Anxiety, Cancer, & What the F*ck is Happening to Me?

Anxiety, Cancer, & What the F*ck is Happening to Me?

“The uncomplicated explanation: my mind can’t be trusted.”

That’s the very first sentence from my novel True Love Way. Not everyone may know this, but I wrote the first draft of that book ten years ago, when I was only beginning my battle with an anxiety and panic disorder that I’ve grown to know well. If you haven’t read the book, I’ll give you a spoiler-free rundown: The protagonist, Penelope Finnel, like me, suffers from mental illness.

Like most tales, TLW was dramatized, but most of Penelope’s struggle originated from my own bouts with my traitorous imbalances. At the time, True Love Way was an unexpected outlet, lending a voice to an inner struggle I was incapable to describe otherwise. I’ve since learned I suppressed emotions from a not-so-steady childhood, but my disorder didn’t turn on me until my early twenties, after the birth of my twin daughters. It started as a mild casevery: my heart feels weird and why can’t I sleep?

Fast forward to today, and well, if you follow me on social media, you know it’s now like: WHAT THE FUCK IS HAPPENING TO ME? I’M DYING. THIS IS WHAT DEATH FEELS LIKE. I CAN’T FEEL MY FACE WHEN I’M WITH YOU. (Not The Weeknd version, either.) PARANOIAAAAAAA!

And that isn’t dramatized a single bit.

I’ve recognized that my disorder worsens with age since the jump. In the beginning, I didn’t need daily medication, and now I can’t function if I miss a dose. Which is fine. Swallowing a little blue pill before bed is thoughtless at this point, but deep inside, I knew—I knew it was changing.

To most of you, I’m merely Mary Elizabeth, that author from California with bright pink hair, who pens semi-popular novels. But what you see on my Facebook page and my Instagram account is a persona I’ve carefully crafted for your enjoyment. We all do it. We know what filter makes our skin look best, what angle makes us look thinnest, and what boring/depressing/ true-to-life details to leave out of our posts so people like us. And that’s normal! Who wants someone on their timeline who complains about real-life dilemmas every. single. day? We’re here for the books and watered-down realities! Hooray!

If you’ve had the pleasure of meeting me at a book event, that means you’ve seen the “real” me in action. I’m painfully introverted, and my RBF (Resting Bitch Face) can scare away the strongest of wills. My sister-in-law joins me at every signing, acting as a barrier between my horrifying awkwardness and the readers I don’t mean to offend with it. Don’t get me wrong. I love my readers and appreciate anyone who takes the time to stop at my table, but my brain goes blank! If you ask me what my books are about, my answer will always be, “words.” That’s when my sister jumps in and gives the lowdown.

Some things should be sacred.

Ignore I said that for a minute and allow me to introduce myself—my real self. My hair is, in fact, not pink. I’m a mother, wife, daughter, and so on. My life is simple. I really do love to read books, most of my week revolves around little league games, and I have a mean case of RLS (Resting Leg Syndrome). Because of the restlessness in my legs and arms, I smell like muscle rub ALL THE TIME, because it’s the only thing that stops the spider-like feeling in my limbs when I relax. I don’t have a lot of friends, my dogs are precious to me, and I grew up without a dad.

I’m thirty-two years old, and it wasn’t until recently—like, last week—when I realized it influenced who I am more than I ever expected. Priding myself on my inability to “need” another person, I sometimes come off as cold. I considered this a personality flaw, but thanks to my new therapist, I now know it’s because I have abandonment issues running deep in my bones. The truth is, we all need someone. We need human interaction, and we need to be hugged and kissed and appreciated. Everyone needs a person to lean on sometimes, and for the very first time in my life, I know this includes me.

My husband and I have been together for fourteen years. His parents have been my in-laws for fourteen years. Mark, my husband’s father, has played the only stable father role I’ve ever had for the last fourteen years. I didn’t want it, but the man knew I needed it, and he gave me love without question. He literally asked me to move in before Jason (my husband) ever got the chance.

Okay, so here I am, nineteen years old with a father for the first time in my life. I’m awkward, I don’t know what to do, I crash into his corvette frame with my car not once but twice, and the man still wants me around. He’s grumpy, and I’m grumpy, and no one rolls down the windows in his truck, but I do! It’s like we were cut from the same cloth, and I eventually relax and let the man father me. He even asked why I don’t call him Dad, but I can’t. I literally can’t, because he deserves more than that.

Seven years ago, he was diagnosed with kidney cancer, so he had it removed and was given a clean bill of health. Two and half years ago, it came back, but this time they said he only has six months to live. It’s in his brain, his lymph nodes, and in his other kidney. No cure. No hope. No options.
It activated those pesky abandonment issues, but at this point I’m still suppressing them. Mark has brain surgery, and it gives him more timetwo years. On the outside, he seems fine, and it’s easy to forget the only father who has ever loved me is going to leave too. Life goes on.

Now they’re saying he only has months left, and it’s impossible to forget that every time I see him might be the last. The pressure of making every interaction special, to make sure we say what needs to be said, and to take all the pictures because memories.

Cancer is the reason I’ve cancelled my out-of-state book events and won’t do any until after he’s gone. Cancelling events never feels good, and it probably doesn’t make me seem dependable. Using the good ol’ family emergency excuse seems to go in one ear and out the other because people tend to use it for everything.

“I can’t come to work today because I have a family emergency.”

“My son won’t be at school today because we have a family emergency.”

“I won’t be at the event I committed to and paid for a year ago because of a family emergency.”

True to form, I’d rather someone think I’m a flake than risk the chance of spilling my heart. Even if it does earn me a few cold shoulders. Some things should be sacred.

Insert writer’s block.

This blog post is the most I’ve written in four months aka the second indicator that I was on the brink of the worst anxiety attack of my life. In the eleven years since I wrote my first fictional paragraph, I’ve had uninspired weeks, and I’ve taken time off. What I never experienced was true writer’s block until now. The inability to even look at my computer without cringing is brand new to me, to the point where I unplugged it and put it away.

Look, I know Mary Elizabeth hovers in the gray area between “unknown” and “known”. I’m not conventional, my writing style isn’t for everyone, and I’m literally friendly with all, but I don’t consider myself part of the cool kids—which I’m fine with. There is probably so many grammar and spelling mistakes in this sorry couple thousand words, because I really have no idea how to be an author.

I don’t write for the funds because I’m a very successful hairstylist (and my husband makes the money, let’s be real) but the money I do make from writing is nice and I look forward to earning more using my creativity in the coming years. I pen books because I genuinely love it, so not being able to is heartbreaking. The thought of disappointing readers adds to my anxiety, and it’s a vicious motherfucking cycle that I desperately need to break free from.

Continuing the honesty theme, I will tell you this: I wanted to end this post by announcing that I’m back and Sever will be released soon and blah, blah, blah. But that’s not true. My hands shake thinking about opening my current WIPs, and I have a therapy appointment in thirty minutes that I desperately need to reset my mind to functional for another week.

More honesty: I know exactly what triggered the mental change in me. Everything I’ve talked about to this point was only the tip of the ice berg that ripped me apart. I’m not going to talk about it because somethings need to stay sacred, remember? Humans are complicated, but we are resilient, and I’ll be okay.

But I will end this by saying thank you to every single person who messaged me and reached out during the last couple weeks. Your understanding and solidarity is what lead to me a place where I did open my laptop to write this. I know a lot of people suffer with an assortment of disorders like myself, and it’s cool that we have each other’s backs. This is an amazing community of people. Don’t let anyone tell you different.

You are sacred.
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