Dude, I'm Anxious (a love note about my friends)

Lately I have had too much on my mind. In the last month, much has changed in my day to day…multiple times.  My oldest started first grade (*gasp* full day of school!), three weeks later my youngest started preschool (3 hours of freedom! Woohoo!), finally decided to bite the bullet and start going back to school next semester, then unexpectedly I had to leave the job I loved which left me figuring out “what now?”, a couple of close friends moved out of state (or country), my therapist retired, and so on.

With my brain chemistry being the way it’s been for the last year, all this change means one thing: panic attacks and anxiety. Oh boy. Two weeks ago was a week that was non-stop panic attacks. And before that they were probably at least 2-4 days a week for a solid month before that.

As you can tell, I’m handling things wonderfully.

It’s hard to not feel like a failure when my anxiety becomes an issue. It’s a new issue, so I don’t entirely have it figured out. I usually don’t even catch up to the point that it’s anxiety and not whatever is happening in life until days into it. It makes me freeze, takes more effort to “be normal”, because my body is constantly feeling like I’m one step away from being smothered. I’ll usually feel like this all day long… sometimes all week long, and then I’ll be fine for a couple of weeks or months. Think I’m good. Oh I’m totally over it all. It was just a phase.

Then I’m surprised when it starts back up again.

But one of my major life goals...like the things I want to be in my obituary type goals... is: I want to handle life with grace, or at least die trying the hardest I can. And anxiety makes that mission 300 times harder. I’m not only dealing with whatever stressor is in front of me, but also my body screaming DANGER, DANGER and trying to shut down.

I’m freaking out man.

I’m doing better now. I’ve reached out and got some new resources to help me learn to manage this anxiety craziness. I’ll talk more about that at another time.

Thank goodness I got my ladies by my side to constantly encourage me. Yes, I have a tribe. A crew. Rat pack. Whatever the kids are calling it these days.

I have a group of solid, real, honest, and loving friends who constantly remind me that I’m okay. They are not shy to share that I have value, they care enough about me to challenge me spiritually, remind me that my world isn’t actually caving in when I think it is, and oh yeah Jen, don’t forget you need to take care of yourself.

Having these friends has saved me. When I feel crazy, they treat me like I’m not. They tell me the truth, they support my crazy ideas, ooh and ahhh over my silly creative projects,  and they send me so much love, it actually breaks through my anxiety mess. And with a couple of them, our relationship is 75% based on just encouraging each other almost daily. They are my lifeline.

It’s taken me a lot to get to this point to have friends I can lean on. I’ve had one or two here and there that were solid and amazing.  But never a tribe.

I’ve had wonderful and amazing women in my life before, but part of me was always afraid of rejection, that I never was completely myself with them. Every criticism killed me. I didn’t value myself, so I didn’t notice when I hung out with people who didn’t value me. It’s just not great friendship foundation.

Part of it has been on me too. I never completely opened up..or did very sparingly. I don’t think I’ve ever have known myself as well as I have in the last year. I’ve finally embraced “being me”. Because of that, I have friends who love me for me. They can’t love someone they don’t know.

Anxiety aside, changes aside, I’m doing okay. I got my girls who I can cry to and text at all hours of the day. Who send me Instagram love. Who will talk to me over coffee, coffee, and then lots of dessert. My girls who remind me that I’m not crazy, or that..well, I was a little, but they still love me anyway. I know I can deal with this anxiety because of them.

I loves them.

Nightmares, Hope, and Sheep Meme's

Authors note: This is an unedited piece. It's a late night processing of emotions. These type posts usually get deleted when I come to my senses (and am more rested) the next day . Although there is value in still putting it out there, unpolished-ness aside. So here it is, please excuse any typos, grammar mistakes, and what not. 

My son just woke up crying. It's almost 11pm, so that usually means a nightmare. I went into comfort him, as he was climbing out of his bed crying. He kept saying “I don't want to go”. I picked him up, hugged him, and asked “where do you not want to go?” He replied, “To the doctor”. Then through sleepy tears he elaborated “I don't want to go to the doctor, I want to go to chuck e cheeseeeeeee.”

The Chuck E Cheese part is pretty funny, but the doctor part hit a little close to home. I assured him he didn't have to go.  And I meant it. He doesn't…at least for a week and half. Then he has an oncology check up.

After a cuddle, he calmed down, rolled over in bed, and fell back to sleep.

But now I'm wide awake. Because my heart is sad for him.

Asher is amazingly healthy for all that he has been through. And he is amazingly cooperative and happy in medical settings. But it doesn't escape me that this morning he had to go under anesthesia to get an MRI. He couldn't eat, even though he asked for food and milk. He had to wait, and wait, and wait in some room at the hospital (for an active three year old that's extra hard). He got the mask with the bad smelling stuff put on his face, even though he doesn't like it. And he woke up, feeling groggy and out of it, with a IV suddenly in his arm (they always put it in after he falls asleep). 

He handles all of it like a pro. Way more mature than the grumpy adults who moan and complain the entire time their in the waiting room.

But then… he has nightmares. He doesn't talk about it, he isn't old enough to go that deep with his feelings. But I get these glimpses where i see how it's taking an affect on him. He always has more after anesthesia appointments or blood draws. Most of which he goes through with a happy attitude, but then at night it get’s to him, I think.

Now I don't want to sound complainy. I'm so thankful my son is known for smiling in the hospital, he loves his nurses and doctors, and above all is healthy. But it still gets to me sometimes.

This summer I had a massive dose of survivors guilt. And then throw in some ultra - anxiety about “What if it comes back?” for kicks, and I was a hot mess.

I once heard someone say, “moms of [now] cancer free kids are not scared of what will happen but what has happened happening again.”

She nailed it.

Little glimpses to my son's pain (which less face it most kids don't want to go to the doctor so it's not highly unusual)...emotional, physical, whatever take my right back to so much worse. I can't even cut his hair short without it making me sick to my stomach reminding me of the chemo days.

I always get on myself for still having these viseral reactions to things… we are way better off than a lot of families, so it shouldn't have such a deep affect on me, right?

Then, like tonight, I was browsing around old blog posts looking for something else and found ones about hospitals, infections, my son being unable to eat, tumors, tumors and more tumors.

My son has survived so much. He is happy and healthy. And for that I'm thankful. I really am. But that doesn't mean it's not hard. That doesn't mean I don't have lots of work to do, to get myself out of the place where a hair cut makes me have flashbacks. Just because he is cancer free, by no means that it's over.

...So many comments have been thrown at me “well, life is back to normal now, huh?” No. It will never be like it was. There are still tests and more tests for years to come. Those come with anxiety and for my son, sometimes pain and discomfort. But there are also the psychological and emotional ramifications that we are going to be figuring out for a long time. Both in my son and I, but also my husband, and my daughter too.

My daughter just figured out that cancer can be fatal. So that's a whole new element for her to process. There will be more new elements far into the future as she gets older and more aware.

So life is not normal, like before the cancer that those people imply. But we have our own normal…

It involves regular trips to the doctor, and lots of anesthesia. It involves bad memories from hospital visits, holding a child crying in pain on a regular basis, fear of MRI results, and so much depression. 

But on nights like tonight I often forget it also involves remembering people doing amazing things for us, from leaving random notes of encouragement on my son's diaper bag at church to donating a brand new air conditioner when ours died during the hottest part of summer. We have seen God work in some truly crazy ways. Most seem subtle but really, they got us through.

I have to remind myself of that regularly. So much good has come out of this journey. I feel silly saying that, my son survived. That should be enough, but someday’s it’s honestly not as much as I’d like.

Nights like this I am already tired and seeing the slightest glimpse of pain in my son hits me like a ton of bricks.

There has been good.

It's like counting sheep. Instead I count blessings. Because until I actually sit down and think about how He has shown up, I only focus on what could happen in the future. I'd like to say I do it all the time because I'm a super Christian. But mainly I do it when I blogging about how bad I feel.

That's one of many reasons blogging is good for me. A habit I need back in my life badly. Because unless I'm writing, I tend to gloss over the past good stuff, evidence that life gets better, and just focus on the current feelings of baaaaad….

Like a sheep. Get it? Baaaaaaad.

Okay I’m really tired.

Counting blessings doesn't take away the pain. His or mine. But it does give me hope.

And that's what keeps us moving through the bad stuff. Hope gives us a reason to say, “it hurts right now but let's try again tomorrow”. Tonight that hope is for healing.

We can heal. I’ve seen it. We can get through tough stuff. And we always find a way to laugh again. So yes, it will happen. It just comes in phases.

Nightmares cannot break us. Test results cannot break us either.

Whatever happens, I just need to stop. Take a breathe. Maybe write a little. And remind myself what’s what...then get some sleep before I start giggling over sheep meme’s again.


Emily McDowell Studio is in the house!

When I first saw Emily McDowell Studio's cancer specific cards, I cried. They had just gone viral and was popping up everywhere on my facebook feed. They are so incredibly perfect and honest, many of us in the cancer community couldn't help but laugh. They are cathartic. I had to have it. My shop is based on honesty, encouragement and making people laugh, everything this line of products are. 

Like everything else in my shop, I pick stuff that I love so here are my personal motives for picking out some of the super awesome fantastic crazy-cool items we now have in stock...

Because people do suggest the most random, crazy, and off the wall "cures" and things when your son has cancer. I appreciate the sentiment, but once I say "no thank you" I feel like the topic should be dropped..but they never ever seem too. It's annoying and draining in a time I just need love and real help. 

This is the one that's most meaningful to me in the Emily McDowell Studio collection. I lost a lot of friends during Asher's cancer fight... some were because they didn't know what to do or how to help. So they froze. It's understandable, but still hurts. I can't tell you what it would mean to me if one of them just sent this card, no matter how much time has passed.

Nothing better than a great coffee mug. These just make me want to give one to all my best friends, after I take like five for myself. 

I've written text messages along the same lines of this. NO JOKE. One of my friends saved it, and still laughs about it to this day.

Again, honesty is the best policy. I would have loved to have gotten this card at times instead of a generic sympathy card that seems so impersonal. This at least is real. 

The last one I'll highlight is this one because this is essentially my birthday gift giving process every single time. Seriously...