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my experience with anxiety, PTSD, and managing symptoms

i have struggled with anxiety for a long time.  in high school and college, it manifested itself through an eating disorder.  i remember my senior year of college, i would literally spend hours and hours filling out every online application available.  not even taking the time to fill them properly, or check if the job was a good fit, but rather just throw my name out into the universe as if a blanketed approach of my name would guarantee safety and security.

i was in therapy my senior year, i got a roommate to help manage my availability of purging, and eventually i found a job.  anxiety continued to be beneath the surface for me.  many times while we were married, jim would comment on how miserable i could make an entire weekend just by having an issue and not being willing to confront it due to my fear.

throughout the three years of being a stay at home mom, i started learning about alternative methods to handle it, meditation, running, essential oils.  my life seemed to be going pretty well, and i finally let go of the fear of waiting for the other shoe to fall. 

after they died, i most definitely slipped into a state of PTSD.  the sounds of sirens or people screaming would undo me.  i remember Addy would have these screaming fits and i would just be unable to cope.  several times, we would be in the car, she'd be screaming, and i would just count down the minutes till we made it home.  i would run inside the house and start screaming and punching pillows until exhausted and i felt i could safely and effectively parent them again. 

i would regularly have anxiety attacks, crying to the point of hyperventilation, feelings of absolute hopelessness.  but eventually, they subsided... it took probably close to a year for regular ones to stop popping up.  a lot of it, i credit to the stability and calming presence Christian brought to my life, i also stopped drinking for thirty days last may which seemed to help and i continued with self-discovery, internal healing (chiropractic and supplements) and braintap (which i can't recommend enough). 

typing all that to say, when i got pregnant.  i knew that i would eventually have a breakdown.  i didn't know when, i thought maybe it would wait until after i brought the baby home, but i've been waiting, watching the clock tick by on the weeks...  12 weeks and no panic attack, 20 weeks and no panic attack.

this past week, i've been off, i've felt it.  this wave that was building and building.  i've felt like crying most days for no reason, i've been panicky and short.  thursday on my way to work, i drove past a house that was in a crisis.  ambulances, fire trucks, and police cars parked on the lawn - lights blazing, officers in heavy black boots and serious faces stomping in and out of the house.  it almost happened then, but i managed it, texted christian, it took a couple hours but it subsided.

last night i was laying in bed, kids, dogs, and christian all sleeping soundly.  and the reel started playing.  the reel of reality of watching my daughter die, of going to a fire station with her broken body, of never bringing her home, of my husband dying.  and it happened, this overwhelming feeling of "i can't i can't i can't" i can't bring a baby home, what if something happens, what if i make a mistake, what if i can't be a good mom, christian would hate me, our relationship would fall apart.  i can't i can't i can't. 

the fear is very real.  the panic is very real.  a lot of people have wondered, how i'm managing this pregnancy, how i am holding up mentally.  it is no small feat to lose so much and then go through similar motions.  there are so many feelings of not deserving the things i have because i lost so much, an undue feeling of blame and despair. 

but i made it through.  i let the wave crash as terrible as it was.  i eventually slept and eventually woke up today.  i don't know if i will ever not have anxiety as part of my life.  but i manage it now, i see it clearly for what it is when it comes.  it is not a friend, a coping mechanism, or a managing tool.  it is a crippling tool of defeat and slavery. 

it's ok to be honest about having anxiety or PTSD, it's ok to struggle, to wake up in a cold sweat with racing thoughts.  but it's also ok to get better, to seek help when you need it, to be honest about what you need, want or desire in those moments. 

pregnancy after loss and writing when it doesn't hurt

it is so difficult for me to write in the midst of joy, or of normality.  after jim and elly died, i was able to write these compelling and heart-wrenching essays without any thought, or really any effort.  it was more of a compulsion, a need to share. 

what am i in the middle of right now?  freezing temps and a touch of SAD, aligning my actions with what i am deeming to be priority for our family, financial goals and getting financially right after purchasing a house.  re-aligning the structural unit of our family.

it is a pretty common occurrence, that when a parent passes away, the eldest child will normally step into the role, or do their best.  addy did this for me, comforting me in the night when i was sobbing, in the day, i would unconsciously run things past her - not used to no longer having my partner to speak with. she went through the unthinkable with me and out of everyone, bore the brunt of the tragedy with me.

the past six months or so, we have had to re-route her back to childhood as we best know how.  reminding her that she is five, she no longer makes rules, and it is not her job to protect me.  i think that's how everyone in my family feels.  we are all stepping back into or defining new roles.  christian as a step-parent, me as someone's partner, and my children as exactly that- my young children.  when all of my words are used to explain how i feel to my partner, or all my thoughts are used in an untangling of myself and journal entries, i have so little to type out, so little to share.  we are in such a fragile time and as such, are in a protective time, a time of fostering what our family is.

and then there is the babe, the promise of things yet to be.  my pastor asked us to define our 2017 and pick a word for 2018.  2017 was renewal for me, "an instance of resuming an activity or state after an interruption"

i am not sure i have picked 2018 yet.  my emotions flurry around excitement, anxiousness, and just genuine joy.  my goals are small but mighty, 

to rely on internal renewal through the spirit to be more present and more patient for my children.  my own efforts fail in a mighty way but the fruits of the spirit have been renewed and i see so much evidence of that recently.  

to align my actions with my priorities and to stop forcing bricks into the wrong spot, instead allowing things to be presented in their own time.  

2017 held the greatest gifts i have ever received.  for that received after loss, the vulnerability of feeling the cruel, tentative grasp we have on life and allowing love back in is more valuable than the naive, blind understanding that love is ours for the taking.  

we are so far from home, but so happy

as 2017 draws to a close, it is difficult -if not impossible- to take stock of everything that has come my way this year.  after the fire of 2016, i am standing here and am no longer in fields of ruin.  

restoration.  it is an interesting concept.  i myself buy into too many marketing schemes, always keeping an eye out for the new.

one time addy points out a toy to me and i go, "but baby, you already had that toy, we didn't play with it and we gave it away"
she goes, "but this one is new"

and there is truth in that no?  new clothes, new shoes, new skin creams.  and there's not anything wrong with it.  a fresh paint job on my nails and a new essential oil in my diffuser can go a long way in lifting my spirits.  

but restoration... that is a trickier concept.  it's why divorce is often easier than saving a marriage, why cutting people off is easier than navigating difficult relationships.  and there is no one size fits all, no black and white.  

sometimes we make cuts, sometimes we stay in it.  i am working currently at rebuilding my family and what that looks like.  at including all members - even ones we won't see on earth again.  at making sure addy and lane always have ties to their dad that extend past me.  losing a lover is so different than losing a parent or brother or child.  lovers are defined in time periods.  my college boyfriend, my first marriage.  there is an impermanence to the permanent.  

i remember being around 12 or 13 and asking my dad who he loved more, my mom or stepmom.  the question in itself, took a lot of courage for me, half of me was scared of the answer.  he just told me "it's different, i love them differently"  this was way before i had ever had my heart broken or truly loved and i didn't understand.  i know my kids will possibly struggle with that same question - who did i love more?  why could i move on so quickly?  do i still love daddy?

it's different.  

and here i am smack dab in the middle of navigating different.  

these small moments that turn into big moments that are really just moments

when i was probably ten or eleven, my dad had our kitchen redone.  it was a big job of course, i remember the workers coming every day, messing up my tv schedule if i was home from school.  my dad doesn't remember this, but he used to quiz me on the wood. 

i knew all different types of wood and their stains

church pews?  oak with a cherry stain

i remember it being asked, and i distinctly remember getting the answer right.  i brought this story up with him when i visited in april or when he came in july.  this story that has lived on in my mind and has caused me all these years later, to constantly guess what wood is underneath my fingertips, supporting my elbows, or drawing my eyes up.

the silly thing is, he didn't even remember doing this.  it was probably a once or twice off thing to him. 

there are so many things that i don't want to forget.  talking to my grandma about her family life growing up, the green shag carpet in her house, what every room felt like to me, or how she would put the pearls around my neck.  walking to bob evans with her and ordering the popcorn shrimp. 

my grandpa, going up to the non-airconditioned third floor to play tea party.  crammed into a small closet, where i had cut up place mats that served as our dessert.  how he would always let me mess up his crossword puzzle by writing my own answer in, but only in one.  how he would watch NYPD blue at night and never slept more than six hours, his great smile.

my mom, the time i freaked out when she got acupuncture and was screaming and crying and begging her not to do it even though she said it didn't hurt, the time she cut off all her hair after it had started falling out, the time i saw these antique dolls are some sort of resale shop and she told me i couldn't get them but they somehow made it under the tree for christmas, how she helped me cut out christmas cookies, and drank carrot juice. 

the time i was sitting on the steps and my mom was in her hospital bed in the living room and my dad looked at me and said "do you think mommy is going to get better?"
i said "yes of course"
he said no.

the morning i held addy and told her that daddy wasn't coming back.

the casual afternoon she announced to me, "i can't remember daddy's voice anymore"


i have withdrawn from most of social media recently, including my blog.  there are ebbs and flows right?  i got a forty hour job and somewhere in between working and buying a house and raising my kids and loving my boyfriend and all those really really beautiful things i have, i realized i cannot work on anything else right now. 
it takes every ounce of spare energy i have to that, work, kids, boyfriend, keeping myself sane.

somehow i've slipped back into normal life, i'm not drinking to cope, i discuss things like netflix series and basketball games at work, things like traffic and bad weather legitimately stress me out without me thinking, "well it could be worse, someone could be dead".  i don't feel the need to word vomit my story to every stranger i run into.  i'm excited for the holidays.

i'm in a cocoon.  a really comfy, cozy one where i get to relax and be normal and get stressed about silly things, where i don't feel on display for what i went through, where everything has started to scar over and i cover the scars with long sleeves and pants. 

but i struggle with it.  i struggle with wanting to share.  with wanting to tell everyone, this in between phrase where you don't want the past to be too far in the past because that would mean that it's been too long since you've seen them but you also really want to take the shackles off. 

if i slip back into normality, does that mean it was all in vain?  is the ghost of trying to make something of their deaths haunting me, or do i need to be doing more? 

//  in other news, cavs don't look so good and this is us is solid. //

If you wait, it's always too late.

It's Saturday morning.  I am sitting on the couch, Mickey Mouse clubhouse is on in the background, everyone - for the moment - is calmed by the bright lights and dancing figures on the screen.  Christian is making breakfast in the background.

This is life, right?  And I've had so many different versions of life.  Life as a traditional family, life as a single mom, life again in a non-traditional family.

The thing with life is that, nothing really follows a time schedule.  God knows, my life hasn't.  I got a full time job smack dab in the middle of moving.  I ended up planning a vacation when we had only been in our house a couple days.  There is this tendency I think, to look at my life or one's own life and miss out because it's not following the timeline.

There are some who think that by bringing someone new in so quickly I am doing my best to reclaim what I had.  Maybe in a desperate way trying to fill in those roles.  That I'm not quite ready.  The crazy thing about the human experience though, is that there is no way to replace people, no way to re-create the unique and bright human experience that each person brings to the role.  It's beautiful to be in a relationship again, but it's not the same, it will never be the same, and no one here is trying to make it be.

The flip side of that is, no I was not ready.  None of us ever are for the things that truly scare us.  I was not ready to open my heart, not ready to expand my family again, but I jumped anyway.  I think that's where true bravery lies, to those willing to try again, to those willing to leap, to those who say- I know what makes me happy and I will pursue it.

My boss has a saying, procrastination is the thief of health and isn't that true of all.  So many people are immobile, unwilling to try or do anything different.  I meet and talk to so many people who are stuck in jobs they don't like, who are afraid to even admit what they want to the universe.

If you want it, claim it.  On December 31st, I wrote down what I wanted for myself in the New Year.  Some of them didn't come to fruition (visiting my cousin in Hawaii- sorry Lys) but my main one did- to fall in love again.  It was so scary to write that again, even in a journal.  We have this tendency to just self-edit, to be always slightly okay with what things are, even if it's not what we want.

Don't be scared to want something different than what you have.

and life goes on

i have been so just discombobulated recently.  more than once, christian has come home to find me wasting away on the couch crying about not having a purpose while the house remains wrecked and there are literally a zillion things that could garner my attention.


i have such a clear idea of what i want to do, of what i feel i am meant to do.  but i am so unsure of how to get there.  i have literally no trust in moving forward regarding it.  i also have a really hard time thinking i should get paid for it, that i'm valuable enough to be paid for it.  basically i want to be a life coach, someone who can look at the pieces of your life, where you are going wrong or stalling or not letting light in and say, "what can we do to get this under control?  what can we do to move forward?"  so many of us are just waiting for life to hand us what we think we deserve.  (did i just write that on my last post, i might've lol).

i've been over here trying to get pretty menial job after menial job.  and it's not that they aren't important or helpful or even necessary, i'm just not sure that's what i am supposed to be doing.  it is so hard for me to invest in myself.

Duke has a great and quick certification program.  it takes about two months to complete, you have to have a bachelors for it and it certifies you as a "Integrated Health Coach" basically I would be able to help people with areas that are blocking their life whether it be nutritionally or emotionally and help them achieve a better and more quality life.

but it's Duke and so it costs some money, like several thousand.  and it's not that i can't do or wouldn't be able to.  it's just hard to look at myself and say "brianna, you have the same resources and intelligence as a lot of other people and you have the resiliency of about 100 of them combined, you can do this"

i've always been a quitter.  and my life as a stay at home mom enabled that quite a bit.  if i didn't want to do something or it was hard or difficult, i just didn't.  i think that's why i have such a complicated relationship with how i feel about staying at home.  do i think it's valuable, especially in the first couple years of life for the child?  yes absolutely.  do i think it allows a woman to wither, especially if she is inclined that way anyway, yes absolutely.  (PSA PSA this is not all stay at home moms just me personally)

that's super hard to admit, so so so hard.  and i've been working on my website and applying to this program to Duke and i feel paralyzed, frozen.  what if people don't want to talk to me, what if they don't think i'm worthwhile?  what if i screw up my taxes?

and it's just all these logistical options.  you don't realize how easy it is to allow someone else to define you until you try to define yourself.

these are just all my deepest fears put out there.
and this is just me rambling, a lot of you read this but almost no one ever comments.  why would i think people would value my advice?
deep deep deep fears.

if you are reading this,

i am sorry that your life has started over, perhaps more times than you would care to admit.  i mean that, i really do.  i was not the first to grow up under the impressions or fantasy that my life would turn out similar to the disney princesses.  "they all lived happily ever after"  and on a similar note, i am not the first to see what's behind the curtain when that mirage falls apart...


... until they got divorced
... until she got cancer
... until their kid is in trouble at school
... until you declared bankruptcy
... until he died
... until she lost her job

there seems to be this apology dance that we get to do when our life doesn't go the way people expect...

"yeah i know it's soon, but he's a great guy"
"yeah he does have two kids from his first wife, but honestly they're angels!"

and on the flip side of that, we all seem to have this innate chip that makes us confident we could be living everyone elses' life more effectively than they appear to be living it.  we conjure up ideas and rules, expectations and limits.

"i would never do long distance"
"she's crazy, he's a decade younger than him"
"i heard she's letting her kid drop out of college and move back home"

it's an immunity thing right?  we see these tricky or difficult circumstances and in a hope of inoculating ourselves against the difficulty of navigating it we place a boundary around it, a way to stay safe.  but there is no safety net, no inoculation against pain.

and there is no one more equipped to navigate your life than you.

i almost drowned in opinions about my life after jim.  and the crazy thing was, i had everything i needed to make the decisions within myself.  if you haven't seen moana, you should watch it, i can't even discuss how empowering it was and how much better it was than frozen... but these lyrics get me everytime

You are your father's daughter
Stubbornness and pride
Mind what he says but remember
You may hear a voice inside
And if the voice starts to whisper
To follow the farthest star
Moana, that voice inside is
Who you are

but listen, no one gets to define how many happy endings you get.  that is your choice and your choice alone.  
and no one gets to paint how those look but you.

so please for the love of God, stop trying to protect yourself against other people's lives, mistakes, or joys and just live your life, and live it well, without apology.