Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Sheep

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It's been beautiful these last days of winter, sunny and expansive. Daffodils, little yawning purple crocuses, trees filled with chattering birds. At the grocery store as I stand in line with two grapefruits and a bag of coffee- Mountain Air Roaster's Daymaker Blend- I exchange those spring-time pleasantries with strangers- looks like it's here to stay, sure hope so. On my daily commute to school I ride with the windows open, warm air roaring in. It's a nice time, filled with biking and science classes and writing assignments, long hours alone to get my work done and the occasional flurry of wedding planning.
But there's this little problem of not having enough long hours, of being a chronically slow writer with an enormous fear of failure and confidence that drains instead of grows with each article, and it's making me throw up. It's not that I have more to do or less time than anyone else, far from it, it's just that I have a severe and very physical case of anxiety that arrives glittering at the doorstep just as life starts to get really interesting.
I have perhaps gotten myself a bit overexcited in the last few weeks. School is time consuming and sometimes feels poignantly pointless since I've decided not to pursuit nursing for now. Work is getting suddenly and awesomely demanding, just like I wanted it to be.  Then I had a birthday party and my friend Nell brought over an enormous coconut cake that she had baked. It looked just like a sheep, and when I saw it I felt so happy I nearly passed out. I really got wound up over that cake.

Well it wasn't the cake (yes it was it was four layers and filled with pastry cream so it was, it was the cake) so much as having friends like Nell who are willing to bake you a sheep and then balance it in their lap as they drive it across town to your house. If you take into account how busy we all are, all the deadlines and demands and how intentional we must be with our spare time, things like that just seem extraordinarily and almost confoundingly nice.
For the party, Nell also made five pizzas and her husband Josh brought over their entire fancy bar, complete with liquor and bitters and silver tools and a table to set it out on. He stationed himself on the screened-in porch and fixed cocktails all night, shaken and violet-hued and served over cracked ice.

And Kelli did it again, came over and whipped up a party at my house after 3 straight nights working on the pulmonary floor. She brought ice cream and cheesecake, we made lasagna and started talking a mile a minute and drinking New Belgium Fat Tires that go down awfully easy, it turns out.

That's when things started to speed up a bit on my birthday, a big rush of spring air flooding through the door, Pauline and Lee arriving with a baby dressed in a tiny tuxedo, carrying strawberry pie and something called a chocolate infinity pie, and all of a sudden there were just pies everywhere and also flowers- people kept bringing flowers through the front doors and Dave would take them and stick them in mason jars until we ran out and had to double them up.

Then my cousin came with a bottle of white champagne and my future in-laws with red wine and French chocolate, and then I was in my bedroom wearing my wedding dress as some of my girlfriends and my friend Daniel, who I'd inexplicably dragged into the room with them, were telling me how beautiful it was and wasn't that sash the perfect shade of blue and shouldn't I set that purple drink down?

That was the night I stopped sleeping. And I'm telling you all about my friends who show up with food and cake and wonderful things and all the lovely exuberance of my life lately not to brag, not to seem over the top, but because my delicate little constitution cannot decipher between good stress and terrible stress. So I lay awake that night, the first night of my third decade, with a gnawing stomach ache, and finally drifted into a restless sleep around 3am. "I'm like a little kid who gets too excited about their birthday party and goes nuts," I whispered to David the next morning.

Obviously, it's not just having a birthday and a lot of nice friends. My job offered me 15 extra articles for this month at the last possible moment. They are all destination articles about Boone, the little Appalachian mountain town nearly two hours away, so I have to skip some classes and drive up there for a few days. I'm so grateful to get new assignments and so scared of falling behind in school. I stayed behind in my microbiology lab last week to work on a gram stain, so simple but I'm useless with my hands, and the morose professor exclaimed, "How is it possible that you can't do this yet?" Kind of a jackass move but the thing is, I agree with him.
Some writers stay up all night, scribbling away like madmen- lamplight, pots of coffee, sheets of paper piling up like snow around them. It's all very romantic sounding and I think it's a big lie. At least, it's not the way I work. Coffee after 1pm makes my stomach pull terrible tricks on me. Around 10pm my brain shuts down its capacity to do anything productive and dives right on into panic mode. So I put on my pajamas and try to mollify it by swallowing a powerful and prescribed hypnotic. This will knock me out until 2am or so, at which point my eyes spring open and I'm wide awake, my stomach a hard knot.

I've learned that the best thing to do at this point is to crawl out of bed into the living room and try to read a book on the couch. Other times I watch old episodes of Friends. I've come to associate Jennifer Anniston with a dark, quiet house and mild nausea. Some nights I'm able to will myself back to sleep and other nights I can't.
One day this past week, David came home from work and suggested we go down to the Ledges on the French Broad to do a paddling workout. I had that stupid stomach ache, the one that does not go away, but I figured some exercise and time on the river would be good for me. And it was, paddling with just a PFD and no dry top, skin to wind, sun beating down. But then after two attainments a wave of clenching pain hit with such force that I had to run into the woods and throw up as a group of kayakers enjoyed a BBQ picnic to my left.

I'm such a treat these days.

It will subside though, it will get better soon. The insomnia eventually breaks like a fever and the stomach ache retreats. After thirty lucky, light-shattering and anxiety-riddled spins around the sun I've come to learn the patterns. I hope it will get better before we go to Seattle in a week but I'm not counting on it. Although that's not the worst thing. If I showed up back in that city without a touch of neurosis, without talking too much and too fast and losing my keys and curling up on friends couches with a headache, I don't think anyone would recognize me.


Annie Fulmer said...

I have recently been experiencing insomnia. I had a baby 8 months ago so sleep is already not great. Sleep deprivation is a total mind *u*k. The first few nights I did not sleep a wink, I was in a total panic. My problem is I can't fall asleep until the wee hours of the night. I have tried exercise, yoga, meditation, deep breathing, reading, and listening to pod casts...nothing has really helped. Now when I can't sleep, I just try to let it ride knowing that eventually it will pass. I hope you have some restful nights in your near future!

Maggie said...

"Cannot decipher between good stress and terrible stress..."

Yes, me too. My body feels like it's in a constant state of 'fight or flight.' Which then snowballs into one jittery, high-strong 29 year old.

I hope we can connect when you're in Seattle! Maybe for a beer? Would love to hug and chug. xo

Melina said...

Hi Annie- it is a mind *u*k! I'm totally dysfunctional without sleep...I don't know how new moms do it. for YEARS! I suppose I'll find out one day. Anyway, it's frustrating when we try everything and nothing works. It's a helpless feeling. When my insomnia is not too bad, ASMR therapy videos help me a lot. Also, hypnosis CURED me of insomnia for about 4 months straight. Good luck to you and your baby, I hope you both get some good sleep soon.

Susan S said...

Melina, as a fellow, lifelong acute anxiety sufferer, I wanted to let you know about something that's really helping me a lot. I started weekly acupuncture appointments just after Thanksgiving, and last month, I was able to taper down to "maintenance" once-monthly appointments. At the end of the first session, I felt like I would gladly go back every day for the rest of my life and let this woman stick needles in me, that's how much better I felt immediately. I still have anxiety, but I am no longer crippled by it, I'm more productive on my job and at school and, maybe the most important thing, I enjoy my life more. The feeling of being able to handle it is still so unique to me, having lived almost 48 years feeling completely panicked. This is the best I've ever felt in my life, and I don't say that lightly. I'm off the anti-anxiety drugs, and the acupuncture complements talk therapy, because I am calmer in sessions, able to look at things more rationally than I do when I feel like my head is on fire. Acupuncture has been a life-changing gift for me. It might help you, too! Regardless, I hear ya with the anxiety and terrible joy of things. Best of the best to you, Melina!

Jen said...

Oh, dear. I get that. I read this recently, and it made me feel better--the fraud police part in particular resonates with feeling less and less confident with each article you turn in:

Just maybe there's something in there that makes you feel better, too. If you wind up with in extra moment when you get to town, I would gladly drink a cup of coffee with you. Before 1pm, of course.

Melina said...


Thank you for this. And I'd LOVE to see you in Seattle and talk life, stress, stories, radio, climbing.

Anonymous said...

I don't think your professor should get away with comments like that! Remember he is being paid to teach you, and if you are staying late to practice you are obviously not slacking!

Elizabeth Q said...

I have shared a similar thirty anxious years: the stomach-clenching terror that no effort of mine will be enough, the unconscious conviction that every achievement only makes the inevitable failure harder, and the fall further. The more you try and the more you gain the more you have to lose, no? But I’ve decided this year that this is a lie we tell ourselves. I will put out love into the world, and that will be enough, although as with everything worth doing this is easier said than done. I wish you joy and peace.

Erin Macauley said...

2 am must be the International Waking Hour of the Anxious. When mine flares, and I roll over to squint at me phone I always pray it will say 4 or 5....not that dreaded 2.
A side note: does anyone else struggle with shitty music on repeat DJing those witching hours?

carolyn said...

there is light at the end of the tunnel! I think that picture of Home Team sleeping in bed is just about the cutest thing ever. If only we could sleep like our dogs.

Sian said...

I suffer with anxiety too. Like you there's a rythmn to it. And it will pass. For me the thing that helps me is not adding to it by beating myself up for being anxious because then I'm being anxious about being anxious!! Argh! I also get anxious just as life gets interesting! What is that!? So frustrating. My mantra is to repeat to myself 'I accept myself for who I am, how I feel and where I'm at' That includes accepting the stomach aches and insomnia. I don't know why but it helps a little. AW Melinda im so excited about everything that's happening to you at the moment. Its all going to work out xxx

Beth said...

I had really terrible insomnia for years and years. In stressful periods, I would go days without sleeping. Two or three nights in a row staring at the ceiling, or watching Friends. I have watched Friends so many times, I'm not sure I'll ever be able to watch it in another context. I saw doctor after doctor and no one knew what was wrong. Then last year I realized the stomach aches that accompanied my insomnia might not be a symptom but a cause. I was diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease (triggered by stress and certain foods) and I went on medication, and suddenly I could sleep again.

There are still nights I sit on the couch in the blue glow of the television, waiting for morning to come, but they are few and far between.

All this to say, I understand. There's a panic that always used to hit me at 4am when it became clear I would not be sleeping that night. A loneliness so intense I couldn't imagine it ever ending. But the day does come. And we are stronger -- far stronger -- than we realize. Even on little sleep, somehow we make it through.

Hoping this phase of struggle is coming to an end for you.

Keli said...

You have a lot on your plate right now. Sounds like you aren't being too hard on yourself though and that's a great thing. How exciting that your writing career is taking off! I remember when you wrote about worrying that you wouldn't be able to support your family with your writing. Maybe it's not there yet but it sounds like things are unfolding nicely! Just remember...things are always working out for you! Here's to some restful sleep this weekend!

Ariel said...

Have you seen those articles going around lately? There are a couple of studies showing that worry and anxiety are linked to higher levels of intelligence. If you google "worries are more intelligent" you'll get a few more, but here's one:

I've also gotten to know 2 am pretty well recently related to some crazy job stress. Tossing, turning, tossing, turning - for me, it's when the anxious cycle of, "If I don't sleep I'm going to be useless tomorrow!" starts keeping you awake that's the worst.

Enjoy Seattle! I miss that place like crazy!

Lynn said...

Last year I spent the entire year feeling like I was jumping out of my skin. I lost my appetite, lost tons of weight and looked gaunt, I could not sleep, I could not focus...It was awful.
And then one day, almost a year later, I woke up and the anxious feeling was gone. My appetite returned, (now gaining weight daily which is not great) the jumpiness was non existent, but the sleep hasn't been great, but it's better. Anxiety sucks the life out of you. I know. Hope you feel better soon...

Anonymous said...

WAIT!!! No picture of the sheep cake?!?! Ugh, I was so waiting for that!

Have you taken a pregnancy test? Insomnia and throwing up…

Just saying!

Love the post! Happy birthday!

Karen said...

Im on the anxiety boat too. It sucks. I have the insomnia bit when things get bad as well and I used to worry about how I would ever function as a mom. Oddly enough, the years following the births of my two kids? I slept like a rock when they let me, and somehow coped just wonderfully with the sleep deprivation of parenting. Maybe hormones helped... That and their sweet faces I think.

And I sooooo get the misfiring brain where great things lead to anxiety. I end up on meds almost every year at Christmas time because the beauty and love and excitement and magic just overwhelm me.

May we be comforted by the 'me too's'.

Carey King said...

I hate this level of stress and anxiety, for me I get night sweats and my hair falls out.. Well I used to anyway.. I'm sorry to hear you're going through all that, success and joy seems to sometimes come in the midst of chaos and deadlines doesn't it? We finally decided to have a baby this year (after 5 years of marriage and 9 years together haha) and I had thought that I had all my ducks in a row, a settled home big enough for 3, two stable jobs etc. but the moment we fell pregnant we suddenly realized that maybe we wanted a totally different life to the one we had, in a different city and for my husband a different career- So I'm thinking that the best times in life and the best opportunities make you want to seek out even greater things.. I don't know haha, but at least it makes the stress so worth it:) Hope you feel better!!

Krista C. said...

The weather has been so nice in Seattle this "winter". So warm and sunny but it looks like you are going to be coming during a rough week. I hope you still have a great time!