Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Dear Friends, I'm Sorry For Disappearing

Dear Friends,
I'm sorry for disappearing on you. I know I haven't seen you in ages. Too long. And I miss you. A lot. Please don't think otherwise. I know I've probably missed your girl's night out, or your child's birthday party. I know you've invited me, and it probably looks like I'm blowing it off.  I'm not, I promise. It pains me to miss them. It hurts my heart. Not because I love going to these specific activities per se, but because I feel like a terrible friend. And because I miss you, and I was really hoping that this time, I could manage it. You are a valuable part of my life - I don't keep a large number of people close, so you must be.

But I have an illness. Several, actually. And lately they've been rearing their ugly heads, so to speak. If you're close to me, which you are, you know I battle a mood cycling disorder, complete with hypomania, depression, anxiety, and social anxiety. There are times that getting out of bed is physically, mentally, and emotionally painful. There are times, many, most in fact, that being in a group of people - not a crowd, where I can disappear, but a group where I'm supposed to interact - is terrifying. I'm not exaggerating. It's not that I don't prefer it, but that it's terrifying. I've been crying constantly, and I've learned the hard way that the anxiety that will occur if I force myself to go will have a disastrous impact on my mental health. And the few times I've almost managed to convince myself that it will be OK, depression convinces me that nobody really wants me there, that I'll be an outsider, that I'll embarrass myself by breaking down and crying or tells me some other lie, I realize too late, that makes me crawl back in my little corner and hide.

Lately, it hasn't been only group interactions, either. It's felt like all I want to do is hide and cry, or turn into myself and think quietly, read or write. And because I don't want us to get together, even one on one, and me to turn into a blubbering mess, I avoid seeing you. And besides I know that most of the time people try to make me feel better, it only makes me feel worse, for not being able to. Most recently, I've been experiencing terrible depression about being depressed. I barely recognize myself many times. Me, who used to be full of optimism and positivity, with an easy smile. And I feel like I'm mourning the self that I feel that I've lost. So I promise, it truly isn't you, it's me.

So I'm sorry that I've disappeared. And I know it's a big ask, but please, don't stop trying. Keep inviting me. But also, maybe we can start by taking things at my speed? Would you be able to come to me, for coffee perhaps? If I'm nearby, one on one, and I start to falter, it's easier for me to get home, into my safe zone. Or maybe we can FaceTime to catch up. I know it's not the same, but it's something right? More personalized a bit, and I get to actually see you. It's a start.

I also ask you, please, do not assume anything, especially from my social media. Yes, you may see me check in somewhere, or a picture of me out somewhere. I have a cycling disorder. Which means that by nature, I have ups and downs. Perhaps I was having a good hour, or day, or even weekend. I could have even been having a good week. It doesn't mean I'm "better". It means I was have a good hour or day or weekend or week. And if the next hour or day or weekend or week, I am not well and cannot see you, I'm not being dishonest. That hour or day or weekend could have been all I had in me. I could have given it a try, and become so mentally and emotionally exhausted that all I can do is lie in bed. Maybe I could only go because I was with my ever-understanding fiance, and I knew that if I had to suddenly clutch his arm and say "we need to go" because it got too much, if I was about to break down, I could. I was only able to go with that safety net. So please, don't assume.

I miss you all. And I'm hoping that with the right combination of therapy, meds, life adjustments, and time, I may get back to at least having the ability to be my happy, less anxious, less fearful self. I'll never be cured - my illness doesn't work that way. But I'll take at least a little movement in the happier direction. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

When Did Being Busy Become an Excuse?

There are some unspoken norms in our society. When someone (that you aren't super close with), asks how you are, you say something like "Fine, OK, good." You don't usually tell your coworker or the barista at the coffee shop, "Well this bought of depression is really rough and man, my IBD these last few weeks, whew!" Because we probably figure that "How are you" from this person is more or less obligatory, and that they don't actually want to know the details on how you're doing.  This frustrates me, INFJ and small-talk-avoider that I am, but I have come to learn that it's how society operates.

But there is this societal trend, expectation really, that I just cringe at, and cannot seem to get behind: Busy. Everyone's busy. I don't think people even know what they're busy with some days. But that's what they are. "How are you?" "Fine. Busy." I've even found myself doing it at times, and it makes me angry with myself. But I'm an awkward small talker so I usually just put on the mask and throw out things people expect to hear - I'm fine and I'm busy.

But the problem with everyone being so busy is that we don't seem to examine it closely.  We don't sit down and think "What am I so busy with, and is that really what matters most to me?".  As long as we're busy, we are covered. Can't make that important event? It's OK, you were busy. Forget a friend's birthday? Well, you've been so busy. Have to change plans on someone when they were really counting on them? They'll understand, you're busy.  Not get to do something you promised someone. They'll understand for the 1st or 100th time, because you were busy. And rarely will someone question it. Rarely, it seems, do we ask captain busy-pants exactly why these things that they're busy with are more important than that family event, the birthday, plans that we were counting on, their word or promise that they gave you.

But when you battle illness every day, you sometimes have to ask yourself that. Is xyz more important than my health? Can I physically or mentally or emotionally manage to get through this relatively unscathed, or is it going to really put me out of commission? If I do x, will have the energy/strength/health to do y, which means more to me? I often have to prioritize the things that are the most important to me, and I have to live by that. What things matter most to me?

  • Family and loved ones (this includes four-pawed loved ones)
  • My health and sanity, because if I don't have these I can't be there for family and loved ones. 
  • Friends
  • Helping others, through my advocacy efforts and just in general
  • Work to a lesser extent, in the "I need my job because I am not independently wealthy" kind of way. 
Notice a few things here: there's not a 'thing' on this list. Nor is money on this list. Work is on this list, but it's the bottom of the list - not because I don't value my job but because my work won't be holding my hand on my deathbed, and because if I don't have my health and sanity, I cannot work. Yes, there are things we need money for:  food, a roof over our heads, paying our bills, clothing. And wanting some money for livelihood, I understand. But why are we so busy working to make money for things we can't enjoy because we're so busy working?  Wouldn't your family rather see you and have a less expensive TV or car ,than have a top of the line TV or car and never see you? If not, well, time to examine why that's the case. 

Being busy is understandable. But it isn't  some omnipotent reason that doesn't need to be further specified. If you're using it this way, it's become an excuse. You have to be busy with something, and the way you spend your time, what you're so busy with, shows your priorities, plain and simple. This is where that old adage "actions speak louder than words" comes into play. Time is the one thing we use that we can never get back - our most precious resource. So next time you're tempted to say "I was too busy" and end the sentence there, don't. Finish it out the way you actually mean it: I'mwas too busy with x, that I didn't have time for y like I promised you, because x is more important to me right now. If you don't like a sound of that, time to reexamine how you're using your time. 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Learning From My Past, As I Head Into My Future

Yesterday, July 10th, was my former wedding anniversary. Thirteen years ago I walked down the aisle in a ballgown dress with six bridesmaids, seven groomsman, and approximately 200 guests. The wedding was fabulous. Basically my entire family on both sides flew in from out of town, some for whom I know it was a stretch time wise and financially. It meant the world to me, truly. The room was filled with people we'd each known over the past 24 years, many that we hadn't seen in years. It was a grand scale event that I became so wrapped up in planning that, in hindsight, I realized I was more focused on the wedding itself than the next 50 or so years of married life ahead.  But at 24 years old and one of the first of my friends to get married, that's what I did.

I think I knew, or at least had a nagging feeling, walking down the aisle that I was making a mistake. But I'm a dreamer, with my head often in the stars, and I thought I was being unrealistic wanting more than I had - a good-hearted, steady, reliable man who loved me and wanted to spend his life with me. I thought it should be enough. As it turns out, it was not. We were not, as a couple. Had it, no doubt my life would be drastically different than it is today. There are moments when I think about how my life changed course on January 24, 2007, the day we decided to split. But I have no regrets. It was the best decision for us both. I believed it then, and I haven't doubted it a day since.

In part, I think I simply wasn't ready for any of it. Some people know exactly who they are and what they want at 24 years old. I was not one of those people. I didn't realize that at the time, of course - I took the route I always expected I would. College, full time job, grad school, marriage, house, plan for a family. It wasn't until the "plan for a family" part began that I realized how unready for this life I was. It's funny how one day you can wake up and discover "this is really going to be the rest of my life if I do nothing about it right now." You'd think vows such as "for as long as we both shall live" said in front of 200 people including a priest would do that. But for whatever reasons, it didn't. It was the startling realization that I could be someone's mother, that if we had a child he would always be their father, and that we'd be inextricably tied forever in that way, no matter what else happened in our lives, individually and as a couple.  It occurred to me then how little we'd talked about the details, the actual realities instead of the "one day"s. It felt almost like a reverse Truman Show  - like a story that I played a part in, and suddenly it became clear that it was my life. We had moved along the path in front of us. We had never questioned if it was the path we should be following.

Today, I'm just under two months from my wedding (it's two months from this past Sunday, but who's counting). I am almost 38 years old and have lived a lot of life since my last wedding. I know it's given me experience. I believe, or at least hope, it's given me wisdom. Now, my fiance and I talk about the little details, plan for the actualities of the future. Things as minor as interrupting our (very food motivated) dog while she's eating, playfully tugging at her ears and tail to make sure she doesn't mind, in case a future child did the same. We discuss the larger aspects of life and the minutia, having a plan, yet being able to go with the flow (OK the go with the flow is just him, I practically plan out my underwear a week in advance). We thing of the what ifs, even the unlikely ones. We have the difficult discussions now, so that we don't have to confront startling differences we never realized were there when a situation arises. We may not always agree, but we have learned where each other stands, and how to compromise where we must. We dream together, but also confront the facts. I certainly am no expert in relationships. Less so in marriage. But I'd like to think I've learned a bit along the long and especially topsy turvy road to where I am now.

If I could give advice to anyone getting married, or thinking about it, it would be this:

1. Don't ever, ever, ever assume. I don't care if you have to ask 10 different times in 10 different ways to make sure you understand each other - not that you always agree, but that you know where each other stands.

2. Every answer to the above doesn't have to be a yes or no. If you don't know, say it. There are some questions I can answer with much more certainty at 37 than I could have at 27.  It's better for someone to know you haven't made up your mind than to be surprised when you change it - especially about something major.

3. Compromise is incredibly important and it's not always 50/50 in every individual situation. In the end, it should about even out, but don't keep exact score.

4. Sometimes, a topic may be so crucial that you don't feel you can compromise. Pick your battles, but stand your ground when it matters most. Otherwise, there's a high chance of bitterness and resentment down the road.

5. Don't count on anything outside of the two of you to make your marriage happy. If your marriage will only be happy if your life together goes exactly as planned - ideal home, family exactly as you imagined, jobs on the current course, etc - you need to reconsider. Your partner should be enough for the marriage in and of themselves - not as part of a larger plan that comes along with them. Because we know what happens to the best laid plans.

6. Don't count on either of you changing, but understand that everyone does in some ways. Meaning this: love and marry the person for who they are in this moment, not for who you think they could be or who they used to be. At the same time, everyone evolves and grows, or so you hope. Shifts in each of you, with age and experience, are almost inevitable. Allow each other some leeway, especially as the years progress. I personally wouldn't want my spouse at 64 to be acting like they did at 24.

7. Sh*t is going to happen. This basically an absolute given. To you as a person, to you as a couple. The things you never expected to bother you will. Things you expected to worry about for years to come, you'll get used to.  When these things happen, know that you're in good company, and try not to let it discourage you.

As I start dotting the i's and crossing the t's of the details for my next wedding, I can feel a glaring difference between my first wedding and this one. We have a total of two people in our bridal party, one on each side. We're having a 15-ish minute ceremony at the same site as our reception. There will be about 65 guests instead of 200, a good number of whom are between the ages of 1 and 14. We're not doing a shower (bridal, I am showering) or a registry. I personally don't care if everyone - that's not in the actual wedding - shows up in their PJs. What I do care about is that half of the time our discussions about wedding plans dissolve into laughter. that we enjoy cooking dinner together as we discuss our plans, that what we can't wait for most is the opportunity to spend our lives together, whatever that may bring.