Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The War and Peace of blog posts

I keep threatening to tell you about my mini-breakdown. That's why blogs were invented, right?

So when I was little my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He lived. But from about ages 3-8, I had this emaciated, frail chemo bald man living in my house who was quite often blown over by the lightest gusts of wind. And my mom had a few gentle talks with me about how my dad was going to die and what that meant.

It all worked out. I think a thirty year remission counts as cured, right? He still died young, but at 59. Not 29, like they told him the first time. And it wasn't cancer that did him in. Anyway, back to me as a kid. A dying dad is a heavy emotional load to carry, but like most kids, I was resilient. Tough, even. That kind of baggage still takes it's toll, but I found ways to deal with it. 

Like, for example, if I slept with my stuffed animals in a certain rotation, nothing bad would happen. Oh, and if I climbed stairs taking an even number of steps on each leg, then chemo would go well. There were light switch things. And not stepping on cracks things. And counting things.

And wouldn't you know that as my dad got better, these tricks became less and less necessary? 

Yeah, I had OCD. It runs in my dad's family, I guess. He didn't have it, but lots of my uncles and cousins do, most of them not too severely. I didn't even know I had it until I was adult. It's been latent for years.

One thing I did know and that OCD points to sometimes is that I am a control freak. I have always been a control freak. Guess what? Totally another coping mechanism.

What I didn't figure out until about a year after I married Kenny is that I also had some anxiety issues. Again, this is all very obvious in hindsight, but in the anxiety spiral, not so much. And in reading more about this over the past few years and thinking through it and analyzing blah blah blah, this is what I've learned: my anxiety is mild to moderate. I've had only two panic attacks in my whole life. My anxiety isn't chronic and it has identifiable triggers. Maybe once have I ever been in a tailspin long enough that had I realized I was suffering from anxiety, I would have been smart to go in and get some meds to help me manage it until my mood stabilized.

But on balance, my anxiety is usually near the mild end. This doesn't mean it's delightful. Or even a mild annoyance. It's super annoying actually, especially for someone who is highly, HIGHLY logical and sure that ALL things can be thought through and resolved through the mere application of reason.

Um, that's not how anxiety works.

Anyway, it's given me an empathy for people who suffer with this to a far greater degree. It really can't be controlled. But it can be managed.

It took a year of being married to my amazing and patient husband for me to realize that I had anxiety and to understand the triggers, etc. But I got to a place finally where I could let go of a lot of it and just be happy. The letting go took a long time, but it happened.

And that brings us to last week, specifically the tail end of the week where I spiraled into some anxiety. For once, I recognized what was happening. Unfortunately, I couldn't simply talk myself through it. Anxiety is more than stress--it's an extreme reaction to stress involving a lack of control over a situation. Or my form of it is.

There are certain things that I know set me off. I used to think that I was weak if I couldn't handle spinning a million plates at once. Now I realize that I totally can do it but my family pays the price because taking on too much can trigger more than simple stress for me. Also, I know that conflicts in really important personal relationships can cause problems (if I'm the reason for the conflict--that makes me even more anxious). And being excluded from stuff. That causes anxiety, not just hurt feelings (I do this crazy obsessive thing of wondering how I can control everyone's perception of/feeling toward me. Stupid.). And then of course, there's this huge category of Huge Life Events I Have No Control Over.

And trust me, I know everyone deals with this stuff. And most of the time, most of these things cause me stress but no anxiety. Sometimes, though, the stars misalign and Venus and Mars duke it or something, I don't know. But when that happens, normal stress turns into This Big Thing, days of insomnia, freak outs, panic, etc. Like I said, it's been a few years, but last week anxiety came to visit again.

I've already gone into a million billion boring details so I won't bore you with more now. Here's the thumbnail: my road to publication was really easy compared to most people's (I'll tell you the story some time) and it's set up a little disconnect between me and reality. And those two things didn't reconcile for me last week. And suddenly I realized how little control I have over the success of my new book despite my intention to be Supreme Ruler of the Universe and Most Especially My Book. And I am not good at relinquishing control over things that really matter to me (I'm going to be a peach of a mother-in-law). And a book release . . . there's very little I control about that in the first place.

And so suddenly I was dealing with a lot of self-doubt and frustration about lack of control and worry and all kinds of things. And that was the trigger and it all went downhill after that. And then I started getting really frustrated that I couldn't sleep and my brain wouldn't turn off and that I couldn't just talk myself into not being crazy which made the anxiety worse. And off went the merry-go-round.

I did some retail therapy. (Kenny, don't flinch: the following damage was done to discretionary funds, I promise.) It resulted in five new skirts, four cardigans, three sweaters, a necklace, a handbag, a pair of stilettos, two new shirts, and a lip gloss.

Yeah, yeah. I have issues. I GET IT. I think some of that will be going back. Not nearly as much as should go back, but some. Like the kinda cute stuff. I'm keeping the really cute stuff.

Anyway, guess what? That kind of retail therapy only makes things worse because then there's this whole, "I suck and have no self-discipline" fueling the downward spiral. Fun!

And finally Sunday I couldn't take it any more. The one advantage of knowing you're sometimes prone to anxiety and that it only reaches moderate levels at your worst points, is that you can explain it out loud even though you can't talk yourself out of how you're feeling.

And so I talked it out with Kenny. And I cried. And I let it out. And he prescribed nightly back rubs for me. And an afternoon in bed reading a funny book. And then he told me how he felt about my talent and why he feels so strongly about supporting me and it was really inspired, what he said. Then he started praying extra hard for me.

And then I got an email yesterday that was a tender mercy. I'll tell you about it soonish because this post is already so long I don't even want to go back and proof it so bless you if you're still reading.

But I realized: I cannot control the advertising for my book. I can't control who I'm positioned against. I can't control who will take the time to rate my book on Goodreads or other places. I can't control who will come to a book signing. I can't control a million other things.

But I can write a good book that does something good for someone. And I did. And I can be thankful for everything my publisher does for me, and I am. And I'm slowly feeling better. (Although full disclosure: I did buy one shirt, skirt, and handbag mentioned above this morning so I'm not ALL the way there yet). And I'm coming out of it and this has turned out to be a very small blip in the grand scheme of things. And I slept well two nights in a row. And I didn't eat my feelings: A HUGE VICTORY. And my pants were too big this morning and I never felt so excited to look so dumb in a too big pair of pants.

And fun things are happening this week. And I did the right thing for once and scaled down my DO EVERYTHING tendencies and turned my impending road trip into a mini writing retreat. The idea makes me feel calm.

Many of you will ask how you can help because that's how you are. You can't help, because the things I need from you are things I want you to give without me asking. I suck, I know. But that's how it is. Maybe I will become better at asking for what I need and accepting that even though what I get in return is prompted it will still be genuine. Baby steps.

But you can do this if you want: win my book at my friend Brittany's blog. I want to help get her twenty new followers and although I'm trying to move away from goals like that because failing only makes me crazy, I also was all humble bragging to her about how I thought this giveaway would be SO GOOD for her blog. So yeah, you can click over and follow her and maybe I will feel a tad less dorky than usual. I think she started at 29 before the giveaway. 

And if you're still reading this post, I probably owe you chocolate. Which, if you live in Utah, you can come see me at the book signing on Thursday night (B&N in Murray, 6-8) I can give you because I'm bringing homemade mint fudge. And since I'm trying not to eat my feelings, you can do it for me. Although, if I run into cool weather and a good corn chowder up there, all bets are off. Probably I will eat my feelings and be totally fine with it.

Thanks for listening. Seriously.


LisAway said...

Pretty sure you're aware that I love you, but I just wanted to say it again.

And when I read your title I thought it meant the post was going to be long, but then I was reading it and couldn't believe you weren't going to write about the tender mercy email because the post was already so long because, WHAT!?! This is a "we're sitting on the couch chatting" post, and those kind can't be too long.

I wish I could do a lot more concerning your books. Actually, you may just have inspired me to get on goodreads again for the first time in years, I think (my sister's been bugging me anyway)...

[Stacia] said...

You're incredible.

Susan said...

Holy wow, Melanie. It's actually nice to know you're imperfect like the rest of us. :-)

Your books are going to do fine. They are awesome. And so are you.

Kristina P. said...

Ummmm, I could have written this. Oh, except for the part about being an uber famous book author.

I even wrote about my anxiety on MMB a while ago. It's not horrible, I don't need medication, and I know what triggers it. But like you said, you know you shouldn't be thinking that way, but you can't help it. Anxiety isn't logical. You can't tell yourself to just stop.

I engaged in retail therapy, as well as real therapy, which helped. I also generally take heroin, which helps calm me down.

Steph @ Diapers and Divinity said...

Oh, we love our KP, don't we?

I know we are friends who are really just acquaintances kind of, but I still care about you at the maximum level that does not cross the creepy line, and I want you to know what a talented, bright, and warm person you are. I'm sorry you get spiraled and it hurts. Because I am a self-sacrificing person, I will eat your mint fudge. :)

I understand that your book probably feels like a child and you want it grow up and be everything you dreamed it would be. You have a well-deserved pride in your work. It will be fine. FINE. You've still got plenty of books to birth. You were born to be a multi-book mom. You'll do great.

Becca said...

(I love Melanie J.)

Barbaloot said...

Homemade mint fudge, huh? As if meeting you and having you sign my book weren't incentive enough:)

I used to be quite OCD---mostly through jr. high and high school. I definitely did the counting steps, even numbers thing and I had SO many patterns of how I did things that I could not break. It has definitely lessened over the years, thought it's not gone completely. I'm not quite sure why---I don't have any big event that I can trace it to...weird.

Stephanie Black said...

I've had some OCD struggles in my life as well, and still have some lingering issues. I'm sorry for all you've had to deal with!

Releasing a new book IS both exciting and scary, but I have full confidence that Not My Type will be an awesome bestseller.

Wonder Woman said...

Thank you so much for sharing this story and being vulnerable enough to put it out there. (I can't say 'vulnerable' without thinking of Dr. Drew. =D) My husband struggles with anxiety, but because he's a man he doesn't articulate a whole lot. It's a pretty recent development, and it's good to hear what it feels like, and what helps.

Thanks again. And I am TOTALLY going to eat some of your mint fudge. I will stick to my strict slim-fast diet all day tomorrow (tomorrow!) so that I'll have room for fudge.

p.s. congrats on having pants that are too big! AWESOME!!!!!

Charlotte said...

I hate most the initial realization that the anxiety is mounting a full blown attack there isn't much I can do to stop it.

I've been out of cyberland most of the summer and hadn't realized you had another book coming out so soon. I'm hoping to find it in the bookstore today. I'm determined not to buy an e-edition like your last book as I couldn't share its greatness with all my friends.

I can't go to any book functions in Utah, but if you get up to the Northwest, let me know!

Vivian said...

Guess what? I can't wait to get my chocolate tomorrow ;)Until then. You are fabulous!

Kimberly Vanderhorst said...

I have anxiety issues (tied into agoraphobic tendencies) and I totally get the thinking-you-should-be-able-to-talk-yourself-out-of-it thing. Sounds like you're learning a lot about yourself (which is the HUGE plus side to going through crap like this), and making great progress besides.

I'm following your friend now, though it'll probably only affect her via the wee little number in her followers list. I suck at reading blogs lately. And writing mine, to boot. I need to get back to it, especially because I have a FABULOUS book to review . . .

Alyson said...

Yay for pants that are too big! That makes for a graet morning ( assuming that pants can be found that fit) You are a great writer, I know that for certain. And that fudge sounds good, Have a blast in Utah!

Karen Peterson said...

I know it's annoying sometimes when people say they know how you feel, but I pretty much know how you feel.

I've had anxiety issues since I was a kid. I would freak out and panic over EVERYTHING and then, of course, the things I worried about turned out to be NOTHING. Almost every time. It wasn't until I was going through a really terrible experience a couple of years ago that a doctor told me it was anxiety and that I wasn't just a weirdo. And it turned out that meds do help sometimes, but I don't use them except when coping gets really difficult.

I'm sorry I just let you a ridiculously long comment about me when this is supposed to be all about you! I visited Brittany and instantly loved her and you were totally right because you usually are.

And I'm going to get my hands on your book very, VERY soon. I can't wait.

Kazzy said...

I can't imagine going through that at such a young age. That is really rough. You are a strong person.

Loving your book, and I will be posting about it today. See you tonight!

DeNae said...

Swap OCD for depression, and trade "I take pills" for "I talk myself through it" and this could have been written by me. Creative types are cursed with these crises; the trick is recognizing and managing. Sounds like you're doing both. Well done, you!

Lara said...

I know there's not much I can do for you from way over here in Michigan...but I can order your book (and I did) and read it and post on Goodreads (and I will).

And I understand the whole anxiety thing. I am the queen of trying to do everything and being really upset when I can't do it, because as it turns out I am actually only human. And then the anxiety, stress and depression set in. I went through a horrible bout this last month, and I'm not even sure why. I don't even have a book to show for it! ;)

Nan said...

I completely understand what you mean. I have had 2 panic attacks in my life also. I've always been a worrier, but after my daughter had a seizure and I honestly thought she might die (105 sudden spiked temp), the anxiety showed it's ugly head.

It is a spiral. It sucks. It really sucks when you try to eat your anxiety away, then you just have more anxiety because now you know you blew your calorie intake.

Anyway, not to turn this to me, but I have found that when I find out someone else has anxiety, it is SO nice to know that someone else completely understands the things that make complete sense in your head, but you know it is normal to think that way. (For instance, I once didn't want to go on vacation for fear that we would drive off a cliff. And then when my leg hurt, I wondered if I had some disease.)

Luckily it gets easier to deal with the more you understand your triggers, and what kind of things help calm it down. And to have someone who is understanding.

Nan said...

.... of course that line was meant to be "things that make complete sense in your head, but you know it is NOT normal to think that way."

Should have proofread. :)

Anonymous said...

As much as I sometimes fantasize about writing a book, the more I find out about the business and marketing ends of it, the less fun those parts sound.

On the other hand, it sounds like you're learning great things about coping with your anxiety, which could be useful for other things than book anxiety. (Right?)

Sorry I missed the book party tonight! I actually didn't learn about it until after it was over, but I couldn't have made it anyway--but one of these times, I will.

Aubrey said...

I would totally review your book on my blog! If I still had a functioning blog. And if anyone had read it to begin with.

Hmmm. Maybe this isn't so helpful. But seriously, I'm telling all the people I know in the real world that it's my favorite book of yours and they simply MUST read it!

It was so fun to see you tonight. I'm tres, tres glad that you had such a great turnout, even if that means I didn't get to visit with you as long.:)

TheOneTrueSue said...

Melanie - this book is the kind of book that will succeed no matter what - whether or not people talk about it on their blogs. People will read it, love it, and share it with each other. It's just too sweet and funny and fun not to find an audience. I really believe that. And I'll head over to Goodreads and all of that good stuff too.

It was so good to see you last night - wish we could've talked more. XOXOXO

Melinda said...

So much to say...I can seriously relate to the anxiety thing. I feel like I look at things fairly realistically, and then my anxiety turns me into crazy town. I wish I had money for retail therapy, that would be heavenly. Although I can SO see how that would make me feel worse and guilty too...so? I just have to say, I love Kenny and I'm so glad you have him and he has you. :) I love Brittany's blog, I'm already following and SO HOPING TO WIN THAT BOOK!! I just love you Melanie, you're fantastic.

Brigitte said...

I discovered your blog today. You need to know how you have blessed me. Today I am in the midst of an anxiety attack that has all the same feelings that you shared in your post. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing how you feel, it has comforted my heart to know that I'm not alone, I'm not the only one who struggles with times like these. Thank you for sharing your wonderfully fun personality in your books to give me a break from the stressors that we all face. Reading your newest book this week was worth the loss of sleep. I can't wait for another book of yours to come out. You are wonderful and again please know that Heavenly Father sent your blog my way today. Thank you so much.

Enjoy Birth said...

HUGS, HUGS, HUGS. You are awesome and your books are too! I keep wanting to start your new one, but my kids keep getting in the way. Maybe for Sunday, that is a good Sabbath activity! :)

Christiane R. Woerner said...

Melanie, thank you for posting this. Deep down, I think we're very similar and I understand the issues you struggle with (sorry for ending my sentence with a preposition).

Big hugs to you as you look around you and understand that the Lord loves you and has blessed your life. You are loved by your family, friends, and fans.

A bit of advice from a fellow anxiety sufferer:
1) Be well and take time for yourself.
2) Don't overbook yourself and spend time with those who matter most.
3) This season of your life will end. Being a wife & mommy of young kids will not last forever. Look around and take the time to embrace that.

Love to you!

Lara said...

Just coming back to tell you I finished the book and LOVED it. :)

I promise to post a review on Goodreads when I get my act together, but I did post a tiny one on my blog anyway.

Erin said...

I know people say this all the time and it kind of seems hollow, but I swear it's true. I feel exactly the same way as you, down to the two panic attacks in my life but mostly just manageable anxiety. But it still sucks.

I'm glad my post helped you feel a teeny bit better at the time. I really do love your talent and can't wait to read more of what you write.