Before I had a full grasp on the scope of my situation, [READ: I didn’t know I had been an abused and neglected child. I only knew my Mom had become increasingly hateful towards me as an adult.] I once experienced a red alert panic attack for 6 weeks. I was sleeping no more than 20 minutes at a time, when I’d pass out a few times a day out of sheer exhaustion. Combined, I was averaging no more than 2-4 hours of sleep a day. I’ve never in my life felt that level of exhaustion. 12 hours of labor was nothing!
Not to mention the absolute terror I was experiencing. Luckily, I recognized it as an anxiety attack and never thought I was dying. Though, that intellectualization did nothing to alleviate my symptoms of hypervigilance, set-to-explode energy and the heart of a runner at the end of a marathon.
Desperation sent me on an exploratory journey of meditation and yoga. Both helped. Both intensified my anxiety. Damned if you do; damned if you don’t. (I’ll explore the science behind my strange reactions to meditation and yoga in a future post. I wish I’d known then what I know now.)
Roughly 6 weeks into this living nightmare, the anxiety, every last drop, simply evaporated. As if it had never existed. Ironically, I’d been going through an ‘eating healthier than usual’ kick and had consumed next to no sugar for weeks. The night the anxiety first appeared, I’d taken a break and ate pizza and ice cream. Literally within minutes, I was in the throes of the most insane panic attack of my life. I had been warned that suddenly dumping that much sugar into my ‘clean’ body, could shock the system. OK, but for 6 weeks!? While I didn’t believe it was the sugar, I couldn’t figure out what it was. So, I developed a phobia of sugar for 6 months. That may be the weirdest phobia ever.
For years, therapists and other healing practitioners I had worked with had encouraged me ‘til they were blue in the face to write, write, write. “Yes!,’ I enthusiastically agreed. I love to write. And doing something I love will help? Count me in.
Several times a day, I’d give my journal sidelong glances. Dubiously, I’d start to reach for a pen, only to suddenly have some stop-whatever-you-are-doing-right-now urgent task to do, like washing dishes or bathing the dogs. What the heck. I love to write. I’ve experienced its healing powers firsthand, so I am certainly not dubious. What gives?
I relayed to my husband, Jared the silly episode of Friends where Joey is reading The Shining and Rachel finds the book in the freezer. Joey explains that it’s too frightening. I told Jared that I’ve seriously considered putting my journal in the freezer. As well as a stack of books I’d collected about trauma and healing and Narcissistic Personality Disorder and books written by the daughters of Narcissistic mothers. The freezer beckoned…I could not write in my journal any more than I could read those books I knew would be so helpful.
I’d been working hard at this healing thing and one day, finally felt I was ready for the next step. There were two weeks coming up in which Jared had to be out of town and I’d be alone. I thought that would be the perfect time to open this can of worms.
The reading was incredible! I read 8 books in two weeks and before I finished the 6th book, I’d already ordered 4 more. Before those arrived, I’d ordered another 4. (I did take a short break to read a fiction.) I learned so much about myself and my struggles, my Mom and her illness and human anatomy and the nervous system – it was more than I’d hoped for.
There was one thing…I kept stumbling into this pit again and again and couldn’t figure out what was tripping me. In the middle of the second week, I got it. Every time I wrote, later that day or the next day, I dissolved into deep, powerless depression fueled by ice cream or exploded into a rage so scary, I was grateful no one was around. Hmmm. I waited a few days to be sure I’d regained homeostasis and wrote again. And erupted into a firebomb. I waited a few more days and wrote again. And dissolved into depression.
While I didn’t fully understand why writing was so triggering, I’d finally found an explanation for my 6 week anxiety attack years before. That prolonged attack started 2 weeks into an 8 week writing workshop in which I was writing all about Mom and many other difficult things. Wow.
In school, writing had been my therapy, my outlet. I was too afraid to journal because God forbid if anyone read it. So, I disguised my angst in poetry. It doesn’t matter what you say, if it’s a poem, it’s acceptable because the reader can convince themselves I’m being hyperbolic or symbolic and therefore continue ignoring my pain and allow me to slip deeper into the cracks.
Eventually poetry just didn’t cut it anymore. I had too much pent up. I wrote less and less, frustrated with my only means of venting. I didn’t dare journal. As a young adult, living alone, I could no longer use the excuse of fear someone would read what I’d written. In retrospect, I was afraid. But not of someone reading my journal.
I love writing and yet…something held me back. Eventually, I came to recognize it as denial. If I’d written, I’d have had to acknowledge that Mom was sick; that I was not; that I had been deeply hurt and had a lot of healing to do and that I may fall apart for a while. Falling apart, even a little was never an option. I never wrote. Finally, I know why.