October 6, 2000.
It’s my eighth birthday.
It’s a Friday, and my best friend’s mom is picking me up and driving us to school together.
It’s cloudy but it’s a little chilly, it’s my favorite kind of weather, it’s the best weather to ride scooters in because the sun doesn’t get in your eyes and you have the cul-de-sac to yourself.
I arrive at school and friends have presents for me, like a cool new pencil and a book about pandas—the only thing I care about in the world is pandas.
Tomorrow my parents will take all of my friends and me to the National Zoo. I’ll longingly look at the Panda Exhibit that’s still being built—pandas will arrive in two months—I have to wait. There’s so much waiting when you’re a kid. Mom is making me a panda cake, and I’ll get presents and play with new toys and Mike will have to be nice to me because it’s my birthday.
In a few weeks, I’ll be baptized and confirmed a member of our church by my dad. I’ve been learning about baptismal covenants all year in Sunday School, and I’m excited. I know I’ll be joining the church my ancestors traveled the world to join and build.
I love my life and my I love my world and I never want it to change.
October 6, 2010.
It’s my 18th birthday.
My world looks nothing like it did when I turned eight.
It’s a Wednesday and at school I’m gifted with a plate of Rice Krispie treats, a bag of candy, and a balloon. The Rice Krispies are consumed immediately.
It’s cloudy again and just cold enough to warrant jeans and a sweater, so it’s the type of weather I thrive in.
Even though the school day is easy—and Molly and Kristen make me a gigantic paper crown in newspaper—I’m weighed down by the longing, the confusion, the waiting that has taken residence on my shoulders and in my chest since July.
My life plan was thrown out the window last summer, and I’m now disillusioned by the idea of higher education. I want out of high school, but I don’t want to go to college. I don’t know what to do, and no adult will tell me what the answer is. They keep insisting that it’s my life and my decision.
I expect to wake up on my 18th birthday with the wisdom and clarity of an adult, but nothing changes, besides the fact that I can now vote, buy property, and get married.
I’m confused, I want a nap, and I either want to fast forward or rewind, but I don’t want to be here in this moment of uncertainty.
October 5, 2020.
I turn 28 tomorrow.
The pandemic keeps me from celebrating my birthday the way I want to, but the weekend is full of my favorite foods, gifts, and socially distanced celebrations. Mike and Jose surprise me with a 40” television because they say my 20” was getting in the way of quality TV syncs. I am outrageously spoiled.
For years, I never thought I would ever know happiness, or even what it is to be content. I thought my life would be ruled by the waiting. And sure, there’s still lots of waiting—waiting for the end of the workday and the weekend and for holidays. But that deep, soul-wrenching waiting—the waiting for enlightenment and relief from pain and for freedom and for autonomy—the all-consuming yearning is gone.
There were a lot of things I thought would happen by the time I turned 28 that didn’t—but I’m not waiting for those things anymore.
I’m not sitting stagnant but rather enjoying what was given to me. I don’t have the degree, husband, baby, house, picket fence, body, elite job—any of that. I have chronic illness and depression and a lot of self doubt. But I have friends and parents and dogs and a beautiful apartment and a job that takes care of me and coworkers and doctors and a community and—
This was not what I planned. I know my eight- and 18-year-old selves would never have picked this.
But I like it.
Dysautonomia International is hosting their STEPtember challenge to raise money for POTS Research.
You can walk as much or as little as you want. You don’t even have to walk at all.
You can (1) support me as I start hobbling around my neighborhood a little bit more in the spirit of POTS research and POTS conditioning, (2) you can join my fundraising team, shan squad, and/or (3) you can buy a team shan squad shirt!
Life is strange and confusing and I have a lot to write about but I also have writer’s block—
But I wanted to say hi,
To let you know I’m here, I’m healthy, I’m taken care of,
That I hope you are, too,
and I hope you join in!
What I’m eating, what I’m thinking, what I’m reading, what I’m buying, and more.
Continue Reading →
Have you tried exercising? (Yes, but—)
Have you tried meditation? (Yeah, once or—)
Have you tried hydrotherapy? (I’m open to it—)
Have you tried going vegan? (I don’t know if—)
Have you tried going gluten free? (I did-—)
Have you tried keto? (Well it might—)
Have you tried the Mediterranean diet? (Is that the one—)
Have you tried FODMAP? (Once or-—)
Have you tried intermittent fasting? (That doesn’t work for—)
Have you tried yoga? (Yeah once—)
Have you tried hot yoga? (That’s unhealthy for—)
Have you tried yoga at my friend’s studio? (Oh who—)
Have you tried acupuncture? (That’s not—)
Have you tried a chiropractor? (My insurance—)
Have you tried massage therapy? (I’m not—)
Have you tried Ayurvedic medicine? (What’s—)
Have you tried reflexology? (Is that—)
Have you tried reiki? (Yeah once—)
Have you tried positive thinking? (Of course—)
Have you tried going on a retreat? (That’s too ex—)
Have you tried art therapy? (I’d like—)
Have you tried getting getting more sleep? (I’d love to—)
Have you tried getting less sleep? (Well—)
Have you tried polyphasic sleep? (What is—)
Have you tried essential oils? (I’m not—)
Have you tried celery juice? (The guy who—)
Have you tried the drinks Stacy at church sells? (I don’t—)
Have you tried vitamins? (Yeah I—)
Have you tried B12 injections? (Um—)
Have you tried St John’s Wort? (That’s not sa—)
Have you tried turmeric? (Is that a—)
Have you tried raw honey? (Where do—)
Have you tried cayenne pepper? (In my—)
Have you tried biofeedback? (One time—)
Have you tried hypnosis? (I don’t—)
Have you tried music therapy? (Where—)
Have you tried red light therapy? (What’s—)
Have you tried blue light therapy? (Isn’t—)
Have you tried green light therapy? (Wait—)
Have you tried infrared sauna? (How does—)
Have you tried colloidal silver? (I heard that’s—)
Have you tried cold therapy? (I don’t—)
Have you tried a juice cleanse? (That’s—)
Have you tried bone broth? (I don’t—)
Have you tried coffee enemas? (NO—)
Have you tried seeing a psychic? (Um—)
Have you tried burning sage? (Well—)
Have you tried spending more time in nature? (Well—)
Have you tried prayer? (Of course—)
Have you tried fasting? (Yes—)
Have you tried reading the scriptures? (Ye—)
Have you tried going to the temple? (I’d—)
Have you tried praying more? (—)
Have you tried praying harder? (—)
Have you tried praying better? (—)
Have you tried going off of your medications? (That’s a bad—)
Have you tried seeing new doctors? (I like my—)
Have you tried listening to anyone else for once? (What?!)
And all I’m left with is this:
Will my efforts ever be enough for those outside my illness?
When I was a little girl, I was afraid of everything, most notably thunderstorms. Every time storms would roll in, I would get a very familiar stomach ache that would turn me into a shaking mess. I would obsessively watch the sky, studying the formations of the clouds, watching out for lightning, counting the seconds between rumbles of thunder.
In my family’s big, safe, Virginia home, I would round together the things that made me feel safe—my blankets, my stuffed animals—and was ready to evacuate to the basement at any given time. I was born in the Chicago suburbs and spent ages 3 to 5 in Minnesota—I was in several near-tornados as a little girl—and I was always prepared for the worst. Even if I was indoors, even if I was in a basement without windows—I was vulnerable. My family was vulnerable. I had to protect us from danger.
I watched The Weather Channel all the time, learning everything there was to know about my enemy—but even armed with all of this knowledge—every time the sky turned the least bit gray, I had that same stomach ache. That anxiety. That fear.
This was the beginning of my life with chronic anxiety.
The terror surrounding thunderstorms didn’t fade away until I was in high school. But my fear of thunderstorms was replaced quickly by the anxieties of everyday life of a teenager, and now adult life.
What if I fail this exam?
What if I don’t get into college?
Do my friends hate me?
Am I smart enough for this?
Do my parents like Mike more than me?
Am I ever going to learn how to conquer this?
Am I always going to feel this way?
Am I ever going to get over this?
Is this my forever?
Those meshed together with my onslaught of depression, with my undiagnosed POTS, with being a teenager, with the reality of being a normal human being, and I collapsed. Regularly.
I kept wishing I would hit rock bottom, so that at least everything would be upwards from there, but every time I thought I hit my lowest—a few months later, I stumbled upon a new challenge.
It never kept me from rebuilding though.
That’s what we did in therapy: we sat in the pain, we mourned, we made a game plan, and we rebuilt. We always rebuilt. Even if we knew another crash would eventually come.
When I went into remission from depression and anxiety after having transcranial magnetic stimulation, so many anxieties followed (and still follow) me like a ghost.
What if your meds stop working?
What if your therapist quits?
What if TMS doesn’t work?
What if you relapse?
Relapse is a word that thunders in my head and shakes me to the core, reducing me to the 8-year-old who ran quaking from summer storms.
Relapse could very well happen.
That’s the reality of anxiety, of depression, of any health matter.
But the light that follows is this:
In my teens and early 20s, I was so anxious I couldn’t even drive a car. Now, I’m sad because I miss driving.
For a while, I had so many anxiety attacks that I couldn’t hold down a job. Now, I have one with coworkers I adore.
When my friends graduated, I hated myself for not finishing college. Now, it’d be nice to have a degree, but I could dance every day because I’m not weighed down by student loans.
In 2017 I was so depressed that the only good part of my day was watching a three hour block of the TV show ER. Now, the best part of my day is actually talking to people.
A few years ago I sometimes needed to see my therapist twice a week. Now, I go 2-3 weeks without seeing her, and I feel great.
I could relapse tomorrow. It would be devastating. But every day I’m working on strengthening myself so that if relapse ever happens, I can find my way out again, and hopefully help someone out of their depths as well.
I think a lot about what the 8-year-old version of myself would think of who I am today.
Would she be proud? Would she be confused? Would she be angry, because 8-year-old Shannon expected Grown Up Shannon to have a career centered around pandas, and anything less than that is a disappointment?
I’d like to think that my younger self would breathe such a sigh of relief—because now, I like keeping my bedroom window open, especially when it rains, so I can listen to the thunder, watch the lightning, and I’m not scared of it.
And maybe, in a few years, the even older version of myself (oh God… aging) won’t have the same fears I have today.
Maybe relapse will be just like thunderstorms, and it will just be a concept that isn’t so scary anymore.