It’s amazing the types of things that comfort us in difficult times. The day we buried mom was perhaps the worst day of my life. When I lost dad that was bad enough, but mom and I had been inseparable since dad passed and I had lost a very large piece of my heart that day. I remember standing in the chapel at the funeral home looking at her in the casket, memories of her flooding my brain as I cried, feeling so alone and wanting to just crawl in there with her. What was I going to do without her?
The funeral director called us to come together in the family room so I touched mom’s face one last time and said my final goodbye. As I tried desperately to put one foot in front of the other, I saw something out of the corner of my eye; I turned my head and laying there on the empty pew was one of those bracelets that we used to make when we were kids – you know the kind with the different colored string wound together to make what was then called a “friendship bracelet.” It was pink and black and white and was a bit big so I had to double it in order to put it on my wrist. I haven’t taken it off since.
Why – when the chapels are cleaned daily and hers was the first service of the day – would this have been left there? Surely, someone on staff would have picked it up and thrown it away or put it in the lost and found after the final service the previous day? The answer is simple – I’ve come to believe that mom left this bracelet there for me, just so I would know she was okay. Because I had to double the bracelet, it feels as if I have mom’s arms holding me, keeping me safe. I know the day will come when I won’t need it anymore, and I am leaving that decision to fate. One morning I will wake up or I’ll be at work and look down and it will be gone. I’m not looking forward to that day because as simplistic as it seems, this bracelet has become a part of me and is a reminder that mom is still with me. It has become a “security blanket” of sorts and like a child with a pacifier, it keeps me calm.
Mom told me when I was three years old, we were in the car riding down Broad Street and all of a sudden, I threw my beloved pacifier out the window. When she asked me why, my response was “no want.” I never used a pacifier again. Perhaps the day my bracelet leaves me will be the day I “no need,” but I’ll cherish it while I have it.
As Emily Dickinson said,
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
No offense to Ms. Dickinson, while the above is a beautiful stanza to her famous poem, comparing Hope to feathers is not altogether accurate. In my life, and for those of us struggling with anxiety and depression:
“Hope” is the thing with tentacles
Grasping me everso tightly
Until the act of breathing becomes impossible
And I am lost – scared to death –
Personally, I think the concept of Hope is a scary one – it is paralyzing and has prevented me from acting on things I should have. I continually “hope” that something will change in my life to create less anxiety; I “hope” I will have enough money to pay my bills each month; I “hope” I will be able to find a job and that my fear of screwing up won’t get in the way; I “hope” I can learn to love myself and get it through my thick head that I am worth more than I give myself credit for. But lately, “hope” has become “hopeless.” How does such a small word create such a large physical and emotional reaction? The heart palpitations, the shakes, the lack of focus and above all, the ability to overlook the good in one’s life while “hoping” for what may or may not come?”
Perhaps it is because I am a planner – I admit it, I have an irrational fear of the unknown – I have to know what will happen – and the uncertainty of what the next hour or day may bring ignites thoughts of worry and frustration. Is this how “Hope” is supposed to feel? Unfortunately in my case it does, and I’m sure it does for others who struggle on a daily basis.
Before I close, let me say that I applaud those of you who have lived positively with Hope and are able to be excited about what the future has in store for you. That is the way life is supposed to be – as the saying goes, “Hope for the best and prepare for the worst”. Unfortunately, in our anxiety-filled world, the saying has become, “Expect the worst and prepare for the inevitable.”
So what do you do when your anxiety costs you your job? When your lack of focus and physical symptoms cause you to make mistake after mistake and turns you into the type of employee that you have never been and thought you’d never be? It finally happened to me.
I have been in the corporate world for close to 30 years and I have always been a focused, detail-oriented, conscientious employee. But the last couple of years have been very difficult due to several family losses and my anxiety and depression have become the center of my existence. I can’t concentrate, I can’t cope and it has made me become a lackadaisical, do-enough-to-get-by, frustrated individual. This is not me; but unfortunately, it is the only “me” my last two employers have seen.
For those of us suffering from anxiety and depression, this becomes a problem that seems unsolvable. We feel we cannot hold a stable job, and even if we try, something always happens to fuck it up. Self-esteem plummets and the feeling that we are no good for anything takes over our world. It is a cycle with no immediate ending and one that takes us to a place we feel we will never crawl out of.
The amazing group 3 Doors Down sings a song called “Let Me Be Myself.” The words are haunting to me and describe my own personal relationship with anxiety and depression to the letter:
I guess I just got lost
Bein’ someone else
I tried to kill the pain
Nothin’ ever helped
I left myself behind
Somewhere along the way
Hopin’ to come back around
To find myself someday
Please, would you one time
Let me be myself
So I can shine with my own light
And let me be myself
For a while, if you don’t mind
Let me be myself
So I can shine with my own light
Let me be myself
I miss the old me – the me that was excited to go to work and put in a hard day of paperwork, research and customer service. I miss the strong woman I used to be I and would do anything to have her come back. She’s here somewhere – I just have to find her.
I don’t say that lightly. If you have for even one second felt your heart beating out of your chest or your hands shake, or your stomach rolling so hard you feel like you want to throw up, then you know exactly what I’m talking about.
Welcome to my blog – a place for conversation and suggestions about living with the very real struggle of mental illness. It’s not about “getting over it” or “hoping it will get better.” It’s about waking up every morning and praying that you can get through the day in one piece. It’s about dealing quietly with your symptoms in a crowd full of people and longing for the safety of your own bedroom. It’s one second, one minute, one hour at a time.
I have struggled with anxiety and depression my whole life. I have been where you are, felt every emotion that you have and although I am still here, it gets harder every day. I have wished I was dead, wished I could crawl into a hole and never come out, and wanted to be loved and left alone at the same time. It is my goal in writing this blog to share my day to day struggles, the events in my life that cause the panic, fear and uncertainty.
Feel free to share your own experiences and struggles with anxiety and depression. Perhaps we can survive it together.