I’ve still been seeing my therapist every two weeks or so for the past year. Earlier this week, I had my regular session and it was one of those moments that made me go, “hmm.”
Let me step back for a second.
My brother, John, has been staying with Brett and I for almost a month. He recently won his disability claim after nearly four years of waiting and appeals, and living in a several different homeless shelters in Wisconsin. It’s been a stressful and emotional time for him so his therapist recommended that he come out to visit us for a month or two so he can figure out what he wants to do with his life. He recently said to us as we were sitting on the back porch, “This is the first time I’ve felt safe in a long time.”
We moved to Massachusetts from Wisconsin almost seven years ago now. This is the first time he’s been able to see where we live. It’s nice having him here and to catch up with him again, but it’s been anxiety-ridden for me and a definite shift in our regular routine.
Particularly, it’s bringing to light a lot of “hidden” anxieties that I have. I’ve always felt safe with my older brother. We would go on amazing road trips every summer to Disney World from the time I was in sixth grade through my junior year of high school. But, after my adopted mom passed away when I was a sophomore in college, life changed drastically for both of us.
Losing Emmett has made me much more introspective lately. Recently, I’ve found myself examining a lot of the facets and experiences during my life and behavioral health much more closely. Sometimes, it’s triggered by something really innocuous, like a song or a movie. Other times, it’s because the insomnia is bad and my mind is racing in the wee hours of the morning and I’m grasping for a sense of normalcy from something in my past.
The other night my road down memory lane was prompted when Brett and I were watching the most recent installment of the “X-Men” series. It had me thinking back to a night more than 13 years ago in Spring 2003 when I was a senior at UW-Milwaukee. I remember going to see “X2”. It was opening night and me and some of my closest friends nabbed tickets to the midnight show.
We made it to the theater just as the trailers were starting. We ended up watching the film from the front row, and two hours later, our necks and eyes were strained and blurred from staring at the on-screen action so closely. But, it was one of the most fun evenings I had with friends in my four years of college. It was just before graduation and all of us were going to head our own ways. I’d be leaving in a few weeks for grad school in Boston. Another friend was taking a job at a university. Another was taking a job at a TV station. It was like one of those last “hurrahs” of youth and frivolity before we had to start living real-life. The friendships that I made in those last two years came at a very important turning point in my life, just after my adopted mom passed away, leaving me and my family reeling, and also when I had finally started to discover who I was as an individual.
It also was a time that had me scared about my future. What was life going to be like out on my own, in a new city. Would my roommates like me? Would I do well in school? Could I find a job to help pay my rent? Underneath all of the fun that night provided for me and my friends, I was an anxious young woman who was unsure about everything that was coming in the weeks and months ahead. I was frightened I wouldn’t graduate because my advisor told me I hadn’t taken enough science courses (I really had but something wasn’t credited properly). I was skeptical about leaving my family behind for the first time. There were so many thoughts and emotions that were bubbling below the surface.
There have been a lot of discussions recently online about the “high-functioning depressed person.” While I would say I have definitely been a happy, optimistic and positive person for most of my life, there’s a part of me that I haven’t let others see until recently, or more accurately, I didn’t want others to know was there because I tried to keep it hidden. It’s the part of me that is hesitant, unsure, troubled, broken, anxious and sad. I’ve spent most of my 35+ years trying to make everyone else happy. Trying to be the perfect daughter, sister, wife, student, employee and friend. I’m a fixer at the root of everything. It wasn’t until a few years ago when I started to experience panic attacks again on a regular basis that I started to realize how afraid and distressed that I had become after trying to be perfect and strong for so many years.