life & death, personal & miscellany

Treading water

It’s been a while. In every area of my life, I’ve been trying to avoid answering the question “How are you?” and this blog has been no exception. The honest answer is that I’m not doing well, and I’ve run out of ways to navigate around saying that – to others, and to myself.

I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder almost two decades ago, and with medication and therapy learned to live in something like harmony with it. I sometimes think of my anxiety as “the good kind,” because I don’t have panic disorder, and my coping strategies are mostly of the high-functioning variety. I worry about my security, so I am overinsured and have a backup plan for every scenario. I don’t just save for retirement; I save for the catastrophe that I feel lurking around every corner. I worry about my life not mattering, so I strive constantly to be more, and do more. I bury myself in work, school, and volunteerism, telling myself that every day, every waking hour must serve a noble purpose. And I worry about other people worrying about me, so I keep quiet.

Okay no, I’m not literally quiet. I talk a lot, and think of myself as a pretty open book. I’ve always worked in public-facing roles. I used to be active on social media (and probably still would be if it weren’t a poisonous, anti-democratic wasteland), and I mean come on, I maintain a blog! I’m not a private person. I stay in touch with friends and family, and most of the people closest to me know about what’s going on in my life. The circumstances of it, anyway. But what I’ve come to understand about myself in recent weeks is that while I’m comfortable talking about the facts of my life, I don’t actually know how to talk about how they affect me. How I’m feeling. How I’m actually doing.

So I’ve logged in here after almost a full year of quiet, to make a start. This year, we lost my husband’s dear mother Karen, who died in January after a brief illness. Then two months later, we lost my father-in-law Chuck, after a difficult year of illness and decline. It was a horrendous year of grief, long distance caregiving in two different cities, loss, and family stress that we’re still very much sorting through. I still cannot bring myself to write about Karen or Chuck here, knowing I could never do them justice or adequately express what they have both meant to me. But I can tell you that I miss them every day. And that my heart aches for Marc, who has lost so much. In May, I left my longtime job as a program director in a nonprofit to take on a new opportunity to lead the community health initiatives of a large local healthcare district. While excited about the new role, I departed with some deep wounds – some caused by others, and some that were self-inflicted – that have left me reflecting on my relationship to work. I’m five months into this new chapter in my career, and trying to learn how to enjoy challenging, meaningful work without letting myself wear out. And of course these personal struggles don’t exist in a vacuum. Like everyone, we continue to live and work through the challenges of an ongoing pandemic, and a dangerous political environment that’s breeding uncivil discourse and frighteningly antisocial behavior. Throw in some peri menopausal changes and the continued grief of having lost Norma last fall, and it’s quite a roiling pot of garbage soup.

Early this fall I was diagnosed with depression. It’s been a long time coming, and I regret having waited so long to reach out for the help. I have seen firsthand so many times the consequences of unmanaged depression, but totally failed to recognize it in my own self. For nearly two years now, I’ve tried using the strategies that (I thought) helped me manage my anxiety. Overworking, overthinking, overplanning, overdoing. But I’ve only dug myself deeper. I’ve recently started a new medication, am back to regular therapy, and am beginning to feel the weight beginning to lift.

In the open water swim that is daily life, I’ve been paddling through something of a rough rip current here. I felt its dangerous tugs and pulls, and exhausted myself trying to swim harder and get out of it. In a recent moment of clarity, it occurred to me that it was time to just let that rip current pull me out. It’s calmer out here, and I know I’m a strong enough swimmer to just tread water for a while, and rest. I’ve dropped a few balls, but I’m going to trust that the important ones can float, and will make their way back to shore on their own. And once I’ve got my strength back, I’ll find the break and paddle back in.

Thank you, Karen and Chuck, for everything you were to us. We hope you’re resting in peace.

6 thoughts on “Treading water”

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your truth, as always I appreciate your ability to put hard things into words. I can relate to some of what you’re going thru (menopause is no joke friend, and aging parents, and health issues, and and and), and I think being honest and seeking help is the way to go.
    Love you!

  2. Amy – I was moved by your brutal honesty in this post and all that you have been going through.  I know you are strong enough to tread water and find your way back to shore.  Sending hugs….

    Debbie Fins

  3. I admire your ability to be honest with yourself and open with others. I see you, dear friend.

  4. I appreciate your sharing more than I can explain in a simple reply. So I’ll just say thanks and best to you.

  5. Dear Amy, I feel this. You have so adeptly expressed what is difficult to put into words. I’m sorry for the compounding loss and pain you’ve both been experiencing. I’m so glad you’re getting the help you’ve needed. It takes a while to heal and yeah, this perimenopause stuff is a while new wave of physical and identity clashing experiences! (But it has one big bonus, yay!) I have so much confidence in you. Time and time again I have seen you do amazing things. You have gifts that no one else has. No matter what, your life has been a gift to me and to countless others. You’ve shown vulnerability through this and girl, you are SO enough!!! I love you lots and lots.

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