Another year comes to an end, another blog post attempts to capture the magic. As is my tradition, I went back and read my New Year’s Eve post from last year before sitting down to write this one. Not one to pat myself on the back, but I really enjoyed it. So much so, in fact, that I wasn’t sure how I could possibly top that post. Seriously, my year-end spiels from both 2013 and 2014 were so inspiring and full of incredible memories.
So what happened in 2015?
For a great many of us, it seems, 2015 was a year of heartache, stress, turmoil, disappointment, and a general sense of having the joy sucked from your existence. It’s as though someone set a bunch of Dementors loose from Azkaban to wreak havoc on our world. Well, back up you soul-sucking leeches! I may not be the Chosen One, but I’m working on my Patronus Charm.
Last year, I posted a list of photos with highlights month by month. Today, as I tried to compile pictures for this year’s post, I realized that there were numerous months with no photos. I checked my social media accounts; surely I must have posted something exciting. Meh. Not so much. I went to my calendar for verification of what I did this year. Again. Not so much. Well, that’s a lie. I can say I didn’t do as much as last year, or perhaps I didn’t do as many interesting things as last year, but 2015 definitely had its moments. I wracked my brain all afternoon until I finally figured out the missing pieces of the puzzle. Those “blank” moments were actually spent at home, either sick or taking care of my mother who has end-stage Alzheimer’s.
I also came to recognize something else about 2015. It’s the year I had my breakdown.
Wow. Saying it out loud still makes me queasy, but let’s call it what it was: a breakdown. It’s no secret that I have been battling many personal demons and depression my entire life. Some within my closest circle of friends know about my panic attacks that began around age 11 or so. I attempted counseling and therapy in high school, briefly. I tried medication after giving birth. I tried exercise, meditation, dietary changes, taking up new hobbies, and more. I eventually found that if I was always involved in a project I could somewhat keep things at bay. If I keep moving, it can’t catch me. Most people think I am referring to the cystic fibrosis when I say that. But, if I am finally being honest, I’m referring to my demons.
Years of self-diagnosis and denial came to a tumultuous tipping point this year. I’d been on the edge since the great lungmageddon of 2013. In March of this year, I came down with the worst case of the flu I think I’ve ever had in my life. In a fevered state, I let my emotions get the best of me and had a knee-jerk reaction to something someone said-or rather didn’t say-to me. I quit my job hosting trivia. Just like that, via email, I let down a friend (and my carnies) with no clue of what to do next. From that moment, I devoted even more time to helping take care of my mother, either traveling to where she lives with my sister, or bringing her here to stay so my sister can have a break. It was nice being home more and being able to focus on family more.
After a few months of not being out on trivia nights, I found that I missed more than just income. I missed the people. I missed the noise. I missed the routine. I tried to fight the urge to take on new projects, citing my need to be with family and to “learn to say no”. But the edge grew closer.
By mid-summer, I took on a last-minute challenge with one of the best friends I’ve ever had. We started a team for GISHWHES (the Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen). I suddenly found myself in the role of Team Captain, overseeing the communication and submissions of 14 other people, scattered all across 4 time zones, half of which were still teenagers. I broke out the clipboard. My notes had notes. My spreadsheets had spreadsheets. We were the most organized team on the planet. I became a den mother, wanting to positively affect the lives of our younger team mates. In one week, we managed to successfully complete 115 of the 208 nearly-impossible tasks. My team mates were phenomenal! It was absolutely life-altering. GISHWHES pushed me in ways I didn’t know were possible. That experience came at a cost, though. I guess you could say GISHWHES saved my life.
During GISHWHES, I developed a painful eye twitch. I slept very few hours each night. On the final night of submissions, I was already committed to work/host a pre-party for Charlotte Comicon. I got home from the party at 1am. I uploaded submissions until the cut-off at 3am. I didn’t fall asleep until 4am. I was up at 6am getting the cars loaded and putting my costume on so we could be to Charlotte Comicon at 8am. I had pushed my body and my health to its limits during the scavenger hunt. Worse…I pushed my mental health as well. My BFF and I ended up fighting. My natural tendencies were coming across as being a ‘control freak’ and I was sucking the fun out of the experience for others. The thought of that broke me. I cracked. I went off on her over the phone. We managed to push past it all and get through the end of the weekend. But I was changed.
I’d finally hit the point where I was being honest. I was saying things to her about myself that I’d never said out loud to anyone before. I was owning up to what I always passed off as personality quirks. I began to realize what it was about the routine of trivia, the routine of the way I do things, the meticulous nature of everything I do. I suddenly felt like I was drowning. For the next few weeks, the slightest thing could make me cry. I was afraid of letting people down. I was afraid of being out of control or of being weak. I was afraid of death and dying (which are my usual go-to phobias). Every cough or twinge and I would panic that my lung was collapsing again. Every time I noticed any repetition in my day to day, I felt guilty for my actions. When I would get upset, I became angry with myself and then more upset for how I was feeling. I was spiraling out of control.
I finally, really started to listen to the things that Jared Padalecki was saying. #AlwaysKeepFighting became a mantra. I wept to my husband and he told me to stop trying to do this alone. I’d done that for so, so long. And so, at my next CF clinic appointment, I asked for help.
Can I just tell you what a humbling thing that is? I don’t ask for help when it comes to things like that. But there I was, tears flowing, answering questions as honestly as I could. A wave of relief came over me when my nurse clinician smiled softly and said, “It’s about time.” She let me know that it’s extremely common for a person with a chronic illness to suffer from depression and that most of their patients have been treated for depression for years. I was one of the last hold outs. Given everything else going on in my life in recent years (my father dying, unemployment, bankruptcy, lung surgeries, mom’s Alzheimer’s, raising the kid, etc) they were surprised that I wasn’t already being treated. After a few hours with doctors, the social worker, even my pharmacist and nutritionist, I was finally diagnosed: General Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Depression (borderline clinical), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and to top it off, a touch of the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
That explains so much!
It’s one thing to have always suspected these things, but it’s another to finally have it confirmed, to say it out loud and embrace it. I still feel awkward about the term “mental illness” or “mental health” because I know there are people with way worse cases than mine. But, I am learning that it doesn’t invalidate my condition or my experiences. I’m learning to cope. I started taking medication. I had to fight through a lot with the meds. The doctors would like to see me at a higher dose, but I have a low tolerance for medication. As it is, the dose I am taking caused me to sleep. A lot. I found myself falling asleep on the sofa after breakfast and waking up just in time to pick up my kid from school. After a few days of feeling guilty for that happening, I gave up. I slept even more. I would pick her up from school in my jimjams then come home and nap until dinner time. Worse, I would lie about it. I would try to pretend like everything was normal when my husband would come home, ashamed at the thought of him knowing I’d slept for two weeks. The doctors said it could take 6 weeks for my body to regulate with the meds, and finally the sleep monster began to go away. It still rears its head from time to time, but I try to push through.
Just an example of how ‘off’ I’ve been: I still haven’t unpacked from Walker Stalker Con Atlanta which was held over Halloween weekend. I know, right? I’m not sure if it’s the medication or just where my head is at, but since the start of November I have lost all motivation to do anything. I haven’t completed con reports. I barely blog. I have no creative spark. My passion is completely gone. (It’s taken me three hours to type this much). I feel like I’ve let a lot of people down. But at the same time, I have spent a portion of November and December with my mom here, so that tends to change when and how I get things done, too. Finding my usual Christmas joy was an exercise in futility.
Now, here we are. New Year’s Eve. I can sit here and make promises and resolutions for 2016 about how I can be a better person. But I don’t want to. I think–no, I know, I am a good person. If you take away the number of days that I spent crying, sleeping, worrying, panicking, hiding…If you take away the number of days I sat in sadness watching my mom and cursing the universe… 2015 really wasn’t all that bad. My friends…excuse me…my family (that’s what they are) made me smile more often than not. They stood by me, held my hand like Jack Dawson and declared “If you jump, I jump.” In 2016, I will have to learn to deal with change. My people are all entering the next chapters of their lives. There will always be space on the pages for me, just not necessarily full paragraphs anymore. Even my kid is approaching the crossroads. She graduates high school this spring. The whole world lay before her. And, as you know, parenting is just preparing your child for life without you. The thing is, it’s time I learned how to survive on my own, too.
Kicking 2015 out of my bed and opening the covers for 2016. It’s about accepting myself. It’s about being comfortable in my own skin. It’s celebrating the people I love. It’s starting a new adventure. It’s remembering to #AlwaysKeepFighting no matter what. I’ll get my passion back. I know I will. And with it will come something wonderful.
Speaking of wonderful…here are some of my favorite memories from 2015:
Competing as “Callisto” at Mini-Con.
Taking a road trip to Florida with my kid, my sister and my mom so that she could meet her first great-grandson.
My kid went to Junior Prom. She’s beautiful!
I was Jared Leto’s “Joker” at Charlotte Comicon. And we took the kid to see Rush on their R40 tour for our kid’s 17th birthday.
Spin bought her first house! Plus, Bryan, Spin, Caitlyn, and I were the “Sanderson Sisters” at Heroes Con.
I got my Rocky quote tattoo (finally). I got to bring my mom to our niece’s wedding. She looked so pretty and actually danced a little bit.
I went to a Charlotte Knights game with Cait and my dog, Thor, who twice ended up on the Jumbotron. I participated in GISHWES with Spin. We were the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for Charlotte Comicon. And, we took an all-girls road trip to the mountains for the Dirty Dancing Festival at Lake Lure.
Worked on the 3rd annual Old Town Zombie Crawl for the Heart 2 Heart Foundation. Attended Walker Stalker Con over Halloween weekend. Was made to do an interpretive and/or lip sync dance in front of the entire charity Casino Night audience by cast members of the show. Attended the Necrosis 2.0 Halloween party with Maggie as “post-apocalyptic Dorothy and Scarecrow”. We received SO many compliments on our costumes and were even acknowledged by Greg Nicotero.
Spent as much time on the final day of WSC with my idol, Melissa McBride. Celebrated my 42nd birthday on the 4th. That Friday night, I celebrated it a little too much, drinking nearly an entire bottle of Fireball while at karaoke. Trifecta achieved: blackout, vomiting, hangover. Apparently, I was a rock star.
I finally got to see Billy Joel in concert. I cosplayed as “Rey” from Star Wars alongside my daughter’s “Elastigirl” from the Incredibles at Charlotte Comicon. I took mom to see Santa Claus (there aren’t enough words for how magical that experience was). Sadly, 4 days after Christmas we said goodbye to our beloved Dixie, just shy of her 13th birthday. I’ll love you forever, Deedle, my chunky monkey.
These were but a few moments. As tough as it was, this year really was filled with so many joyful moments. I had friends go above and beyond with generosity towards me and my family, from paying for my dinner bill, to dropping off food at our house, to buying gifts for my mom, to taking up a collection to buy and install a fenced area for our dogs.
My routine may be changing, my OCD may be challenged, my struggle may tougher some days than others. But as long as I can see the light that shines from the hearts of my family–both blood and chosen–I know that there is good in the world. #ShineUntilTomorrow
Happy New Year!