Anxiety is hard. Really, really hard. Especially anxiety that’s exacerbated by PTSD. I can ignore the constant hum of impending doom that plays in the background of my everyday life, and thankfully, I don’t keep myself awake with thoughts of my death, or Murphy’s or deal with the other things that sometimes manifest for folks who are trying to manage. I don’t confuse anxiety with panic (because once you’ve dealt with each, you know for damn sure which is which). For me, the hardest part is my inability to trust myself to make personal decisions. Or maybe it’s just decisions that involve personal risk. Or the possibility of failure. That’s where things become impossible in my head. Okay, occasionally, what to make for dinner seems overwhelming, too, but that’s why I keep the place stocked with Murphy food. Just in case.
I’m not indecisive by nature. Professionally, I can make big, huge decisions based on data, trends, research and others’ views. I can put together a workable plan, build a consensus around it and its execution and do both formative and summative evaluation of it. I am good at that. I get paid for that. I can drown out the noise and see the way to the goal, and I can bring a team along toward it with me. I’m an effective manager, which involves a lot of instinct sometimes. I am the go-to person for friends who need to sort things out and make decisions. And I do it for Murphy, too. The medical decisions I make? They myriad decisions about school and doctors and activities? The navigation of the complicated health-care labyrinth that I make look easy? I make careful, informed decisions with a fair amount of confidence and damned good outcomes. Clearly, I’ve explored, tested and mastered the various decision-making models. But when it comes to me? Guys, I need a me to manage me.
I won’t bore you with the myriad peer-reviewed, expertly researched journal articles (I’m an academic, I read, #sorrynotsorry) about this phenomenon, nor will I point out articles from pop-psych sources (that are mostly fun with a little real info) like Psychology Today. I don’t put myself out there as an expert in these well-documented fields of study and practice, though I do keep abreast of the newer treatments. My recovery and my coping mechanisms work (mostly) for me; I rarely reach out to others except to sometimes explain what ultimately saved my life (EMDR) and what I do when I know it’s all creeping back (check my thyroid, do lots of yoga, use meditation apps like Calm , give up gluten, sugar and alcohol and drink lots of water, give myself permission to just be for a while, and sometimes, to reach out to my helpers). If you are dealing with anxiety, panic, depression or any illness that is causing you distress, find yourself a good Psy.D. and an M.D. There’s a lot of help available. You need to figure out what works for you.
Once again, I find myself wondering: what do normal people who do not feel so much anxiety do when they need to make a big decision? Do they agonize like I do? Do they avoid it as I am wont? Do they have long and winding conversations to nowhere-very-nice in their heads? No matter what I try, I hear the voice from my childhood that I’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars and years of my life trying to silence whispering, “you’re so stupid,” “everything you do goes wrong,” “I wish you’d never been born,” “you ruin everything and everyone you touch,” and perhaps the most pervasive, “everything bad that happens is all your fault, and anything good was because of me.” The voice tells me not to trust my gut, that thing everyone else it trained to trust above all else. What do you do when all that early imprinting about having to please the unpredictable and unpleasable just won’t shut up, and so you find yourself constantly adrift? What do you when you can recognize it, name it, know it but not fix it?
My “inner voice” is screaming at me to do something. It’s a big thing. It’s important. If it’s the wrong thing, it would impact not just me, but Murphy, too. Not like one of us would die. And not like we couldn’t recover. It’s not “end of the world” decisioning, even if it feels like it. But if it’s the right thing, the payoff would be enormous. I’ve made the lists of pros and cons. I’ve considered this and that and the other thing and some, but maybe not all, of the truly unlikely but remotely possible things. And still no decision. I know that I need to make one, and then I need to make a plan and execute upon that decision. One way or another, I need to commit to something.
A lot of people admit to feeling trapped when they have kids. I’m sure it’s been written about in the parenting books, and I’m equally sure it’s been overdone on the mommy blogs. It didn’t happen for me, though. Not when Murph was born, at least. It happened when Murph went to first grade. It hit me like a bus. I was married to a school district. I couldn’t just move. He was locked into it, and so was I. Whether or not that’s a rational thought is irrelevant right now because I saw the light of a window last year, and now I’m seeing the door being cracked open. Elementary school is about to end. The switch to middle school is huge here; three fourth grades will join into one fifth in a middle school building that houses 5th through 9th grades. If I want us to make a move, this is the time because no matter what happens, Murph is going to be faced with big changes.
He wants to go. He wants to go far. We’ve talked about it. He’s got some friends he could Facetime and Xbox and visit, but he’s not connected to this area by a group of friends, sports teams, activities and so on. Neither am I connected. So, the only tethers are the ones we choose. They are self-snapped handcuffs. And still, I cannot seem to let go. I don’t trust myself that I can handle whatever comes next, even though my track record for handling “whatever comes next” is 100% because we’re still here. I don’t trust that I can make a good choice. I am terrified that I am going to somehow, by making a wrong turn, ruin Murphy’s childhood and life, even though I know that not deciding is still a decision. I am tuning out the inner, screaming voice that is telling me to jump, and it’s making me hate being in my own head because it’s almost impossible to walk away from an argument you’re having with yourself.
So, that’s me, today. Murph is at his best friend’s house. I’m home watching a Walking Dead marathon, and thinking I’m like Rick when he’s down and adrift after a battle, saying, “I can’t be your leader,” and unable to do more than move from day to day. We all wait for angry, tough, get-shit-done Rick to return. And he always does return. Or maybe I’m more like Carol. Maybe I’m a warrior (maybe? I’m the only parent raising Murphy with no help of any kind, so maybe not maybe?). Right now, she’s living my dream in a tiny cabin, alone with lots of books, but we all know she’s just regrouping and recharging for her next epic battle. Because while she second-guesses herself a lot, she also shows up when she needs to fight. Sort of like Fries after the molt that seemed a lot like a vacay from the world, or his death. Out he dug himself from the dirt after his break from his exhausting life of chirping and digging. Bigger, bolder and more badass than before, he has become fearless (something I once used as my “word of the year”). Except that I am not that Rick or Carol often enough. Hell, I’m not even Fries, the puny punk crab who established dominion over his expanding world because someone was going to rule it, so why not him? I think I’d be scary good at personal decisioning if I tried. And maybe that’s part of the problem, too. I mean, if I make a big decision, and it all goes pretty right, would that fundamentally shift my inner dialogue or would I chalk it up to a fluke?
At this rate, I’m never going to find out (but I really want to). So stay tuned.
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