#dontcallmecrazy, My name is Eleven

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Majority of you know and interact with me as Eleven. A poet/writer/blogger, mental health advocate, and founder of Tribe of Poets. Some of you know me as Dani, the quick-witted, feisty female with one liners strong enough to bring a grown man to his knees.

But next to none of you know me as Loony.

Loony is someone few people know or see. Loony is me at my core - the good, the bad, and the ugly. Loony is me, in a safe place, surrounded by faces I trust, and intentions I never have to question.

We all get nicknames from our parents growing up. Some simply get a shortened version of their name and some get a random word that got called to them once and it just stuck.

I got Loony.

Neither of my parents remembers where that name came from but 31 years later, I have to be in some serious trouble to be addressed as anything other than Loony.

And it fits me. If you consult the ever knowing Google, “loony” means “a crazy or silly person.” In a nutshell, that's me.  Always laughing or joking, vibrant, outgoing, confident, and...well, crazy.

Now I don’t know if all of this is just a coincidence but what are the chances my childhood (and current) nickname would be a synonym for the one I titled myself with in my adult years? I actually hadn’t even put two and two together until I started writing this piece, and then the dots started to connect.

“I’m crazy.”

“Don’t mind me, I’m just being crazy.”

“You act like you didn’t know I was crazy.”

“Is it me or am I being crazy?”

“Girl relax, stop being so crazy.”

“Don’t play with me, I’m crazy.”

Crazy.

A word once used for dramatic and/or exaggerated flare became a name I not only felt I embodied, but also one I answered to. I wore “crazy” in my late teens and early adulthood, spending 3-4 nights a week in clubs while going to school full-time and working part-time. I wore “crazy” in my mid-twenties during my first serious relationship. To me I was just being protective but in reality, I was controlling and extremely insecure. I wore “crazy” in my friendships, holding down the role of being the funny, loud, outgoing one that was always down for a little (or a lot of) fun.

I wore “crazy” well and because my personality was/is naturally on the extra side, it worked for me. It was passed off as “Danielle being Danielle.”

It wasn’t until my body started to go crazy that I realized things may not be as funny or clear cut as I thought them to be.

***

I remember being a rather nervous child, but nervous about things typical children don’t think twice about. I was bold where kids should be leery and a wreck where kids should be careless. I would see the vat of ricotta cheese in the refrigerator and know lasagna was soon to be on the menu for dinner and my worry would begin (for the record, I still hate that container and lasagna). If I saw the blue container of mushrooms in that same fridge, I knew the wok (some disgusting ground beef and vegetable concoction) dinner was in my near future and the turmoil in my stomach would begin. You would have thought my parents learned to stop making me eat God awful foods the night I threw up (on the dinner table) the liver and onions they forced me to eat but NOPE. That only ensured us to never have THAT meal again.  

My parents divorced when I was 7 which added another element to my nervousness. I became deeply concerned with my mom’s whereabouts. I felt that if she left for long periods of time she wouldn’t come back. If she had evening plans she would tell us in advance, and I would cry every day leading up to it, begging her not to go, and twice as hard on the day of. My brother would try and console me by reading Shel Silverstein poems before bed (They’ve Put a Brassiere on a Camel was our favorite) but every time she was gone, my world felt like it was in shambles. This was all before the age of 10 and looking back now, it makes sense that my adult obsession would be identical to my childhood one.

When I was 22 my brother got married and it was the first time I experienced actual panic attacks - that random and sudden overwhelming feeling of everything closing in on you as your body freaks out to then shut down. My family was in disarray which caused a kind of angst I had never experienced before. The family I had always known was being torn apart and my intense instinct to protect it - and then continuously fail at it - was not only making me angry but physically sick. I remember coming home one night to more arguing and I had to breathe into a brown paper bag to be able to catch my breath. After the wedding (or funeral as I know it now), things calmed back down, life got back to normal, and I never gave anxiety another thought.

When I was 26 my best friend’s mom got sick with cancer. Watching her go through all she did and ultimately losing her mom was devastating to me. My mom is everything to me and I could not fathom being 26-years-old and living the rest of my life without ever seeing her again. There were days I had a hard time even looking at my mom without feeling immense sadness, fear, and guilt. While I was able to hug, touch, see, feel my mom - my best friend was losing hers. As someone who rarely cries, I found myself constantly on the verge of tears and the smallest things could trigger a meltdown. I had gone out to dinner with my mom one night and while giving her an update on Danielle’s (yes, my best friend and I have the same name) mom, I burst into tears in the middle of the restaurant. Normal me would have never cried in a random place especially in front of strangers, but because of how close I am to Danielle and how deeply I felt her pain, I couldn’t separate what she was living and what I was living.  

Slowly I began needing to know where my mom was at all times. I would call her 3 and 4 times a day, asking where she was and when she’d be home. Every physical ailment she had I begged her to see a doctor. I was convinced a simple headache was stage 4 brain cancer and she needed immediate medical attention. It sounds dramatic but those thoughts were extremely real to me. Every thought I had surrounding my mother’s existence became irrational and I was driving her and everyone else around me insane. But I had just watched my greatest fear come to life with my best friend. Who was to say that couldn’t happen to me next?

I turned 27 in November of that year, moved out, and stepped into 2014 thinking it was going to be my year. I didn’t even make it through January without my grandmom taking a fall in her apartment. For the next 3 months, she was in and out of different rehab centers and nursing homes before she passed away in March. Two weeks (to the day) after my grandmom’s passing, we had another death in our family, and three months after that, my aunt lost her battle with cancer. Having all this happen in such a short period of time retriggered my obsession of knowing my mom’s whereabouts.

This time however, I became a flat out STALKER. If I called her and she didn’t answer and call me back within 5 minutes, I was ready to call the police to go to her house to check on her. I would harass her boyfriend to see when he had last heard from her. One time she was in a meeting at work and didn’t tell me so when I called and she didn’t call back in the allotted time, I PANICKED. I called her job, her coworkers, and I even called Danielle to see what I should do. I was SURE my mom was dead on the side of the road somewhere and no one could find her. There is no other word to describe what I was being or how I was acting other than CRAZY. And if someone tried to tell me I was being crazy or told me to “relax” or “calm down,” I took great offense to it and it only made me that much worse. There was no winning...for any of us.

As 2014 started to wind down and the chaos in my surroundings eased up, I did too. I managed to get a new job, move into the city, and figure out a nice little routine for me to live in (anxiety sufferers know how important that routine is to have). I had hopes that with my new found peace, my nerves would gain some too.

While the stalking of my mother subsided, my fears of life did not. I found myself worrying about everything and anything that COULD happen. I lived in a constant state of nervousness. My greatest symptom of anxiety is nausea however I also have an intense fear of throw up (seeing it, smelling it, hearing it, doing it). My fear of throwing up, especially in public, would only cause me more anxiety and more nausea. I was in this cycle AT LEAST once a day and some days, it would be upwards of 5 times and it went like this for over a year. It became normal for me to always feel like I was going to be sick. I would shake uncontrollably, go from freezing to sweating in a matter of seconds, even breathing took conscious effort. The stress on my body alone caused me such exhaustion that the only thing I wanted to do was sleep. The only time I was not worrying was when I was unconscious, and it became the only place I wanted to be.

I knew that what was wrong wasn’t just in my mind anymore and it had found its way into my body. Something was seriously wrong but denial is a hell of a drug and mixed with shame, embarrassment, and pride - it becomes a paralyzing cocktail. It was already well known amongst my circle that I was crazy so IF I told them what I was feeling or what was happening, they took it as me just being me - dramatic. And I don’t blame them for not taking me seriously. It’s like the boy who cried wolf. How were they to know when I was playing and when I was in need of help? And in all honesty, I did/do play A LOT.

I didn’t even seek help. I went for my annual GYN appointment.

There I was having the usual doctor to titty conversation (for the females, you know that awkward moment when the doctor is checking for lumps and asks you dumb questions about the weather) and I just started crying. No triggers, no anxiety attack, just full on hysterics. I don’t remember what I was thinking, feeling, or worrying about in that moment, I just remember feeling more overwhelmed then I ever had and being in such a vulnerable setting, I couldn't control or hide it. The doctor immediately stopped what she was doing and looked at me, half in shock and half in concern. Since I was already there, crying and naked, what else did I have to lose by opening up (no pun intended) to her? My pride had already fled the room so what was the worst that could happen now?

I managed to stop crying enough to tell her about the last year of my life. I told her I was sick. Sick of feeling sick, sick of acting crazy, sick of feeling crazy, sick of making everyone else crazy because I’m crazy, sick of shaking, sick of trying to act like I’m fine when my body and my brain are going in opposite directions of crazy. 

She sat and listened until I got it all out and then without hesitation she said,

“well first of all, you’re not crazy.”

It was there in that moment logic finally decided to pay my mind a visit.

If I was truly crazy, a medical professional would HAVE to tell me. And if she’s saying I’m not, well then it HAS to be true.

She continued on to tell me that what I was feeling was not uncommon and thousands of people suffer from anxiety. She explained that everyone feels nervous from time to time but for some people, the feeling gets so intense that it becomes more than what they can handle or control. She answered all my questions including the ones where I asked her if I was going to die or if she really thinks I’m a demon alien from Jupiter (it’s not a true doctor’s appointment for me if I don’t get confirmation I’m not dying) and even assured me that there was nothing I did or even had control over in getting this illness. She suggested I start on a small dose of Zoloft to see how it helps with my everyday symptoms.

I left her office that day feeling human again. Finally I had answers, a reason, and a solution.

And most importantly - confirmation that I am indeed not a LOONatic.

***

It’s been almost 3 years since that doctor’s visit and I can PROUDLY say that my anxiety has become manageable and tolerable. I still get anxiety when I’m in overcrowded places or things go awry within my family, but the everyday symptoms have subsided immensely. The only thing I truly obsess over still is the thought of burning my house down by leaving a curling iron or straightener on. In my defense, that’s not completely irrational!

Where things go left for me is that I find myself checking that they’re off 4 or 5 times before I leave home and there are days I will leave for work and come back just to check again. I’ve even been late to work a few times because of it. If I don’t go back to check though, my entire day will be ruined because I will obsess over it and worry that I’m going home to ashes. Never once have I ever actually left either of them on so you would think I wouldn’t obsess as I do, but I’ve accepted it’s just a part of having anxiety with OCD tendencies. If I slow down and take the time to really acknowledge that they’re off, I would save myself a ton of angst (and PTO time) but for me, it takes more effort to slow down than it does to check 97 times in 5 minutes (see how the irrational mind of an anxiety sufferer works?).

With my hair irons taking the brunt of my obsession capacity, my mother has been let off the hook. Through us both learning about anxiety and learning my specific triggers, we have learned to communicate better about the things that could potentially cause me to call 911 on her. Now, if she’s going to be in a meeting or out shoveling snow for more than 30 seconds she lets me know. We have learned to laugh about these things now and through laughter, I have also been able to accept my diagnosis more. Knowing what’s happening within my body and my mind, and having the tools to treat it has been the most beneficial aspect of the whole process. Knowing I’m not really crazy has helped me learn that MY crazy is really just who I am - Danielle being Danielle.

Society still has a VERY long way to go when it comes to mental illness however I think the changes have to start with education partnered with the willingness to listen and understand. There are so many people that don’t understand mental illness because they’ve never taken the time to learn about it. You can’t fear what you know and I believe many people fear it or look at it in a negative light because they simply aren’t educated in it.

I truly believe there is no better teacher than the sufferer themselves. 

Think about it- if you wanted to learn how to make a 5-course meal, you would want to learn from the best chef you could find. You would take pointers from your mom or Pinterest if you had to, but no one is going to teach you the ropes like someone who cooks for a living. A medical professional gave me a diagnosis but I gave me the education I have through accepting my condition, embracing it, and then researching it. I talked to people about it, I LISTENED to their stories, and I was open about sharing mine. Now, that I know about anxiety, I no longer fear it.

In fact, I actually feel empowered by it.

As sufferers, we have the ability to teach every side of these diseases - the positives, the negatives, the highs, the lows, the triggers, the correct/empathetic language to use, and what signs to look for in one who may be in the midst of a panic attack or a break through. We have the ability to teach with compassion, experience, and kindness, and what more could you want in a person to learn from?

The same way sufferers need to be open to teach and educate, the non-sufferers need to be open to listen and understand. Sufferers have to make a conscious effort every single day to function in ways healthy for them, avoid their triggers, and still be productive (work, raise kids, etc). Please know that this in itself is a JOB that we are employed at 24/7, 365 and all BEFORE we leave our house in the morning. The least non-sufferers can do is be aware of our struggle and be open - without judgement - to hearing our stories.

Most times, sufferers seek validation - not for approval, but for acknowledgement. Knowing we are heard, seen, and understood makes all the difference and helps us with our own acceptance. When I used to have panic attacks, the only thing that would help me come out of them was to tell someone I was having one. Hiding it or acting like I was fine when my body was spiraling out of control only made the attack that much more intense. Hiding it was my own defense mechanism to make it seem like I was ok when in fact, I was hurting myself more. And for what? To make OTHERS feel comfortable to be around me? But when I told someone about it and I told them what I was feeling, it made me feel less isolated, less CRAZY.

With teaching sufferers and listening non-sufferers, we will be well on our way to making the much needed difference this world needs to see when it comes to mental illness.

And I would enjoy nothing more than to lead the way.

#dontcallmecrazy. My name is Eleven, Dani, & Loony, and I have anxiety, but it will NEVER have me.