when i was twenty five i shopped around for a therapist for all that ails a gal in her quarter life crisis. anxiety, depression, panic attacks, a touch of the eating disorder.
me at twenty five. fifteen pounds lighter. damn, if i knew now what i didn’t know then, i would have ate more candy, spent my money on pretty dresses and drinks for cute boys, and wouldn’t have bothered with therapy, waxing kits or underwire bras.
so i tried a gestalt therapist. interviewed a freudian. did one session with a cognitive psychotherapist. even got my chakras manifested. nothing clicked. nothing seemed particularly helpful.
when i went to a “blended” psychotherapist i remember he asked me a half dozen questions. one of them was “who is your best friend?” i said, well, it’s actually two people. they’re married to each other and i can’t really separate them. not that i want to. . . and they’re seventy-ish and they’re retired and well they’re like parents to me. dick and vivian eastman. he taught me english in college.”
the therapist put down pad and pen and stared at me in that woeful, soulful, doleful sort of way that therapists are wont to.
“don’t you think it’s a sign of a . . . problem . . . that you consider your best friends a couple who separated by so many years from your peers and . . .”
he didn’t get the whole question out before i moved on. and i never found that perfect therapist. and, sadly, both dick and vivian passed on a few years ago. i felt honored that they considered me a friend.
i find it strange that american culture assumes you are friends with people who are roughly your own age. your own grade. and i have reached an age at which i am honored particularly by young than me people who consider me their friend.
this weekend i went to visit my facebook friend taylor jordan. she is not even twenty years old and all the adjectives apply: beautiful, enthusiastic, energetic, fun! i am not her best friend but i am included in the circle of people she counts as that word.
i think my facebook friend taylor jordan (on the left) would consider taylor lufkin (on the right) her best friend! they are both in college–he’s going to be a writer, she’s going to teach. this is our wonderful future and i’m so happy for these two!
taylor was the eighty-fifth facebook friend i visited last year. she is the granddaughter of my friend suzanne’s husband. although i had often interacted with her in the context of seeing my friend suzanne, i had never really spent time with taylor as a friend unto herself. last year, i went to her school in wisconsin to visit and discovered a way nuanced, intelligent, funny galpal. this year, i went to her school in central illinois. next week, she is going to join a sorority, but first there’s an initiation rite that i tried to help her with. . . uh, well, maybe i’m not the friend you want at your side when you do that. . .
. . . and they don’t text, email, post on my facebook page, invite me to their linkedIn network, tweet at me, instagramatic me, or send a carrier pigeon. despite all the advances in communications, twentysomething sons just don’t communicate with their moms. at least, this is what i’ve been advised.
i have a preflight ritual: as soon as i bolt away from the t.s.a. stormtroopers (uh, agents) i head for the bar, order a beer and text both my sons that the plane is about to take off and i love them. one of them almost always texts back “love you too” the other, meh, not so much.
some people say that if you’ve done your job well, then you WON’T hear from them. that they’re independent. i’m not so sure.
in any event, i was in st. louis to visit with facebook friend #327 daniel reyna. he invited me to his home on a sunday afternoon for a dinner he would be making. ordinarily, i wouldn’t meet a facebook friend for the first time in their home. but for daniel there were two important exceptional circumstances: he was inviting me to a family dinner and he has a limited comfort zone in which he operates without anxiety attacks. also, i had a chaperone.
the reyna family is second generation mexican: mrs. reyna, daniel’s mom, has nine siblings and her husband has a large family as well. the reynas have five children including daniel and his twin brother david. every sunday the reynas get together for an afternoon dinner. while cousins are welcome, the five siblings and their significant others and children are the core of the meal. the siblings take turns hosting and each host is allowed to invite an extra guest. i was honored to be daniel’s guest. and i was intrigued as to what he would make for us. i was ushered into a kitchen and met the family. the reynas are a boisterous group, five different conversations going on at once, and so many times was i asked if i wanted something to drink and ended up with three beers, a glass of wine and a soda in front of me.
i had been eating st. louis’ favorite specialty–fried ravioli–for two days. this dish is not exactly atkins diet material but this and a double i.p.a. is what i’ll be asking for when i’m on death row and the warden asks “what’s that last meal going to be?”
a small light meal of an antipasto platter, followed up by pulled pork, roast chicken, barbecue ribs, mashed potatoes, spanish rice, cole slaw, bread, baked beans, and daniel’s twin david had made chocolate pie and apple pie. whoops, i forgot the louisiana bundt cake and ice cream sandwiches.
in addition to the reynas getting together for sunday meals, they also host a family olympics in the summer with egg tosses, races, and a pie eating contest. they have a christmas talent show for each other. they go to mexico every year–although daniel doesn’t go with because of his anxiety. and they invent their own games, one of which–spoons–they tried to teach me.
i told mrs. reyna that she was so lucky to have her children with her and she said “the best present a mom can give her children is a family.” she is absolutely right.
daniel was a bit shy about having his picture put in a blog post. i never post pictures that people don’t want me to. so i keep the picture in my cellphone. it was late when i had to say goodbye and i didn’t really say goodbye. i said au revoir, until we see each other again. even if it’s on facebook.
later that day, i was on facebook and noticed a status update of one of my sons on my newsfeed. with all the tools of communication, i think it just makes us MORE aware of wanting what the reynas have every sunday afternoon.
new york is like a love affair: getting out is so much harder than getting in–and leaving new york at three o’clock on a friday afternoon, with an e-ticket for a flight at laguardia, you should be prepared for an experience that will not compare favorably with the ex-boyfriend who slashed your tires and dumped a box of your thong panties, that sex toy, and the edible body lotion from victoria’s secret on your mother’s with the words, “i think these are for her.”
but i got out of new york after my visit with facebook friends azusa watanabe from tokyo and carolyn quinn and michele persiak from new york even with a cab driver who got lost, a terminal change, long lines, surly t.s.a. agents who claim they want to touch my junk because i’m “random”, gate changes, delays, cancellations, etc.
i had paid an extra thirty dollars for a “premium” seat 7a. unfortunately, united sold that same seat to someone else. the airline implemented its new “customer empowerment” policy and i lost. i was seated in a middle seat between two oversized bins (i mean men). note to united: can i have my thirty dollars back?
several times over the last year, facebook friend david janis and i have tried to set up meeting with each other. while i was in new york, we talked on the phone and i resolved that i would really do it! i made reservations at a hotel and plotted the course. a few days before my arrival, david messaged me that he was having anticipatory anxiety attacks which was particularly difficult because of some other health problems he battles. i decided that since the hotel was prepaid, i would go anyway.
david is an agoraphobic who embraces himself and his way of life. he doesn’t shy from it. and he helps others who may want to change and others who may not want to–as well as those who think they have no options. he has a lot of interesting wisdom. i wanted to hear it! i told him how long i would be in st. louis and if the anticipatory anxiety fell away i would be happy to see him.
yesterday, i went to the jefferson memorial park and i would have ordiniarily confined myself to going to the westward expansion museum. but then i thought why do i place a limit on myself or on what i believe is possible for me?
brave before you have your ticket to the arch tram is one thing. brave after you have put your money down . . . well, in my case, courage evaporated. and i think part of the mood change, the anticipatory anxiety if you will, is the same as in airports. the park rangers are now equiped with a conveyor belt, metal detectors, harsh voices. i saw one poor woman moved to tears because she had to go through the metal detector three times. finally, she lifted her shirt, as if to say “look, i don’t have anything!” and this is what we do just to visit a national park.
i needed an attitude change but i couldn’t get enough privacy to create it. after a long line that slithered down into the basement of the museum, we were loaded as a group into a room about the size of a motel six bath not included. we should have been appreciating the exhibit items devoted to the arch’s architect eero saarinen. instead, we were crowded together so tightly contemplative thought was not possible. we were half an hour late. we were then herded further into the sub-basement of the museum into another area where we were shown a three and a half minute safety and history video.
i admit it, i freaked in the eero saarinen tram car. seats five but only if the five are freakishly small or they are quite friendly in a kentucky cousin sort of way. getting off the tram and entering into the arch’s viewing area, i totally lost it. i stood in the center of the eight feet by twenty feet room, with its low slung windows overlooking the city. i waited for my legs to stop shaking.
the arch shifts a little, there are noises from the bumping tram cars, children running up and down the narrow space made me want to scream “stop it! you’re going to make the damn arch collapse!”
i waited. the park officials–can you really call teenagers officials?–looked bored. a group of teens turned their backs to the windows and took pictures of each other with their cell phones and then texted. lots of texting. i decided that yes i was scared. but hardly anybody was aware of it. except for that poor couple who had driven up with me on the tram. they were from indianapolis and i think they were glad to get out of the tram and even more relieved that i was going back down without waiting for them.
we take our victories whenever and however we can find them! and now i hope that i meet david, but if not, i still have other facebook friends to visit in the gateway to the west!
of course, my facebook friend william clark goes with me for every adventure! he is right there in front of the blue trunk! the real william clark explored the western half of the united states from 1803 to 1806 in what is commonly called the lewis and clark expedition. you can read all about it in William Clark and the Shaping of the West by Landon Y. Jones!
i don’t remember exactly how it happened or what was said, but i remember i violated the most important rule for parents on facebook: if you are so lucky as to be confirmed as your child’s friend you may not comment–nay, you cannot even look–at your child’s posts.
i did. i looked and i even commented. something parental, along the lines of “i think you shouldn’t”
this is not either of my sons. my heart goes out to the mother of this poor man. every mom should know that she shouldn’t look, it will only break her heart, at her progeny’s facebook photos.
my sons erupted in a baffling and quick comment and reply i was awash in tears. until eastman called me and said everything was just for show. “if you win an argument on facebook, you’ve already lost,” he said.
i was reminded of his wisdom, forged upon his twenty years on this planet, last night as i logged on. there are many support groups on facebook, one for every supportable human condition. i am a member of several associated with agoraphobia. i joined all of these early this year, after i started my facebook new year’s resolution to meet all my facebook friends. last year, i resolved to meet all 325 of my facebook friends, no matter where in the world they might be. by the end of the year i had met 290–and had discovered that about ten percent were spambots, in prison, were hopscotching the world in such a way that we could not meet, or had some reason they didn’t want to meet me. including being dead.
i still consider myself agoraphobic. meaning i am terrified to leave the house. the problem is that my house now includes the world.
my home is also five bags in the back of my car: one for computer equipment, one for shoes, for clothes, for cosmetics and soaps, and for just every day. and of course there is william clark my facebook friend who is both a stuffed toy and also a nineteenth century adventurer.
every morning i wake up and the first thing i say to myself is “this is the day that the Lord has made. i will be happy and grateful” and then i quickly think of ten things that i am grateful for. before i think of things that make me stay in bed and say fuggeddaboudit!
does that make me religious? i don’t think of myself as particularly so. but without this ritual i would probably fall into a former habit of refusing to get out of bed at all.
coffee also helps. if i try to make any decisions in the morning without having three cups, i am doomed.
last night, i observed on facebook two groups devoted to the support of people with agoraphobia. the two groups devolved into–well, i won’t put to fine a point on it–a bitchfest of accusations of members and admins (administrators) being non-agas — not particularly agoraphobic. one woman was outed as a non-aga because she had recently been able to get out of the house. even holding down a job. she was still the administrator of a support group on facebook devoted to agoraphobics but she was badmouthed by a few members of another group. defriending. blocking. barring from the group. closing the formerly open group. posting, more posting and still more posting. and cut and pasting slanderous posts and reposts. and j’accuse. lots of j’accuse.
the adminstrator (and facebook friend of mine) of one group deactivated her account, taking down (inadvertently or not) many photos beloved by the group as a whole. she reactivated her account and the photos were reposted a few hours later. i think someone won the argument. but i think whoever won has lost.
i’m not sure i’m entitled to be in any of the support groups for agoraphobics and other housebound people on facebook. i was someone who was housebound. i could be someone who is housebound tomorrow. every day i wake up with the decision and every day i am unsure whether i can do it. mostly i do. some days i can’t. but every day i start with this
i think of myself as a secular person. . . what is it with this? how do you start your day? how do you get your ass out of bed? because if i don’t start with this and a list of a lot of gratitudes i’m damn grumpy and then i falter.
i am with the majority of the group members of the support groups i am part of: we need to be supportive of whatever we are, wherever we are in life. we struggle, we figure it out, we forgive ourselves, we forgive other people.
and if we have time we post this on every friend’s page every day. although after a few weeks it would be annoying, so we’d switch to posting pictures of cute kitties or inspirational sayings. oh, whoops, most of us already do this!
mapquest said it was going to take me four hours and forty seven minutes to get to f2fb friend #317 if i walked and i just couldn’t believe that a city could be that big. i also couldn’t believe that the funny, witty, supportive, beautiful facebook friend michele piersiak was housebound. i figured she’d meet me at the ferry station in staten island. or that she’d catch me at one of the places downtown.
i was wrong. well, i wasn’t wrong about her being funny, witty, supportive, and beautiful. that was definitely the woman who answered the door of the house near forest avenue. but she is (was) housebound. for about a year and a half her world consists of reading, the treadmill, dvd’s, the computer that sits next to the couch in the living room, caring for her pets and keeping a house for her and her boyfriend.
stewie is a caped dragon lizard. she may be very lovely to other caped dragons, but i didn’t find her all that attractive. in fact, i got sort of nervous when michele took her out of the cage. after all, who’s to say that caped dragon lizards want a little fifty one year old human flesh after a regular diet of crickets?
michele can sometimes leave the house for brief periods with her “safe” people–her boyfriend, her parents, her sister. but by herself, she doesn’t even try to check the mail on the curb. it’s been this way for a few years but was exacerbated when she lost her job. i’ve noticed a lot of my agoraphobe friends have a major shift inward when there’s a job loss. and with eight percent official unemployment, i think there’s a hidden group of people that is affected.
michele wakes up every day mad at herself and sad that she is in this condition. the couch is starting to feel old. even playing xbox is feeling pretty old. for me, since i’ve never done it, i thought it was a kick!
this is not wasted time. well, it’s wasting time for me to be bowling on xbox (and nobody should have to witness me trying to play golf!). but it isn’t a wasted year for michele to have been housebound for a year and some months. every day has increased her understanding and sympathy for those who are afflicted with panic attacks, agoraphobia, post traumatic stress disorder, ms, etc. she has a major goal of someday being someone who helps those people. i think she definitely has something to offer the world in that respect. she already has helped–for instance, she set up a group of ten people from around the country who set a goal of walking around the block. at a prearranged time, everybody got on a conference call with their cell phones and walked around their respective blocks together! isn’t that an amazing use of technology and an amazing creative idea?
she also has a minor goal. and it’s something tantalizingly out of reach and will require her to do some work. some planning. some practicing. and it will need YOU! but i’ll get there.
i was insanely honored that michele let me be a “safe” person for the day. we walked to her boyfriend’s place of employment (man, he was a little freaked out by that!) and then we pushed the boundaries a little further. we saw a house that had a three foot wide, five foot tall shrine out front. i like it when people of all faiths feel good about presenting their beliefs to the world!
so the minor goal, an interim goal if you will, is that michele would like to dine at the robert de niro restaurant laconda verde at 377 greenwich street in new york. it would require driving to the staten island ferry, taking the ferry into the city, a cab or bus ride, then being in the restaurant and actually staying long enough to eat and then to return home. to michele it seems out of reach. but the day after i left staten island, she went on several walks with her parents and her sister, pushing herself a little more than usual, to get a few blocks outside of the “safe” zone. she has made a deal with me that if i return to new york she will go with me to the restaurant.
mr. de niro, i’m betting the prices at your restaurant are a bit dear. but i’m sure if you’re half as good at cooking as you are at acting, the food’s great! michele probably would also like just to shake your hand. to meet you and say “thank you for motivating me to change myself!”
so this is where YOU come in. if you know mr. de niro or if you know someone in the restaurant industry, if you know someone in new york, i think a gift certificate to laconda or a menu from the place, a message from de niro — even just an autographed picture — would do the world at motivating michele. and once she achieves the minor goal, she will know that the major one is, okay, just a little harder but perfectly doable. and that’s the one that helps everybody!
so i’m happy to hear from YOU about whatever you come up with for ideas or inspiration or maybe mr. de niro, if you’re reading this blog???
i have been on the road and this morning i am two hours away from f2fb friend #314 mr. anonymous. well, i don’t actually know that he wants to be anonymous but we’ve been corresponding since the first of the year and everything he’s written suggests that he is worried about publicly confessing to having disabling panic attacks and agoraphobia.
i find this weird, maybe because the past year and a half i have been chronicling everything i have been doing — including those white wine “i feel rejected” benders, the fraught relations with my biological father, the crying jags, the strange and bewildering consequences of youthful tragedies. but also, i find mr. anonymous f2fb friend #314’s concern about being “outed” as weird because i read tmz.com, radaronline.com, and pagesix.com online every morning.
and i am treated to celebrities confessing to spousal abuse, eating disorders, gambling problems, pill popping, alcoholism, infidelity, sex with minors, sex with family members, sex with . . . whoever happens to be around, being gay, being a man in a woman’s body, being a woman in a man’s body, having a penchant for hookers, dressing up in the wife’s clothes, shoplifting for the joy of it, anger management issues (also known as acting like a damn three year old), and the ever popular exhaustion and dehydration.
vanessa williams just released the book "you have no idea" and it reveals that she was molested as a ten year old by an eighteen year old woman, that she was "highly sexualized" as a teen, that she had an abortion when she was nineteen, and that she trusted a photographer who wanted to do some "art" shots of her. by her own description, she went from the cab to naked with a dog collar in less than an hour. those pictures were printed in penthouse and caused her resignation as 1983 miss america. she's bounced back. but there's a lot of 'fessing up she's doing with this book.
i have nothing against the self-disclosures. i think it’s healthy. but why can’t someone come right out and say “look, i’m an agoraphobic.” mr. #314 can manage a few miles radius around his house on a somewhat erratic basis. but by and large, he’s housebound. and doctors have done a lot of damage with the usual run of sedatives, antidepressants, etc. that only seem to make things worse. and it is worse than it was when we first started corresponding. his wife is throwing in the towel. the support systems are crumbling. several times over the past months, we’ve attempted to set up a time to see each other just so i can learn from him and maybe share my experiences with him. yesterday, he emailed me to say “i can’t. i’m too nervous about the prospect of meeting you” i said please don’t cancel because i have a present for you.
and i do. it’s not a toy, a piece from tiffany’s (i always like those!) or a starbuck’s gift card. it’s a phone app.
many people with anxiety and agoraphobia rely on facebook, email and cell phones to keep up with family and friends. one facebook friend who is housebound calls her mother at work. her mother leaves her cell phone on and lets her daughter "be" with her during her work day. my facebook friend calls it "having mom let me be in her pocket". . .
with a facebook friend from los angeles, i have been developing a phone app to help agoraphobics and those with social anxieties. it’s not biofeedback. it’s not guided meditation. it’s not haranguing, although i do a great harangue. just ask my sons. instead, it’s a companion who will walk with you out the door, to the sidewalk and beyond. and it’s based on my firm belief that therapy makes you dependent on therapy, drugs make you dependent on drugs. YOU are the only one who is completely invested in getting yourself the terrific life you deserve.
the app is my present to mr. #314.
my question to you: would you want that app?
and please, wish me luck. i last wrote to him that i would be at his house. i would knock on the door. if he was too nervous to answer the door i’d wait for a while. but at least i will try.
last week was, ahem, a week of challenge–four straight days in bed cowering under the covers and then a doctor’s appointment that concluded with me being written a prescription for lexapro. the lexapro bottle is on my kitchen counter. i haven’t tried any yet. i have been receiving emails and phone calls from people weighing in–i’ve been amazed at how much i think that everyone i know is completely competent, happy, well-organized, and now they’re telling me that they were a wreck before they started lexapro, zoloft, klonopin, paxil, etc. . . . or that they were a wreck when they tried lexapro, zoloft, klonopin, paxil.
for me, right now, just for the moment, i am making the choice to not take an ssri antidepressant. that i did a pretty good job of getting myself out of the house last year to meet my facebook friends and conquer my fears and taking a drug would make me feel like i wasn’t entitled to believe in what i did and how i did it.
the three temporary rules are 1. no going to bed before eight o’clock (because i’ll wake up at two a.m. and think of all the reasons i should be anxious and that makes six o’clock seem an impossible hour of the morning and then i suddenly realize it’s three in the afternoon and i haven’t moved), 2. intense cardio exercise every day (it’s amazing how much sweat takes away the negatives. . . ), and 3. take a shower every day (let’s even discuss why that’s a good idea).
a fourth rule is to spend time with friends. on friday evening, giving myself lots of slack to turn around and come home if i got too anxious, i went to the village follies variety show. i figured it was three blocks away from my house. even in heels, i could run home.
last year, i needed to visit 325 facebook friends as part of my new years resolution. tony morris is one of my friends, and i was quite stalkerish about sending him messages which he never responded to. friday, we saw each other. he's the sort who has created a facebook page and then never uses it. i've noticed some people spend an evening creating a profile and then are like uh, i don't really want to do this. okay, we finally got together--thank you mr. #305!
and i did bolt out of there at an insanely early hour–midnight. the next afternoon, i thought of fifteen reasons why i shouldn’t go to the dinner party hosted by my facebook friend #50 ron o’neal. ron had invited me in part because he had read in this blog about the four day pajamas/noshower/nobrushingmyteeth days and he thought i could benefit from a little society. i decided to stay for twenty minutes. four hours later, the o’neals were kicking me out the door. . .
tristan and her husband amadeus do not have facebook. in fact, amadeus is quite opposed to facebook. one, he believes that any group of people could make their own facebook. second, he believes it’s morally wrong for mark zuckerberg to make so many billions. amadeus grew up in what used to be the communist east germany and he’s very aware of the problems of power and money concentrated in the hands of a few people.
mark invented facebook and while he is a billionaire he doesn't really live the life of one, at least so far. i am very impressed by his quote "we do not give better service in order to make money. we make money in order to give better service." i think it would have made an EVEN more interesting dinner party if ron o'neal had invited mark and his girlfriend to join us. but maybe mark was busy.
i have to add another rule that lurks under the surface of all i do: no drinking white wine. beer is okay because i feel great when i’m drinking it and fine the next morning. white wine hits me like tequila with a university of g.g.w.* on spring break. and i’m wretched the next day. so that’s why tristan had to teach me to open a can of guinness. a full pint has only 168 calories and has only 4% alcohol.** that’s a bargain. . . .
white wine gets me drunk fast and hard and not in a good way. in fact, my new years resolution has been to avoid it. the triggers that make me want to drink it are rejection, self-loathing, isolation, and depression. white wine, we can't be in a relationship together--it's not you, it's me. sometimes people are a trigger. my father justin (facebook friend #30) has, in the past, been a trigger and he's going to be a houseguest for a full week beginning today. this is a challenge for me.