Not only is it probably my favorite Ben Folds song, it sums me up in four words. Perfectly. You see, all but a few people know that for the past ten years I’ve been doing the best imitation of myself. If you recall in this post, I thought I mastered the “ON Kerry” act in high school when the depression first moved in and set up camp. It wasn’t until after Andrew was born that I became a professional.
If you know or knew me from high school, you didn’t know what was going on with me. I guarantee you didn’t. If you knew or know me from college, you know me as the RA or from a class, or from Campus Crusade or Fellowship, and if you were very close friends you thought it was funny that I dropped classes or almost exclusively drank mint chocolate chip shakes from the Student Center. Or that I had that cute room with the pink carpet and pink couch. Or that I wrote some downright hilarious RA newsletters. Or that I was Scott’s girlfriend. If you knew or know me from MOPS, you remember the funny mom who wrote the newsletter (unless you were Beth or Megan). If you knew or know me from scrapbooking or ScrapFest, you know I love a microphone and tend to sing and love to give away doorprizes. You know me from funny Facebook posts.
But you don’t know the Kerry that dwelled for years in things people said in school like “you’re too fat for him” or when my favorite teacher told me she was disappointed with one of the best things I ever accomplished in high school or that I tried to kill myself a couple of weeks before I started at Louisiana Tech.
You don’t know the girl who couldn’t leave her dorm for days (and lived in Snickers bars and Coke from the vending machines).
You don’t know the me that slept for hours and still felt tired after having kids.
You don’t know that the reason I canceled that lunch with you was because that day my anxiety was so high I couldn’t leave my house.
You don’t know that I volunteered when you asked me to do that thing for MOPS or PTA was because I felt the need to prove to you that I was good enough, even though I had no reason to feel that I had to prove anything. Yes, I loved my time in MOPS and (most of the time) I loved PTA, and I did my jobs and did them well, but I was trying to prove to myself that I was enough, but nothing could make me feel that I was enough for myself or anyone else.
You don’t know the woman who went to a sporting goods store in Covington, LA to ask for something and when a worker thought I wasn’t looking, he blew up his cheeks and made a motion like a Weeble and pointed to me. You don’t know that I went to my car, texted a friend and cried because grown ass men made fun of my weight.
You don’t know how much I fretted over that ScrapFest t-shirt being just right and that I had a meltdown in the parking lot of the Castine Center when the shirt came back printed with day-glow pink instead of the perfect pink I chose so carefully.
All of this is to say, no one really know the “real” anyone unless you’re extremely close. Sometimes a spouse doesn’t even know how much their loved one is falling apart. I started to really fall apart after Andrew was born. My current psychiatrist says he believes I had postpartum depression on top of regular old depression with each of my babies. But I didn’t have a psychiatrist then. What I did have was a friend named Beth, who, like I said in the last paragraph of my last post in this series, suggested I get help when Andrew was nine months old. When Andrew was seven months old, Scott was in a terrible car accident while he was working in the Texas panhandle. He had many injuries, but would be ok. His company flew his mother, Andrew, and me on their private plane to get to him and rented us an Expedition to bring him home after he was released from the hospital. Scott’s stepmom stayed with the girls and was a blessing during that time. I held it together while he recovered at home, but lost it when he went back to work. I’m very good at holding it together for other people. It’s when I’m alone that I fall apart.
Once again, Scott went to work out of state. If you’re wondering why we didn’t move each time he relocated it’s because we didn’t want our kids to have to change schools over and over. And because there is no Lane Bryant in St. Croix. So, when my husband went off to work, I cycled through depression and anxiety almost like a drug addict can pull it together for a while and then go off the wagon. Or is it on the wagon? I’ve never been good with wagons.
After Beth suggested I get help, I called Dr. B.’s office and talked to one of his nurses. I didn’t know who else to call, so when in doubt, call the OB/GYN. I talked to the nurse who didn’t really know me. His other nurse knew me well. So, I talked to this nurse who called me back after I left a message. I tearfully told her that I was depressed and anxious and couldn’t leave the house and she partially covered the mouthpiece of the phone and relayed this information to another nurse (I assume), then came back to the phone and said Dr. B. might call me in some Xanax. I didn’t want to take Xanax because of addict stories I’d read. The nurse went back to covering the phone and I couldn’t make out the muffled voice. I hung up. They didn’t call back. I took this as a fail. Every time I had tried to get help before that I had been let down. When I went to a doctor in college who only wanted to sell me his vitamins; when I went to counseling at Tech; and then calling my OB/GYN’s office – all failed in helping me.
I retreated even further into my own head. What was wrong with me? Even though I was miserable, I let Megan talk me into going to a scrapbook retreat with her right after Andrew turned one. I had gone to retreats in Canada, but this one was more fun. I scrapbooked all weekend and looked back at old photos. I took tons of pictures of the kids, but I was rarely in them because I hated looking fat in photos. Although I was 300+ pounds, I never had a problem with what I looked like in a mirror. It was photos that made me feel fat, so I just stayed out of photos. At some point that fall I got bronchitis and went to my internist. When his nurse asked me what brought me in that day I told her I had diagnosed myself with bronchitis (I used to get it twice a year, so I knew what it was) and that I was also depressed. When my doctor came in he asked me about the depression and put me on Wellbutrin. I started taking it and maybe it masked the depression. I still couldn’t step foot inside a Walmart. It didn’t do anything for my anxiety, but I was able to do more than before.
That fall, 2006, I was the MOPS Publicity person in our group. I enjoyed this because it was a great creative outlet. If I’m not being creative I start retreating into my head and the anxiety is too much to bear. I recently told a close friend that I feel that I was put on the planet to make beautiful things, whether it’s something in my house, refinishing a piece of furniture, designing a ScrapFest t-shirt, or the design of a poster – I feel at my most authentic self when I am doing those things. So, I designed and put together the MOPS newsletter, posters, etc and I scrapbooked with friends. I went to conventions and had a good time. I was able to hold it together long enough to attend events as long as I felt that I had some control over it. At MOPS convention, I knew I could leave any meeting at any time. I knew I could go back to my room and relax if it got to be too much. It was the same way when I went to scrapbook retreats with my friends if the event was held in a hotel. It also helped that most of the retreats we went to had masseuses. That’s always a plus.
When my friend Lisa moved to Connecticut, she asked me to step in for her at ScrapFest. ScrapFest was a production company founded by Lisa and Megan, who put on scrapbook retreats twice a year in Mandeville. I loved going to ScrapFest. First, they asked me to do the announcements for fun because neither of them liked to talk on the microphone much. A microphone is my best friend. When Lisa moved, I took over her duties at ScrapFest, plus the website and design. I had a blast doing the event and planning it. I genuinely did. I made great friends because of the event that I wouldn’t have otherwise (I’m talking to you – AB, Melissa, Stacy, Marleana, Shelly, and more). ScrapFest was my outlet and it took a great deal of energy to host the event for three days. At the height of scrapbooking, we had 500+ women come scrapbook for three days. After it was all over on Sunday mornings, I felt hungover for a week and then my outlet was over until we started planning again. I still had MOPS, which was great. I was asked to be in charge of our church’s Vacation Bible School preschool crafts, which was planning crafts, ordering materials, and getting together a group of helpers. Preschoolers can’t really do crafts, so I took a note from Megan, who had done the job before, and I made projects for the kids. More keepsakes than crafts. It was fun. It was a stressful week, but it was fun. It was an outlet. And again, after VBS, my outlet was over. I always had to have the next thing to look forward to – be it ScrapFest, MOPS, or attending another scrapbooking event. There had to be something for me to concentrate on or the day-to-day became too much and I couldn’t function.
Wellbutrin didn’t seem to be helping that much, so my doctor put me on another medication that didn’t do much either. It was a test and see type of thing. Stay on this for six months or a year and try something else. It was around this time in 2007 that my anxiety got worse. It crept in slowly, like all good villains do. It started to rob me of my time. My family. My friends. There was a time when I couldn’t cross a very short bridge on the highway that was off of my subdivision. I didn’t tell anyone about that. I also started having weird symptoms of menopause. Over the course of two years (starting when I was 34), Dr. B. decided I had gone through menopause at 36 or whatever. I found this hard to believe, but after my history of miscarriage and an inhospitable uterus anything was possible – right? So, I had all of these things working against me – my brain, my body, my organs. Everything internal that no one sees. Everything you can hide. That’s how I did the best imitation of myself.
People always said how “put together” I looked. That was no accident. I had to look put together or people would know I was imploding. Sure, I looked fine on the outside. My kids looked great and well-dressed. But my house was a disaster. At home, once the kids were in bed, I zoned out in a book or with tv, so I wouldn’t have to think. I blogged. I didn’t clean. I didn’t leave the house unless it was absolutely necessary. I slept during Andrew’s naptime. I barely felt awake much of the time. Scott would come home and everything would be ok – I’d have it together. He’d leave and I’d fall apart. It was a cycle. My doctor prescribed Xanax as needed. I rarely ever took it.
I stopped going to church. I couldn’t be in a big building where I couldn’t see windows or an exit. For the most part, I am still like this, even on medication. Add people and lights and sound and it just amplifies the anxiety. I could always do ScrapFest because we were set up at the exit/entrance. I could do other events when I was seated by a door. I had to have a sense of control or I didn’t do well. At all. Church was the worst place for my anxiety. Second was a big store. I rarely felt panicky in Target because of how bright and well-spaced out everything is. Mardi Gras was horrible. I only did the bare minimum of what I felt that I had to do for my kids. When Scott turned 40, I planned a weekend in the French Quarter for just us. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law met us for dinner at one of Emeril’s restaurants and then Scott and I started walking back to our hotel. He wanted to go to Pat O’Brien’s on Bourbon Street. It was July 30th. It was hot. There was a street preacher in the middle of the street screaming about the fires of hell and someone screaming back to him, upping the volume, measure for measure. There were drunk people everywhere. Loud music. Someone flashed the street preacher – boobs on full display. At that moment, a drunk spilled his beer onto me from a balcony above. The anxiety had been rising since the mention of Bourbon Street. I had a full panic attack. It was the first time my husband witnessed one of my panic attacks. I started shaking, my heart raced, and the tears flowed. Scott moved me to an alley or a street off of Bourbon where there were no crowds. I told him I was going to have a heart attack and I had to get back to our hotel. I kept repeating that I had to get out of there. He kept repeating that I would be fine. I ruined his birthday. In my mind I ruined everything. He got me back to the hotel, I took a Xanax, washed my face, and sat in a chair. He asked me if that’s what the panic attacks were always like and I said they were, for the most part. That particular one was exceptionally bad. He said I didn’t ruin his birthday, that he had a great time. I didn’t believe him.
I couldn’t get any worse.
I was 34.