Worry, Anxiety, and Getting Up From the Rocking Chair

There is a saying about worrying: “Worry is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do but doesn’t get you anywhere.”

I’ve always been a bit of a worrier and lately I chalked it up to the wear and tear of life over the years. Tragically becoming a single parent a few years ago probably contributed to it. There was no one else I could count on and I felt like I had to anticipate every scenario involving my two young girls and be prepared. Then there was that rotational fall from a horse, and dealing with a troubled teenage daughter, etc, etc. . .

I shrugged it off and reminded myself that all that is in the past, and who hasn’t had bumps in their road of life? But with me, it turned into baggage — and mine is all carry on without the wheels. After lugging it around over the years, it’s no surprise that it turned into the feelings that I learned were depression and anxiety.

Add to that the Empty Nest Syndrome that I’m still dealing with. I always said that anyone who cries when their last child leaves home just needs a hobby. Me? I’ll go to the horse barn to ride and be fine. However, I found that my new horse and I weren’t a good match. I think he had some anxieties that spoke to mine and together we were in a downward spiral. I’ve always sought solace in riding a horse, but when I was riding him it was anything but therapeutic. So I sold him to a good friend and I’m glad they are doing well together.

I could accept the fact that the horse and I weren’t a good match, but not how I was feeling. Why was I such a shaky mess on the inside? It got so bad that during a riding lesson I wanted to climb off the horse and fall down into the arena dirt and wail! I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. I mentally told myself, for God’s sake pull yourself together! I am a strong person — or at least I used to be — so why can’t just suck it up and deal with it?

Even in these currently enlightened times, it can still be considered a character weakness to be depressed and anxious. It cannot be fixed by ‘cheering up’ and being told to ‘just relax and quit worrying about everything.’ But that’s exactly what I told myself until I came to realize that depression and anxiety is a disease that doesn’t make sense because — it’s a physical disease! Telling a depressed friend to cheer up! is like telling another friend who has high blood pressure to think calm thoughts to bring their blood pressure down. Yeah, like it’s that easy to fix.

Anxiety cannot be rationalized away, and it’s especially hard to make sense of it when depressed or anxious people have every visible reason to be relaxed and happy. Recently, Bruce Springsteen announced that he has struggled for years with depression, and who hasn’t heard that Robin Williams, who brought such laughter to others, lost his own battle with depression.

Newswoman Elizabeth Vargas recently spoke out publicly about her anxieties and alcoholism. She said it was the anxiety she was feeling that led her to drink which helped numb her problems, but also blurred anything good and positive in her life. She realized she was being profoundly selfish.

Self-medicating with alcohol, drugs or similar crutches are only a band aide to the problem and I’m lucky I didn’t get to that point. I love being happy and I wanted to get it back. I have some great friends who helped me find a good therapist and the yoga and meditation that I do help me to be in the moment and to control negative thoughts. Properly prescribed antidepressants can be a lifesaver for some people. I know that I may need to go back to the therapist for an occasional tune-up, and it’s OK. It is important to treat yourself like you would your best friend. Give yourself a break, it isn’t being weak to be depressed or anxious. Quite the opposite, a person who is paralyzed with depression and anxieties has to be brave as a superhero to do something about it to get better.

If you are also struggling with anxieties and depression, mentally put on your superhero cape, (or go ahead and tie a bath towel around your shoulders, or whatever it takes to help you make a change) and be a superhero. Life can be rewarding and fun again, get ready to enjoy it.

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Saying Good-bye

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Marissa and Badger at his birthday last year, and schooling at home.DSC_0300

For the first time I can recall, I prayed to a Saint a couple days ago. I guess those of the Catholic faith do that, but being a Methodist, it wasn’t something I’ve done.

I was conducting an interview that day by phone before writing a profile article. I record the conversation by putting my phone on speaker and placing it in front of me next to my recorder. So when a text appeared at the top of my phone screen, I couldn’t ignore it. Especially since it was about my daughter Marissa’s horse Badger, who was at the vet’s where he was being treated for a bout of colic.

“He is not responding and he is in so much pain. I think it’s time to end his suffering.”

While my interviewee was answering my most recent question, I tapped out a short text answer. Knowing the time line and treatment we had already tried for Badger, I could only agree, thinking with great sadness how our sweet horse was suffering. The very nice lady I was interviewing is also a horse owner and she seemed very understanding as I mumbled something about Badger, but I couldn’t possibly talk about this without losing control, so I took a deep breath and pressed on with the interview.

I went through my list of questions automatically, having successfully compartmentalized my feelings. I thought of Scarlett O’Hara saying ‘I’ll think about that tomorrow.’ Well, thank God for the recorder, because I’m not sure if I even knew what was said in response to my questions, but I managed to conclude the interview.

I called my friend Richal who had Badger at her barn, since Marissa is off in another state as working student to a Grand Prix jumper professional. We decided that I would go to the vet’s to be with him at the last.

Being able to mentally compartmentalize is a very good skill, especially when driving, and I arrived safely.

Although he was heavily sedated because of the pain, I think he knew I was there, even as he took his last breath. It was then that I prayed to St. Peter, because I’m sure there are horses in heaven — it’s heaven so there must be, right?

In my first conversation with a Saint I said:

“Saint Peter, open the gate wide and send out the light. Call Badger’s name and watch for him in case he is lost in the dark on his way, don’t let him be afraid. He is a very much loved, sweet, gentle soul and deserves one of the best places in the kingdom over the Rainbow Bridge. I didn’t say amen, I whispered in Badger’s ear as he took his last breath, God Speed!”

Horse Show Mom

We know each other, even if not by name, we’re in the same club.

We’re the ones in the stands who are taking photos or videotaping a horse and rider while they are jumping a course. To others we are just in their way when we stand up suddenly with that camera when our child and their horse enter the ring. Not everyone knows that we have to view the ride through our camera or ipad because we need it to filter what we see.

It has gotten a little easier for me to handle over the years, but the truth is that videotaping helps us parents to keep our blood pressure from rising twenty degrees and our nerves from slowly shredding. It’s just too hard to continually watch our child on a horse out there in the area, jumping that high and trying so hard to clear all the jumps while going faster than anyone else! But of course, we say things like: ‘I need to record this for him/her to watch it later for training purposes, etc., etc.’ And that’s partly true, but the camera also works as a filter to make it easier on the heart.

I wasn’t prepared for this. I came into this parenthood thing relatively late. I reasoned that I was a capable individual. After all, my full time job was assisting a medical doctor with writing his research findings. I competed in at least two horse trials and I wrote a few articles from interviews each year. So I could handle having a baby, couldn’t I? It was a few years past my thirtieth birthday and in a fit of optimism, we decided to go for it. But I wasn’t prepared for being totally bowled over with how much I could love this little person. Then, when I knew I would mentally fold up like a cheap lawn chair if anything ever happened to her, I (again in a fit of optimism!) had another child. But being a parent never got any easier, and being the parent of teenagers has its own challenges. I have to keep quiet instead of saying something that I think will be helpful lest I get the eye roll from the kid, and I know she has to do things herself for various reasons. After all, a parent’s job is to put ourselves out of a job, isn’t it? So try to understand as we block your view when we stand up in front of you to video our child the second they ride into the ring.

We parents often sit together in the stands, nodding in agreement that it’s important to have those videos for our kids to look at later for training purposes. But we know we’re just trying to take the strain off our hearts. Whether we admit it or not, we’re all members of that club.