Saturday, March 4, 2017

Progress at the Zoo

An easy, enjoyable day at the zoo. And a personal triumph for me.

Today, I took both my kids to the zoo by myself. And I didn't have a single meltdown. I didn't even get snippy - well, not more so than every other parent there . I never felt like I was going to hyperventilate or that I needed to run away for a few minutes. I didn't even usher us home after two hours, as usual. We stayed around four, in fact.

I guess this may not seem like much of an accomplishment, but it's huge for me. As I've mentioned before, I'm really, really good at hiding my anxiety issues about 90% of the time. So most people probably have no clue that activities like taking my kids to the zoo or playground or museums by myself are one of my biggest hurdles. But boy, are they.

Many factors conspired to make today great. It's one of my favorite weather days: sunny, a slight chill in the air, the smell of new Spring buds barely perceptible. I've also been eating well, avoiding foods that make my anxiety worse (like alcohol, dairy, and processed sugar). I've been getting decent sleep (under my highly-recommended weighted blanket) and working out regularly. I've been a bonafide poster child for treating anxiety holistically.

But a huge chunk of my success is attributed to my therapy. I've been seeing a therapist regularly for about seven years now, and less regularly for 20. I've tried traditional talk therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, writing-based therapy, and now EMDR - a far less traditional therapy that's been shown in studies to be not only extremely effective for PTSD, but also incredibly quick compared to other therapies.

How does it work? Well, it sounds strange, I'm not going to lie. You choose some of your most traumatic memories. And you close your eyes and try to remember and retell as many details surrounding the memory as possible, all while listening to a series of pulses in your ears. You work through the same memory until the process of retelling it is no longer seriously painful. And then you move onto the next memory.

I've been at it for about a year, and the progress has been impressive.

Today is the perfect example. I woke up later than I'd meant to. I usually like to be at the zoo when it opens. But my lovely husband got up with the kids so I could sleep later, possibly as penance since he'll be in grad school all day. I felt the panic creep up -- WE'RE GOING TO BE LATE -- and then I let it go. Who cares? It's Saturday. There's no timeline. Besides, it's the off-season, so getting there early isn't so important. And so I made myself a lovely, healthy breakfast, drank my coffee while it was hot, and let the kids watch one more episode of their show.

I started to obsess over what to pack. Water bottles? Snacks? Extra clothes in case Sam has an accident? Lunches? A first aid kit? I dreaded the thought of all that preparation, and I REALLY dreaded the thought of carrying it all. Sam's old enough that we don't need to lug around a stroller, and I did not want to carry a backpack. Besides, I spend almost my entire week planning, packing, preparing, and executing. I get the kids' stuff prepped for school, I pack my own lunch every single day, I do a ton of prep work as a teacher, and as the team leader this year, it's my job to organize the other teachers on my team -- planning events, coordinating schedules, communicating with parents. I spend Monday - Friday putting everything in order and making sure everyone knows everything they're supposed to do. So, I decided that today is my day off, damn it. I'm going to go to the zoo with NOTHING. Money, sunglasses, ID. That's it.

It was so liberating. When we got hungry, I bought food. When we got thirsty, there were water fountains. If there was a boo boo, it could be cleaned at home.

I happily withdrew myself from the Best Mom Contest today by not packing healthy, organic snacks and lunches for my kids. Look at them sucking on artificially colored sugar water from PBA-laden bottles!

While at the zoo, I could feel the old anxiety creep up a couple of times. When folks started to crowd around us in the polar bear exhibit. When Sam bolted from me in the gorilla sanctuary. When both kids whined because they wanted to do different things.

But I was able to handle it. I was able to tolerate the crowds, to firmly warn Sam that he'd get a time out if he didn't stick by me, to calmly ask my kids to use their big kid voices and compromise. I had control over myself and my reactions, and I wanted to shout to every stranger I saw, THIS FEELS AMAZING!

I was able to take this picture without obsessively worrying that one of my kids would fall and get hurt!

I guess this is how people who don't have anxiety always feel? That's incredible to me. I've lived for most of my 41 years grappling with certain situations, dreading certain activities, constantly pretending to be normal. I can't tell you how much more I'm able to enjoy my life now.

So, let me be a walking advertisement for EMDR. I hesitated for so many years, thinking, "I never fought in a war! How could I have PTSD?" But if some seriously you-know-what went down in your childhood, if you find yourself triggered by certain situations, you might be the perfect candidate. If it can make this much of a change in me, I know it can help anyone.

Best of all, I was really able to revel in the sweetness of moments like this one.

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