You are not alone (sung in the michael jackson song way)

Several years ago, I was riding in the car with my mom, and, as usual, tears were streaming down my face. What was I upset about? Who knows. Was the reaction I was having too big for the problem? Probably.

She gently mentioned that she thought meds for my anxiety might help.

From there, it took me a year to call and make an appointment.

A YEAR.

And then, guess what? I canceled and rescheduled. Canceled and rescheduled.

Funny how when you have so much anxiety, you have too much anxiety to make an appointment to help with said anxiety.

I had just had a thing at school, the day I finally decided I had to do it. Enough was enough. I’d been accused of doing something that not only did I NOT do, I felt so angry and ashamed that someone could even THINK I could do something like that. I was sat down in an office and a parent was allowed to scream at me. I was sitting down, he was standing up. The whole thing was a NIGHTMARE.

And it rattled me. My dad used to yell at me like that. Scream. I yell at my kids from time-to-time. My dad was different. It was sharp. Angry to the point of scary.

I honestly felt like it rattled something loose inside of me. Things that I had bottled up for years and years. Things that I had stuffed down further to make room for grief.

A doctor said to me once that since my childhood was lived in fight-or-flight, that my body couldn’t really discern whether something simple like calling to make an appointment I didn’t want to have from something truly harmful.

So, I went on anxiety meds. I was one of those people before that said, “They are great. People should take them. Just not me.” The first 6 months were so horrible. I tried 3 different kinds of meds.

One made me literally fall asleep sitting up in the middle of the day, as though I as on actual drugs. One caused some trouble in an area I probably shouldn’t talk about, and one literally made me constipated.

I finally settled on one, and at first the difference was incredible. I didn’t feel so irritable! I didn’t want to yell! I hardly cried!

But then, after a while, I felt like they weren’t working. My dosage was upped.

And then again.

And then again.

And pretty soon I was on 150 mg of an SSRI and I felt like a walking ghost. It took me a while to realize that I was depressed. I was having the worst school year ever, and the stress was overwhelming. Some of my friends were pretty much done with me. Inter-personal relationships all around me were failing. I was having vivid, terrifying nightmares and not sleeping.

What’s funny is I was so close to upping my dose again, when something nagged me. Maybe, just maybe, these are the wrong meds for you.

I also bet you’re wondering what the heck my point is right now.

Today, I’ve been off anxiety meds for 5 days. I went from 150 mg to 100, to 50, to 25, to 25 e/o day, and now none.

And it’s possible because … drum roll … I haven’t been at work since March 13th. Teaching is STRESS. Our work is STRESS. During this quarantine, I’ve walked 3 miles every day (sometimes 6!). I’ve run and jumped into the pool with my kids to cool off when we arrive back home. I’ve slept in and read books and listened to podcasts and not sat with anxiety, wondering how I could cancel the thing I should never have agreed to. Ha ha, suckers! I don’t even have to answer the door, because quarantine!

Am I anxious about things? Heck, yes. But I’m not stressed. And I have laughed SO MUCH in the past 5 days. The thing about antidepressants is that they level you out. So there aren’t so many lows, but I wasn’t feeling the highs either. And the highs are what make me who I am!

I’ve been stressed since I was a small child. Will my parents divorce? What will my dad say or do next? Then a boyfriend who gaslit. Then my parents did actually divorce. Then infertility. Then cancer. Then the twins died. Then my mother in law. Then my family members hate me, what did I do?

Type II diabetes. Anxiety. Stubborn belly fat that won’t go no matter what.

S-T-R-E-S-S.

It’s time for me to attack the problem at the source. I HAVE to say no to things that don’t bring me joy. I have to say NO. I have to focus on my health. Exercise. Meditation. Nature. TAKING BREAKS FROM SOCIAL MEDIA!

If this doesn’t go well, I will 100% go back on anxiety meds. When school starts in the fall, and I have to go back in the building, which causes me to actually feel the stress rising up, and I need them again, I will take them. This post is not me advocating “Everyone go off their meds! WAHOO!” Not even a little. I’m not actually sure yet if this was the right thing.

But, like always, I share this to let you know that you’re not alone. Therapy. Meds. Stress. Sadness. Wondering if you’re normal.

You are, yo.

You are.

XO

Christy

 

When failure is worth it

On any given day, I fail to meet expectations of SOMEONE.

On every given day, I fail to meet the expectations of MYSELF.

My goodness, as a teacher and a mom of two young kids and a wife and a board member and a writer and a friend and a sister and a daughter and this list could go on and on and on and on, there is no way to keep up.

Phone calls go unanswered, text threads are picked up days later, I have 92 unread or unanswered emails in my inbox which is SO NOT LIKE ME, I can’t keep up with Facebook notifications, I’m missing contest deadlines, and my husband is reminding me I promised him I’d edit something for him, and my daughter is asking me when I will go watch Anne with an E with her like I said I would.

And the minute–the very minute I let one thing slip, I hear about it. In no uncertain terms, I am told that I have failed.

I carry this around with me. I carry the unmet expectations and the fear of messing up and the knowledge that no matter how hard I try, I am letting somebody down.

But–BUT–you guys. It is all worth it. It is. Because every once in a while, something comes along that reminds you that your struggle matters. Your struggle to keep up has paid off because somehow along the way you have made an impact. You’ve touched someone. You’ve given someone hope or strength.

I teach 4th grade, and I get Christmas gifts. I’m very lucky. It’s not every kid, but it’s most of the kids, and they get me incredibly thoughtful things like gift cards and candy and classroom decorations and my coveted Harry Potter Pop figures.

They are seriously so thoughtful, that sometimes I just can’t handle how much they listen to what I say and they remember it and pass it on to their parents. It’s humbling.

But then, every so often, there are gifts that just wreck me. On the day before break, one of my students came up to me and handed me this box:

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He grinned at me, and stood there waiting for me to open it. This boy, he’s incredible. He’s sweet, and kind and smart.

I have to say that I was surprised to get a gift from him. Why? Because kids don’t have money, parents do, and parents are who give gifts to teachers (based on what their kids pick out sometimes, sometimes not). And in this family, like a LOT of the families at my school, I just happen to know that they don’t have extra money for spending. At all.

So, he hands me this box and says, “I think you’re going to love these. They are so pretty!”

And then … and then, I opened it up to see this:

I managed a thank-you, and gave him a hug and as soon as he was in the classroom, I started ugly crying and had to go hide in the computer lab.

You and I both know that this box of candle sticks came from a rummage sale. The yellowing newspaper (the date on one of the pieces was 2008). Or from the dollar tree, or just wherever. They were yellowed and full of dust, and one of them had a half-burned candle still inside.

And yet, it was the most beautiful gift.

The gift of knowing that this child wanted to do something kind for me so badly that he (I’m inferring here) scoured the house, found these old candle holders in a shoebox, and decorated it for me.

There was a note inside, too and it simply said:

“Merry Christmas, Mrs. W. You are my best teacher. You make me feel safe. Love, …”

The love of a child. The very best gift that there ever could be. So simple.

So humbling.

So extraordinary.

That makes the struggle worth it. A million times over.

Hang in there, teachers and mamas and wives and daughters and pastors and uncles. You might mess up. You might let people down. But you gotta keep going, for all the ways that you make change. For all the ways that you fill hearts of little people. For ALL the ways you give hope.

You got this!

 

 

November 17: World Prematurity Day

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A few years ago, I had a student in my class who was one of a set of twins.

This particular kid – he is so awesome: funny, and kind, and just one of the ones that when he smiles, you smile. His brother is equally as awesome.

Anyway, we were coming up on a meeting about this boy. We often have meetings of this type at my school, when we gather everyone together and just make sure we are doing everything we can to help students succeed.

This one had been called by his mom, who was worried. I had tried to reassure her that her son is doing fine, but she just had a gut-feeling. We listen to those in my line of work.

Something she said in an email, though, sent shivers down my spine and had me in a fit on anxiety. It said (I’m paraphrasing), “I know it’s easy to forget, but he was born at only 23 + 3 weeks gestation, and I just want to make sure we’re intervening when we need to.”

My heart stopped. You see, my very own twins had been born at 23 + 3.

But they are both dead.

And so, I will admit, with some shame, that I got suddenly very angry. How did she, this woman, get BOTH of her twins, and I got none? How could I now look at this boy in my class every day and know that Aiden and Sophie could have been just like him?

The day of the meeting arrived, and my mind swirled with anxiety. I didn’t want to talk about prematurity. I didn’t want to talk about how far he’d come. I didn’t want to face any of it.

And then, this beautiful, wonderful mom, she walked in carrying a photo album.

A photo album of her son’s entire stay in the NICU. She wanted needed us to see just how incredible it is that her son is who he is. But, I panicked. Everyone jumped to see how they could help me, but I knew I had to do it myself – and I asked the mom to follow me outside the meeting.

I looked her right in the eyes and said, “I had twins, too.”

She grabbed my hands.

“They–they were born at the same age as your boys. But they died.”

And she burst into tears, and pulled me into a giant, loving, tough hug.

“I’m afraid to look at the photos,” I said. “I just wanted to tell you so you know that I’m going to leave the meeting for a while. I’m sorry I’m not brave enough.”

Still crying, she hugged me harder. “No photos. I got it. Let’s go.”

I often think about what life would be like if one or both of my twins had survived after being born at such an early gestation. I often think about what their struggles might be like. But, I cannot know what it is like to mother a preemie, although I have had glimpses into the hardships.

That same mom, later in the year, shed light on something I couldn’t believe. We were on our way to our big field trip, about 2.5 hours away by bus, and we stopped at a rest stop. Her other son, my student’s twin, had much more severe Cerebral Palsy, and was in a wheelchair and diapered.

I was in the bathroom of the rest stop with her at the same time, and I watched her as she, reluctantly, was forced to lie her 10-year-old son on the floor of a public restroom in order to change him. You see, there are no changing tables that are for anyone bigger than a toddler.

I got back on the bus and cried. How had I never realized?

We might see the big things that come along with prematurity. We celebrate the fact that even though babies are born too early, they survive and thrive. We might see that there are disabilities or financial hardships, or career issues.

But today, I want you to see that there are no changing tables for older/bigger children who cannot use the bathroom on their own. I want you to see a mom forced to lie her child down on an unsanitary restroom floor to change the diaper of her 4th-grader.

I want you to zoom in on one thing we can do to help the change the world for parents of preemies.

Today, on world prematurity day, I want you to see. And hope. And believe. And, if you want to help, click here to find out how to contact your local representative to urge that special changing tables be installed:

https://www.universalchangingplaces.com/help/

 

Please share-let’s make a difference today!

XO

Christy Wopat

 

 

You should’ve acted better!

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How I write:

I start out with something on my mind. As I type, the words take shape. They meander, but somehow they all meet up in the end.

When I’m finished, I read back what I wrote and I often cannot believe that I was the person who strung those words together, the one who had those thoughts.

Not because I think they’re anything incredible, but because I’m not always sure where they came from. It’s a weird feeling, as though my brain is telling my fingertips what to do, but leaving the rest of me out of the process.

I’ve lately really wished that my strength in writing wasn’t so personal. That my voice didn’t ring out the best when I am writing about the often mundane things that happen to me. I’m so glad to help people, but I’m also acutely aware that I’ve hurt people along the way (and that’s with being very careful).

At a writing workshop recently, I was with a bunch of memoirists and we talked about this quote by author Anne Lamott who said,

“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.”

For whatever reason, during this workshop all sorts of stuff about my father started coming up. This is difficult for me, as it would be for most anyone who has a strained or non-existent relationship with an immediate family member.

The guilt of it is sometimes crippling, the wonder and the worry and the (at least perception of) judgment.

And, I want to write about it. I’m pretty sure I’m ready. I want to help other people who are making similar decisions and having to live with them.

But, in order to do this, I’d have to share personal things about my family. Personal things that are from MY perception only, and to them might not be their truth. I’d have to tell things that could cause more hurt and pain, even though that is not my intention. I actually don’t blame anyone. Dysfunction is just that–dysfunction.

My life is just a compilation of stories. Stories that I can make interesting. Stories that I can weave into something that comments on our humanity, or our choices, or helps us feel less alone.

Yet, I hesitate. Although I swear I am not a hateful person, but I’m sure I do end up hurting people by telling my stories. I just want to help lift people up, but not at the expense of others. I am definitely not as confident as Anne Lamott, as you can see. 🙂  Also, I make mistakes ALL THE TIME. We all do. I certainly wouldn’t want to be called out in print (which I have done before, to people I love, in a very general way but still-boy, did I mess up).

What do you think? For writers to tell about their lives, it seems they end up throwing some people under the proverbial bus. Do we keep going? Is it worth it?

I’d love your comments!

XO

Christy