Monday, March 31, 2014

Sanity is Expensive

Let's see...where did I leave you?

Oh, yes.  My nervous breakdown.

Turns out that regaining sanity is a somewhat time-consuming (and expensive) process.  Remind me that I said that when I tell you that I'm doing so well, I don't need to go to therapy anymore or that I can handle everything on my own, no problem, who needs sleep anyway?

Just say to me, "Catherine.  Don't be a dumbass.  Go therapy just for a tune-up and no you can't do everything yourself.  Remember the breakdown of 2014?  You don't want to go 'there' again."

And I promise I'll listen.

Therapy, yoga, two different doctors, anti-anxiety meds, Flonase, and sleep.  Mix it all together and you'll create someone who can eventually leave her own house.

As with everything "head" related in my life, I would really like to speed up the "regaining sanity" process and get to the part where I can actually sit across the dinner table from someone without getting dizzy and begin to think about a future vacation with my kids without breathing into a paper bag.  It's just like when Brad died and I was so ready to expedite the grief process as much as possible. I was totally willing to sit in my bed for one solid month, if necessary, bawl my eyes out, allow all of the stages of grief to have their allotted 6.2 hours, and then move forward.

Well.  I set myself up for disappointment then and I'm doing it again now.  Because even though the insanity is a little different...there is no quick way to go about getting rid of it.

But I'll get there.  I do see progress.  Of course, the second I saw things improving I went back to my manic ways...and then immediately felt dizzy again.  So, even though things are better, I have a feeling it will be a little while before I'm 100%.

Actually, when it comes to sanity, I don't know if I'll ever be 100%.  I think at this point I'll shoot for 70% and see where I land.


I've heard a lot of people say that kids (girls especially) who have lost a parent at an early age, usually enter in a second phase of grief when they hit the (pre) teen years.  In spite of the fact that I pay absolutely no attention to my mental health, I am very vigilant about what's going on with my kids'.  And since I have one daughter who is at the jumping off point, leaving the cliffs of childhood and diving into the rough seas of adolescence, I'm pretty hyper-vigilant these days about what's going on.

When my daughter started middle school last year, I told her I was leaving it up to her if she wanted to tell teachers about what happened to her dad.  She's a smart cookie and has been pretty mature since the age of two, so I felt comfortable with letting her make that decision.

Last year passed by without incident and this year has been pretty easy.  But a few weeks ago, something happened that make me prick up my mom ears and listen.  

She came home from school one afternoon and told me something that had happened that day in her science class - that they had been talking about the space program and my daughter raised her hand and said, "My dad worked in the space program.  He worked on the Titan."

Her teacher, unaware of our situation, said, "That's awesome!  When you get home you should ask him some questions about it and let us know what he said!"

Now, when she told me this story, giggling the entire time, I was somewhat mortified.  I said, "Did you tell him that your dad died?"

"No," she said.  "I just kind of laughed."

"Do you want me to talk to him about it?" I asked.

"Not really.  It's no big deal, Mom."

I let it drop for the afternoon and thought about it for a while.  My first instinct was to email the teacher, but I felt like this was something I wanted to discuss further with my daughter.  For those of you who have parented teenagers, you know that you don't want them to stop coming to you, so going behind their backs is not always the best option.  I will make the best decisions I can and my vote will almost always override hers, but this was something I felt like we could figure out together.

My other concern was probably what you're thinking right now:  Did she really think the whole
situation was funny, as she claimed, or was it bothering her more than she was letting on?  How concerned should I be?

I know you're thinking that I was probably over-thinking all of this.  But she had had another smaller incident earlier in the year when the same teacher was talking about organ donation with the class and, to try and bring it down to their level and keep them interested (I think), he kind of made it sound gross.

"Did you tell him that your dad was an organ donor?" I asked her then.

"No, I just didn't say anything."

Now, I know that my grief about her dad dying and her grief about him dying (she was five) are very different.  She doesn't have to be as heart-broken as I have been all of these years because she was so little and the way she has been brought up has been her normal.

The night of the science story, I went into her room while she was reading and after I'd put my other two kids to bed.  "Can I talk to you about something?" I asked.

"Sure," she said, putting her book down.

"Why didn't you say something to your teacher about Dad?  Is it because you don't want to feel different from the other kids?"

She sighed.  "I just didn't want to get into it.  You know?  I'm tired of telling the story over and over again."

Boy, do I know how that feels.

"I know you are," I said.  "Tell you what.  Would you mind if I just emailed him so that he knows?  Because here's the problem:  He's going to find out and then he's going to feel terrible for saying what he did.  That's the worst part about it.  I don't like getting into the story either, but it always comes out at some point and then the other person feels bad and then I feel bad that I wasn't upfront about it so that we could skip this uncomfortable moment.  Does that make sense?"

"Yeah," she said.  "You can email him if you want to."

You all know what happens next.  I send the email explaining our situation, the other person feels bad, I feel worse, and then I have to go back and forth several different times over email until the other person feels better, but I still feel worse.  But we got it over with and it's a lesson learned for both of us:  I think I need to be more proactive and still explain this to the teachers and she now knows that we're both in the same boat.

No matter what your sucks to have to tell this story for the rest of your damn life.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

"Confessing" Too Much

What I'm about to type will not surprise you.  In fact, after you read it, many of you will be saying, "Well, duh, Catherine.  You didn't see this coming?"

Nope.  I didn't.

I'm going to use that dreaded word should - you know, the one my therapist keeps telling me I need to abandon.  But I should have seen this coming.  I should have known better.  I should be more prepared for this kind of stuff.

But I'm not.

The last few weeks have been kind of hard.  No, wait.  They've been extremely hard.  I don't think I've had a stretch this tough since Brad's been gone.  And you guys have seen me through some rough moments.  So that's saying something.

This should be a time I'm enjoying.  I should have my shit together.  This should be a celebratory moment in my life because I've worked so hard to get here.

Okay. Enough of that.


January 7, 2014.  That's the day I've had circled on my calendar for over a year - the publication date of Confessions of a Mediocre Widow and the day I felt sure my life would change.  This last Christmas passed by in a blur.  New Year's was a non-event.  It was all just a lead up to January 7th because it was a day I worked pretty damn hard for.

And it was great.  The book launch was well attended and we sold out of books.  The days passed as I heard from more and more readers who truly seemed to like the story. 

"I know now I'm not the only one who goes through all of this stuff."

"I feel less alone."

"I cried on one page and laughed on the next."

Every review and response I received was exactly what I'd dreamed of.  People got it!  They understood what I was saying!  They felt like reading the book was like talking to a new friend - one who really understood them.  If I could have listed my goals with this book...those responses were it.

"Enjoy the moment!"  I kept telling myself.  "Soak it all in!  This is your time!"   More book signings and speaking engagements, emails and congratulations.  Everything that I had been looking forward to for years was finally happening.

Never once did I allow myself to feel sad or overwhelmed, never acknowledging that while getting a book published is a wonderful doesn't have to make me happy all of the time and that this is somewhat of a heavy load to carry alone.  Any time I felt those negative emotions creeping in, I'd tell myself, "A ton of people would give anything to be where you are now.  What the hell do you have to feel bad about?"

And then my body basically just stopped and said, "I'm sorry.  I can't take this anymore.  Your lack of self-awareness is pissing me off."

And no one was more surprised than I was.


I know, I know.  I should have seen it coming.  But the thing is, I don't feel like I was moving at a break-neck pace.  I didn't feel like I was constantly on the go or physically exhausting myself.  The problem is...I don't think I took into account the mental burden I was carrying.  That I had looked forward to this moment so much and it was finally here was one thing.  That I felt like I needed to be "on" all of time, responsive and there for everyone was another.  And, let's be honest, that I was telling my story again, over and over in such a public way, has probably had something to do with it - even though I thought I'd gotten past the point of that bothering me anymore.

I've started feeling uncontrollably dizzy - like I have vertigo.  This has lead to nausea which has then lead to panicked breathing and more dizziness.  The best way I can explain it is that my body goes into "fight or flight" mode, which then leaves me completely exhausted.  I think my anxiety has been building, even though I've done my best to roll my eyes at it and tell it, "I don't have time for you right now" - and now it visits me in a way that can't be ignored.

For someone who has always been a people person and loves going out and having a good time - this has been a terrifying and somewhat life-stopping experience. 


I am now, I hope, in what I consider recovery mode.  Back in therapy (which I was foolish to give up).  Making doctor's appointments with people who I'm hoping will help me work the physical part of this problem out.  Actually saying no on occasion and not feeling guilty about it.  Not checking my email at 10:00 at night.

This last week, I basically turned myself off.  Because I really had no choice.

Here's the thing.  There are so many people out there who talk about writing their story but, to be honest, very few people actually do it.  There is a reason for that.  

It's HARD.  

I've had many people ask me if writing Confessions was therapeutic.  And you know what?  It really wasn't.  It was difficult in every sense of the word.  What was therapeutic about it was that I created something that I wanted when Brad died.  And that is what has helped me.  It wasn't the writing, but the purpose behind it.

But sometimes I wonder if I focused so much on how this book could help others, I didn't take into account what it was doing to me.  And as we all know, when your mind won't acknowledge something, your body will take over in a way that can't be ignored.  And so all of that "I should be enjoying this" and "I don't have time to feel bad" has lead up to this point in my life.

And now I have no choice but to feel it all.