I started this blog because I have been living a lie.
For my entire life, I’ve held this secret to me because I’m ashamed of what people will say or think if I told the truth. There is a long, deep rooted fear I’ve had since childhood that if I speak up, people will tell me I’m full of shit. I also keep it close to me because I don’t want to be perceived as weak or have others feel sorry for me.
Shame and pride. What fucked up reasons to keep a secret, huh?
I was abused by my parents as a child. I also have a mental illness.
I’ve been participating in Oprah Winfrey’s Lifeclass. While I don’t have cable and can’t get OWN, I do go online to watch the webcast and I do the “lifework”. This class has had a profound effect on me. Not one day goes by where I haven’t had at least one “a-ha” moment about myself and why I do what I do.
I also have an anxiety disorder, been diagnosed with depression, and I have panic attacks. I truly believe that my mental illness is deeply rooted in the events of my childhood and that in order to truly heal and be well, I have to let this secret go. This secret and my own shame about my past is also fueling this deep anger I have. This anger threatens to consume me and I must let go of the anger if I wish to live life to its fullest and finally be at peace.
I will delve more into my past in other posts.
My anxiety, I believe, is fueled by my anger. I also believe that there is a genetic component to it. I believe that I was not destined to be angry or anxious or depressed, in spite of my DNA. I believe that environment woke up what should have been dormant. I remember what I used to be like when I was very young. My anxiety is beyond just being nervous. It has now affected my ability to hold a job.
During one session of Oprah’s Lifeclass, I heard the most wonderful quote about anger from Iyanla Vanzant:
“You can accept or reject the way you are treated by other people, but until you heal the wounds of your past, you will continue to bleed. You can bandage the bleeding with food, with alcohol, with drugs, with work, with cigarettes, with sex, but eventually, it will all ooze through and stain your life. You must find the strength to open the wounds, stick your hands inside, pull out the core of the pain that is holding you in your past, the memories, and make peace with them.”
I bolded the last part for a reason. That last sentence really stuck with me. I’ve been in and out of counseling for at least twenty years. I understand why and how I was verbally and emotionally abused and neglected by my parents. I’m an analytical kind of gal, so I understood the psychology behind their behavior. But I made the mistake of thinking that understanding the mechanics behind their behavior was all I needed to know and then I could move on from that and put the past behind me. But it didn’t work. Deep down, I still hurt, and I still carried a lot of anger. I subconsciously still believed those negative and untrue messages I was constantly fed my entire life, but most importantly, I became a master in the art of self-sabotage.
In September of 2010, I was a wreck. I was working in a job I no longer loved, working in a toxic environment where morale was so low due to several factors. Among them was constant and never-ending overtime, which I believe was because of mismanagement and management’s refusal to adapt and be pro-active, and that included training new people. Another factor was that the environment was negative; that is, we constantly heard what we were doing “wrong”, but rarely did we ever hear about what we were doing right. It was also difficult to get time off that you earned, which also contributed to poor morale. While I do not argue with putting a restriction on how many people can have off at a time so that the needs of the business are met, I do take issue with doing so in such a way it pits co-workers against each other and breeds resentment, which is how it was done here.
I was also 40 years old in 2010. I love being in my 40s. But when I turned 40, it was as if a switch was turned on and I began my midlife crisis. The reason we have a midlife crisis, is because it’s Nature’s way of reminding us that we are living a lie, that if we don’t stop living this lie, we will go to our graves with regrets, and it is not too late to change your life.
The definition of insanity, it’s said, is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results each time. I also think that this is the definition of arrogance, too. I thought that I was above my destiny. This manifested itself in my ignoring all the warning signs of my stress.
It all caught up with me when I had a nervous breakdown and started having panic attacks. I remember the morning of September 14, 2010 when my alarm went off and I started hyperventilating and felt my heart trying to beat its way out of my chest. I curled up in a tight little ball, clinging to my husband, because he was my lifeline.
The next thing I remember was sitting in the living room in my favorite chair, curled up. Inside, I could feel this force building up inside of me and I felt it approaching the breaking point. I vaguely remember starting to cry hysterically and trying to pull my hair out. My husband wanted to take me to the ER right then and there, but me being the prideful and stubborn I am, I told him that I was okay and he took me at my word.
I ended up in the ER later that evening when I tried to go to sleep and couldn’t because I felt shaky and nervous and so much on edge They hooked me up to an EKG and then gave me a tranquilizer to help me to calm down.
It was my job that triggered all of this because it was the most stressful event in my life. My job was not the root cause of this. I became terrified of going to work. I ended up taking Xanax to calm down while waiting for the citalopram I went on for seasonal affective disorder to start working. Ironically, the day before my first panic attack, I went to see my doctor for my annual check-up and talked to her about my SAD. She put me on citalopram for that.
I was on medical leave for about eight weeks. It took about that long until I saw the full effects of the medication I was put on. At one point, I attempted to go back to work, but I could not get near the building unless I was doped up on the maximum dosage of Xanax that was prescribed to me. The problem was that when I did get inside the building, I was so doped up on Xanax, I could not function. I did eventually go back to work, with a doctor’s restriction of no overtime. I was fine for about two and a half months. When my three month follow-up with my doctor approached, I began to get anxious that my overtime restriction would be lifted or that the managers at work would start to pressure me into telling my doctor to lift it. It was also that time that I was being asked to work overtime. I began to panic again, went back to my doctor, was put on a stronger anti-depressant, and stayed home from work. Two weeks later, after talking to my husband, we made two decisions. The first one was that I was going to quit my current job. The second one was to cash out our 401K’s and move to another state where the job market was better and where I would be happier. That state is South Dakota.
We had a trip out to South Dakota planned prior to my breakdown. After that happened, we decided to go on the trip because both my husband and I thought it might do some good and that having a break away would help “cure” my anxiety enough to where I could go back to work. I truly believed that after I got home, I would go back to work.
South Dakota, particularly West River, is my happy place. West River (as we refer to the part of the state west of the Missouri) is a wide open, bright, sparsely populated, practically unspoiled area of land between the Missouri River and the Black Hills. Badlands National Park is my happiest place. I love nature and nature is in abundance there. Nature calms me down. The Badlands is this otherworldly, ethereal place. The entire time we drove the loop, I found myself completely in awe. This place had the power to put me in awe when I thought I was no longer capable of being in awe of anything.
The entire time we were on our trip, I opened up. My husband remarked that I seemed to be my old self again. It was as if the further west we drove, the more I began to uncurl from the tight little protective ball I was in.
Our primary destination was Rapid City, the Black Hills, and Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. I had been out there before, when I was younger, but it was the first time my husband had been out that way and I was so glad to share such a special place with him.
The night before we had to leave to go back to Wisconsin, we sat in our hotel room and I started to cry and I could not stop. I didn’t want to go home. I was scared to go home. I did not sleep very well that night. I dozed off, but woke up in the middle of another panic attack. At one point, in my desperation to hang on to this good and calm feeling, I told my husband that I wanted to move out to Rapid City and live in the Black Hills.
The idea sort of died off as the months went on, but came back that February when my anxiety kicked up another five notches.
We did the research and practicality won out. We decided to move to Sioux Falls, which is East River. Sioux Falls is where the jobs are, plus it was cheaper to live in Sioux Falls than Rapid City. Sioux Falls is also only an 8 hour drive from where we used to live, so it would be easier to go back and visit friends and family.
The new start did help, but it only masked the underlying issues. I found a job, and while there was a lot of overtime with that, I told myself that I could handle it because the work environment was different and more positive. When push came to shove and I had to work it, I had another panic attack. My left arm began to hurt a lot. Not long after I quit my old job and we started the plans into motion to move, I slipped on the ice and broke my arm in three places. I required surgery to reconstruct my elbow and the bones around it and an impressive amount of hardware and kludges to hold it all together while it healed. So while I was back and forth and in the process of moving, I was recovering from a broken arm.
I was cleared to work, but there was still healing going on. I do believe my arm pain was 20 percent from repetitive motion and 80 percent psychosomatic. I did not mention my panic attacks to the place I worked or my agent at the temp agency. I used my arm as the reason why and chalked it up, publicly, to it not being healed quite enough. I lasted two weeks there.
I ended up in another job, this time, working in a thrift store. I decided that it would be best to start part time and then, if I could handle it, go full time. I did well and was in line to be promoted. But then something happened that set off another panic attack. Someone complained about me and it was affecting my impending promotion. Under normal circumstances, this would not be an issue. But because of this anxiety disorder, I overreacted. Part of what set off the panic attack was my own feeling of humiliation and not being able to face my co-workers.
I was guaranteed this promotion as soon as my ninety days were up. I was guaranteed this so much, the manager went and told everyone in a store meeting that I was getting this and she went so far to even put on a phone list that I had this new title and position. When my ninety days were nearly up, I asked her if I had to fill out paperwork for the promotion and that was when she told me that I may not be getting it after all because there had been complaints and that we would talk about this on Friday. This was on a Tuesday. So as I started thinking about this and the thoughts kept churning through my head, the anxiety started happening and I started crying. I could not stop crying. I had to go into the bathroom because I could not stop. I left work that night in tears. Fresh tears came when I walked into the door and my husband asked how my day went. The tears would not stop.
The issue was not that someone complained. The issue was that I wasn’t as valuable as I thought I was. I felt disrespected by someone I thought respected me so much, she said to me that she “hoped I would never leave and stay around for a long time”. When you say you value someone so much, you don’t tell them there is a problem and then make them wait three days to discuss this problem. I could not face my other co-workers feeling as humiliated as I was. But I could not walk into work and work beside someone and wonder if *they* were the ones who complained and wonder what it was they complained about and not know what it was I did so I can correct it.
So here I was, 41 years old, a year into this anxiety disorder, and I was out of work again because of it. I started the process of looking again, but then I realized that if I did not address my anxiety once and for all and the root causes of it, I was forever doomed to live with it. I put myself in a prison in my own mind and I kept myself locked in there when I insisted that I go to counseling and get on medication so I was “well enough to go to work”.
Getting well enough to go to work was not cutting it. Getting to a place where I could do something for someone else was pushing the problem aside and not dealing with it. My nervous breakdown a year earlier was the result of that and I was setting myself up for another one if I did not get my act together and get well, not to go to work, but for me to live the life I was meant to live.
We looked at our finances. Nearly six months had passed since we moved, and we were now settled into our new life. We didn’t have much for expenses and after running the numbers, we discovered that we could afford to live on one income, albeit very tightly. I also wanted to pursue my dream of writing and to do that involved having the time to do it. Working full-time left me little time or energy to write.
All of this brought me to Oprah’s Lifeclass. I was in a place where I was receptive to hearing the message and facing things about myself that I needed to face. One thing that I have learned and now accept is that the truth will set you free.
And that’s why I am doing this. I want to be set free from my past and my anger over my past. I have accepted that I will probably be on some dosage of anti-depressants for the rest of my life, but I will consider it a victory if I can go down a dose because my anxiety has been put into its place.
I will never be well nor will I be able to fulfill my life’s purpose if I don’t tell the truth. Keeping quiet perpetuates the lie I am living and it feeds into the shame I feel over things that happened to me that I was neither responsible for nor had any control over.
I believe that my purpose in life is to tell the truth. I believe that is why I have been given the gift of communicating through the written word. I also believe that is why, out of the ashes of my abusive past, I am passionate about championing those who are down and about fairness. I have lost friends because I was not afraid to stand up for what I believe in or for other people who had no one in their corner. I am not afraid to speak my mind or rock the boat.
Except where the truth of my own life was concerned.
And that is the purpose of this blog. I will rock boats. I will say things that will upset some people in my life. I will risk alienating myself from those people. But I no longer care. I am tired of pretending that everything is okay. I will no longer hide behind a screen name. I will post here under my real name.
The blog title comes from the old line in the old Bugs Bunny cartoons, “I knew I should have taken that left turn at Albuquerque!” Last year, when I was in counseling, my therapist said that my anxiety was the mind’s way of trying to nudge me back towards the path in life I was supposed to take and didn’t. Granted, my anxiety and panic attacks are more violent shove with an extra club on the head than they are gentle nudge, but I needed that because I was stubborn and arrogant. Because of my arrogance, I was also in denial.
I will no longer live a lie.