age, babe!) I can’t imagine anyone I’d want to go on this journey with other than you.
I remember when our biggest issues were who was making the bed, or stop squeezing the toothpaste from the middle (sorry!), and the right and wrong way to fold the towels (not even bringing up fitted sheets), and of course forgetting an “important” day.
When life threw some pretty hard curve balls at us like losing our baby boy and then losing parents, we had to figure out how to adjust to how we worked together as a couple in a new, harsher world. We struggled but never lost sight of the “we” part of the equation. We grew closer in spite of the pain life caused us and even the pain we caused each other. We’ve always found our way back to one another.
No matter what, we can count on each other. We’ve seen more loss, more death, more pain, more suffering, and more tragedy in our lives together than either of us could ever have ever imagined. Things that could tear a marriage apart. But when one of us was nearing a breaking point, the other always stood strong for both of us until the undertow’s pull let up and we both stood up strong again.
We’ve raised three amazing and unique kids who have grown up to be amazing and unique adults. (And, yes. Yes, bless the weird and wonderful in them!) From those first few months of crying with that colicky little pain in the ass (we survived!) to truancy court (totally their fault!) to going toe to toe with administration over a dance (closed minded asses!), we survived with a lot more humor and good memories than outsiders could ever understand. And now? We’re sending the baby off to college. Where did the time go? (I know… My face and your beard.)
But here’s where it gets tricky. Twenty-nine years ago I made a promise to you. I promised when the kids were grown, it would be a time of celebration for us. A time to look back on all that we have been through and the family we created together and raised to be the strong, confident adults they’ve become and celebrate a job well done as we look towards our next chapter together. I promised, though there’d be tears, there would never be regret. Only excitement for what is to come. Wherever that may take us and whatever way we’d get there.
Here is to our next 29 years and the 29 after that! May we never stop laughing, never stop dancing, and never, ever stop reaching for each other’s hand.