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Stupid Anxiety

21 Jul

RockCentralWichitaA little over two years ago I had an anxiety attack at the intersection of Rock Road and Central in Wichita, KS as I pulled into the left turning lane on my way to work.  I’d experienced this feeling before in life but only for short confusing intervals.  This one was different…it didn’t go away.  In fact, it got more intense.  My fight or flight kicked in and I flew.  The days following were torturous as I could not leave my bed, the weeks following I improved to only being able to not leave my house, then I got to the point where I could painfully kind of go places, then I got pretty functional, and then…my CBT therapist’s office screwed up my bill and I said to heck with them and embarked on a year of self exploration to mentally toughen up and get back to “normal.”

If you want the full story you can go HERE.

Fast forward 2 years with leaps and bounds of progress and things are pretty darn good.  I still had anxiety but my ability to dissect it, analyze it, cope with it and move forward with my life was astounding.  Then I started asking myself if I should explore going off anti-anxiety medications and that opened up my internal discussion of what effectiveness they had or didn’t.  Am I better because of them or are they the crutch that got me mentally ready to move forward?  My gut says the latter since I spent 33 years without needing anything but realistically going off them is…well…its taking the crutch away.  So the debate built up in my head along with other things I have no control over and as I argued with myself, my anxiety plotted its triumphant return.  Sensing this I started seeing a new therapist (whom I love) and have come to realize that while I made major progress in the past 2 years…there is not a finish line in life, just a constant track to run on.  Whether it is uphill, downhill, or even is what I have some control over…but I cannot stop.

NWBayIt was about Midnight the second week of July when my first anxiety attack in a while hit me.  I was piloting a boat on Lake George and had just rounded the Northwest Bay buoy and was heading north into dark waters and a shoreline miles away without lights when I felt the overwhelming feeling of not knowing where I was.  I knew where I was…but not exactly.  It has been a year since I drove the boat at night and this was a new boat with different blind spots, gauges, and sounds.  It is understandable to get spooked in the middle of the dark doing 25 mph on the lake and realizing you are not 100% sure of where you are.  Your eyes play tricks on you at night.  Distance is hard to read and boats don’t have headlights.  I was overwhelmed with the fear that I would not be able to find the dock I was driving to and that my wife Kate would have to take the wheel, or worse:  Talk me down from an anxiety attack in the middle of the lake with no cell reception.

Cell reception.  Seriously?  I used to do everything in my power to get away from cell reception.  I used to adore being alone.  I used to love impossible situations.  Add fog, rain, waves higher than the boat and I would have stayed calm the whole way and loved the thrill of it all.  Now?  I just don’t want to be alone…I want shared responsibility.

KelloggCentralWichitaToday it hit me again, and this one struck a chord.  At the intersection of Rock Road and Kellogg the light turned red as I went to cross the highway…a long light.  As I pulled into to the left turning lane I became acutely aware of how “trapped” I would be and started playing the “what if” game.  “What if I panicked right now?”  What if I just ran the light?”  What if…”  The game became the “what is” game.  I watched the car in front of me slow to a stop (silver Civic), I saw the car in the rearview pull in close behind me (beige Buick sedan), I looked right and saw the truck boxing me in (blue Tundra), and as I began debating making a U-Turn to the left out of the double turn lane a silver Kia pulled in next to me and I found myself with nowhere to go…and I panicked…bad.  The sunglasses came off my face and I started talking myself down but it was no use, I was deep in it and could feel my body wanting to ditch the car and run off screaming. Not an option!  I told myself as I dialed my wife who picked up on the fourth ring.  Before she could finish saying hello I told her, “I’m stuck and I need you to help talk me down!”  She asked where I was and in the time it took to tell her and explain what was going on the light turned green and I proceeded through the long overpass intersection and was “fine” again.

My hands are still shaking a bit.  It was too similar to my initial attack 2 years ago just 2 blocks away.  The only difference is 2 years ago I walked away from the incident asking what was wrong with me and if I’d ever be okay again.  Today, all I can think is “stupid anxiety!”  Seriously.  Stupid f**king anxiety.  I’ve given up trying to understand why this is happening to me and just started accepting that it does happen to me.  I’ve clearly got some crap bubbling up to the top again right now and need to find a way to release the pressure valve…but honestly, I think I just need to find a better way to silence my brain.  My brain is like when you get stuck on a single song lyric and it plays over and over and over and over again in your head.  Sometimes I just get stuck.  Writing helps…and here we are.  All I know is I am fighting a battle between what my gut is telling me to do and what I want to do.  My gut wants me to avoid life, especially the situations where it could suck to have anxiety…but I want to live life to the fullest.  There’s the rub and maybe the best lesson I’ve learned in my life:  Things are not going to get easier – but I will get better at overcoming obstacles if I keep trying.  No one who ever achieved greatness in life was faced with no hardship.  I doubt people will remember me in history books, my name is not in lights, and my triumphs are small in the eyes of others…but every day I get out of bed and find the will power to keep fighting my instincts so I can do what seems natural to so many others.  I’m striving to be a good person, a good father, a good husband, and most important:  Happy.

Stupid anxiety.

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Living With Someone Who Suffers From Anxiety

8 May

anxiety-cycleAlmost 2 years ago I experienced a terrible panic attack that shook me to the core as it seemingly came out of nowhere.  In the aftermath I became antisocial, anxious about everyday activities, and dependent on my family to help me emotionally through the roughest period of my life.  I became deathly afraid of things I used to love to do like driving, flying, meeting new people, or going anywhere with large crowds.  I became agoraphobic which caused me greater anxiety, and down the rabbit hole of depression and cyclical thoughts we go.  In that time period there were people in my life that became safety blankets for me because of their demeanor, their knowledge of me, and the things they said when I was around them.

This week Lindsay Holmes at the Huffington Post published an article titled

8 Things Only People With Anxiety Understand

…and it made me happy to be reassured that I was not alone in my anxiety and emotions.  Her piece covers some of the most basic things about anxiety that you truly can’t understand unless you are one of the millions suffering from this disorder, and I’d like to expand on it to share what did and didn’t help from those around me when I was in the thick of the fight.

Dam_BreakI like to think people are naturally helpful and so when we see a problem we either try to fix it or find someone who can.  My mother-in-law embodies this philosophy and is a genuine listener who then offers advice.  For people living with an anxiety disorder…this doesn’t work.  The human reaction to seeing someone freak out (out of nowhere) is to say things like “calm down,” or “take it easy,” or my least favorite “get a hold of yourself.”  I heard all these things from many people in the early days after my panic attack and they became the triggers that sent my anxiety spiraling further out of control…because I didn’t understand why I couldn’t get a hold of myself.  I didn’t understand why I was so scared of everything…and when I couldn’t get a hold of myself I became afraid that I was broken, un-fixable, dying, and useless.  My mother-in-law saw this and instead of trying to fix me she started asking me simple questions like, “Can you tell me what you are afraid of right now?”  That simple question allowed me to vocalize my anxiety as opposed to trying to internalize it…and it made all the difference in the world.  Those early days, weeks, and months after my panic attack was like a dam overflowing after heavy rains.  I’d open up the flow valve, let the emotions spill out of me till levels returned to “normal,” and then do it again once things started spilling over.

Telling some one to “take it easy” is asking them to internalize something that needs to be jettisoned.  Asking them what they are feeling is an invitation to vet the poisonous thoughts.  When those thoughts and emotions come spilling through the flow valve the best thing you can do as the person listening…is just listen.  Don’t try to fix someone’s anxiety…just listen.

This made me think of Dr. Brene Brown.  She has a great piece that The RSA has recently converted into a short called

The Power of Empathy.”

In it Dr. Brown discusses the differences between sympathy and empathy and how empathy drives human connection.

Empathy is the number 1 tool people should use when they are confronted with someone who suffers from anxiety.  Empathy shows that you are a person we can be ourselves around and you won’t judge us for the silly things we may say.  I’m afraid of being alone while at the same time afraid of being around people…this is a conundrum.  I’m happiest at work where I can be around people but alone in my own bubble, or at home chilling out with my wife but lost in my own thought.  Empathy is the greatest tool you can use when speaking to someone suffering from anxiety because you are telling us we are not alone…when we feel completely alone.

Fear Of RestroomsIn Holmes’ Huffington Post piece she talks about the physical symptoms and how real they are.  I’ve had IBS my whole life and in the past 2 years I’ve come to appreciate (and almost fully understand) the connection between my GI Tract, my migraines, and my anxiety.  They are all linked.  The onset of a situation that causes me anxiety elicits real stomach flu symptoms that are much more serious than “butterflies in your stomach.”  Knowing this, and being empathetic to the situation, is a great help.  For people without anxiety disorders the logical solution to a migraine is a pain killer, GI issues get an Immodium, and reflux take an antacid.  However, most people I know living with anxiety disorders are scared to take any kind of medication.  I’m scared of Advil and have to read the bottle over and over again before taking the right dosage if I deem the timing to be right, such as near a meal.  Nowadays I take a Beta Blocker every morning and a Clonazepam every night for my anxiety…and it took me over a year to get past the anxiety of taking anti-anxiety pills!  Why?  Because people like me think in cycles.  We get stuck on something…a thought that rolls around and around till it becomes a fear.  Its illogical…but to us the progression to conclusion is fully logical.

anxietyHere is where it gets tricky:  The part that struck a chord with me the most in Holmes’ piece was the differences between feeling anxious and stressed out.  All of us knows what it feels like to be stressed out, overwhelmed, and emotional…which is why people try to act empathetic towards someone with anxiety.  However, this just further makes us feel “broken” because we ask ourselves (in a cyclical thought), “Why can’t I just get over this like they do?”  We can’t…at least not in that moment.  Telling someone who suffers from anxiety that you “know how they feel” because you got overwhelmed and stressed out by a situation is actually hurtful to us.  Its insulting.  Its like telling someone with insomnia to count sheep.  Being “stressed out” and suffering from an anxiety disorder are massively different.  While this is an empathic act it is relating your feeling of stress to our feeling of anxiety.  I found out that a few of my friends had gone through similar battles of anxiety.  One of my closest and best friends had an experience almost identical to mine…and when he told me that 2 years ago, I thought he was trying to be empathic but couldn’t possibly understand how I felt.  Last night the two of us went to a baseball game and talked about our anxiety together and it was amazing to hear someone who had gone through the same stuff as me and I got to hear what worked for him and I told him what worked for me.  This is where empathy works.  Two people who can relate about anxiety.  Comradery.  Knowing you are not alone.

Sympathy, as Dr. Brown puts it, is attempting to put a silver lining on a situation.  I have anxiety about this flight.  “At least you get to fly.”  I’m afraid of being alone.  “At least you get to be alone.”  I’m afraid of having a stroke and think every headache is my last moment of life.  “At least you’ve had a good run.”  That doesn’t do anyone any good.

soulreviving.wordpress.com

If someone you know is living with anxiety, don’t tell them about the things that are good in their life or what the “bright side” of the situation is…allow yourself to be vulnerable like them and ask what they are feeling.  Don’t try to fix them…listen to them.  Don’t get frustrated with their physical symptoms…they’re very real.  Don’t confuse stress with anxiety…you can take measures to relieve stress, anxiety disorders require more help.  One of the things I found to be a common thread among everyone I have ever met out there with an anxiety disorder is that we scour the internet looking for “The Answer.”  The breathing technique, the arsenic in our drinking water, the pollutant in the air, the fire retardant materials building up in breast milk being passed on to newborns, climate control, fracking, WWIII, flying monkeys, government conspiracies…ANYTHING!!!  Anything that is the single answer to make our anxiety go away or explain why we have it.  It doesn’t exist.  For me I swore it was artificial sweeteners.  It wasn’t.  It was me.  I was built this way…for whatever reason.  This is who I am.

Here is what I can tell you:  (1) My friend was right…it gets better.  Its amazing how much better it can get with the right help, tools, and support.  (2) CBT therapy seems like a joke at first…but it works.  (3) Medications help.  Some people take nothing, some take a little, some take a lot.  If you were diagnosed with cancer you’d seek help and take medications.  Sometimes you need a crutch while you build mental tools and sometimes you need something to help you function better.  Its okay.  (4) Anxiety can take you on a journey of self discovery…which can be scary…but it can also be freeing.  (5) Yoga, meditation, acupuncture, etc…it all works.  Even if you don’t believe in it, you learn how to tell your brain to “shut up!”  (6) Empathy.  You’ll learn more than you ever knew about empathy.  You’ll find that most people, once you let down your guard and allow them to see you be vulnerable, will be empathetic to you.  (7) If you haven’t found that empathic comradery with other people who have an anxiety disorder, comment on this post or anything on this site and I will listen to you.  To quote Dr. Brene Brown, “Rarely can a  response make something better.  What makes something better is connection.”  I’m happy to be that connection and let you know…you are not alone.

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Anxiety Update: 2013 In Review

4 Feb

panicIts been a while since I gave an update on my living with anxiety…and that’s a good thing, because it has become far from the front of my mind.  I wish I could go back to me having all those panic attacks two years ago when I was wondering if things would ever get “better” and show myself that they indeed would.  From a blubbering mess who was afraid to leave the house to a guy who lives with it pretty well.  If (10) is living with constant anxiety about everything and (0) is living with no fear of anything in the world…I think I’m at about a (3) right now.  Maybe a (4) some days.  However, I’ve come to realize that a constant state of (o) is unreal and/or boring.  I think I spent most of my life around (1-2) with spikes to around (6) every now and then…then one day.  Bam!  (10).  After that I spent so much time working to get back to (0) that I didn’t realize that (3) is pretty healthy.

I have good days and I have bad days…but the bad days aren’t as bad as they used to be.  Good days used to mean that I coped with it well and hid my fear.  Now, good days are just good days.  Bad days used to mean I had to put my head down, close the door, and get lost in something at work to forget about the world around me.  That certainly can still happen every now and then but for the most part…bad days mean I recognize palpable anxiety.  What is palpable anxiety?  It is anxiety that exists for an understandable reason like deadlines at work, lack of sleep from the baby, and emotional hardships.

This month I will be tackling a few things I added to my “Never Again” list two years ago such as…

  • Flying on a plane alone
  • Staying in a hotel without my wife
  • Giving a speech in front of a crowd

There are other things…but those are the ones I am looking forward to the most while also being slightly anxious about them.  I spent my life as a very independent person and racked up thousands of miles flying, millions of points at hotels, and spoke to countless crowds and taught classes.  Then I had a panic attack and turned my wife into a safety blanket.  Since then, I have forced myself to do things I was afraid of and in return my mind has given me the gift of growing confidence.  That’s how I work.  When I was little I was afraid of heights and would get vertigo, so I climbed the roof of the house and sat on the top of the chimney till I didn’t feel weird.  I did this every day till being up high just felt natural.  So…now I’m afraid of being too far away from my wife or the safety of my home – so I force myself to challenge myself.  The result?

  • I went to the NCAA Final Four with my family
  • I went to World Series (1 game without my wife)
  • I have been speaking in front of small groups
At The World Series

At The World Series

Its weird…but the sports teams I root for have really done wonders for my well being and forced me to either get off my butt and experience history -or- miss it due to anxiety.  Its a great time to be a fan of Wichita State…but its the best for me because it has given me many opportunities to get past my fears.  A post for another time.  Basically, I feel like I’m on the winning side of the battle.  I’ve stopped putting timelines on things, setting unrealistic goals, and talking myself out of living life to the fullest.  I still have anxiety and still have bad days…but those are merely skirmishes and I’m looking at the war.  I’m scared to fly alone, I’m more scared to be in a different city than my wife for a few days, and speaking in front of the crowd?  Who isn’t?  Those are palpable anxiety moments.  I cannot fail…because there is no such thing as failure.  To try…to want to try…that is to succeed.  So, to my readers who battle anxiety and ask themselves that terrible doubting question, “Will things ever be normal again?”  No.  Things will be better – but only if you try to make it better.

My three-year-old Max asked me if “brave” means “not being scared.”  I told him, “Brave is being scared but having the courage to try.”  I’m trying to be a good father and husband, among other things.

Cheering for the Wichita State Shockers with my family!

Cheering for the Wichita State Shockers with my family!

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Anxiety And Vulnerability

28 Aug

anxiety-cycleFor a little over a year I have battled with anxiety from a panic attack last June.  At first it seemed like the attack came from nowhere which meant it could come from nowhere again.  Next it seemed like things would never be the same again which meant that hope was gone for the future.  Then I realized how I’d been living with anxiety my whole life but had not properly confronted it…it wasn’t until after I chose to take on a job in corporate America in order to start a family that it all came to a head.  It boiled over.  Since then I have undergone therapy both in the traditional sense of talking with a therapist about my fears and the non-traditional sense of sharing my thoughts publicly online here…a place I had thought would be a home for the comedies of my 30′s.  While fear can be funny the way I tell it, and I do try to find humor in everything, I struggled hard in 2012 and began to lose my humor and just focused on surviving and “getting back to normal.”

994881_10151612189538087_1778498227_nThen, in 2013 something very odd happened.  The billing department at my therapist’s screwed up and charged me for thousands more than what was due.  I was not allowed to schedule a new appointment till my balance was paid.  In a few weeks we had successfully corrected the error by the billing department and I was invited back with great apologies…but I realized I had gone weeks without therapy and felt fine.  I had turned the corner.  I have not sought therapy since and with every day I have grown stronger and felt better.  It has been months.  When anxiety shows up I challenge it and live my life.  I felt “better.”  I began to ask myself if I still needed to take my medication or not, which truthfully is such a low dose that it’s effects are most likely a mental crutch more than physical need.  A beta blocker in the morning and a low-dose anti-anxiety pill at night.

When I renewed my prescription this last time, the words “Need A Doctor’s Appointment” were on the label.  Meaning…I needed to go back to the doctor and have him evaluate if I needed the medication any more.  The minute it became a reality that I may not need them any more was the moment I needed them the most.  That was when my anxiety levels started rising again – about two weeks ago.  Then…Tuesday…I got all freaked out again for seemingly no reason and I confessed to my wife Kate that I was feeling anxious and had not been sharing it with her because I wanted her to feel like she could rely on me.  I wanted her to think I was “better.”  I immediately felt worse and better at the same time.  I went back to work not knowing what I should do and forcing myself to breathe and calm myself down though I felt like at any point I might lose my grip on the Earth and fly off into the universe.  I emailed Kate, “I’d like to see a therapist again.”  I told her I needed to start exploring the WHY not the HOW.  I had reached out for help.  Phew!

daringgreatly_final525-resized-600Kate replied with the simplest gesture that made my day so much better.  For the past few weeks she has been trying to tell me about a book she is reading that I have brushed off as a “self-help book.”  I hate self-help books and will stick to my fiction, action-thrillers thank you very much.  What she had been trying to tell me about was this woman Brené Brown and her book “Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.”  Ugh…self-help book for sure.  However, I’m a sucker for TED Talks and she sent me the video of  Brené Brown which brightened my day and started pulling the tears from me that I was storing inside for a rainy day.  The ideas are simple…obvious…yet so hard to fathom at the same time.  Vulnerability is what (so I’m told) has made this blog engaging to many of my readers.  My brutal honesty.  However, am I that way in life?  I believe I am with my wife and friends (mostly), I know I am not with my children, and I am caught between who I am and who I want to be in my professional career.  I am a creative thinker who thrives on unconventionalism, making people uncomfortable, and earning my pay-dirt with my hands in the field among the comradery of those who would follow me to battle in film, production, and event management.  Who do I want to be?  I want to be like my dad.  So…here I am behind this desk, wearing slacks with my shirt tucked in, driving a car with airbags, working late on marketing and advertising projects, and being a positive role model for my kids.  I am happy doing this because I know the rewards grow with time, I am good at it, and now that I have children I feel the need to take less risks in life for their sake…but I like risks.  I like betting it all on black!  I want another tattoo…one that people see every day and isn’t covered up by a polo shirt.  I want to put my earrings back in.  I want to build the back porch I’ve been planning for over two years.  I want to turn off my cell phone and go hide in the mountains for weeks again like I did when I graduated college.  I want to spend as much time as possible submerged in Lake George.  I want to be alone in the woods of the Adirondacks where my ancestors are from…i want to stand there in the snow and listen to the sound of the snowflakes landing on dry leaves.  I want to be afraid of bears, thin ice, and falling trees…not deadlines, finances, and responsibility.  I want my muscles to ache from shoveling, walking, lifting, and carrying…not sitting and staring at a screen as my eye-sight goes bad.

1943_56825913834_6633_nLuckily, I got to do those things so I don’t feel like I missed out.  I also live the way I do now out of choice not circumstance.  I don’t feel trapped.  I just feel slightly numb.  Maybe its the lack of sleep from having a new baby?  Maybe its the clonazepam?  Maybe its just me getting older…like everyone else.  Either way, this video my wife sent me spoke to me.  If you’re reading this maybe you’re looking for something to speak to you too.  It’s about connections…how we humans are built for making connections with each other and places.  It’s about vulnerability…and letting go of control.  It’s about chaos…the birthplace of all things.  It made me laugh…because everything makes me laugh…because life is funny when you think about it.  I’m lucky to have the connections I have, to be able to be vulnerable, and to accept who I am…even if every now and then I try to be someone I’m not.  I know who I am…I just have to remember to be me in the things I do and not try to be anyone else.  I have to stop worrying what people think of me.

Well…  This got somber in a hurry…  Two cows are sitting in a field, one says to the other, “So…how about this Mad Cow Disease? Its pretty scary stuff right?” The other cow nods in agreements and replies, “Very scary…but what do I know, I’m a helicopter.”

That’s better.  So, all you helicopters…here is a video that my wife sent me that made me smile.  Hope you smile too…you’re beautiful just the way you are.

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Vacation With Children

2 Aug

“Vacation With Children.”  I think that is an oxymoron.

Dodge and DadaIt has been over a month since my last post, and to my constant readers I apologize for the gap.  We took the family on vacation…a long vacation.  For my new readers, please mind the gap.  I had intended to write while away, but when faced with the option of either writing a post or spending time with my family on vacation I chose family.  In June we were preparing to travel with a two-year-old (Max) and a four-month-old (Dodge) for a multi-destination trip that included a road trip, a water park, family in Iowa, a wedding, 4 flights, and 3 magical weeks boating and swimming on Lake George in the Adirondacks of New York.  Normally this would be a tough one to pack for but then I thought, “Wait…we have kids…we’re not going out anywhere.”  So I packed a nice suit for the wedding, some tee shirts, a swimsuit, and flip-flops.  Turns out I still managed to over pack.

Max runs to DadaThe 8 hour drive to Kate’s hometown in Iowa was a breeze as we split it up by stopping off at a little hotel with an indoor water park in St. Joseph, MO.  This split the trip in half, allowed us to leave the night of July 2nd, and gave Max an activity that wore him out in the morning.  I don’t deny it…I had a blast going down the slides and splashing in the water as well.  We rolled into town on July 3rd, changed from pants to shorts, and did not leave the back porch till Saturday, July 6th.  The entire time was spent catching up with my bothers and sisters (in-law) as well as Kate’s family, all of whom…I adore!  Beers were tipped, stories were told, and stories were made.  Max played with all his cousins, uncles, aunts, grandparents, and anyone else who could withstand his running tackle.  Dodge was happily passed around like an hors d’oeuvre at a fancy dinner party.  Life was good.

Max is ready for the weddingSaturday we made the short drive across state to the wedding where Kate’s cousin Laura got married at Iowa State and the partying continued/grew.  Old friends were embraced, games were played, speeches were made, and Max danced till Midnight when he was drenched in sweat and falling over tired.  Dodge is a baby and wherever we are is where he wants to be.  We are home.  So he got passed around till he was sleepy and then went to bed in his car seat at the back of the ballroom where it was quieter.  Suffering from anxiety (as I do) it took some work to get my mind of the fear of flying the next day and to focus on the fun at hand.  Once I did (with a little help from Jack Daniels) I was ready to roll.

Van Steenhuyse Photo Booth

Flying with kids sucks.  It just does.  At the Des Moines airport I entered looking more like a Sherpa than a parent.

  • 2 suitcases
  • 1 backpack
  • 1 oversized beach bag
  • 1 stroller
  • 1 car seat
  • 1 stuffed animal named “Muffin”
  • 1 toddler
  • 1 baby

Sherpa Dad…and a long night ahead of us including 2 flights and a long drive.  Kate and I have mastered going through security efficiently with kids and let me tell you…planning in advance what you will do makes a world of difference.  Shoes, computers, metal objects, and bottles of milk come out and go in the trays.  Phones, wallets, accessories, etc. have all already been placed in the bag before entering the security line.  The car seat and stroller are the first to go through the machine so you have a place to put the baby down on the other side.  Next comes shoes and accessories so anything that needs to be inspected can be while still waiting for the rest of your stuff to come through.  Kate takes Dodge and Max stays with me.  Next comes the computers and iPads so they are sandwiched between your items and are not picked up accidentally by another traveler frustrated by the amount of crap you have.  Last is the backpack.  I send Max through to Kate who already has Dodge back in the car seat.  I go through and my first task is unfolding the stroller and snapping the car seat into it so one child is fully contained.  Kate sits with Max and I hand her stuff to her so they can stay in one spot while I organize.  Shoes are slip ons…slip ons are crucial to traveling with kids on planes.  I gather up the iPads and computers which go back into the backpack at the same time we have put our shoes on and BAM!  We are through security (and faster than some single travelers in the other lines).  Plans are great!  Then we just have to find a spot where we can set Max free so he can burn off as much energy as possible before the flight.  Here we go!

Pre-boarding is a doubled-edged sword.  On one hand you get to take your time to settle you and your kids into your seats.  On the other hand…you are then stuck in a sweat-tube for 15 minutes with a toddler that wants to know when the plane will take off.  Are we there yet?  No.

Gates Family FliesEngines roar, flaps go up, wheels tuck inside, and Iowa disappears beneath the clouds as Dodge happily nurses and Max sits glued to the window.  My anxiety isn’t too bad so I decide not to take the Lorazepam I have with me just in case and sit back and relax.  Then it hits me…a simple thought that changes everything in how I perceive the next three weeks.  “I get to spend time with my boys.”  Now I know that doesn’t sound profound but up until that point I was stressing about traveling, if Max would sleep in a different bed, how I would handle my anxiety away from home for a month, etc.  My mind stopped worrying and started looking forward to all the things that could happen…fun things.  Boating, swimming, hiking, cuddles, sleeping in…  That was right about the time Dodge started screaming at the top of the lungs (on a 12 row airplane) and didn’t stop till an hour later when we were on the ground.  It turned out Kate and I (well…I) were more upset than our fellow travelers who were almost all parents and had been through it with their kids.  Dodge had never screamed like this before so it gave us a good scare.

Flying With KidsIn the Detroit airport the look of exhaustion and defeat must have been written all over my face as I kept getting the stink-eye from everyone we passed in the terminal.  “One short flight to go, one short flight to go, one short flight to go…” I kept telling myself over and over again in my head.  Then…they started canceling all the flights.  All of them.  Some super storm was pounding New York state and it was almost 11 o’clock at night.  I ran to our gate and spoke to the pilot…no…pleaded with him to take a shot at getting us to Albany.  He said there was a window of opportunity and he felt we should be fine.  It was a small window.  As the little plane climbed through the clouds lightning crashed all around us and jostled the plane heavily.  Max asked if it was fireworks and I told it was, but it was past his bedtime and he needed to go to sleep.  He laid his head on my lap, I nervously looked out the window, and Dodge slept happily having tuckered himself out from the previous flight and receivied a dose of infant acetaminophen.  When the plane touched down in Albany I mustered the strength for the hour-long drive up to the lake house and it breezed by in what seemed like minutes.  We made it.

Gates Family SwimFor 3 weeks the weather was perfect…I think it rained twice and I swam every day.  The lake was 82 degrees at its warmest and 76 at its coldest.  Max was amazing, Jake (my 8-year-old nephew) has become a man-child, and Dodge…Dodge didn’t transition well.  Dodge slept the first two nights from exhaustion of flying and then on the third night he screamed from 7 PM – 1 AM.  SCREAMED!  Then passed out.  He repeated this for three more nights and I learned a valuable lesson:  Don’t vent on Facebook.   When a kid screams (and they will), the best thing you can do is put them down and go scream into a pillow, hit a wall, take a break, or do whatever you need to do to calm down.  I vented on Facebook and just let the hateful words I had for my son at that moment in time spill from my brain, to my fingers, to my social network.  The fallout the next day was not worth it.  While I agree that publicly posting my feelings (which were abrasive to say the least) was not the best judgement, I was upset by the reaction and words that some “friends” had for me including people legitimately fearing for my son’s life.  Many friends asked what they could do to help or offered wisdom from their experience (which I appreciated).  Others, whom I have not spoken to in years, were judgmental and condescending.  Some friends who don’t have kids (or serious relationships) chimed in with judgement which I always find absurd…how can you judge what you do not understand or have not experienced?  It was at this moment I asked myself if I wanted to keep writing So Long Freedom, if I wanted to remain friends with certain people, and if it was a good time to deactivate my Facebook account.  I realized what people perceive of me online and who I am in real life are two different things.  So I decided a vacation from writing and reading was in order.  I took my month away from writing, I blocked certain people from seeing certain posts from me on Facebook, and removed people from my circle of social media friends I did not feel I needed to stay connected with.

Max BoatingMy time at the lake house in Bolton Landing was exactly what I wanted it to be and the opposite of what it had been the previous year.  It was relaxing and I felt like I fully recharged my batteries.  Max and I swam, Dodge played in my lap, Kate and I cuddled, my nephew and I bonded, I got good work done as well, read a few books, and I just turned off my brain for a while.  It was the best summer vacation of my life.  There are too many stories to tell right now but I will try to tell them as I can over the next few weeks…or they may just be mine to know.  All and all, I left Lake George feeling like a new man, excited to get home to Wichita and start tackling life with my new mindset and recharged batteries.

“Vacation With Children.”  Maybe that is not an oxymoron?

Max Headphones PlaneThe flights home were easy and without incident.  Our day started at 3 AM to get dressed and drive to Albany for an early morning flight.  Max asked me questions about the planes and I answered, Dodge slept, and when Kate and I could keep our eyes open no longer I slapped headphones on Max and zoned him out with Sponge Bob and Dinosaur Train.  Last year I had looked to my vacation to heal my anxiety (which it did not) and when I left I felt I was being torn apart.  This time, I was ready to go home.  We arrived home shortly after lunch on Sunday, July 28th and Dodge rolled over and crawled for the first time to welcome us home!  In the month we were away Max learned everything he could from his nephew and is full of phrases I’ve never heard and is more active than ever.  Dodge went from a smiley baby to a boy and all of a sudden can hold things, roll over, and is starting to crawl.  I can’t speak for Kate’s evolution as it is her tale to tell but for me, I felt like I came to terms with my anxiety more and better accepted the role I have to play with my family.  Much like that revelation on our first flight out of Iowa, everything suddenly seemed so simple.  “I get to be Max and Dodge’s Dad…I get to be Kate’s husband…I get to have this life I have.

Life is a gift.  All it took was a panic attack, years of therapy, two kids, a patient wife, an amazing family, a 34th birthday, and a relaxing vacation to realize it!

Looking North On Lake George

Looking north on Lake George towards “The Narrows” at sunset.

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