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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

If You Panicked Less I Would Talk to You More

Dear Friend,

As I'm sure most everyone has noticed, it's been over a month since I've written a blog post. That's largely because I've been focused on writing my next book and meeting those deadline goals, and I'm not writing this now because I'm ahead. I'm writing this because of you. I hope you know who you are once you've read through this and know how important you are to me and how I want this to help.

I also hope everyone else reads this because there are things I want to say to the people you interact with. There are important things I want people to understand, and this is a great forum for that because blogging is both intensely personal and almost totally anonymous. Not because you don't know who I am, but because blog posts can be shared by anyone for anyone with the bonus layer of protection, i.e., "I shared this because I thought it was interesting, not because I agree/ was trying to attack you/ can't find the words to say on my own."

I love my car. It isn't something I talk about a lot, because it's such a small, frivolous thing but sometimes it's the most unimportant stuff that gets you through another day of all the crushing responsibility. So I love my car. It's a cute little Scion TC with a sun roof and a moon roof and (my favorite) a kicking sound system. I have a narrow window of time for when I could have a car like this. It's two door, so I need my kids to be old enough to not be in super buckled carseats, but it's a pretty small car and my kids are going to be crazy tall so I need them to be young enough to fit inside it.

I am right in the middle of that window, and it's awesome. Sometimes I drive around with my music turned up to 50 and my sunroof open and I pretend for a few minutes that I am not a responsible mother, homemaker, housewife, etc., but just a person who likes music and is driving. I would definitely road-trip in this car, which is why I bring it up at all. Over the past few weeks in talking with friends, other writers, and other parents I've had the same part of a conversation four times. It isn't always exactly the same, but it boils down to this sentiment: "Sometimes I just want to get in my car and drive away and never come back."

Can I mention something? I love that people tell me these things. I love that they trust me enough to tell me they want to drive away and abandon everything and know that I'm not going to freak out or ask them if they're depressed. Friend, I know what you mean. Everyone else, DON'T OVER-REACT. The desire to be free of responsibility is 100% understandable and expressing that desire out loud does not mean they're going to do it- in fact, it makes them, it makes us, less likely to act out. Being able to talk out our feelings means they're not rattling around inside, getting bigger and more intrusive until they push us over an edge. So my friend, please tell me these things because I want you to be able to talk to me and because I know exactly what you mean.

Language is often an imperfect medium, because taking the time to be exact isn't always practical and for all the life we've lived in our own minds, we rarely take the time to get to know ourselves well. Usually I understand what I'm feeling because I've been giving the words to express the what, "I feel sad/ tired/ overwhelmed" but not often the WHY. For example, "I want to get in my car and drive," does NOT mean, "I don't love my family and I want to leave them all behind." It's more likely that you're experiencing pressure in several aspects of your life and the compound large stress from all that is activating your fight or flight response. And flight is easier than fighting a battle on several fronts at once.

Or, my friend, you're feeling the way I've been feeling for the past few months. That you can't live like this any longer. And that statement terrifies people, because instead of focusing on the "like this" part they hear the "I can't live any longer" part and that activates their stress fight or flight protocol. Which sucks because then they try to either fight you about it or hide from it and therefore from you. So not helpful! When I say, (and this won't be true for you because you don't live my life, but maybe something in it will resonate, friend) "I can't live like this any longer" that means I am ready to look for a new solution. That something has got to change, and I'm giving the people in my life a heads up on looking for change or asking for your on how to make things different.

And see, now everyone I know who's reading this is clutching their chest with a hand over their heart thinking, "I had no idea Angie was feeling like she couldn't live like this any longer! There must be something really wrong and she's dangling over the edge of a cliff by her fingernails and I should call her or call people who care about her or have responsibility for her and fix this!"

My friends, take a deep breath. I am fine, in that I am not about to fall off a cliff. I don't need to be saved, I need a little support now and then and I need to figure out what the reason for me feeling like this is and how to fix it. Myself. I'm not dangerous, I'm not in danger. Breathe and relax. We're going to be okay, you and me. My friend and I don't need people freaking out on us because we're going through hard trials, especially since everyone is going through hard trials. Not all at once; all you my other friends who have found balance for this moment, you have gone through hard things. You will go through hard things again. Think back on them and remember what helped you most- little daily victories and supportive friends who listen without being judgmental.

Personal example: (I can give these because it's my blog). I have fibromyalgia. When I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia I talked to my family about it, and my sister asked me, "Is that even a real thing?" She wasn't trying to be mean or condescending! She was honestly asking, and I had to make sure I wasn't transmitting my own inner fear of this not being a real thing onto what she was actually trying to learn. And my sister wasn't the only one who reacted that way; I had to recognize that part of their questions was their desire to make this not true for me because they care about me. But again, language is imperfect and our use of it makes it more so, and questions like, "Are you sure?" and "Don't you think they could've misdiagnosed you?" were the result of their feeling, "I don't want this to be happening to you because I love you," and me hearing, "I think you're making this up."

Stop. Re-read that. How completely opposite is what they meant and what I heard? Is it any wonder that it's so easy to fight with and be hurt by the people you love the most when any statement is that open for interpretation?

Fibromyalgia IS a real thing, yes. It is a diagnosable disorder and is recognized by medical health professionals and by the US National Institute of Health. It is a disorder of the central nervous system, meaning that the signals for things that you feel and experience can get mixed up. Here is the key to fibromyalgia that I think most people don't understand. When a person feels pain, it is the body's method of alerting the conscious brain to a problem. The greater the problem, the greater the associated pain. The pain DOES NOT come from the injury or illness itself, it is something your body generates to get you to deal with the injury. If this were not the case, pain medicines would have no effect. All this pain is controlled and transmitted through the central nervous system.

When you have fibromyalgia, your central nervous system responds to cues other than injury. You can feel like you have a broken arm without any actual injury to the bone, and here's the point that I need to stress with fibro that everyone needs to understand: the injury may not have happened, BUT THE PAIN IS REAL. As real as pain ever is, anyway. Remember, pain is the body's way of telling the brain something is wrong. And fibromyalgia is something wrong with your body that it doesn't know how to deal with or what to do, so it sends pain to the brain as a signal to "fix it."

Some days there are things going on with my body that I don't understand. It doesn't understand either, so it sends the problem to the brain. As pain, or weakness, or a myriad of other dysfunctions as a plea for help that no one knows how to give. I have a whole Pinterest board about fibro, if you'd care to see it.

One of those pins says I can be changed by what happens to me, but I refuse to be reduced by it. I've been talking a lot about miscommunication, both from person to person and from body to mind, and things weigh so heavy on us when they're burdens we put on ourselves. It's easy to make negative assumptions when people speak, because negativity is almost always easier and because once again, we're bad at language.

My dear friend, when you're feeling really upset I recommend one or two of the following things:

1. Give yourself permission to feel crappy. Life is hard, and it is supposed to be. Refiner's fire and all that. But don't let life being hard make you feel bad about yourself because life doesn't get hard if you're failing at it- it's when we're succeeding that we get brand new tests.

2. Don't be afraid to talk it out. You can tell me "I just want to run away," and I know you mean "I wish there was a way to get away from this because I feel trapped by circumstances," not "I want to abandon my family and fake my death and invent a new personality." Although sometimes circumstances are hard enough that even faking your own death seems appealing...

3. Listen to awesome music. I mentioned my car's stereo system earlier- I really do love it. Music has a way of penetrating the barriers of our conscious mind and lodging itself in our hearts. It carries messages of hope or power or love, and you should listen to some of that power music. Or wallow in music that feels as depressed as you may feel, because then at least you are not depressed alone!

4. Take time to identify what's really bothering you. This is obviously more mental than physical, but I'm serious. I once spent nearly two weeks feeling edgy and upset before I finally sat myself down and analyzed what my problem was. Turns out I was worried that my friend was mad at me over something I posted on facebook (political, not personal) and I spent two weeks worrying about it and unable to relax instead of just talking to her. She was mad, and we didn't talk for a few weeks. Strangely knowing that and talking it out with her made me feel better, even though the result was what I had been afraid of. We both got over it. We're still best friends.

5. Do something every day just because you like it. Who cares what it is. Read, dance, be silly, take a nap, watch a favorite show on TV, meditate, be outside, whatever: if it makes you feel more like you, it's worth the time.

6. Stop beating yourself up about it, and stop caring if other people are judging you. Seriously, mom on the iphone blogger? BACK OFF. (You can read my previous post about that particular article. That made me more mad than I've been in a while. Usually mad takes up too much energy). People judge you. People have opinions and make mistakes and are always much better at looking at other people's lives than their own. So what? Let them carry those burdens. And if they try to pass them on to you, thank them for caring and tell them to drop it, because it isn't worth it. Life is hard enough on us. We are hard enough on us. Can we please just stop being hard on each other?

Doing these things doesn't fix my chemical depression (or make me listen to "My Chemical Romance," that's a choice). I have burdens. You have burdens. It's okay to admit our burdens. It isn't okay to add guilt to our burdens because we feel badly about them. My friend, you're awesome. I don't know if you ever saw the movie, "Return to Me,"  but there's a line that the Irish Grandpa says that I've always loved: "It's the character that's the strongest that God gives the most troubles to." Wear your trials on your heart like a badge of honor- they mean you are strong.

And for those of you who don't have trials or burdens as heavy as the rest of us, don't be jealous. It'll all be okay in the end, and if it's not okay, it's not the end.

And if you'd like a little fun in your day, Danielle Young over at Yellsworld did an interview with two of the main characters from my book, and she did a great job. My health and wellness may be hit and miss, but I get to LOVE what I do, and that's even better than my car stereo with the sunroof open.

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