Wednesday, December 11, 2019

*Tevye Voice* Tradition, Tradition!

I am a huge fan of tradition. Actually, that might be an understatement. Let's try again.

I am whore for tradition. Nope, a little too much. One more go.

I am a Tradition Nazi. Non-PC, but doesn't imply the exchange of sexual favors for tradition. Perfect. 

According to my dad, I should logically be a Republican; I dislike change and will do anything to uphold traditions. It doesn't quite work that way, but I get what he meant. Traditions are part of my DNA, and my love of them helps make me who I am. Mess with that and... well, we'll just say the outcome is undesirable. 

Christmas, of course, is a time chock-full of tradition. It's not my favorite holiday (Halloween FTW, obviously), but the parts of it that I love, I really love. And those parts all consist of traditions. Like, my favorite meal of the year is Christmas Eve dinner. My mom always makes prime rib and I always eat too much of it. (Seriously, even the 5 years I was a vegetarian, I still ate prime rib on Christmas Eve. My body HATED it, but it was so worth the pain.) A tangential "tradition" is my dad making some joke about how Mom's making filets or turkey or something this year, and would that be alright with me? It doesn't phase me anymore, but as a kid, I would legitimately get upset thinking my traditional meal was being mucked up.

I grew up with a plethora of traditions surrounding Christmas. Like decorating the tree the day after Thanksgiving with my 'sister' and playing the ornament game. Picking out our family tree from the lot. Baking cookies with my mom, singing along with John Denver & The Muppets. Playing games with my family on Christmas day. Going to the Jewish deli the day after Christmas to exchange gifts with my sister. So many traditions, so many memories.

As often happens in life, though, circumstances change and, as a result, traditions change. Or end. I don't live next door to my sister anymore. And I don't live with my parents. And the deli is closed now. 

So new traditions are created! Especially when one starts her own family. And that's what we were - a family. Me, my husband, and the dog(s). We picked out our own Christmas tree at the same lot every year. I decorated during the day and hid certain ornaments for my husband to find. There were 3 Christmases - one with his mom's family, one with his dad's family, and one with my family. Those became my new traditions, the things I came to associate with my holiday season.

Two years ago, those traditions came to a pretty abrupt stop. I had no tree. Decorations largely stayed boxed up. I only had one Christmas. It was difficult, but I still held on to hope and that got me through (along with the support of my friends and family). Last year, there was renewed hope and a few traditions tried to make a comeback. I decorated a bit, and I was invited to, but didn't attend, a second Christmas. But the possibilities for even more to be restored in the future sustained me. 

This year, it's just me and the dogs. The only decorating I've done is re-doing my Halloween tree with Nightmare Before Christmas ornaments. While I'm looking forward to the traditions to be shared with my family (I can't WAIT for prime rib!), I don't really have any that are just for me. My traditions tend to be based around other people because I like doing things for those that I love and hold dear. 

And that hope for a future to reestablish my traditions, the hope that propped me up through the last two holiday seasons... doesn't exist anymore. I don't mean that to sound despondent, it's just a matter of fact. As happened with others along the way, the traditions I was holding onto, that I was hoping to resurrect, are now over.

Now... now it's once again time for new traditions. I need traditions to uphold for myself, regardless of who or what comes or goes from my life. That sense of tradition, of some kind of routine or constant, is important in helping me realize the holiday spirit. It doesn't have to be big or flashy. Maybe I'll start a tradition of wrapping presents while listening to my offbeat Christmas playlist. Maybe I'll spend the weekend before Christmas having a movie marathon of some sort while cuddling with the dogs. Or maybe I'll get myself something off of one of my wishlists, just for the hell of it!

Why? Because I like doing things for those I love... and I love myself. 💚

Saturday, November 16, 2019

My #SorryNotSorry Challenge

I have spent far too much of my life feeling like I'm in the way or like I'm a bother. I wrote about it in the context of calls and texts yesterday, but it goes beyond that. And it's time to really admit that I have a problem.

My name is Erika, and I am a serial apologizer.

For example: Many "empaths" have a strong startle response, and I'm definitely one of them. (And by empath, I mean someone who is highly sensitive and empathetic, rather than the paranormal kind. I'm not discounting their existence as a possibility, there's just nothing paranormal about me.) Just last week, I opened the door to go into my apartment building and someone was on their way out. It startled me. I jumped a little and gasped, and before I knew it, "Sorry!" had already escaped my lips. Yes, I apologized because I was startled. Wasn't the first time, probably won't be the last.

If I almost run into someone at the store? Apology. If someone almost runs into ME at the store? Apology. If I think I've caused any kind of upset or annoyance? Apology. If I think you're mad at me, even if there's no reason for you to be? Apology. If I step on my dog because she's walking underneath me? Apology. If I think I've made an assumption or too bold a claim? Apology. FFS, I've been known to apologize for sneezing. "Sorry" might be the word I use the most in everyday life.

It's not all about saying sorry, though. It comes in many forms. Backpedaling from a confident-sounding statement because now I'm suddenly unsure how true it is or whether I'm putting words in someone else's mouth. Backing down from an argument because I never meant to upset anyone in the first place.

I used to write a lot of it off as politeness (after all, I am just trying to make everyone happy and be the least inconvenient I possibly can be), but the unfortunate truth is that it more often comes from a place of deep-rooted insecurity and self-esteem issues. My ex was the first to point out to me that when I pass someone in an aisle at the grocery store, I don't just say 'excuse me' (which, BTW, there's nothing wrong with), but I also drop my head, physically lowering myself as if my presence is what I'm excusing (which, BTW, there definitely is something wrong with). So that's fun!

I shouldn't be apologizing for being... well, me. And the rational part of me is well aware of that. But a lifetime of anxiety, depression, and low self-image takes its toll; when your internal narrative has been negatively focused for so long, you can't just change it at will. It's not like some switch you flip from "pessimistic self-loathing" to "confident self-assuredness." It takes time and effort. It takes practice. It takes strength. And it is a challenge.

Tell 'em, Demi!
So, here I am, challenging myself. I'm calling this my #sorrynotsorry challenge. For the next week, I am going to focus on identifying those times when I'm being unnecessarily apologetic or insecure, and I'm going to try to ask myself if I'm truly sorry, or if that was a knee-jerk reaction from a lifetime of conditioning. I'm betting that a LOT of the time, it's the latter. Thus sorry, not sorry.

This week, I'm going to really try (keyword, folks - TRY) to be unapologetically me. And it might be a lot for some people to handle. You think I post a lot on social media now? Imagine what I'll share if I'm not worrying whether it's too much or if anyone cares. Think I'm too emotional? Phew, I got news for y'all... most of you ain't seen nothin' yet.

I am goofy. I am passionate. I wear my heart on my sleeve. I find humor and happiness in strange things. I love to share with people. I am nerdy. I am sweet. I am fierce. I am cute AF. I am fun. I love to be lazy. I have strength even I didn't know I had. I am weird by some's standards and too normal by others'. I am easily excited. I care deeply. And I love even more deeply. Basically, I'm pretty awesome.

And for this week, I'm not going to be sorry for any of it. Starting... now.

Friday, November 15, 2019

The Unfortunate Double Standard of Texting With Anxiety

Right off the bat, I want to start by pointing out that I can only speak to MY experiences. Not everyone with an anxiety disorder or who fights with anxiety has the same thoughts or feelings. Someone may read this and think, "Yeah, some of that kinda sounds like me!" Someone else might read it and go, "Damn, that's messed up. I have anxiety and I've never felt like that!" It should go without saying, but not everyone with anxiety is identical in how their anxiety manifests, how they handle it, how they think about it...  But I digress.

We won't even get into rotary phones...
I've never been huge on phone calls. Sure, I did some of the teenage girl thing where I'd be on the phone for hours at a time talking about nothing at all, but it was never comfortable or natural. I paced a lot, which is a lot harder when you have a corded phone. (If you're too young to have experienced this, just imagine that your cell phone had to be plugged into the wall charger ALL THE TIME - the horror!). Once I got a cordless phone, I would wander outside and hop on the swingset or just wander around the house. Sitting still wasn't really an option if I was on a call that lasted more than about five minutes.

It's also worth pointing out that the vast majority of these calls were made TO me, not BY me. I'll get to why this is important later, but very rarely have I ever gone, "Man, I should just call up what's-her-bucket and chat for a while!" Odds were also good that one of my parents answered the phone first and handed it off to me; the only time I answered the phone of my own volition was when no one else was home and I was worried it might be a call about my parents, which is another part of my childhood anxiety we don't have time for in this post.

("Why not let the machine get it?" you may ask. Easy. My parents believed that "if it's important, they'll call back" so it was FOREVER before we even had one. Like, we skipped the whole type of machine that had the tape you had to rewind. Our very first answering machine had multiple "inboxes" and was completely digital. And while my parents said it was more about dad's work, I still think that the biggest reason we got one was that I kept using *69 to find out if anyone had called for me while I was gone. Again, if you're too young for this reference... I don't know, go find someone who was alive and using phones in the 90s and ask them to regale you with stories of the world of old.)

I got my first cell phone when I was 20 and I'm pretty sure I sent my first text that very day. Kids, this was back in the day when not only was texting a major pain in the ass, it was also pretty costly. Phone plans gave you a certain number of texts each month and anything beyond that cost extra. I'm here to tell you that a phone aversion + pay-to-play texting = money problems. In fact, my phone bills were a big reason I couldn't put enough money away to return to school back in 2005 and led me down my
While not my 1st phone,
I totally had this bad boy
for quite some time.
#RIPcingular
current life path, so... Stay in school? No, that's not the point here. Moving on.

Texting was expensive and I was, well, not exactly swimming in excess cash. So once my text limit was reached each month, I got used to taking phone calls with certain important people in my life. Again, they mostly called me instead of the other way around, but the freedom of being able to wander while talking allowed me to work out some of that nervous energy and I was able to stand it for a bit.

These days, texting (or any version of "instant" messaging) seems to be just part of daily life for the majority of us. (Hell, my parents text, and my dad is the guy who used to pride himself on the fact that all he knew about our home PC was how to turn it on and off.) And while I'm much better about using the phone these days (yay therapy!), texting is still my preferred method of communication.

Remember when I mentioned that most of the time people had/have to call me instead of the other way around? (It was several paragraphs ago, so if you don't remember or don't want to go back that far, just take my word on it.) I constantly worried that I would be interrupting something or that my call would be unwelcome or annoying in some way. Basically, I didn't think anyone wanted to hear from me, because if they did, wouldn't they have called me? Yes, I'm aware of the flaws in that way of thinking. Yes, I'm aware that most people just don't answer right if they're inconvenienced or don't want to talk. But for some reason, my anxiety convinces me that I'm going to be a bother to whoever I'm calling.

The same applies to texting. With VERY few exceptions (mostly my bestie and my sister), I am extremely hesitant to send an unsolicited, unprompted text message to most people I know. Circumstances make no difference. We could literally have been texting up a storm the day before, but today is a new day, and maybe today you don't want to deal with me, so... I should probably just leave you alone. The rational part of me goes, "Dude, if they're busy or don't want to chat with you, they'll just ignore it. It's fine." Then anxiety comes back with, "But how do I know if they're ignoring me because they're busy or if it's because they don't want to talk to me anymore?? If I don't text, then I don't have to worry about that!"

Yes, I realize how fucked up that is.

So, what makes texting such a double standard for me? The fact that I LOVE getting messages from the people in my life. Nothing puts a smile on my face like hearing from people I care about. I don't care if we haven't spoken in months; if you send a random AF text, my heart will be oh so happy. It doesn't even have to be like, "OMG, it's been too long and I miss you. We should totally talk sometime soon!" Honestly, it could just say, "Sup?" and I'd be genuinely psyched just to hear from you.

2 words can say SO much more

Plus, I worry. I know that's beyond obvious, but sometimes I think people underestimate the levels of worry that I can reach. And, my apologies to those of you in my texting circle... the more frequently we send messages, the worse the worry can get. For example, if I don't hear from my bestie in a few days (or, sometimes, a few hours), I start getting concerned. Is she okay? Did I say something to piss her off? Is her family okay? What did I do wrong? Are we still friends? WHAT DID I DO?!

Alright, I know that seems a little (or a lot) crazy, but that's anxiety. On a bad day, I can end up doubting that my bestie even wants to be friends with me anymore just because I haven't heard from her. This is my hetero lifemate. My person. My piece of corn (sorry, that one's an inside joke). Of fucking COURSE she's my friend! She's my BEST friend. Thankfully (yet, unfortunately), she understands the insecurities and insanity of anxiety and never hesitates to remind me that I'm a dummy if I think she's going anywhere.

And yet, ask her if I've ever apologized to her for "bugging" her with a message. Or saying something like, "Sorry, I'll let you go. Didn't want to bother you." Because the answer is yes. I haven't done it so much lately (we made a deal where we're not allowed to apologize to one another for such things; I'm doing my best to stick to it), but I absolutely have said sorry for texting MY BEST FRIEND. And at the same time, I would NEVER want her to apologize for messaging me, no matter the context or content. How could she ever be a bother to me?

There you have it. I'm constantly worried I'm bothering people with my texts, but my own heart soars when I hear that little ding. Someone's thinking of me! Someone wants to talk to me! Someone likes me enough to engage me in conversation! YAY!! I'm trying to turn that thinking back around; mightn't other people be happy to hear from me, just as I'm happy to hear from them? It's really hard to challenge negative thoughts, but I am actually trying.

Just the other day I was worried about bothering someone who was having a rough day, but then I thought, "Hmmm, if I was having a tough time, I'd really appreciate a text..." And so, I texted. A small but important victory, IMO. (Okay, so I've already since apologized for bothering the same person with a different text... baby steps, Bob! BABY STEPS!) Someday, I won't need to talk myself through that; for now, all I can do is keep trying.

Phew! This got a lot longer than I meant, so if you're still reading... Well, I won't apologize. You made the choice to keep reading, and I appreciate it. Thank you. :)

Thursday, November 14, 2019

A Tale of Two MRIs, Part 4: 'Tis a Puzzlement

Recap

Seeing as it has been so long, you're probably better off just skimming through Parts 1, 2, and/or 3. But since that's sort of a shit-ton of reading, thanks to my long-windedness, here's your TL;DR version:
  • I've had this bump/growth/whatever along my jaw for at least a decade. No pain or anything, just kind of... there.
  • In August 2017, I thought it got bigger, so I brought it up with my dentist.
  • Several scans/tests/specialists later, I didn't really get any answers, but the overall consensus was that it didn't look bad, so... Everything's probably good?
Moving on...

Lord, a lot has changed and happened since I last wrote about this. What happened immediately following Part 3 is not nearly so fresh in my mind, but let's see what I can recall.

My second of the two MRIs in this tale took place at a nearby hospital since my normal doctor's office wasn't equipped for what needed to be done. My mom was nice enough to come in from Madison to go with me so I wouldn't be alone again. Just knowing she was in the waiting area put me a little more at ease during the process, which made it easier to get through. 

What lump?
What DIDN'T make it so easy to get through was the guy running my MRI. He decided that since I was going to have to do both with and without contrast dye, he'd just go ahead and put the IV port in from the beginning. In Part 3, I mentioned how my veins like to hide and only the best of the best seem to be able to locate them... This dude was NOT the best of the best and ended up going through the back of my hand. So I had to lie there the WHOLE TIME with the damn thing sticking out of my hand, even though the dye didn't go in until about 2/3 of the way through. To say it was uncomfortable would be accurate; it actually started to hurt after a while and I had this tender, bruised lump where it had been for a day or two after the MRI. Ow.

The rest of the MRI wasn't terribly memorable. Once it was done, I got back into my street clothes and grabbed my mom to go. We managed to get lost in the labyrinth that is the basement of Aurora St. Luke's but eventually got some assistance from a staff member who could quite clearly tell we were from out of town and took pity on us. Thank you, kind stranger!

I can't tell you much more about that experience except to say that the results were apparently pretty blah. My doctor was not at all concerned about whatever the MRI was for in the first place, so... yay? A "clear" MRI comes with mixed emotions, in my experience. On the one hand, there's an incredible sense of relief that nothing out of sorts was discovered. On the other hand, WTF? I just spent a decent chunk of money on these tests (not to mention my PTO) just for someone to tell me that whatever they saw wasn't noteworthy after all. Cool.

After that experience, I put the lump/bump/fascinoma out of my mind for quite some time. Right up until about 2 months ago when I thought I felt it growing again. What. The. Actual. Fuck? Fine. This time I decided I'd go straight to the source. I called up the oral surgeon's office and asked if I needed a referral. I did, so I sent a message over to my doctor's office and had a referral by the end of the day.

I went back to see the surgeon and got a couple new CT scans for good measure. He poked around a bit, took a picture of it (that I'm glad I never got to see; not my most flattering angle), and sent all the info to another specialist. A week later, I went back in to see what we had learned. And... nada. We still had no idea what it was. So we scheduled me for surgery! Huzzah!
Boo, Facebook. BOO.

These days, I live alone (well, not ALONE alone - I still have the doggos), so I had to figure out transportation. Luckily, my parents are pretty awesome and they said they would come into town to chauffeur me to and from (since, you know, driving on Valium is frowned upon). They even came in the night before and treated me to dinner (free food!), so that was a win-win. That same night, my ex stopped by to pick up the dogs so I wouldn't have to try to care for them while recovering. The apartment was so very quiet without them, but once I took the Valium, I was pretty chill about everything. Apparently, the stuff makes me feel "fuzzy" which I found terribly amusing, especially the next morning when I took my second pill and Facebook told me that fuzzy wasn't a real feeling.

My surgery went well, though I remember next to none of the experience. I was under moderate sedation, but my family has kind of a thing for getting completely knocked out no matter how "moderate" the sedation. I know I got an IV (in my hand, sigh) and I was trying to breathe deeply just to calm my own nerves. The next thing I really remember is setting up a follow-up appointment (which I managed to get into my phone's calendar... correctly!) and heading out to the car. I texted a few people quickly on the ride to let them know I was out and doing well, and I even snapped a selfie or two for good measure.

Thumbs up!
When we got home, I hung my purse up and put my keys in the key bowl, a feat that was made possible either due to the recent practice of consistent adulting and self-sufficiency or my OCD, but nonetheless impressed my mom. I headed straight for my bed and crashed for a few hours.

My mom had originally wanted to take me back to Madison with them for the weekend, but once I had napped, I was pretty self-sufficient, just tired and sore. That's the nice thing about oral surgery - it hurts, but it doesn't really impede your movement. Eating... well, that's another story. Suffice it to say I lived off of ice cream and ice cream products for a good 24-48 hours (the horror!). Regardless, I was clearly capable of taking care of myself, so my parents headed back to Madison and left me to my own devices.

I could barely contain
my excitement
Surgery was early on Friday morning, so I spent the weekend (Friday afternoon through Sunday) having a Harry Potter marathon since I'd be missing a HP-themed Halloween party that Saturday (and I was under orders to "take it easy" for the weekend). I made it through all 8 movies and even had some company for one of them. :)

Otherwise, I was basically just a big, lazy blob on my couch. I went to pick up the dogs on Sunday night (and I will say that not having to take care of them also made it a lot easier to just chill for the weekend - I actually got to sleep in!) and was back to my regularly scheduled program on Monday. Not too shabby!

As for the results of said surgery? Doc's still calling it a fascinoma.

Here's the official diagnosis:

"Sections show multiple fragments of fibro-granulation tissue demonstrating a focal area of either bone or cementum embedded within one of the fragments and
a focus of refractile foreign material in another fragment."

Basically, there was a tiny piece of bone or something similar (like the acrylic they use in orthodontics), as well as some unidentifiable material, embedded in the tissue. Whenever I thought it was "growing" the tissue was likely irritated and becoming inflamed (as suggested by the abscess also present at the time of surgery). Doc's best guess is that something from my days of orthodontia got trapped in there and just kind of hung around for funsies, but we'll never really know for sure.

'Tis a puzzlement indeed. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Hello Darkness, My Old Nemesis

2+ years since a post here. Daaaaaaaaang. In my defense, I was blogging elsewhere, and I was going through some shit, so... Wait, why am I defending myself? Moving on!

For many of us, the change in seasons - particularly as things get colder and darker - brings about other changes. And not the fun, happy kind of changes that brighten your day and put a bounce in your step. Nope, quite the opposite, actually.

That's right, kids! It's another post about depression! Wooooo!

While I have not been diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder, I always tend to struggle a bit this time of year. Between the colder weather and the early darkness (especially now that we've "fallen back" an hour... Seriously, why do we still do that?), I think it can be difficult to get motivated to do things. Especially things outside, because, well, yuck. We had snow for Halloween this year, FFS. Totally uncalled for.

Anyway, I'd actually been doing really well for quite some time, but last week I had a minor depressive episode in which I found myself swallowed by darkness. It came on quickly, and because it hadn't happened in a while, I kind of forgot how to fight it. I forgot I had my flashlight (ahhhh, shameless self-promotion!). Thankfully, my bestie was around to chat and we got my brain back on the right track and I hopped right on out of the hole. Huzzah!

Then yesterday happened. Nothing was particularly different about it. It was a Tuesday. I was working. Listening to music. Chatting up my bestie. All the normal things that I do. But for some reason, this loneliness crept up out of nowhere. It started with thoughts like, "Man, I really wish I had some people out here to do things with" and "It's been so long since I've seen fill-in-the-blank, I miss her/him."

Then it started escalating, and instead of my voice, I heard THAT voice. You know, the one that says things like, "Well, of course it's been so long. Why would they come just to see you? You're not worth a whole trip out here!" and "You'd think you'd be used to being alone by now, wouldn't you? Better start now."

I decided to try taking a nap, hoping that the voice couldn't break through the sleep barrier, but I couldn't fall asleep. Instead, I literally just laid in bed and let the voice attack me. I cried. Not a ton, but enough to make me feel even more pathetic than I already had been feeling. The voice said some more nasty things, and I just took it. The depression and crying had drained me; I had no fight in me at that point. I couldn't even muster of the energy to adequately cover for myself and told someone, "I'm fine."

Maybe it goes without saying, but the phrase "I'm fine" really means anything BUT that about 99.9% of the time. But it just came out and I didn't have it in me to try to backtrack or explain myself. I just let it ride.

Eventually, it came out that I was clearly not all that fine, and I tried apologizing. For what, exactly, I'm not sure. It's just my default to be sorry. For being sad. For being no fun. For being needy. For bringing someone else down. For not taking care of myself. For trying to cover it up. For not doing a better job trying to cover it up. For my mental illness. For being the kind of person who apologizes for their own mental illness. For being... me.

So there I was, sitting on my kitchen floor waiting for my frozen pizza to be ready - because honestly, my other default is to eat, and while not the greatest habit to be in, it's a hell of a lot better than crying in bed - and I had a talk with myself.

Erika. You're having a low day. And it sucks. But that voice? That voice is an asshole. It knows every button to push, every thread to pick at, every pain point imaginable. It knows you. But you also know it. It lies. It hurts. It feeds off insecurity and despair. So stop feeding it! Eat some food, watch some TV, get some energy back, and be YOU. Because YOU are awesome. 

I'm paraphrasing, but you get the point. I was giving myself a pep talk. And it worked, at least a little. I got my pizza, went and watched some TV, and felt a little better. With some energy restored, I was able to get up and make a Target run, and then I felt even better yet! And by the time I got home, I didn't even need the pint of ice cream I'd bought. (Oh, I still had some, but I didn't eat the WHOLE thing. Progress, y'all.)

This might all sound pretty unnecessary to some people. Either because they've never had to get out of a depressive funk or because they think what I was experiencing was too minor to be such an ordeal or because blah blah, whatever logic or reasoning seems sound enough to them to write this off or call me a drama queen. But if you've been in it, if you've experienced that darkness, you know that the amount of evidence and prodding it takes to convince your brain otherwise is frequently disproportionate to the trigger or matter at hand. (You know, like dropping a box of macaroni and crying for an hour.)

In the end, the trigger isn't nearly as significant as the episode itself. That's the nature of depression. Some days, you get lonely and you just go, "Hey. Chin up! It's all good!" Other days you have the same thought and end up crying in bed in the dark with a couple of very confused dogs.

My point (yes, I have one... I think) is that it's a lot harder to get out of a hole than to fall into it. Whether you tripped over your own feet or someone bumped into you or you dove headfirst... It doesn't matter so much how you got in there as it matters how you get OUT. Don't let your focus be on the trigger or the fall; let it be on making it out and moving on. Let it be on your victory in the face of darkness. Let that be your next flashlight.