Sunday, 29 March 2015

Confessions of a panic disordered thirtysomething

I am sat at my kitchen table, waiting to be found out.

For the past week or so, I have had an increasingly sickening, panicky, overwhelming sensation of not being good enough. Of never being good enough. Of being so utterly unlikable and unpleasant that everyone, secretly, cannot stand to be around me, and it's only a matter of time before they let me know. Or don't even tell me, and just pull away, disappearing forever in a puff of ignored text messages and 'forgotten' plans we had.

When I sit down and analyse this panic, I try to find reasons that people would feel this way, what I could have done to cause everyone to want to eject me from their lives. What I mean by that is I not only go through things that have actually happened (conversations, interactions, everything that has ever occurred since I've known each person and before), but my brain will also ask questions of me like, "Are you sure you didn't ask something totally rude? Did you say something that came across as anti-equality? Perhaps you were insensitive about race issues. You talked too much. You ate too much of your friend's food that they offered you. You were annoyingly hyper and happy. How is it that you are so irritating to be around?" - consciously looking for and making up reasons people could, should, will not want me as a friend, sister, child, or partner.

The next stage in this analysis is panic and self-loathing. Panic at how utterly true all of these awful things seem, and self-loathing because I am very aware of the fact that people do not spend their time thinking about me - they have far more important, internal, personal things going on. The egocentrism required to think that people are that concerned with me and what I do, as well as being so stuck in my own head while the world turns around me containing so many bigger, more important things than my crazy thoughts, makes me dislike myself even more - and so the cycle begins again. There is even now a compulsion developing after any social interaction where I need to check in with people to make sure they don't hate me.

Being left, or feeling leave-able, has always been something I've feared for as long as I can remember. It doesn't seem to have a basis in any kind of fact or experience (up until a couple of years ago, which doesn't explain the previous years of this fear). I'm blessed with generous, patient, kind, and open-minded friends who haven't given up on me in my worst moments (and there have been several really not-good periods that they've stood by, held me up, and loved me in spite of not only my heaviness but their own trials and challenges needing their attention and energy). I'm incredibly lucky.

Yesterday, in therapy, I had what I guess people would term as a "breakthrough". My anxiety is serving a purpose. It is protecting me, or has been protecting me, while I struggled through being left by the one person I thought would never leave me. Anxiety gave me an elevated awareness of risk, a way to assess and distance myself from anything that might hurt me. It gave me an avenue for worries, a process by which I could block what was really causing my pain. Now that I am healing, the anxiety is preventing me from moving forward, because doing so is risky. Anxiety does not want me to risk anything. Yes, I can survive pain, but that in itself is not a reason to risk it. Being able to cope with something doesn't mean it's okay to go through it.

I've not talked much at all about my marriage breakdown specifically on this blog, because it's just too public a medium, but I think it's important in the context of this post to write in a little more detail. I need to work through the way in which I'm now handling myself and my own worth: badly. I'm constantly looking for reasons to hate myself. I cannot let go of the insecurity I feel, despite coming so far and healing in so many ways. I feel that being like this is letting people down, too - I have forgiven, moved forward, feel peaceful, sometimes. No one needs to know or deal with the fact that I am fighting myself constantly. They have already done so much to help me, to reassure me, to show they care and they aren't going anywhere. I feel guilty for struggling still. I feel like it is my fault - all my fault - that everything ended, because something about me isn't good enough. I tried and tried and tried, but I still wasn't enough, and I didn't know until the last minute, when it was already over, and I had no say in the matter. Now I just wait for everyone else to do the same thing, and knowing somehow that it is me that has caused it. I am disposable, and I probably deserve it.

But that's not right, is it? I didn't cause it. Sure, I was involved and, as with every human interaction, there was probably a lot I could have done differently (not necessarily "better"), but I didn't cause it. Being me didn't make it happen. My therapist says I have to forgive myself, and grant myself the agency in my life now that was taken from me in that breakdown. I have to admit that it fucking hurt and that, despite now not wanting that relationship anymore, and also not being angry about how it ended, I am also still not obligated to absolve, or act like everything is okay. It's not okay. And it's alright to not blame myself. I am working on sitting with emotional oxymorons: I can be both healing and troubled, upset and forgiving, confident and terrified. I can move on but remember.

The end result of letting anxiety win is not just denying myself happiness and potentially creating a self-fulfilling prophecy, but also not allowing myself to be me. If who I really am pushes people away, then I'm not hanging out with the right people for me. If friendships dwindle or people decide to leave, it's not because it's inevitable - it's because people are complex, lives take us in different directions, and we change all the time. Leaving does not mean that I am or people are disposable. It can mean a million other things. And I also have a choice to leave, to set boundaries, to decide what I want, what is good for me, what isn't, and to say "this is me, and I'm alright". I have choices. I have agency. I can say yes or no, too.

Sometimes I am a hyper, happiness junkie that bounces around and talks too much. Sometimes, I am introspective, paranoid, and emotionally overwhelmed. Anxiety is an element of my personality that can actually be an asset, but is sometimes destructive. I care deeply for people in general, and for those closest to me more than I can put into words, but I continue to try, and am ridiculously affectionate in myriad ways in the process of attempting to get across how much love I feel and how grateful I am. Sometimes I am oversensitive. I suck at being criticised. I do not read enough books. I like wine too much. I love to run. Poetry and live music feed my soul. I like to sit in cafes or pubs by myself and just be amongst other humans without having to be with them. I am passionate and loud, but not dominant. I have no interest in winning. I have every interest in connecting. I'm smart and a fast learner, but I'm not the smartest, and I'm not fierce enough or concerned enough to try to be. When I fall in love, I fall entirely, and I am steadfastly fearless of loving that way. And I do not want to be afraid of this person, ashamed of this person, to stop this person existing. I want to live comfortably in her skin, knowing that I'm not all that bad and, even if things don't work out the way I intended or people misunderstand me - or even don't like me - I'm still all of these things, and that's good enough. That's really all this is about: I am me, and admitting who I am and that I want to be her doesn't equal people realising I'm not enough. It means I'm choosing to tell myself I am. 

Saturday, 7 February 2015

I'm getting better at fighting the future

Motion City Soundtrack, live at The Fillmore, 2/2/2015
I'm currently sat at my kitchen table trying very hard to stay calm. This is hard, because I'm extremely happy. I'm happy because there is good coffee in the mug next to me. I'm happy because I am currently in the middle of a really good book ('All The Bright Places' by Laura Niven). I'm happy because my crazy dogs are wrestling in the dining room and Bertie is getting so excited she's doing 'puppy circuits' around the house to deal with her own exuberance (she and I are usually in tune when it comes to moods). I'm happy because I'm listening to Motion City Soundtrack's album 'Commit This To Memory', and remembering the fantastic concert of theirs celebrating the 10 year anniversary (!) of said album, that I was lucky enough to go to this Monday just past. I'm happy because it's Saturday, and the weekend stretches ahead. I'm happy because I just filled up the bird feeders so that the tweets won't go hungry over what's predicted to be a very chilly couple of days. I'm happy because I get to talk to my family tomorrow. I'm happy because a lot of good things are happening to people I love and, whether or not that's true for each of them at this moment, I am lucky enough to have amazing people in my life who want to share what's going on with them with me. I'm happy because there is a man I love stupid amounts, who I get to share this weekend with, and who cares and pushes me and and loves me for me and tackles life with an inspiring and magnetic energy that I can't get enough of, and who makes life magical just by being in it. I'm happy because later today I get to visit a dear friend at her new job, and share food and drinks with other dear friends. I'm happy because cheese exists. That's always a reason to be happy.

I still hate this 'Keep Calm' crap,
but now for extra, non-British reasons!
So why, then, am I trying to stay calm with all this extraordinary and wonderfully mundane joy all around me? Because I've started therapy, and we've identified a problem with my body: regardless of the cause, when I get bursts of energy, my autonomic nervous system gets triggered, and I eventually have a panic attack. Feeling happy (my version of feeling, which is usually pretty full-on), good news, a great day at work, a nice walk with the dogs, a wonderful date: panic. Happiness literally makes me panic. Fan-fucking-tastic. Ha ha ha - I can't help but laugh!

As a coping mechanism to try to keep the panic at bay, and because I don't want to quell my joy (screw that!), I'm writing, and sharing, and texting, and offloading my effervescence to others while simultaneously trying to remember to breathe. Achieving equanimity is my goal, without stopping being me - I have to retrain my brain that this level of activity isn't always a reason for my body to enter fight-or-flight mode.

Right then. Time to tackle this day of joy with sensible shoes on. And the two cups of coffee I've managed to consume while writing this post. Whoops...!

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

LPR, or Let's Plan the Rest

2015 started with (believe it or not), my Green Card in hand, ready to face the new year as a Legal Permanent Resident. My attorney has since followed up to let me know everything is settled as regards paperwork and payment, and he will be in touch again in about two years when I will be eligible for citizenship.

So, what now? I've been faced with this question for the past 10 days or so, and I have to say, I'm a bit stumped. This blog is about being an expat on a journey, and it seems like my journey is, for now and in this specific way, at a significant pause. Initially I took this news with enormous relief, and I definitely wouldn't want to go through all of that uncertainty and worry again. But you'll have to forgive me for also feeling rather lost and confused, and kind of frustrated (yes, really!). While I hated, and think I still hate, limbo, I had become accustomed to not knowing. I'd almost become able to live in the moment, initially because I had no other choice, but towards the end of that period because it had become pleasant to not have to think ahead about the longer term planning of my life. Not being able to know gave me license, permission, to not worry about not knowing.

I'm now trying to reconcile having learned how to sort of "live in the now" with finally being able to look to the future (and feeling like I should, because that's just my personality - crazy person, remember?). What does that mean? Should I have some kind of goals? It's not like I've been making silly, unreasonable choices or not thinking ahead at all, but I've definitely not been thinking about a bigger picture. Do I need to start planning? Or can I just continue in this laissez-faire manner, and see where the wind takes me?

A combination of the two seems like the best option, and I've been toying with an idea of 'The Twelve Adventures of America', to give myself a project for the year without pushing myself to plan too much on a more 'serious' level. Both my boyfriend and my friends take great pleasure in getting me to do the most "'MURRICAN" of things, and so it might be fun to pursue some America-themed or traditionally American exploits, and then write about those for QE, from the lens of a Brit out of water. Or even v-log about them, if possible! So I guess what I need to do now is come up with 12 appropriately 'Murrican escapades for 2015, and get to it. Any ideas?!

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

When I woke, the world was new

Another missive from the USCIS beeped at me from my phone right before I fell asleep last night: my new Green Card is already in the mail! 

So it's looking like I'll be starting 2015 with legal permanent resident status, card (hopefully) in hand, and (after an earlier purchase at Total Wine today), a large, ice cold glass of Veuve Clicquot, while surrounded by dear, dear friends, my lovely pooches, and a stunning view of Lake Norman from a lovely hot tub. Wow.


Here's to a wonderful new year for all. *clinky* Cheers!

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Share the same space for a minute or two...

...Or as long as I might want to. My unconditional, ten-year Green Card was approved yesterday!

I got the text and email updates while stood in a Walmart parking lot (ha!), promptly shrieked upon logging into my USCIS account and seeing the screen shown above, spoke to a random stranger who walked over from his car parked by me to check I was okay having heard said shriek (who then shook my hand and congratulated me!), and then had to sit in my car for fully twenty minutes before I felt safe to drive. I managed to get hold of my family and most of my closest Stateside humans over the next hour before feeling able to share the news at large. I also checked in with my attorney and logged into my USCIS account on a computer to check I wasn't hallucinating. I wasn't. The card is in production.

What timing. I'm absolutely blown away by how different I feel. So many things all at once: happy, relieved, fortunate, joyful, exhausted, grateful, calmer, excited. I live here. I'm not in limbo. I'm just me, Eve, sat in Charlotte, North Carolina, in my house, with my dogs, an excessively decorated Christmas tree and excellent dinosaur Nativity scene (thank you, Cassie and Lesley), looking forward to an evening with friends celebrating the holiday. 191 days from filing (6 months and 8 days); 480 days since this whole mess pulled me apart. I tried not to look too far forward during that time, and I've pushed myself to live in the moment rather than focus on the pain of limbo, and that may have been my hardest lesson (I'm a planner, and a future-thinker, and a crazy person). But now I can. And I'm better at it, and I get to do it with the love and support of some of the most incredible people on, and all across, the planet. I can hardly believe it.

But here I am. I'm in my home from home, surrounded by love from both sides of the Atlantic, and the hardest question I'm facing right now is whether I want steak or a baked potato for dinner.

So, if someone asks, this is where I'll be.

Coordinates of my Queen City - Charlotte, my second home.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Live through this, and you won't look back

This week, I had my (hopefully) last biometrics appointment, where my fingerprints were scanned, my was photograph taken, and I was also able to change my last name on my application for my 10-year green card. This will be the second time I've done the biometrics portion for the same application, as my case was recently moved from the Vermont Service Center to the California Service Center (which often happens to expedite the process, when one service center is not able to process all the applications they are receiving within the target time frame).

Aside from the continued influence of the stress and pain of the last year and more (ha!), I was surprised by how quickly visiting the biometrics place triggered memories, a sense of displacement, anxiety... It was pretty overwhelming, and it's taken me several days to recover from it. I didn't even have a bad experience; in fact, it was the best biometrics appointment I've ever had, thanks to the lovely USCIS agent that handled my application. She was incredibly warm, personable, patient, and kind. She talked to me about how she is still avoiding changing her name because it's such a hassle, and told me that time heals all things, so I would be truly happy again one day (this was a propos of nothing other than her being friendly, I swear!). I was very touched, and I wish I could tell her sincerely what a difference her compassion made. They do give you a brief feedback form at the end of each appointment, so I made sure to write a glowing review and to try to say thank you to her through that medium.

So, I am now waiting on the next stage. My attorney and I touched base last week, and he has filed the waiver to both service centers, to cover all bases. Therefore, there are three possible next steps:

  1. RFE: If the waiver does not reach the center(s) in time to be paired with my application, they will send me a Request For Evidence to supply my decree (it's been sent with the waiver, but it could just be bad timing in that they don't connect the two - but no harm done). 
  2. Interview notice: I'll be sent a date on which I have to attend an interview to be assessed in person.
  3. A decision: based on the evidence they already have, the USCIS might make a decision without interview. This is unlikely, but not unheard of.

Latest update: moved to the local office/being processed by the California Service Center

Above you can see the new, fancier USCIS case update page that I checked this morning, showing that on 11/4/2014 my case was successfully entered into the California Service Center and connected to my local office. This is what will have generated the new biometrics appointment requirement, which has been stamped and filed as of 11/25/2014. So now, we wait for one of the three outcomes mentioned above, and go from there.

I was driving to my beloved friends Cassie and Lesley's place on Thanksgiving evening this week, and became so lost in thought about life here, this immigration journey, the weight of loss, and the concept of limbo, that I missed three exits on the interstate and went about five miles out of my way. As I said, I was surprised by how distressing (mostly subconsciously until yesterday) I found the experience of doing this again. Being reminded that it's not over yet, that I have so much still to do just to be safe, to be rebuilding myself emotionally while waiting to hear whether, to some extent, life can really go on. It was momentarily overwhelming, and unexpectedly so. I guess the surprises don't stop coming.

However, I do not want to dwell too long on the negative, or to be fearful of a process that exists to protect and ensure legitimacy - things I do not need to fear. Life does, in fact, go on even when life-altering processes are happening in the background, and ups and downs are simply an inevitable consequence of being on the ride. It may sound trite; it may even sound a little defeatist, but I am mostly settled into taking each day as it comes and, as ever, letting myself be happy. These days I'm mostly back to my joyful, appreciative self, with the odd spell of melancholy and some underlying Panic Disorder that I'm dealing with thanks to some amazing support from friends, family, and doctors. You have to - and I encourage anyone who reads this to do the same - be kind to yourself. Accept that you have, in actual fact, been through a lot, and it's okay to struggle, and it's okay to heal. And, more than anything, it's a wonderful life. Don't forget to live it.