I have a reputation of being tough. When one of my girlfriends was going through a breakup she said, “I wish I could be like you, you’re way stronger than I am.” I swore to her that I felt the same way she did, but she didn’t get it because I never talked about it and she never saw it.
I try not to get bothered by much and after getting divorced I’ve become a pro at running from and ignoring things that bother me. I’ve at least figured out how to put on a good show and I’ve fooled A LOT of people. Then inevitably, there are the days it catches up with me, it always does- and it’s about once a year that I get hit really hard. And now is that time.
A few weeks after I got divorced my ex and I were exchanging emails. We were trying to sell our house in the Carolinas and he was going to have the air conditioning turned on. I told him I didn’t want the air on, I wasn’t paying the bill. I was livid. He made 6x what I made, I couldn’t even afford cable and now I was going to have to pay a bill for a house that I wasn’t even living in. I told him he wasn’t turning it on. That unleashed a shit storm of emails and things got ugly, “I’m not your gravy train anymore. I’m so glad you made the decision to get divorced because I am so much happier without you.”
I ran to one of our back offices at work and had a complete meltdown. I knew he hated me, I knew he was angry and I felt so guilty that I couldn’t stand it. This whole thing was my fault. I text my coworker and told her to come back and fix me. She walked in and I was sobbing, “I can’t stop crying, it won’t stop. The emails were awful, I’m a horrible person, I have NOTHING, I have no money, I can’t do this.”
“Well, here it is. It’s about time! You know we were all getting a little worried. You haven’t cried at all, you’ve been completely unemotional.”
She was right. If things bothered me, especially about my divorce, I really never talked about it. I had no one to talk to, nobody could identify! I was alone and I dealt with it the best way I knew how- distractions. Alcohol, boys, anything that made me forget. Even if it was just for a little while.
A few months later I got into a screaming match with my new director. We were making changes to our department and I wanted a particular sales position. He didn’t know me and he wanted to know why he should give it to me. He told me he didn’t think I could do it and I lost my cool. We just started yelling at each other and I couldn’t stop, he poked the bear. I finally got out of his office and called my mom, she told me to rethink it and get out of sales, “You know it’s a man’s world.”
“And I have bigger balls than most men.”
She laughed and knew I wouldn’t walk away. I actually wasn’t even mad at my director, I knew exactly what was happening. He was trying to see how far he could push me before I would break, he was testing me. It was all business and he wanted to see how serious I was.
After I got off the phone with my mom I called my coworker and lost it. I cried about everything, I needed something to give. I finally stopped talking and it took him a minute before he said anything, I actually thought he’d hung up. “You know, it’s finally nice to know that you’re human. You don’t have to be such a hard ass all the time.”
A few months later I left for a week of work in the UK. Two nights before I left the heartburn started and I spent the night puking, I went to work looking like hell and told everybody it was food poisoning. I had no idea how to explain what was happening because I didn’t even know what was happening. It was embarrassing and this stuff doesn’t happen to tough people.
I didn’t sleep the following night and then the next day I was on a plane, I was exhausted. We landed and with the time change decided to push through the day without sleeping. We did some site seeing and it was nice, but I was already getting anxious about our plans for the next day- the next few days that became entirely stressful for me.
I had to carry around this 40 inch touchscreen computer on a dolly, with my luggage, through cobblestone streets. Guess how many times that thing tipped over? We got lost and I had no internet for directions, I held people up on trains, I had to deliver 2 hour long presentations each day and nail them, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t stop dry heaving, and then I started my period! A WEEK EARLY!!!!!!!! (Every woman reading this feels my pain.) At one point I was actually laying on the bathroom floor of my hotel room crying, I was so exhausted I couldn’t handle it. It’s all funny now and it makes me crack up thinking about it, but in that moment I was so miserable, so sad, and sooooo tired!
In between my puking and crying, I decided I had no other option but to text my mom and tell her she had to fly to the UK to get me and bring me home. In true Youngstown fashion she told me to go to hell and suck it up. I laughed, and she told me she loved me and I was tough and I could do anything. But I had no idea why this kept happening. That was the most frustrating part.
As soon as I got home from my trip I threw everything in my room and went to the restaurant next door to see my friend that was bartending. I needed wine and girl talk. I told her about my trip and she said, “I think it’s just anxiety. I think you’ve got to get your stress levels under control and you’ll be fine.”
I thought about it. Stress? Anxiety? There’s no way it would make me feel this way, because according to WebMD I had 10 different types of fatal diseases and I was sure this was it. The internet doesn’t lie.
A few months later I woke up in the middle of the night, it was happening again. My chest was burning, my hands were burning, I had another trip coming up and this could not happen again! For a second I wondered if it was me, I wondered if I could stop it, but I didn’t know how. I grabbed my headphones and a song came on that made me laugh, it made me think of a friend and a funny memory. I fell back asleep. I woke up the next morning and sat up. It was gone. My hands, my chest, nothing was there.
“Holy shit. It’s me.”
I threw out all of my heartburn pills. I was disgusted when I thought about my worst moments and the recommendations from doctors.
I spent thousands at doctors trying to figure out why I would randomly get heartburn when they told me I shouldn’t have it, I wasn’t overweight, I controlled what I ate, there was nothing wrong. After two scopes a doctor told me it was just stress. I was clueless and asked him what to do, he said he’d just find me a different pill. For years all they ever did was put me on different heartburn pills and they looked at me like I was a psycho when I told them nothing ever worked.
Within a year timeframe my dad died, I got married and I was teaching the most difficult group of students I’ve ever had. I was sick the entire year and when I went to the doctor I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown and she said, “OH MY GOD, I know what it is!” She ran out of the office and walked back in with two boxes of antianxiety/antidepressants. I was skeptical, insanely skeptical because I didn’t consider myself a depressed person, so this was a total blow to my ego, but all of my students and all of my friends took them, so why not join the party. I took the pill at dinner, when I went to sleep I flew up out of bed 2 hours later and just started throwing up. I have never in my life felt anything like it. I walked downstairs and sat on the couch and stared at a blank TV screen for HOURS. I didn’t move, I didn’t feel anything, I was completely numb. I have never done drugs, but I’m pretty sure this is exactly what it would feel like. That morning I threw out all of the pills. I refused to take them, I’d figure this out myself.
Things got worse. I was on a school bus coming home from a field trip and I was sitting next to one of the teachers. My back locked, my neck locked, I literally could not move. I panicked and told her I didn’t know what was happening and no doctor anywhere could help. She gave me the number of a chiropractor and they got me in the next day. They set me up with adjustments 3 days a week and massages once a week. Within a few months I was a brand new person. I actually got on a plane and I typically white knuckle it when we take off or hit turbulence. I was so relaxed it wasn’t funny. I actually thought to myself, if this thing goes down I don’t even give a shit. I can’t control it and it doesn’t matter. It sounds so bizarre, but it was the best feeling ever to finally be able to let go of a thought/idea that I had no control over. But it was still going to take me a few more years to really pin point my issue.
Aside from the bartender who helped me start to piece all of this together, I was about to go see the next most important female in every lady’s life, the hair stylist.
Salon time is therapy time and every six weeks my poor girl gets an ear full. I told her what was going on and she asked if I noticed when it happens, she said there had to be a time or something specific that was a trigger. I sat there for a minute and thought about, because even when I was going to the chiropractor in the Carolinas and felt great, I still couldn’t grasp the concept of stress and I had no idea what a trigger would be. Even with the death of my father I just didn’t get how it could be a trigger, I thought I was dealing with everything just fine.
And then it hit me like a ton of bricks.
“OH MY GOD! I’m a control freak! I panic if things are out of my control and I completely psych myself out and its worse when I travel!”
I was a control freak and I never realized it until now. For some reason when you get divorced you start to realize and learn some pretty crazy stuff about yourself. What’s even more difficult is admitting to yourself that there are just some things that you are not good at. Admitting you have a weakness and admitting you’re not perfect, for someone like me who think she’s bulletproof, it’s pretty hard to deal with.
My stylist gave me a phone number for a chiropractor who does all of this “hippy shit”- which I’m completely into. I needed to figure out how to “control” myself without pills, I refused to see another doctor that was just going to write me a prescription to treat a symptom instead of treating the actual problem. Since I had moved back to Ohio I had yet to find a good chiropractor so I was all about it.
The chiropractor did all kinds of tests and it was no surprise that they were all through the roof, especially the stress test. He did some other things, hit pressure points and asked me a ton of questions. He told me I have issues with money, failure, and vulnerability. Good one, Clio. Doesn’t everybody? But he was right, those are my three largest issues and they are the ONLY issues I get so worked up about that they literally make me puke.
Two weeks ago I left again for work in the UK. When I found out I had to go again I was incredibly nervous but I was forcing myself to do it, I needed to. The day before my flight it started again, I barely ate dinner because I knew what was going to happen. I really wanted to eat my Kraft Spongebob macaroni and cheese, but it would have been a total waste of one of my favorite things.
I finally fell asleep at 2am and at 3 a door slammed in my building and woke me up. My hands started burning and then my chest. I text Roomie to see if she was still up, I walked in her room and sat on her bed and kept petting the dog. My hands would not stop burning. I finally made it back to my room and spent the rest of the night dry heaving. My only thought- thank God I didn’t eat the mac n cheese.
I called my friend the next morning, “Hey, I can’t get it to stop, this one will not go away and I have to be on a plane in a few hours.”
“Dude, how long have you had these?”
She didn’t know, I never told her, I never told anyone. For me to tell anyone that always thought that I was tough that I had these moments where everything piled up and I couldn’t handle it, no way. I didn’t do that.
“I just figured it out last year. God, I don’t do this, I do not have breakdowns!!”
“Hey, ya know what. You never do this and it’s finally nice to know you’re just like the rest of us and you feel this shit too.”
So here it was, the first time I was admitting to my best friend that I had panic attacks. She had them too. The first time I saw her go through it I looked at her like she was bat shit crazy. I had no idea what she was so upset about because everything she was worried and bothered about seemed so trivial. But I get it now, and it’s impossible for me to explain it to anyone that doesn’t experience the same thing. It’s overwhelming and it’s an extreme urge to want to control things that are completely out of your control and when you realize you have no control, you panic.
I’ve gotten better at figuring out how to talk myself out of it when it happens. I think about my favorite moments and people and I usually stay up at night and write or listen to music. It works most of the time and I’m glad I at least found a few outlets that sometimes work.
I actually made it through the UK this time pretty stress free, there were no tears and no sleeping on any bathroom floors. It may have helped that the same computer I carried last year got lost in customs and never showed up, I for sure did a dance. In the midst of all of this happening I wrote a few other things but I scrapped them- for now. They had a purpose and it was just to get me through, and they did. I knew this was the one that needed to be written, I’ve been avoiding it because it’s very much that vulnerability thing that I mentioned earlier. I don’t like admitting weaknesses, I hate it. But to be able to finally admit that even though I act like a machine and I go and go and go, I get tired, I crash, and I break down- maybe finally admitting all of that is the best medicine.
So here it is, I feel things just like you, and while you think I’m tough all the time and let nothing bother me, sometimes it’s quite the opposite. I’ve learned how to put on a good show and I can fake my way through anything. I know I’m an open book but there are some things I don’t talk about, and there are definitely things I don’t let you see, but it’s there and I feel it and it’s real. And when you call me and tell me you feel like you’re weak or you’re a failure and you just can’t get things right, and when I tell you you’re actually normal and doing fine, it’s because I know from experience. I feel the same things and I go through the same things. I’m not weak, I’m not a failure and neither are you. I’m only human.
And so are you.