Back here again

We're back home. We arrived this week. I didn't blog through the last three weeks of our trip because my nemesis, that thing living below the surface of my life, mostly under control, or so I thought, was not under control. Anxiety came calling and I experienced a steady decline in mental health and state of wellbeing at the end of our trip. It started when we left Berkeley.

I am still reeling from it, and experiencing a keen sense of loss of the enjoyment of the last part of our trip. I tried writing through it. I worked on a post, but I never published it. I could never make it ring true. I couldn't come to terms with the soul-crushing depth and disorientation of my experience.

I did not want to go through that on our trip. I've analysed this six ways to Sunday and I'm able to identify the triggers and the underlying issues that make those triggers potent and real. I've done a ton of reflection and was able to talk to trusted and experienced people, close family and friends. I sought help in their experience, wisdom, perspective and recommendations. But all of that is not enough to do the work, that's my job.

And so here I am again, facing my anxiety with an arsenal of tools that I have to use. It seems to me that I'm a super self-aware anxious person. What I would love is for this self-awareness to move beyond knowledge into deep and lasting change in my life. I want to be free of this. Anxiety affects my personal wellbeing, it affects my marriage and my mothering (I carry as much of that internally as possible so this doesn't impact my kids too much). It affects the work I want to do in the world as a writer and an open-hearted, open-minded person. It robs me of joy.

I'm angry and sad that this happened.

I have a lot of work to do. I'm thinking it's time to get some outside help in doing that work. I'd like to see a therapist. (I also want a Spiritual Director, Life Coach, and a Naturopath/Holistic Doctor. But we are "a homeschooling teenagers on a single income family" - the single income part has to change - and the strain of our finances is part of what triggers my anxiety. We are not in the income or lifestyle bracket that affords a lot of holistic health professionals. We do a lot of DIY in these areas.)

This is the first time in my history with this struggle that I've seriously considered therapy. It's not that I'm adverse to help, but I have trust, security (and financial) issues. Finding help always seems so daunting. It still does but I think I just have to do it. But I have to add, just because I write it here does not mean it will definitely happen. I'm working really hard right now at what I know I can do to address this problem. And there isn't a lot available to me on limited funds.

This bout of anxiety reminded me of my breakdown after the Appalachian Trail. It reminded me of the summer I couldn't write because of my anxiety. It took me back to places I thought I'd moved through.

Words always seem inadequate for such experiences and it's tempting for me at this point to labor and belabor the experience of anxiety, managing anxiety, all the self-care stuff I know and do, all the things I'm learning, etc. when all I really want and need to do is get this damn update published to my blog and move on. But I do want to mention two things that have been helpful; applying the wisdom of the Enneagram and reading Richard Rohr. I've talked about both the Enneagram and Fr. Richard Rohr on the blog before.

The Enneagram has been one of the most helpful tools for me in understanding myself and why my anxiety presents the way it does and what triggers it (security issues mostly). I identify as a Type 6. Back when my anxiety first manifest strongly I relied on the Myers Briggs structure to help me figure things out, and it was helpful, to a point. The Enneagram provides a deeper understanding and shines a light on a spiritual path of healing and wholeness from our broken, wounded, and flawed places. (We all have them.)

It's not the whole picture. It doesn't tell me "how" to do the work. For example, how to change my mindset and what lifestyle and behavior modifications I need to make, but it does illuminate the core issue for me. And it gives me hope I can get better. It's been one of the most helpful roadmaps on this journey. It was an in-person, in-real-life visit (we've only had this three times in our 9? year relationship) with my dear friend Krista, on the second-to-last week of our trip, that helped point me back to this tool. (Thank you Krista for your presence and love in my life.)

That same week I picked up a book from my aunt, Falling Upward by Richard Rohr. I'll reveal my bias here, I adore Richard Rohr. I read his daily meditations from Center for Action and Contemplation and devour any podcast that interviews him. I've wanted to read his books but they're not readily available from the library. His work has been so helpful as my faith has evolved and expanded, and as I've struggled through crisis and rebirth.

My anxiety manifested itself acutely in conjunction with my early midlife crisis. It's always been there, as an undercurrent, but was not so visible until other things I had worked at building as my safety and security started to crumble around me.

It had to happen. The falling apart of false-self and constructs of security to reveal what was underneath. Even though I believe this intellectually, I still struggle with the feeling that I did something wrong. I made the wrong choices.

This summer I experienced that all over again. The feeling that I had done it wrong. I should have been able to avoid that first crisis, I should have avoided this one. If I had just done better...

I feel a lot of things when I experience anxiety. I feel shame, vulnerability, anger, and frustration. And those are the emotions on top of the very disorientating and sometimes debilitating physical sensations of my anxiety. Add to that the feeling of failure, "I'm here, again", and it's misery compounded.

The fact that I show up for people, that I don't go to bed for the whole day, that I continue to put one foot in front of the other and don't just melt into a puddle of goo, all of that proves my courage and grit. (I write these things for my sake, not yours. This is not self-aggrandizing, this is self-care. It is me speaking truth and encouragement to my own mind and soul, which desperately need affirmation. My neural pathways need to be reminded of my courage, over and over and over again.)

Reading Falling Upward is reminding me, again, that I didn't screw up to get where I am, struggling with anxiety. Some things fell apart in my life (false beliefs and securities) to help me find truth and slowly uncover True Self. Those things started to fall a few years ago, but I'm still in that transformative process. It's all part of the transition into the second half of life. It's all going according to plan. This is a necessary grief and suffering. It has to happen.

Yes, we are seduced and fall into the second half of our lives, but a part of that movement is precisely that we have finished the first life tasks, at least in part. We can - and will - move froward as soon as we have completed and lived the previous stage. We almost naturally float forward by the quiet movement of grace when the time is right - and the old agenda shows itself to be insufficient, or even falls apart. All that each of us can do is to live in the now that is given. We cannot rush the process; we can only carry out each stage of our lives to the best of our ability. ~ Richard Rohr

We're home now and my environment is stable (though a bit messy as we unpack and reset our life) so the anxiety is subsiding somewhat but the wounds from this recent experience are still fresh. And it feels like they are laid on top of the scars from my previous experiences. I feel bruised. Again. Some areas of our marriage feel tender. Again.

But I'm right where I'm supposed to be. I'm having this struggle for a reason. It's part of the growth. It's part of the journey moving me into the next stage, that second half of life. I don't like it. I don't like the deep discomfort - emotional, mental, physical, spiritual - of my anxiety. But it's that discomfort and awareness, the fall and the failure that is moving me forward into growth.

This is not what I was expecting from the last part of our trip, but it is what it is. I'm here again, at home in Montreal, feeling and recognizing all of it. I feel sad that I had to go through that anxiety, again. I feel some trepidation about the path to growth. But I also feel cautiously hopeful (hey, I'm never overly optimistic about anything) that I have the resources, within and without, to take this journey.

PS. I'm actively seeking recommendations for a therapist familiar with the Enneagram, someone who uses this tool in their work. The Enneagram has been an extremely helpful construct for me to understand my anxiety. I'd love to work with someone familiar with that language and lens.

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  • Catherine Forest

    Catherine Forest on Sept. 3, 2017, 3:46 a.m.

    Renee, I wrote you a private message on FB, but I've been thinking about you today... I'm so sorry to hear about your pain... I've lost so many beautiful moments of my life to anxiety... I know her through and through. Hearing you say you need to work on this or that pains me... Renee, anxiety is a disease. A disease from the mind, yes, but a disease that makes us believe that we are not enough... that if only we could work on this, improve that, let go of this... it would go away. But that's a lie. We are stuck in the mud because of anxiety. Our wheels are spinning and it is her that is keeping us from moving forward... I'm sure you know the comparison with (type 1) diabetic people needing insulin... I won't give it to you. But please consider a medication (and therapy, yes!). You cannot beat that monster alone. There is so much suffering surrounding untreated mental disease... so much. I hope you find some relief soon. I'm right here with you.


    • Renee

      Renee on Sept. 3, 2017, 1:15 p.m.

      Thanks Catherine for your insight and experience. I don't agree completely with you on your assessment, but that's ok, since you don't agree with my self-assessment either. I'm not seeking validation in this post or advice but I'm bearing witness to the struggle.

      I don't disagree that anxiety can be a mental illness but I don't agree it is in all cases. And even if it is, not illnesses necessitate medication. Sometimes they require lifestyle changes, etc. What complicates the "illness" diagnosis for me and makes it not ring true completely is that anxiety feels like a cognitive and spiritual "issue" (for lack of better word). Could it be a full blown mental illness? I have to acknowledge yes, it could. But the cognitive and spiritual elements of my struggle ring truer for me right now (you might think I'm deluded, that's ok) and is where I'm at right now in my understanding.

      It's a really hard thing to express in writing. Perhaps you read "do the work" and you think I'm heaping expectations of self-improvement and letting go etc. on myself. A work I must achieve, something I have to muster up. The work I'm talking about it almost the opposite of that, and it's deeply spiritual, which makes it hard to give language to. When I say do the work I also refer to CBT and practicing what I know to be true, helpful and effective. Those are very necessary things in my life. The work of living more than anything.

      This is where I am right now in this journey and things could change but for now I'm trusting myself on this because self-doubt sabatoges me (and contributes to my anxiety).

      To be clear, I feel your compassion and I appreciate that. To watch other people suffer with what we've experienced can be heartbreaking.


  • Dale Fink

    Dale Fink on Sept. 3, 2017, 12:14 p.m.

    I came across this through a Facebook link. I have battled with anxiety and panic attacks for several years as the result of changes to my brain from a prescription drug I was given for ten years for a balance disorder. I eventually weaned myself off the drug (Clonazepam) over the course of a difficult year, but was left with unopposed anxiety. Since I would not take another drug, I turned to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, with the help of a specialized therapist. I highly recommend it. It does not eliminate the root anxiety, but it teaches you how to deal with it, which keeps it from escalating. Taking drugs like the one I took (which is ironically also given for anxiety) is very effective, but the downside is that your brain loses its natural ability to dampen anxiety chemically. I have to live with that, but perhaps you don't if therapy works for you. Some of us seem to have inherited a chemical makeup which leads to anxiety under the right is NOT your fault. Knowing your triggers is not enough. You need to address your thoughts. You need the right tools. Seek a CBT specialist, not a conventional talk therapist. If you can't afford that, Google Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and learn all you can about it through reading. All the best to you.


  • Bethany

    Bethany on Sept. 4, 2017, 12:30 p.m.

    So very very sorry you're in the trenches, and that it feels like a repeat. Heartbreaking. No answers, but love and prayers and hugs sent your way. You are not alone. Xoxoxo


  • Beth

    Beth on Sept. 4, 2017, 6 p.m.

    Being in the USA right now would give anyone anxiety. The vide is absolutely toxic. I think you are an a Meyer's Briggs INFJ. Like me. I feel everything around me. When I couldn't think my way out of the funk I was in. I went to the doctor. I was diagnosed with depression. 6 months later I see the signs as clear as day. I could not at the time. It is the only disease that tells you, you are just fine while trying to take you down. Just sharing my experience. Take what you like and leave the rest. Hope you heal.


    • Renee Tougas

      Renee Tougas on Sept. 4, 2017, 6:11 p.m.

      Hi Beth, I'm an ESTJ or ISTJ, depending on the day. Hard S, T & J (smile). I hear you on the vibe in the US. Even for a non-intuitive, non-"feeling" type like myself, it's palpable.

      I am notorious for trying to think my way out of my feelings, my problem is that those thoughts are usually unproductive and downright harmful. I ruminate, forecast disaster, imagine wrong and speculative narratives, usually worst case scenario, it's terrible. That's the kind of thinking, in response to feelings, that I'm working on.

      I do not believe my "body" is taking my down, what I've been experiencing over the last month is my body is actually alerting me to pay attention. Because my thoughts, I do believe, can destroy me, setting off chain reactions in my body that became real sensations. (I could talk more and more about it but that's the simple explanation.) I am completely hopeful that I am and will heal. It's the only way forward for me.

      Thank you for commenting.


  • Angela

    Angela on Sept. 14, 2017, 5:59 p.m.

    I am curious how much you think the number of physical moves have impacted your mental well being and anxiety. The reason I ask is in your writing you frequently talk about the need for security and the need for a place to belong. I have been reading your blog for a long time ever since I discovered you at the beginning of my homeschool journey (I think you all lived in Maine). Personally after many house moves both locally and across great distances, I am finding that my personal anxiety has skyrocketed. I have dealt with depression for years and years but this isn't the same. But depression and anxious feelings aren't the best mix. So I guess I am wondering if simply spending a long period in a different place is your trigger. Because your body and brain still have to adjust to living somewhere else and when the novelty of the new wears off, then the temporary nature of your situation begins to cause anxiety even while you know you have a home to return to and a life to live. This current move our family just made is finding me trying to stay in the "new" phase as weird as that sounds because something in me is afraid that once we "settle" into this place we will have to move again. I know that it takes about three years for us as a couple and family to settle into a new geographic location and personally it takes about two years for me to settle into a house/apt. So I end up with this strange anxious and rather unreasonable feeling if I get the house "in order" and with less blank walls too fast something bad will happen. Not that any of this is very helpful. Just observations and thoughts.


    • Renee

      Renee on Sept. 14, 2017, 7:43 p.m.

      Angela, Thank you so much for you long, thoughtful and thought-provoking comment.

      Yes, absolutely, our frequent moving did impact me negatively with regards to anxiety. It brought good things and enabled certain goals we had, it was a means to an ends. But is was also the means to an unexpected and unwanted consequence: a decrease in my sense of stability and security. Like I said, in this post:

      When the dust settled, like the aftermath of a devastating earthquake, we both saw with such clarity why I have walked around with so much insecurity, shame and struggle, and why it was getting worse. Why I had lost my vision and enthusiasm for the future. Why most of the fun had left our marriage, and why my husband has wondered for months, “what happened to the spunky, fiery, and enthusiastic woman I married?"

      Holding this naked truth in our hands, we realized that the path we've chosen for the past few years hasn’t been completely true to who we are, to who I am especially.

      We, and it was completely we, set a course, and followed that course based on an ideal that was true to our values, but not true to how we actually function best in our unique personalities.

      Moving a lot was part of this breaking.

      The pain of this realization and others (like understanding just how different my husband and I are) was really hard on me, Damien, and our marriage. I felt shame that I had gotten myself into such a mess and disconnect from self.

      In moving to Montreal, we intend to be here for at least five years, in this same apartment. Same city, same apartment. After that, we don't know. Maybe we'll stay, maybe we'll move. There are parts of "our" wellbeing (as a couple) that are very hard to meet here and with the kids moving on into their own lives that will also affect our future. I have no idea where we'll be in the future.

      As for this recent flare-up at the end of summer: transitions are stressful for me, and can trigger my anxiety. After we left Berkeley, we were "on the move" and our trip was a series of transitions (over and over and over again), which I had increasingly less and less capacity to deal with as the weeks went on. And there were other triggers related to my sense financial security. It was a hot mess.

      Being back home has helped. It hasn't gone away completely (new stresses, new triggers) but I'm able to find some security in a known environment.


      • Angela

        Angela on Sept. 15, 2017, 2:10 p.m.

        It is hard to find that elusive "right" place. I find our family living in the right place for so many reasons but it is in the wrong geographic location if that makes sense. But I am working to realize that as a Christian we always live with this sense in this present world.

        Thanks for your kind answer. And thanks for just writing on your blog. It is nice to just read a blog without it having to be a project every single post. Can you tell I miss the old days of blogging?


        • Renee

          Renee on Sept. 15, 2017, 2:46 p.m.

          I hear you!! "right place for so many reasons but it is in the wrong geographic location", I totally understand. This is how we feel.

          The last part of your comment was interesting to me. For me, bringing each post to publication is a project, that I labor quite hard with to make real. But I think what you're saying, or what hear, is that I'm not making the post into a "pin this, join this, do this thing" self-improvement, home-improvement, improve, improve, improve etc... project for readers.

          There's very little "call to action", sign up, limited time only (all of which makes me anxious). That is wearisome for me also in reading blogs. I hear you. Thank you for commenting and encouraging me about the writing I do here (I sometimes feel insecure about not fitting the current blogging mold, pop-ups, sign-ups, do this) It means a lot to me.


          • Angela

            Angela on Sept. 15, 2017, 3:24 p.m.

            I am very much supportive of your style of writing. Not that I don't enjoy "to do" content and obviously I first found you through searching "homeschooling". But I love blogs when they are more about life. I understand and even participate in using social sites on the Internet to make money, we all need to eat. Blogs have always been a great place for "how to" content but it is rare for people to just share their thoughts. Sadly it has gotten more dangerous in many ways to share too. So your honesty is refreshing and bold. Please understand that I don't mind people designing courses, offering services, or even offering products on their blogs and I have never stopped reading because of that.


            • Renee

              Renee on Sept. 15, 2017, 3:29 p.m.

              thank you for clarifying, I hope I didn't misrepresent you :)

              I agree, I am very appreciative the courses, services and products people offer and publicize on their blogs (as I have done and will continue to do, from time to time, some of that coming this fall actually). I've gained so, so much from other's people experiences, wisdom and teachings this way.

              I understand what you're saying.


  • Amy

    Amy on Sept. 16, 2017, 12:34 p.m.

    I can relate to the anxiety flaring up with transition. I love travel and adventure but it often stirs up my anxiety. Sometimes I feel I have two conflicting parts of my personality, the anxious part that likes security and then the adventure loving part. Keeping both parts satisfied is a challenging balancing act. The adventures your family takes and the photos you share are what got me reading your blog. I enjoy the vicarious travel and learning about other experiences like the retreat you took. I am planning to attend a retreat at the Shaker Village in Maine next spring. Back to managing anxiety, when parenting teenagers that gets even harder. I personally don't have the time or consistent flexibility in our schedule because of some of my kids special needs to manage my anxiety through natural means so medication has been a life saver. I was off medication for periods of time before the kids and I often had big anxiety flare ups like yours when stress built up. They are so hard and it would take months for me to feel normal again. I have great sympathy because there is just nothing quite as miserable as being in that highly anxious state.


    • Renee

      Renee on Sept. 16, 2017, 3:37 p.m.

      Amy, Yes. Exactly. You said, "Sometimes I feel I have two conflicting parts of my personality, the anxious part that likes security and then the adventure loving part. Keeping both parts satisfied is a challenging balancing act." And then, "Back to managing anxiety, when parenting teenagers that gets even harder." YES!

      Thanks for writing that. For bearing witness to your own journey and experience. It means so much to me.

      Stay tuned for my summary of the retreat I took to the farm. I have it written I just haven't been able to post it yet. I need to do that again.


    • S

      S on Sept. 29, 2017, 12:11 a.m.

      I like what Amy wrote. I have had anxiety but physiologically related and brought on by a GI illness initially, so thankfully it cleared as my body healed over a few years' period. I am glad for the experience in a way, as my DH has chronic anxiety, and I know now a bit of how it feels. For him, like Amy, at present it would take us more time than a day literally carries for us to manage his anxiety without medication. We tried many means--natural, supplements, therapies, counseling. It all likely helped minimally, but it was so very minimally that in the end, having since tried medication and having found a medication that works, I find myself so thankful for the existence of medication options, when I used to be so intent on avoiding it at all cost. My DH is a different man now. In addition to being successfully employed (no small thing!!), he has had so many positive changes, which in turn have brought blessing to our family. I hear you in your desire to use non-medicative means. I really do, as it had always been my own very strong bent. And I wish you success and will look forward to hearing about the therapies you are finding success with. You are a strong woman with a massive amount of grit, and I admire you. I meanwhile also want to share my story in case you have an inkling at some point of doing a trial of medication. I am so thankful for how my husband's story and our marriage story has changed for the better.


      • Amy

        Amy on Sept. 29, 2017, 12:25 p.m.

        S, I definitely relate to your husband's experience. I have tried many natural ways of relieving my anxiety from homeopathy, herbal supplements, ayurvedic medicine, vitamin and mineral supplements, meditation, counseling, and more. When really big life stresses hit which we just can't always plan for, or even a string of moderate stresses, my body used to go haywire anxiety wise. Anxiety always greatly affects my stomach and digestive tract. The up side was I stayed really thin although not being about to eat much for weeks at a time is not a healthy or pleasant way to maintain thinness. I have been dealing with anxiety off and on since I was 14 so a long time since I am now over 40. My Dad has also always dealt with anxiety too and had a great deal of trouble in social situations. Finally when he was in his 60's, I convinced him to give medication a try. It was like night and day for him. He can now attend public functions and actually eat and enjoy himself for the first time in his life. Anxiety also affects his stomach too and I know my anxiety comes from his side of the family because I have a cousin who also struggles with the same things. I have tried a few different anxiety medications and have had the best long term results from the generic form of Lexapro with no side effects currently. I am very thankful for medication although certainly understand why people try to avoid it if possible since I would also prefer a natural approach if there was one that worked as well for me.


        • S

          S on Sept. 30, 2017, 5:43 a.m.

          That is so interesting, Amy. Thanks for sharing. I'm glad you've found something that works and have had some relief.


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