I Tried So Hard and Got So Far

I was supposed to see Linkin Park play in less than two weeks. They are my guilty pleasure band (I know music lovers should proudly like anything they want, but I have some good reasons why I consider them a “guilty pleasure”.) I never managed to get tickets to a show, and finally rectified that this summer. Until yesterday. Chester Bennington hanged himself and took away a father, a musician, a human being who was clearly in a lot of pain. I read that he had experienced childhood sexual abuse, turned to hardcore drug use, and had to get clean more than once. He was also open about the fact that he dealt with daily, crippling depression.

I don’t claim to have an insight on depression. I have “been depressed” when I’ve had bad times, but that is COMPLETELY different from the insidious disease that is clinical depression. When I worked in Human Resources, I recall working with an employee who had that diagnosis and required an unbelievably large amount of time off from work. As a young person who had yet to experience much in the way of sadness or distress, let alone an actual illness, I had a hard time understanding how or why it could be so bad. I was then blessed with a child who’s special needs were apparent within the first few months of his life, although it was impossible to tell at the time how they would manifest. Fortunately, the depression he dealt with early on in life did not rise to the level of suicide (although the school counseled him for suicidal ideation at 7 YEARS OLD without my knowledge – is it any wonder I homeschooled?? p.s. his actual therapist disagreed with the school.) So while I don’t “know” what it’s like, I have had a taste of helping someone I love who simply cannot bring themselves out of difficult thoughts. Without my son, I might still be like the clueless youngster I was when I was in HR so long ago.

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I also have the challenge that the person I was going to take to see Linkin Park play deals with mental health issues themselves. I reached out as soon as I learned of the singer’s death to offer support in case they were feeling fragile. The brief exchange we had was a tad worrisome because it expressed concern over their ability to “have hope”, I want them to know I am here for them any time. I have been asked to assist them with getting some more activities that prevent isolation, so I am glad to have opened up the conversation with them. It’s horrible to know that people I love can be so crippled by this disease and I hope I am able to help anyone who needs connection. I will try my best to listen and help; I want others in my life know that I am a sympathetic ear and possibly even a pragmatic helper.

 

Because in the end, it DOES really matter.

Rolling in the Deep

It’s a beautiful sunny day and it looks like spring has finally sprung, but I may be stuck back in the fall. I had an event back in October that brought on a severe and lengthy episode of anxiety and anguish and its affects are still lingering. It’s very hard to use self talk to pull yourself back when your brain knows perfectly well that “last time” your anxiety was not only 100% right and everything was true but that it was actually worse than you imagined.

These days, three or four mornings a week, within moments of waking up, a wave rolls over me that starts at my head and continues over my body down just past my hips. Wave is really the best word to describe it because it feels undulating, but not in a pleasant way. It’s hot, heavy, makes my heart race, and causes everything to tighten. Usually there is a perfunctory “reason” for the panic – have I awoken in time to get to that place, do I have enough time in the day to get X done, did I forget that really important thing I was supposed to do? Most of the time nothing is valid enough to cause anxiety and I usually can’t even remember what the trigger was by lunch.  But at the moment I wake, my body can do nothing other than tell me that something critical is in jeopardy. I start the “everything is alright” speech in my head to see if I can get it to calm down and as I fully wake up I can usually get a hold of it. Fortunately, I am not burdened by anxiety to an extent that I cannot eventually right myself. Even still, I am sitting here half an hour after getting up with my chest still tight, wondering what I can do to get this cycle to stop for good. The “bad thing” from autumn has passed. There are lingering issues sure, but the reason for actual dread has subsided. I am now just dealing with the legacy of having been affected so acutely by it.

Exercise, getting proper sleep, eating well, and taking time for yourself are all good practices for managing mental health, as described by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

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I think I do a reasonable job at those things. There are others on that list that I could add like meditation, volunteering, or journalling but those things do not appeal to me in the least and I think part of their success is in the wanting to do it. I’m not sure I would reap the benefits of those tactics if I were only going through the motions. I have already talked about how volunteering does not make me a calmer, better person.  Meditation and journalling strike me as similarly futile pursuits to me. What I wonder is how one controls something that occurs (or at least starts to occur) before one is really even thinking about anything coherently. I feel like this is my subconscious’s last grab at me before the day starts. I’d really like it to stop because depending on how successful I am in my “everything is alright” mantra, waking like this can cast a pall over my day, or at least a portion of it depending on what is happening.

Part of the reason that happens is because I have a hard time letting go. I talked before about how I often just wait things out.  It does mean I can spend a lot of time suffering, but it’s not always all bad. Having a hard time letting go means I don’t give up easily either. On people or things. It also means things like I am not an early adopter of technology (I got my first smartphone only six months ago;) I still have 75% of the furniture I started out with in this house twenty four years ago; and recycle/reuse (or simply don’t replace until it is non-functional!) were practices for me before they were chic. It means I will be there for friends who need me or organizations that rely on me. It’s only through painstaking review do I ever decide to shed a relationship or responsibility.

Brain Loss

But, the flip side is that when misfortune swirls through my life’s path, that too sticks with me for longer than it should. I’ve always told people that I am not interested in horror movies/TV shows/books, or ones that are “disturbing” because pictures get stuck in my head and I just don’t need that. I know this happens and I do my best to avoid it. I saw a movie with a prison rape scene nearly 30 years ago that will still unsettle me occasionally. I am THE BEST at covering my eyes just at the right moment to avoid seeing something gruesome or distressing. You know when the Nazi’s face melts at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark? Never seen it.

Spring leads to warmer, brighter days. There is some hope that this change in season will also lighten my load and my mornings will calm down. Until then, I have to trust that “everything is alright” and keep up with strategies that are known to help.

Viva la ‘Braska

Today is a special day. Eight years ago today my sister brought Snow Patrol into my life. No, it wasn’t that ‘Chasing Cars’ song – I probably had heard it before because I do remember Denny dying on Gray’s Anatomy, but that particular song had no impact on me whatsoever. Instead it was ‘Make This Go On Forever’.

The repeated last line “Please just save me from this darkness” burrowed through my layers of self-imposed isolation and reached me in a way that nothing yet had. I grabbed hold of that line and used it to pull me through my darkness and loss. Without going too much into it, this was the time when I was mired deep in a marriage that neglected me and a parent/child relationship that sucked me dry. Something broke free in me that day and music re-entered my life. It filled me, changed me, saved me.

Things then happened fast. Both my sisters liked Snow Patrol too and we started plotting how to see them play live. Turned out that just months later they were playing in the U.S. (they are a Northern Irish band.) But, they were coming over as the support band. Not knowing ANYTHING about touring bands at the time (and thank heavens for that because we would have missed an awesome experience) we thought this might be our only chance to see them. We had the choice of either seeing them support Coldplay in Omaha or U2 in Chicago. Since none of us had ever seen Coldplay, we decided to go to Nebraska. Yeah – NEBRASKA. Crazy, I know, but it was the best decision of the decade! So the first concert I went to in fifteen years, the one that started my obsessive live music attendance involved flying 1,150 miles to see a support band! Don’t get me wrong, Coldplay’s Viva la Vida tour was to die for, but that is NOT why we went.

So here’s the story. Before heading to Omaha, we learned that there was going to be an in-store at a local record shop before the show that evening. That meant we planned on two nights in Omaha, so we would arrive the day before to be able to attend the in-store. Julia and I met in the airport when we arrived and called for the hotel shuttle to ferry us into town. As we tittered and schemed in the back seat, the driver suddenly asked, “Did your other sister arrive earlier today?” Yes she had and we exclaimed excitedly wanting to know how he knew she might have been our sister. He only cryptically asked, “Do you know the secret?” When we said no, he said he’d leave it to our sister. Cynthia was waiting for us in the lobby of the hotel when we arrived and could barely hold herself together as we made our way to the elevator. As the doors closed, she announced the secret – Snow Patrol were staying in our hotel that night! We squealed all the way up to our floor!

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Enjoying our first day in Omaha, knowing we were going to try to meet the band that night.  First time we had ever tried fried pickles too.  (I *still* think they are weird.)

After calculating when we thought the band would be rolling into town based on where they were playing that night, we enjoyed the evening in Omaha and then camped out at the “Cookie Bar” (I kid you not – cookies, milk, tea, the works!) in the hotel to wait for the band to arrive.

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Seriously – see the different outfits?  Cookie bar vs. with the band?  That change almost cost them!

Some point after midnight Julia and Cynthia went upstairs to change, so I was sat there alone. And the bus pulled up. I was one step from paralyzed! I managed to get to a house phone, dial my room, and Julia answered. “BUS!” was literally all I could manage to shout into the phone. Moments later I heard the clamor of feet pounding down the stairs, no time to wait for a damned elevator! We three stood in the lobby of an old-fashioned, boutique hotel and through the enormous, iron, double doors the guys from the band walked in one by one. Right past us. As we stood dumbfounded in silence. They gathered at the chairs by the elevator while their tour manager did the checking in and we were still standing there, rooted, stockstill. Finally Cynthia found her senses and propelled herself forward saying hello and introducing herself. Next thing I knew, I was shaking hands and introducing myself to each of the members of Snow Patrol and all I could think of as they introduced themselves was “NO SHIT you’re Gary, NO SHIT you’re Nathan, etc.” They were lovely to us as we stumbled over our story of coming from the east coast for the show. We then got the most awesome photo of the three of us with the entire band. To this day, we are still the only ones I know that have a photo with the entire band.

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The entire glorious band!

The next day we went to the in-store and staked out a spot literally sitting at the feet of the lead singer and guitarist (the aforementioned Gary and Nathan.) There were tears.

When the tour manager was packing up at the end, I had a plan so I made my move. I have often said that while I have a hard time asking for things for myself, I have no problem asking for things for others, especially my sisters. So I stepped over the monitors on the floor and approached Neil (yes, I had already researched his name!) I quickly told him how my sisters and I had come from the east coast just to see Snow Patrol and could he upgrade our seats so we could loudly scream for them? And you know what? He did! We then got a few minutes to meet and talk to both Nathan and Gary (and kinda apologize for ambushing them the night before) before heading out to get ready for an amazing concert experience. There we were, in the Snow Patrol guestlist row, dancing and screaming our lungs out. Oh, and Coldplay was way better than OK too. 😃

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This is how insanely close we were to Chris and Jonny when they came down the side ramp. Only photogs between us the them!

That was the beginning of my journey into live music. It started an obsession that developed into something that I cherish and nurture. That first show in Omaha, NE made me feel alive like nothing had in many, many years. Fortunately, eight years later live music still does.

Help From Friends – Observed

My last blog was about how hard it is to ask for help. Just days after I put it up, a Facebook friend actually needed help. The replies to her post were interesting and seemed to support the notion that while it is very hard to ask for help, sometimes it’s hard to get help too.

First, she started out apologetically and called what she was doing “a rant”. But what was immediately clear to me was that she was drowning. She acknowledged that she had a good life, a wonderful husband, and three fantastic children. But I know that doesn’t mean that her life wasn’t very, very hard for her. With two of her children still very young, life was at its most difficult point and she didn’t know how to get herself out of it. She felt alone and isolated. There were a lot of people who responded to her immediately with comments like “don’t worry we love you so much”, “I’m here whenever you need me”, and “let me know anytime you want to chat”. These were all people who I speculate were local to her and could have done something immediate and tangible. But that’s not what happened. They seemed to be putting the onus on her to orchestrate a get together to relieve her own suffering. When you are drowning you simply are not in a place where you can exert anymore effort. This Facebook plea was probably all she could do.

My reply, from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, made it clear I thought her friends who were but a stone’s throw away could do much more for her. I pointed out that she didn’t need someone to say, “hey give me a call”, she should not be required to make another effort. What she needed was for someone to say, “I’m coming by Saturday at 2 o’clock for coffee and cake, and I’m bringing the cake.” I’ve been there, I know what it feels like and how you can’t see your way through or around it; keeping your head above water is pretty much all you can handle.

I don’t know why it’s so hard to ask for help. And more curiously, I don’t know why it’s so hard for people to proactively provide help. Why weren’t those local friends showing up at her doorstep to take her baby out for a stroll while she washed her hair, why weren’t her friends arranging playdates so they could talk intimately about how hard it was to have young children? It shouldn’t be this hard.

I also found it very interesting that not one but four people that know her online only and from different countries than her own were the ones who gave the concrete explicit advice. One especially sage woman replied to a well wisher “Can I be really naughty and say [she] has now asked? You sound lovely, can you check up on [her] a bit and not wait for her to contact you right now? … I know it’s very hard to do the instigating of contact right now for [her].” Maybe the distance of a couple of times zones made it easier for me and the Aussie to be blunt, but I think it was important for the people who were in a position to do something to be told that THEY were the ones who needed to be DOING.

So I wasn’t the one who was going to be able to show up with “tea and sympathy”, but I hope I was able to prompt those who could.

I’ll Get By with a Little Help From My Friends

I have a hard time asking for help. I am very good at accepting help, specific help, but I won’t ask for it. Simple example: It costs $120 in gas and tolls to get to my sister’s house and for a family gathering my dad handed me some money “for gas”. I happily took it even though I would never in a million years have let anyone know how badly that expense decimated my monthly gas budget. Another friend, knowing I was having a hard time, called me to get together to make sure I was doing OK. I gratefully accepted the “tea and sympathy.” And someone has graciously assisted me with the tangled mess that is my yard, it’s hard work that I don’t especially like and it overwhelms me. But again, these were all things offered to me, I didn’t go to anyone to request it.

About a decade ago, my closest friend at the time was diagnosed with ovarian and uterine cancer. I stepped up as the primary coordinator of all her “friend care” – you know the person who organizes and directs all the people who say “what can I do to help?” I had a website that listed all the things she needed help with, who was available to do it, when people were assigned to do what, etc. It worked well and I was astonished by how many friends she had who were available to help, it was over one hundred! Actually, I was a little shaken because I was pretty sure I didn’t have that many people around to pick up the slack for me should I fall hard. As I watched so many people pull together to provide the enormous amount of care that is needed when you have young children and two kinds of cancer, I became so scared that I would never be able to garner such support, I started to volunteer. I picked two different areas of my kids’ lives to volunteer my time so there would be more people who knew me that might be willing to help if I got sick. But I hated it. Think what you will of me, but I hated volunteering. It may have been that it wasn’t a good match for me, and it may have been because deep down I was doing it because I was pre-“asking for help” and that made me uncomfortable. I lasted two years and I am in contact with just one person from that time, but only loosely. And the cancer survivor friend I worked so hard for? She developed deep relationships with other cancer survivors and drifted away. I don’t blame her at all. Our lives went in completely different directions and I am happy knowing that I was there for her when she needed me. I ended up doing all that volunteer work and did not get out of it what I thought I would. I am sure there was something I got that was intangible, but what I really feel like I got was the understanding that I don’t have an altruistic bone in my body. I figure maybe my contribution to society is that I raised the children of a completely service oriented man (my ex-husband – former volunteer firefighter, Marine, and federal law enforcement officer.) Yup, that was my duty.

I still wonder why it is I have such a hard time asking for help. When I was growing up, I could not even ask a salesperson in a store for help. In situations like that, I think it is because I don’t want to ask someone something that I think they’ll think I should already know. Even when it’s their job to tell me. Messed up right? Asking for more personal help? That hints at not wanting to impose, or bother someone, even if not only would I offer the same to them, they might have even suggested they were available to help. And of course the big one – why would anyone want to help me? I guess that goes back to “anxiety”.

In the decade since my friend got sick, I have had a cancer scare. It involved surgery that was thankfully minor and I did not require much help. Neither did I ask for it though. In general my health is actually better than it was back then, so maybe I will escape major health crises. I just hope that if I’m wrong about that, someone will be there if I need it. Without me having to ask.

Music Makes My Life Go Round

Overwrought teenagers often emotionally claim “music saved their lives!” But if I could have you take a deep breath and try to believe me, I can tell you that music did, in fact, change my life in dramatic ways, not once but twice.

I gave up a lot when my first child was born. He was a “hard baby.” I never knew how hard until my second child was born and there was a DRAMATIC difference. “Oh my god” was all I could think, is this what it was supposed to be like?  After nearly ten years of utter (although admittedly voluntary) subjugation to the special needs of my son, things changed. I read a novel that somehow allowed music back into my life. My sisters were involved in this too. We would pick songs that would go with different parts of the storyline and I became a complete teenager in this pursuit. BUT, it pulled me out of a self-imposed hole I was sunk in and returned “self” to me. I eventually joined an online forum for a band and made many, many friends from around the word. The name I used as an online persona persists today – 10YearsGone – in my Twitter, Instagram, and one Gmail account. This return of self had a deep and lasting impact on my life. I actually know the day it started and it’s noted on my calendar as my “re-birthday”. It’s coming up next month and it’ll be eight years. I know it sounds simple, but only someone who has lost themselves and then found their way back truly understands how profound this is. It’s possible that I never would have found my way back, sometimes that happens to people. I know it was those early days of picking out music from bands I had never heard of before that sparked the soul in me to fight its way back.

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Is there any other place to be other than the front row?

The second time music changed my life it was more a function of the community that developed around me. I spent a lot of time going to live music. I even started writing reviews for a music blog. I was well entrenched in the music scene and I was thriving. My personal life, however, was in the crapper. I had a couple of very poignant interactions from my music sphere that finally made me understand that I was better than what I was getting at home. I could finally see that I needed to make a change and I disentangled myself from a marriage that was not working for me. It was revelatory to know I could move on and be a happier person in all aspects of my life.

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This community is so tight-knit that the “tour flag” gets itself from venue to venue handed off to a new carrier each time with no involvement from the band.

Since then I have gotten some of my tattoos to commemorate the music of the bands that have inspired me – Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls and Biffy Clyro. These two bands have fan groups that make up a significant portion of my music friends. I saw Frank Turner play just the other night and Biffy are playing in April right before my birthday. Both these bands definitely deserve a post of their own. Another band, Snow Patrol, while they did not inspire me to ink myself, provided me with the lion’s share of my international/online friends. Sadly, Snow Patrol hasn’t toured in a dog’s age so it’s been a long while since I’ve see many of these people, but they are still very important to me.

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Snow Patrol at Letterman. The sisters and I are on the right (I’m in *yellow*!)

These three bands and the people who follow them have influenced me in profound ways that I could never have projected back when I was mired deep in the difficulties of early motherhood. Music and my involvement in it changed my life infinitely for the better. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

How Much Worry?

The last time I saw a therapist in person, I filled out what seemed like reams of paper questionnaires. When we spoke, it was clear she thought I had an anxiety disorder. It kind of surprised me though because I never figured I had any issues. I knew what anxiety looked like, my son has suffered with it mightily since he was a small boy. I had never before considered it was an issue in my life because I never had Evan’s problems. Nothing I dealt with looked anything like what Evan dealt with.

Evan has suffered with anxiety for as long as I can remember. It was actually diagnosed at around seven, but I was on the front lines dealing with it, in all its forms, when he was tiny as well. We had a brief and disastrous medication trial but decided to create an environment where he could thrive and his anxiety could be managed without it. I often thought to myself “it shouldn’t be so hard to be eight” – or nine, or ten. Of course we went to many, many professionals of all ilks and stripes. I don’t remember exactly when it was that we found Steve – but he was the one. Even now when things get tough, “I need to talk to Steve” will prompt a call for an appointment. As a teenager, things have leveled off a bit. But every once in a while something will happen to set him off and it will hit me in the face, “Oh yeah, this doesn’t really go away, does it?” My old skills kick in and try to help him rebalance. But sometimes I no longer have the patience to deal with an almost grown boy when my own stuff is looming over my head. And believe me, I’ve got stuff. When he was little, I didn’t allow myself to have “stuff” (again, a topic for another time.)

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I remember the first time I actually considered whether or not I had an issue with anxiety, I was reading this article about having an outgoing personality but an anxious mind.  All the points in the article hit home surprisingly hard for me. While I probably suspected that some of those things were iffy, I truly did not understand that they were not the norm for most people. Think about it, if you aren’t someone who is comfortable sharing stuff like this in the first place, how can you possibly know that what you are feeling is not the common, universal experience? The one that that really got me was #8 – you mean other people don’t worry that someone has actually died if you don’t hear back from them. That’s real for me. I don’t even know why.

One of my significant issues is that I have a hard time opening up enough to share my problems with people. I don’t know if it is because I have trouble trusting people, or it’s because I inherently don’t believe people want to hear about me. I also worry incessantly over things I have already said and done. I understand the futility in that, and still it literally keeps me awake at night. Oddly enough, “anxiety” would also explain my absolute abhorrence of calling people on the phone. I have a repeated pattern of closing myself off, going into myself, shutting down, when things get tough. I even know it’s happening. What I don’t know is when to come out, when it might be appropriate to prevent it, or how to reverse it. Guess I still have work to do.

My son definitely has an anxiety disorder; but maybe I do, too. It’s hard to say whether or not what I deal with would rise to the level of “disorder” or not, but I have come to realize that there is something going on. After all, did I really think Evan’s issues came out of nowhere? (For the record, yes. Yes I did think they came out of nowhere.)

This was harder to write than I thought. I’m going to have to try again later and say more.