The last six weeks or so, it's been building up, so slowly that I could almost convince myself that I was actually okay, that nothing could really be wrong with me.
I have a history of anxiety. It starts small. I worry a little here, worry a little there. When it starts to snowball, sometimes I don't notice at first, or, again, I write it off. "Oh, it's my hormones acting up. I'll be fine in a few days!" Or, "Haha, it's a full moon! That's why I'm so grouchy for no reason."
Then suddenly, it's not small. It's an elephant, stepping on my head and leaving me feeling exhausted, grumpy, and like I can't do anything right--even as I do things right. It starts with "Oh, I hope my boss likes what she sees when she observes me!" and morphs, without any sort of rationality, into, "If I'm not at work at 9:00 everyday, nothing will get done and I will lose my job." This is not true. Contractually, I'm obligated to be at work 15 minutes before my classes start. Choir starts at 11:05 (11:35 on Wednesdays). I'm there most days at 9:00 because I like having prep time to go through my email, make copies, write the agenda on the board, and do some score study and other relevant lesson planning. I enjoy being in my office and hearing the marching band next door. I will not get fired if I skip that pleasure in favor of getting something else done. But that's not always how my brain works.
Last Friday, I had a rather late start, which was then compounded by an oil change appointment for my car. The car was technically ready at the agreed-upon time of 9:00, but they took it over to give it a quick wash before giving it back to me. I waited an additional 15 minutes, which under normal circumstances would have been slightly annoying because hey, you said 9:00 and I've got to stuff to do...but last week, I started getting nervous almost to the point of being hyperactive because I was going to be "way late" for work. It's moments like that where I start to think about talking to the doctor.
When I lived in Antioch, my anxiety was at its absolute worst--I guess it was in 2007 that I called an advice nurse at Kaiser, hardly able to speak, I was crying so hard at the thought of going to work--and heard a kind, calm voice tell me, "You're having a panic attack." That might sound scary to some people, but for me, it was a revelation. Oh, my God, there is a legitimate reason I can't control the crying? And someone can help me? The nurse booked me in to see my doctor that morning. I called in sick. By the end of the day, I had a prescription for a generic form of Xanax.
I took the meds for a couple of years, eventually switching to having a medication I didn't have to take daily, but could take as needed. It worked, but in 2010, I lost my job, and with it, my health coverage. But in that time, I started working out with great regularity. I found that I could keep myself pretty even-keeled through nutrition and regular workouts, with occasional lapses that weren't nearly as bad as anything I experienced in Antioch.
It's pretty obvious, if you regularly read this blog, or are my friend, that I love my current job. The Large Suburban High School is a fantastic place to work, and I feel like I'm finally coming into my own as a teacher. I know there is a lot to learn yet, but I am comfortable and happy there. That said, this is the year I have to prove I'm worth their investment. My boss has given me no reason to think she dislikes what I'm doing in the classroom, but you have to understand that I have a little bit of observation-related PTSD from a couple of more recent bosses I've had. Add to that a life-long tendency to worry and imagine the worst possible outcome (I'm not a pessimist, I simply worry that things will go awry more than I should), and you've got a build-up of stress.
The last six weeks have been the hardest. I had my Come Fly With Me concert to prepare for and pull off, my first half marathon to run, observation lessons to prepare for. Life has been busy and fulfilling, but it's left less time for quiet than I might like. It's led to those moments where I nearly panic at the thought of getting to work at 9:30 instead of 9:00 because I was having my car serviced. I assure you, no one at that school cares if I arrive later than usual because of an oil change, as long as I'm there to teach my classes, and that I teach my classes well. But anxiety isn't rational, is it?
And so it goes. I put "talk to the doctor" on my weekly goal list, but it gets pushed aside in favor of work-related things. Then I wake up on a Friday morning with pink eye (today) and all hell breaks loose.
Having had pink eye before, I knew to immediately call Kaiser and talk to an advice nurse. The nurse got me an appointment at the Kaiser near my school (not my normal facility, because getting from there to school in time would not have worked). Only, I messed up. It wasn't the facility near my school, but the other one, slightly further away. I showed up at the wrong facility 10 minutes before my appointment time, only to find I would miss that time completely. I stood in the lobby, where a very kind receptionist told me how I could get there, shaking my head, with tears rolling down my face. "I'm going to miss my appointment. I've got pink eye," I said, hastily turning around and rushing out of there. I was humiliated. Who stands there in the lobby of a health care center, in tears over a missed appointment?
I got in my car, only to find that I had managed to break the clip-on sunglasses that go with my glasses, leaving me with two options: I could drive with my glasses but no sun protection, or I could wear my non-prescription sunglasses (normally worn with my contact lenses). I can drive somewhat comfortably without my glasses or lenses, so long as I'm not trying to read street signs, so I chose the sunglasses.
But first, I had to sit in my car and cry for a few minutes. I bit down on a finger and shouted at myself to calm down. It didn't help. I just sat there and cried, knowing there was no rational reason for me to cry over anything, but inconsolable nonetheless. Not knowing what else to do, I drove to school and started my day, somewhat messy and disheveled, but determined to do my job, not let my kids down.
My classes went well. I have great kids, and I love teaching them. So I got through the next several hours with minimal stress.
After school, I drove to my local Kaiser, thinking I'd pop into Urgent Care. Urgent Care is listed on the web site, so I figured I might have a bit of a wait, but it would be worth it to get my eye looked at, a prescription for eye drops, and on my way to a relaxing weekend. Only...there's no Urgent Care after all. At any Kaiser facility. I could swear there used to be. I stood in Member Services, tears threatening, and told the nice lady there, "The web site is misleading, then." She looked a little alarmed at my reaction--I suppose it's not every day you tell a reasonable-looking woman that she can try Adult Medicine upstairs and get met with angry tears. Believe me, I was alarmed, too.
For now, it's all's well that ends well. I spoke to a doctor on the phone, and tomorrow morning there's a prescription waiting for me to pick up at the Roseville Kaiser--a 12-15 mile drive for meds, but worth it to oust the pink eye (which is highly contagious). I feel calm now, but looking back at the day I had, I'm realizing it's time to practice a little self care. I'm going to make an appointment to see my doctor as soon as possible. I don't necessarily want meds, just options for dealing with the stress I build up--and it really is all about me in this case. No one is putting crazy expectations on me; I'm doing that to myself just fine.
Maybe the best solution is really just insisting that I take care of myself. I'm starting this weekend, by doing something I've never done in three years singing with Sac Choral: I'm sitting out a concert. I hate it, but I just cannot bear the thought of driving to Sacramento and back in the morning for rehearsal, then again in the evening for a concert. With the pink eye, and my recent tendency to get screaming-mad (literally) when I drive, I know it's in my best interest to stay home tomorrow. It took me a good 15 minutes to get the courage to send an email to my section leader today. The familiar thoughts roll in: I'm letting everyone down. I'm supposed to be there. One corner of my brain plays this broken record over and over, while the logical side thinks, "No one expects you to completely wear yourself out for a group you sing with for fun."
And I must ensure that I make time for running during the week. I've been getting my Sunday runs, but not my weekday runs, and this needs to come back. The simple truth is that spending that time on myself makes me healthier--physically and mentally.
I'm fortunate enough to have some self-awareness, to know that things are starting to boil over and that it's time for me to seek out some help. I'm also fortunate enough to know that half of the "cure" (if you can call it that) is simply forcing myself to take care of myself. A little less of that Do Everything mentality will go a long way.