The Big Blue Suitcase
So why write a blog about something as unfunny and serious about anxiety you may ask? Well…I have a twisted sense of humor and I truly believe that if I don’t laugh about my anxiety and the weird things it makes me think and do, I might explode. Just kidding, but I wouldn’t be living a complete and happy life – and I’m just not satisfied living an incomplete life. None of us should be.
I’m also passionate about bringing attention to the topic of mental illness. So many people suffer in silence and shame. It’s taken a long time but I have zero shame in telling anyone that if I didn’t have a great therapist, psychiatrist and anti-anxiety prescription, I would most likely be a very poorly functioning member of society.
I can remember sitting in my car during college and the guy I was seeing randomly finding my prescription for Zoloft hanging out of my purse. “Why do you have this?!” It wasn’t a concerned question. It was a disgusted question. I had suddenly become that crazy girl he would go tell the entire baseball team about and I felt humiliated. However, a few years later I met a girl randomly at a Halloween party and it turns out (we’ll call him Baseball Boy to avoid naming names) Baseball Boy had been seeing both of us at the same time. So, sexy Mrs. Clause and Ariel the Little Mermaid laughed and chanted something to the effect of “He is such a bleeping a-hole!” for a LONG time and it was glorious. Not my finest or proudest moment, but dang, it felt good.
When people find out how severe my anxiety is, the response is almost always the same – shock, or even confusion. I get this line all the time ‘but you seem like you have it all together?!’ Which makes me wonder if they picture all people with anxiety as complete non-functioning members of society, or Bob from What About Bob (one of my favorite movies by the way – “Baby steps into the elevator”). But the truth is, most of us with anxiety are just really good at hiding it. You would never know that sometimes my anxiety is so bad it takes a Xanax to get myself out of the house. Why am I sharing this? Because I want to end the stigma.
While I believe my anxiety is hereditary and just the way my brain works, there are instances in my life that had HUGE impacts on how I view the world and, I believe, have increased my anxiety over time. There are two particularly distinct experiences in my life where I can think back and actually remember the anxiety I felt at that time. It’s almost like when a certain smell brings back a particular memory, but in reverse.
My very first memory of every feeling anything close to an anxiety attack was when I was 8 years old and my dad walked out on our family. I was having a sleep over with my best friend, Emily. We were either rocking out to my favorite country music singer at that time, Reba – you know it, she is the queen of country. My favorite song at the time was “Fancy” and looking back I’m surprised my mom let me listen to it over and over again considering it’s about a poverty stricken mother turning out her daughter to prostitution…but nevertheless, it went right over my head and I can still sing the entire song word for word. We had sleeping bags set up on my mom’s hideous early 90s hunter green and peach velvet couch and I was as happy as any little 8 year with her best friend could be. Ironically, for pajamas I was wearing an oversized, red, Ace Hardware t-shirt that said something about having a screw loose (a reference to all of their hardware supplies). And this was the very night I believe my little brain started to have a screw loose.
I remember my dad walking into the living room with a big light blue suitcase. It was night and I had no idea why he was leaving or where he was going. I asked him. “To spend the night at the Fire Station,” was his reply. I was young, but this made zero sense. My dad was a deputy sheriff for Snohomish County and worked graveyard, (I know he volunteered at the fire department sometimes but NEVER overnight) why would he be going there to spend the night? My little brain went into overdrive, what was happening. I knew deep down that this was a lie, and it both enraged and broke me.
My mom was crying, Emily (who was a year older and always light-years ahead of me in life matters) understood. Everyone seemed to understand but me. My dad was leaving. He was leaving me, our family, our home, and the best thing he could come up with was a lie. I don’t remember much after that point. My mom tells me my grandma came over after he was gone and I collapsed sobbing. But I can still feel those feelings – the cold sweat, the nausea, racing heart, wanting to escape my body, the out of control feeling that I wanted to run away from there, and finally the brain fog. I’ve blocked all memories out after he walked out that door because it was just too much. The only thing I wish would have been different about that night is that he would have been man enough to tell the truth, and not lie right into the face of his oldest daughter.
My second experience was September 11, 2001. Just writing that date makes my stomach clench. Can you remember exactly where you were and what you were doing when you heard the news? It was my senior year of high school, I had late start and I was just putting on my makeup and listening to the radio (this was before anything other than CDs or radio and that makes me feel old). I rushed out to the living room to watch the news with my mom. I was terrified. They say most people have two reactions to dangerous or panic situations: flight or fight. I have a third and very useless biological response: freeze. That day I froze. I was overcome with anxiety and at that point had no clue that anxiety was what I was feeling.
We sat in dark classrooms the next two days, watching the news, waiting for teachers with family in New York to reach their loved ones. The skies eerily quiet, as my hometown has an airport and all flights had been cancelled. It was at this point that my anxiety truly took hold of me and became an every day monster in my head, instead of annoying little reactions to actual stressful or upsetting situations. Would I have eventually developed full blown Generalized Anxiety Disorder if 9/11 had never happened, I believe so. But it was at this point in my life that I stopped feeling safe, and started worrying about every public place I went to. I am always curious about how this unthinkable event in our history has impacted people in my generation. We were finding our way, shaping our personalities, learning who we were as individuals. How do you think it has shaped who you have become as an adult?
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 40 million adults suffer from anxiety disorders in the United States and only a third of those people seek treatment. That is an unacceptable number of people getting the help they need. My hope is that with this blog, at least one person suffering will get the help they deserve.
I promise that not every post will be this serious, but this gives you a bit of my background and a better understanding of where I’m writing from. Plus, life is not always roses and rainbows and I want this blog to be real and from my heart. I promise the FULL story about peeing on the bus in Hawaii in my next post.