In November of 2014, I was miserable. When I say “miserable”, it wasn’t because of the crappy Alaskan weather coupled with the darkness that prevaded everything. It wasn’t that we’d just moved there a year ago and we were all still adjusting. It wasn’t even the fact that my husband had a weird schedule with his company and seeing him was difficult. I lost a baby to ectopic pregnancy. That, on top of some other trauma in my life, was a recipe for disaster.
I drove across town every other day to get blood taken as soon as I found out I was pregnant from an ER visit from pain in my abdomen, which is actually par for the course for me. The blood tests were to check to see if my low Hgc levels had doubled to make sure the baby was growing healthily. The indication and then subsequent confirmation was that it was, indeed, an ectopic. The reason was unclear but the likely culprit, my doctor said, was that it probably had a lot to do with the scar tissue that had compiled and keloided inside my body from my surgeries. It shifted things inside of me and made it hard to conceive properly. To save my life and to prevent a more painful fate for my unborn child, I had to terminate.
Logically, I knew it made sense. The baby wouldn’t survive and if I kept up with the pregnancy, I wouldn’t survive.
I didn’t care about the reason or the logic – I wanted my baby. I still want my baby. It’s impossible to describe the pain of that loss so I won’t even try. I love being a mother to my then 4 year old daughter and I wanted her to have a little brother or sister. Sam, my husband, was excited beyond all measure and we had already nicknamed the baby like we did with Abby. We were as emotionally, physically, and financially ready for this baby as we ever could have been.
And when things like this happen, it doesn’t just happen to you, it happens to everyone around you, but I didn’t notice. I was a failure and this was God’s way of saying I sucked at being a mother, or at least that was my reasoning of it at the time. We didn’t even tell Abby but she’s observant and sensitive to the feelings and emotions of others and knew what was going on. Sam spared me having to explain it to her, which I could never in a million years thank him enough for.
Up until that point, I was struggling with PTSD and general anxiety. I have physical disabilities that, short of some regeneration miracle therapy, aren’t going away any time soon. I was on medication for the anxiety and doing pretty decently well, even without regular therapy. I could have probably used regular therapy on a weekly basis but I was “too busy”. I had Abby and I couldn’t “justify the cost” of childcare so I could go get even basic check-ups, physically and mentally. I would take Abby to the few appointments I went to here and there before and even with her sitting there with earphones and a movie, I still censored myself in case she heard anything. I had friends I could have asked but I didn’t want to be a burden.
When I did deign to see a professional, I was seeing a civilian because I had a bad taste in my mouth with the Veterans Association (VA) from the general disability process. The civilian therapist understood my diagnoses but he admitted he didn’t understand a lot of the jargon I’d bring in from the military. He was a phenomenal therapist, though, and I would recommend him to anyone but the cost was barely covered by Tricare and the costs added up over time. I tried the therapists at the local base (Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson) and while those were decent enough therapists, the turnover rate due to change of station wasn’t conducive to my wellbeing. The mission of an active military base for most of their clientele is to promote mission readiness. I didn’t need mission readiness – I needed to just live so while their goals weren’t wrong, they were wrong for me.
When I was found to be pregnant, I was taken off of any medication that might be harmful to the baby, which meant my SSRI had to go. I was put back on them immediately afterwards and it wasn’t enough. I got up and went through the motions. I barely remember most of it. My body was still adjusting to the hormones and later the emotional pain of not being on SSRIs and I just wanted to sleep. I did what I could but I relied a lot on Sam during that time to keep things running on a day-to-day basis. My house got filthy, my interests went out the window, and I didn’t care. I secluded myself. I went in finally to at least get my meds checked and they were increased exponentially. We thought that would help…and it did, for a time. The side effects were that I would be tired and lethargic but at least I wasn’t feeling as sad. In hindsight, I wasn’t feeling sadness as much but I also wasn’t feeling happiness or anger or anything. I was numb most of the time.
I don’t mention any of my health problems, physical or mental, for any other reason than to show that I was in a sorry friggin state. I couldn’t see the forest for the trees and instead of listening to my support system (my family) and medical professionals who gave me a care plan and options, I buried myself. This is no one’s fault but mine and I don’t hope to garner any sympathy – the above is just to paint a clearer picture.
At that time, I had been working a full-time job for a few months and Abby was in daycare. I, at least, felt good that we had somewhere to be each day and she was around children her age. The depression and anxiety got worse and I took Abby out of daycare. It was a good move all around because we just weren’t “ready”. Having an ectopic smack dab in the middle of starting a new job? Not feasible. I took more PTO (paid time off) than I could, especially being a new hire, and they had a business to run. It was just a bad fit and I think the best thing I could have done for myself and Abby at that time was to just walk away. The daycare center was a joke anyway and Abby was being beaten up but this bullying was towards the end of my job when my PTO was almost gone so really it just made my decision much easier to leave. I’ll go more in-depth on her bullying problem in another blog later because there’s much more to it and I want to tie it into a larger issue.
Right after the ectopic but before I left my job? My health insurance through Tricare got cancelled while the Navy was figuring out if I was permanently or temporarily disabled. I went through a whole process of paperwork gathering and bullshit. God, that was fun. Thanks to a Marine JAG attorney, I was able to fight the judgement and got put on the permanent disabled retired list, where I remain. I went through a grieving process of “I’m never going to be a cop again”, “I’m always going to be broken”, and “I didn’t get to leave the Navy on my own terms” as well as the grief of losing a child. Again, sorry friggin state.
Instead of going to therapy or looking for better options for my grief and stress, I turned to a mom’s group on Facebook. I had been in it and commented here and there but nothing really important that I remember. And, no, I won’t say which one, although I’m sure people will infer. I won’t go into sordid details as it pertains to anyone else because that’s them – this is about me and things for which I alone am responsible.
It wasn’t an altogether horrible place but it wasn’t great, either. I have received support, advice, care, and love during a bad time in my life. But, unfortunately, I became “addicted” to the more toxic aspects of having that many different women (or even people) in one space. I’ve made amazing friends in that group that I hope to have in my life for a really long time – but I also met some really shitty people that I quite literally wouldn’t piss on if they were on fire. That, by the way, isn’t me being unfairly judgmental in a bad way more than just making a educated decision based on tons of evidence. There is a difference between being unfairly judgmental and forming opinions based on facts. I got addicted to being unfairly judgmental of the decent people and being in the “cool” group of people who weren’t decent people. What is right isn’t always popular and what is popular isn’t always right.
I didn’t self-medicate my grief over losing my baby with booze or drugs – I did it with drama. Other people’s drama. I talked shit on women like a first class asshole keyboard warrior. I tore women down for opinions that were different than mine, opinions of “friends” or anything that even somewhat pissed me off. Why? Because I was angry, dammit, and people were going to listen to me. When I wasn’t being horrible, I wasn’t sticking up for people who were being torn to shreds verbally because “not my problem” or “deal with your sensitivity issues, ya pansy.” My own feelings needed validation but I didn’t stop to validate or help anyone else with their own problems. Granted, we are all adults and should be able to handle our own emotions but I think we all kind of looked to others to be responsible for how we were feeling.
A certain language gets developed in these group dynamics that has me wondering why someone like myself with social and general anxiety anyway even bothers with groups, online or otherwise. People are far more complicated and messy in groups, but I needed my drama fix and I found it in spades. The internet also provided a certain amount of anonymity that I recognized in others but not myself. Other people were “weak” and used the computer groups to “make themselves feel better and self-assured” – not me! If I didn’t find the drama there, I would have found it elsewhere. It was like a 24/7 loop of Jerry Springer and I tossed around chairs with the best/worst of them. I had zero intellectual or emotional honesty.
Back to the language – here’s a run-down:
1. If you disagree with one of the more “veteran” members or someone generally well-liked, be ready for 50 others to jump on your ass. I’m not exaggerating. There will be 200-1,000 comment threads of just purely people arguing over something that, by the end of it, makes no logical sense. Just spiraling bullshit, going ever deeper down the toilet drain of life.
2. If you voice that someone is being nasty, you are weak. You are overly sensitive. You’re a baby. Suck it up, buttercup. I’ve been in the military and there is a similar mindset there, as well. I agree to a certain extent, to avoid a self-victimizing mentality, if you think someone is being mean, you should just stop talking to them but pointing out that someone is acting bitchy doesn’t necessarily mean someone’s weak for pointing it out – it’s a case by case thing, I suppose.
3. If you defend yourself or others, you’re “salty” or you have “sand in your vagina”. I think you can infer from my blog how I feel about the former turn of phrase – yeah, I’m salty…what of it? Not a bad thing all the time. The latter just sounds uncomfortable and unsanitary.
4. If you reference Mean Girls, the movie, as any kind of correlation to someone’s behavior or the overall group dynamic (as I did above), get ready for memes making fun of your assessment. It’s too close to the truth to be taken seriously by anyone lacking emotional or intellectual honesty. Tina Fey wrote a timeless classic when she penned that movie and the point was to get people, namely girls in high school where this behavior starts, to stop treating each other that way. Sorry, Tina – your hard work has been turned into a joke by many and a lot of women haven’t left high school emotionally or mentally yet.
5. When in doubt, someone will post a passive aggressive asshole meme, which was my particular speciality.
I’m not posting that list because I’m accusing anyone of anything outright – that’s all stuff I did to other women. Other moms. Other human beings who probably had more in common with me than not. The ones that didn’t have anything in common with me still didn’t deserve it. I became a raging, horrible, life-sucking bitch. No one made me that way – I let myself become that person. I became a person I hated. I fed off of drama and tearing down others because I felt badly about myself.
I was “taken in” by a smaller group of women that often jokingly likened themselves to a street gang. Yeah, it’s a joke but gangs are the most unhealthy version of a group dynamic. That was a huge flashing red warning sign but, like most things rooted in common sense at that time, I ignored it. I believe a lot of the women were just as much as I was addicted to a “band-aid solution” to a problem that needed sutures metaphorically in their own lives or maybe they were just assholes and this was their natural state. I can’t really go into the morality or inherent “badness” or “goodness” of others as human beings because it’s really not for me to judge.
As much as I want to hold grudges and I have my good days and bad, it’s not about them. You can’t help yourself and hold grudges/hate in your heart towards others. Healthy and productive interpersonal relationships/support systems can be achieved in groups of women and even people – but not in this specific situation because I didn’t enter it with a pure state of mind or healthy goals.
I stopped doing things that made me happy, especially going to church. Whether you adhere to a religious/spiritual belief structure “makes me no never mind” but it’s always provided me with a lot of comfort and peace in my life before. And while there were actual things about the church that weren’t a good fit for me personally, I didn’t actively seek other churches, either. Quitting was easier. Also, at that time, I was very much angry at God for “taking” my baby and anything else I’d “endured” up to that point. Self-pity is also a lot easier than acceptance. Acceptance doesn’t come overnight but, as Deadpool would say, it requires “maximum effort”. I wasn’t at a place in my life where I could put that effort forth.
Because of my own self esteem issues and general anxiety, I often questioned why the “core” women bothered with me in the first place. I felt “other” generally anyway. I was “weird”. Hell, I am weird. I’ll remain weird until my dying day. The people that know me/have known me know who I am and love me for the weirdness. They know who I will continue to be.
I’m ashamed to pen a lot of this because I know it’s admitting that I let myself slip and stopped being who I always have been. This isn’t “hey look at how awesome I am for being so above this” – this shit is hard to admit to because quite a bit I’ve done up to this point is nothing of which I’m proud. I might have had some “good days” here and there but I let those become a crutch to reason to myself that, overall, I was okay. I was NOT okay overall.
I woke up one day a year ago or so and I realized I had a problem. I was self-medicating with anger and I still wasn’t feeling “better”. And life isn’t linear – I had a lot of ups and downs on this score, as I said. I realized when I was talking shit, I didn’t really believe it. I felt bad for days on end for even laughing at someone else’s hair, outfit, life, etc. but I was getting instant validation from my “friends” when I would be a bitch, which would also make me feel good. Being cruel wasn’t how I was raised. It affected my relationship with my husband and my child. Instead of doing healthy and productive things, Mommy was on the phone or computer arguing with people over, well, nothing. The old Caitlin wouldn’t have cared how another mom handled her kid – and the newer, angrier Caitlin really had no room to tell ANYONE how to parent.
To be fair, I wasn’t a “horrible” momma in terms of not being there for Abby. I took care of my daughter to the best of my ability at the time and she was always clothed, fed, sheltered, and loved but I wasn’t the best I could be for her for a long time. I wasn’t the wife Sam deserved, though he argues otherwise. It will take me a long time to feel like I’ve even completely made it up to them, but I’ll get there because they deserve the best I have to offer every single day. In order to be the best, I need to take care of myself, as well and, ultimately, forgive myself.
Around the time I started realizing I had a problem, I started to distance myself unconsciously. Distancing was easy to do for me because I also had a lot of health issues that were legitimate so I usually had a good “excuse” for not participating. I started going to therapy more regularly and I kept going and dealing with my real issues, I realized how out of line some of my core friendships were with my personal ethos I had forgotten. And the more I started gaining a better perspective, the more I pulled back unconsciously.
Oddly enough, gardening became a thing I loved to do and it took me away from my phone and computer and got me outside in the sunshine. I happened upon it when Sam and Abby got me a tomato plant each for Mother’s Day and I realized how much I love digging in the earth, getting dirty, and growing plants. The physical labor was also good too because it wasn’t so intense to exacerbate my physical condition but wasn’t “easy”, either. I could finish and feel like I accomplished something and feel a good soreness and exhaustion from a hard day’s work. While I tried my hardest to be the best mom possible for Abby, I felt more of a connection and legitimate happiness with her while we were gardening than anything else. It was and is “our time”, as well as cooking. The tomato plants were Sam’s way of getting me out of the house and doing something healthy while tying it to another activity that Abby and I love to do, which is cooking (another thing I had stopped doing with regularity). I love you, Sam – you are the best partner and friend I could ever ask for.
Eventually, I was “excommunicated” from the smaller group for failing to make it to a housewarming party because my car was on the fritz and couldn’t make an hour long journey three cities away but it could, however, make a journey to a closer event near my house that I attended by myself so I could get out of the house on a Saturday night, which I hadn’t done in forever. This was apparently the worst thing I could have ever done and it lead to a whole bunch of other horseshit that is, frankly, pretty damn boring and not worth the carpal tunnel needed to type it all out. Kangaroo court convened and I was booted. It’s over and I’m glad for it.
At the time, it was painful to lose such “good friends”, but now I recognize it for the gift it really was. It eventually brought me closer to people that enrich my life and make me happy; people not addicted to drama like I was.
It wasn’t always horrible in the group, either – there were instances where I’ve met wonderful women who had real issues with which they needed help and support. I knew the answers to some of it from previous experience in the military/life/etc. What I didn’t know answers to, I could easily research because I love research. I guess in some way I became addicted to helping others because that, too, helped bury my own problems. If I was able to help just one person, I’d say the temporary lapse in my own health and wellbeing was worth it because that’s more in-line with the “old Caitlin”. There were definitely times my compassionate side won out over Toxic Caitlin and those were good days.
Helping other people and not helping yourself isn’t mutually exclusive – it’s a balance that takes time to achieve. It’s far easier to help others when you are making sure you’re exercising self-care and love. Since I started going back to therapy and taking care of myself better, I noticed I’m able to help those I want to with much more ease because I, myself, am in a better place. Mother Theresa, I ain’t, but I find comfort, joy, and peace in helping others.
My momma has always told me that the 12 Step Alcoholics/Narcotics Anonymous Program can be applied to most any problem in life, which is why I use that analogy. I certainly don’t mean it to demean or diminish those who work hard for their recovery from addictions to drugs or alcohol. The 12 Step system is just that – a system. Sometimes people need lists to focus on their health and wellbeing and I’m one of those people. I like to have a clear outline of not only what I need to accomplish but also what I have accomplished.
I’ve recognized that I have a problem and I’m powerless on my own. I’ve accepted my own personal higher power. I’m still making amends and I know that means not everyone I’ve wronged even knows I’ve wronged them. Any recovery requires brutal honesty. Let me just give you a blanket statement – if you think I talked shit on you, chances are I probably did and for that I am profoundly sorry. I expect no acceptance of said apologies. If you want to know the AA construct and the 12 steps, I highly suggest anyone and everyone take a look at it.
As a human being, I’ll find people that I don’t like or are doing things I don’t like. Provided they’re not doing anything to hurt me or mine or themselves or others, there’s really nothing in this world I have a right to say or do. I lost sight of that mantra by which I had otherwise lived.
I will not be perfect every day and that’s alright. I won’t always have the energy to do all I want with my family and they understand. I won’t always be able to go out with friends or attend things I want to because I know sometimes I’ll feel like so much shit afterwards and that’s okay. Sometimes it’s even a simple means of “life happens” because, indeed, it does – and that is OKAY. Anyone who tells you it’s not okay to have a life isn’t someone that really cares and that’s on them, not you. Do you. Always do you. It’s not selfish – it’s necessary for survival.
My overall advice? If you enter a group of people based on common or mutual interests, tread lightly. You will meet some amazing people with stories that will inspire and touch your heart all while helping you, as a person, grow. It’s icing on the cake if you help others grow. Be as symbiotic as you possibly can. You will also meet toxic people that will infest your soul and taint your psyche – but only if you let them.
I’ll close with one of my favorite quotes from Elenor Roosevelt: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”