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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Do you know what it feels like to live with anxiety?

Do you know what it's like to live with anxiety? This is an explanation, not a plea for pity.

The month of May is a rough time for me. The rest of the year, I manage my anxiety with 150 mg of Zoloft, and it keeps me from going crazy. The middle of May sneaks up on me every year, and I don't realize it until the third day in a row that I have to take a Xanax. That's when I remember. It's time to up the dosage.

200 mg. I'm two days in, and it happens. The external stressors collaborate. Conspire to hit me from all angles.

My mother just texted me. Hubby's mad because I forgot to go to the Post Office. Kids are tired. Daughter is screaming that I just don't understand. Computer is retarded. Forgot to wash the black pants and white shirt for the band concert in two hours. I wish I hadn't left that comment on facebook. Can't get it to delete. Don't feel like fighting over my opinion on the girl that is suing the university I went to because she didn't pass. Have to ask permission to leave early on Friday. Food allergies on the field trip. Why won't you let me take honors classes, Mom. I know I can do it. Computer is retarded again. Didn't teach 3rd person to Spanish 1 yet. Science fair tomorrow. Field trip tomorrow. Field trip Friday. Field trip Monday. He doesn't know a lick of French, but his IEP accommodations are allowing him to pass. Where is that permission slip? CAN'T FUCKING SLEEP. Get those stories ready, PL. The deadline is looming. Band concert tonight. Late to bed. Kids are still exhausted. May 23. Computer still won't fucking work. Four finals to write. Only 17 days left. Don't miss the Memorial Day boat! Still didn't correct the speaking tests. Or the French 2 projects. So tired. Can't keep my eyes open. Parents call. The bell rings. Third period at the end of the day. Food allergies on the field trip. Email daughter's teacher. And the band teacher. Mom just texted. Never mind the last text. Why did I post that? Am I THAT parent?

It started as a butterfly, fluttering inside while I drove to work, obsessing over yesterday's stresses. And the facebook message. It's that "job interview" feeling, even though I've been working there for 20 years. My heart beats faster than necessary. My breathing is fast and shallow. My hands are cold. I chew the inside of my mouth, but slyly, so no one sees. I put on my mask of calm confidence. I know it fools people. I write in my notebook. It makes me look busy, efficient, in control, bitchy, mean.

I should take a Xanax. I know what this is and where it's going. But I don't. The anxiety is part of the punishment.

Here's where the anxiety takes over.

I scheduled my son's IEP meeting for 2:00 on Friday. It's usually my free period, but this week we have an inservice day. I see the vice principal in the cafeteria. I figured we'd have the afternoon to write final exams, but I ask permission anyway. Here's how that conversation went.

Me: Is there an agenda for Friday's inservice, or will we be working on finals?
VP: I don't know yet. (Insert tone of voice that he usually uses when he knows he has been "out of the loop.")
Me: I have this meeting at the elementary school. My son's IEP meeting? (I explain the situation.)
VP: I have no idea what's going on. (It's Wednesday afternoon. 48 hours in advance.)
Me: Can I arrange it so that if there's nothing scheduled, I'll just leave here at 1:50 on Friday?
VP: (Tone of voice changes to one I don't recognize.) No. I'll have to let you know later.
Me: O-K.

My RATIONAL mind knows all of the following:
1. The VP's "tone" has nothing to do with me. The principal doesn't respect him, and he's pissed off that no one has shared the agenda with him. He's tired of being left out of the loop until the principal dumps the shit jobs on him, and it makes him grouchy. I KNOW this.

2. The VP's mother is dying. He hasn't smiled in two weeks, and I've never seen him so miserable. His "tone" comes from inner turmoil, not my request to go to a meeting. I KNOW this.


My anxious brain, kicked into overdrive by the mere existence of the month of May, leads me down a different (but not straight) line of thinking.
Immediately, I am certain that the VP doesn't know if I can go because there is some sort of meeting on Friday afternoon, and it has to do with me. A parent called to complain, and I'll asked to justify my grades, or my policies, or my tests, or myself. My brain turns, trying to think of all the things I've done wrong. I come up with an impressive list.

·         A huge stack of papers to grade.
·         Couldn't check my junk mail yesterday because the Internet was down. Should have done it from home.
·         Forgot to log my conference day into the employee portal (although I did put my request through the learning plan site, and I requested a sub through the other site).
·         Bounced a check to the cafeteria last week because I wrote it from the wrong checking account.
·         Played Candy Crush during lunch duty.
·         Didn't remind the VP that I haven't scheduled my observation yet.
·         Wore jeans today, and it wasn't dress-down day.

And then the big one hits. THEY KNOW.

They know my super-secret alter ego. They know what kind of stories I write. In my excitement about our first eBook, somebody must have overheard me whispering about it, and now they know. They know, and they don't want me to know that they know because they don't want to give me time to cover my ass. THAT's why he can't give me permission to leave early. It's obvious.

My heart beats faster. My hands get colder. My mouth goes dry. The butterflies in my belly alight. Again, I think about taking a Xanax, but I deserve to feel this way. It's part of the punishment.

The Zoloft is working. I feel reason, like two hands, trying to push anxiety down where it belongs. Under the surface, like trying to dunk a volleyball under water.

The VP just left the cafeteria, so I go to the other teacher. The one that usually talks to the VP during lunch duty. "What's up with him?" I say.

"Illness. Not his. Somebody in his family."

"His mother," I say.

"Yeah. He's (eyebrows furrowed, searching for the right word) off."

I tell him about our conversation, leaving out the part about the anxiety. I look like I'm in control, so he thinks I have my shit together. People believe what I want them to believe. Control the facial expressions and they buy it.

"Yeah," he says, "he's off. Sometimes he won't even answer a direct question. He just walks away."

"Jeez." I feel sorry for him.

"And he says I'll let you know like a knee-jerk. Instead of saying yes or no, he automatically says, I'll let you know."

Which brings me back to the list of things my rational mind knows.

3. The VP does this to control a small part of his universe. The principal gives him little power, micromanages his every move until he dumps the shitty jobs on him. His wife probably does the same. His mother too. Saying I'll let you know lets him control a little part of my world, which fools him into thinking he's in control of his own. I understand this. I accept it. I feel bad for him for feeling that way.

But my hands are still cold. My heart still beats too fast. The butterflies have started a dance party in my stomach. What if there IS a meeting. What if they do know? What if…?

I should take a Xanax. Settle my symptoms—calm my heart, warm my hands, put the butterflies to sleep. My rational mind knows this too:

4. If I had taken a Xanax as soon as the butterflies were set free, as soon as that "job interview" feeling took hold, my thoughts would not have followed them into a swirling vortex of crazy thoughts. MY BRAIN WOULDN'T HAVE WORKED SO HARD TO FIND SOMETHING TO PIN THESE SYMPTOMS ON. Instead, I would have written this in my book:

Friday, May 15- Ask VP about leaving early (OR reschedule meeting).


And so, I wrote this instead. I feel better now. For now.

THAT is what is what it feels like to live with anxiety. 

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