Julie Chavez, EVERYONE BUT MYSELF: A Memoir

Julie Chavez, EVERYONE BUT MYSELF: A Memoir

Zibby Books author alert!! Zibby interviews debut author Julie Chavez about EVERYONE BUT MYSELF, a fresh, tender-hearted, and bitingly funny memoir about a mother who is spread thin by the demands of modern family… and then, little by little, learns to put herself first. Julie describes her exciting journey to becoming a Zibby Books author and then shares her experiences navigating severe anxiety and depression, revealing how the pressure to be a good mother, wife, and professional made her neglect her own well-being. She also touches on her writing process, particularly how she infused humor and wit into her book, and highlights the importance of self-compassion and creating a support network during difficult times.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Julie. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Everyone But Myself: A Memoir.

Julie Chavez: Zibby, I’m so, so honored, so excited. It really is such a full-circle moment. Thank you for having me.

Zibby: The reason, listeners, why Julie and I are both kind of freaking out at this moment is because of our whole story of how Julie became a Zibby Books author, how we even became friends and colleagues and whatever else you want to say. Now it’s become a book. The book is coming out. You tell it, Julie.

Julie: I love hearing you say that. The thing that’s neat for you and I is that when this book started — there was a manuscript that I had developed with a coach named Brooke Warner, who’s lovely. I had been working a little bit with She Writes Press, which is her hybrid press. As part of the beginnings of the book, I joined your book club. I was so charmed by the community there and, of course, by you. It was so special for me, too, because up until that point, I didn’t realize I could hear from authors like that. It truly was a new thing that I could ask them questions. For people that don’t know, your virtual book club, we talk, the first half hour, just the attendees and the people who have read the book, and then the author comes for the second half hour, which is just such a fun premise. It made it so close. You and I developed a friendship. Then suddenly, you were starting your publishing company. It was such an exciting time for me and such a lightning strike of various things that fell into place right at the right time. Since then, just being part of the Zibby Books universe is so fun, and your universe and “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” It’s so fun.

Zibby: You ended up guest hosting so many of my recent episodes, so thank you for that. You’re amazing.

Julie: It’s true. It has been my pleasure. That’s something that I totally put to you. I should’ve mentioned that as part of my publishing journey, I hosted “Ask a Librarian” for about a year and a half. I got to find this totally new part of me that I loved. That is a really special thing, once you’re in midlife, to find new sides of yourself, new things that you enjoy doing. What a gift. It’s been so fun. All the listeners, I’m sure, that have been listening to me on the other side, now it’s a real full-circle moment for them as well. I’m sure this will be marked in their calendars with a heart. It feels right.

Zibby: They could just put it on repeat, actually. They could just, every day, start again with this. Maybe they’ll learn something new this time. Just to hear our voices in this tricky mashup.

Julie: Totally. I’m going to do that to torture my children, actually, just put my voice on repeat. It’s going to be perfect.

Zibby: Like when it gets stuck in the car and you’re like, sorry, I don’t even know why this is there. For so long, I always had this Aerosmith song. Anytime we got in the car, this Aerosmith song from iTunes would come on. I’m like, I don’t even like Aerosmith. I don’t even know why or where it came from. I couldn’t get it to stop. Now it stopped, but still traumatized.

Julie: It’s because it started with A. We have a similar — that happens every time. We have a horrible song that comes on. I need to change it and name something else annoying A. I don’t know. We’ll put that on the list of things to do.

Zibby: Now we’ll put this podcast. This podcast file will now be the A in everyone’s Apple iTunes library so we can come on. Anyway, Everyone But Myself, please tell listeners what your book is about.

Julie: I would love to. This book is about a season of severe anxiety and depression that I weathered in 2018 after I spent too long caring for everyone but myself. I am a mom of two boys. I’m a wife to a husband I really like. I work at a library. It was a time where I had forgotten that on the list of people that I love and care about, my name should be on there as well. I had neglected myself for too long. There were consequences to that self-neglect. They came in the form of anxiety and depression. This book really is the story of my way back from that edge, from finding ways to care for myself again, to connect to my feelings, to do all these basic things that I had forgotten how to do. This is a story of someone you know, if it’s not your story. It’s very familiar. I think most readers will find it really relatable, if nothing else.

Zibby: Yes. You have a wonderful sense of humor and a great voice. Having you tell any story is really just a true pleasure.

Julie: Thanks, Zibby. That’s good to hear. I hope that there is humor in this book. I think there is. That is totally down to so many of the editors I worked with, especially Jordan Blumetti, who I worked with, and Bridie Loverro Clark as well. They were amazing and really helped me understand that I could be funny on the page without it being totally cringey and awful. That’s a real gift.

Zibby: There you go. You’ve always had this wonderful newsletter, by the way, Julie Writes Words. Your newsletter is really one of my favorites. You always have something interesting to say. It’s always one I read. I get a trillion newsletters because now I feel bad. Now that I know that people know when you unsubscribe, I feel like I can’t unsubscribe to anything anymore.

Julie: Right. It’s so true. Now you’re just stuck in this vortex of, you will be receiving every newsletter until you die.

Zibby: Pretty much, but I read yours. Yours is great.

Julie: I’m honored. I love writing it. That has been a surprising joy. I love connecting with people. This is normal life. It’s happening all the time and falling apart and being put back together constantly. How we navigate that is always of interest to me.

Zibby: Talk a little bit about the inciting incident for your anxiety, what happened, and really, how you were able to pull yourself back. Which tools ended up helping you the most?

Julie: The inciting incident, basically, it starts in November of 2017, if we’re going back. I feel like for a lot of people with anxiety, the presenting problem is not usually the root problem. My first panic attack happened in spring of 2018. In 2017, the boys and I had been going to immunotherapy injections because I’m a person with crazy allergies, and I gave that on to them. They’re welcome. Their bodies are perfectly primed right now for all of this intervention. For people that don’t know, they’re commonly called allergy shots. You go, and you get an increasing dose of the things that you’re allergic to so that eventually, your body won’t respond to them. We’re having these allergy shots. Everything’s going fine. Then one day I had what’s called a systemic reaction. Basically, your body fully freaks out. This is something that can happen because you are intentionally exposing yourself to things that you are allergic to. You’re injecting it into your bloodstream. It doesn’t have to be a huge thing. Sometimes people will have a systemic reaction, and then they go back to getting the allergy shots. It’s no problem for them. For me, it scared me so badly. I was terrified. I would just lie on this table shaking. They give you epinephrine to help stop the reaction and prevent it from becoming anaphylactic shock. That makes your body feel like you’ve had eighteen cups of coffee. It’s just a stressful experience no matter what.

For me, it really opened up a fear of death that I already have and that has been especially acute since becoming a mom. I know I’m not the only person who struggles with that. I have, also, experiences with early loss and then experience with my husband losing his mother when he was a teenager. There were so many things that really tied me to that fear, but I didn’t deal with that. I just kept moving because I had baseball pants to wash. People had to have rides. Things had to be done. I had just gone back to work. I had taken this thirty hours at the library and plopped it on top of being a stay-at-home mom. You fast-forward a few months to where I’m seriously depleted. I’m exhausted. Mando had been traveling a ton. We went to the sports park. I had a very normal allergic reaction to the pollen that was present in the spring at my son’s baseball game. Then suddenly, I was terrified. It was just one thought that was, oh, maybe you messed up your system with those shots. Now you’re going to die just because the leaves are blooming. That was enough for me to spiral. I was actually in that bed. It’s so weird. I was sitting there all night with the light on. I just was terrified. I call it in the book, the night I couldn’t turn out the lights.

I was convinced that I was going to die. Mando was out of town. I was worried about the boys. It was really my first experience like that of, I am stuck in this fear, and I can’t get out. I have this panic attack. Then I wake up the next day. I call the allergy doctor immediately. I do all the things. That’s the thing. Normally, I think I had ways of managing my stress or my fear. I start deploying those, and none of them are working. Instead, I felt like I just was constantly abuzz with anxiety. It was like someone had flipped a switch, and I was on. I was shaking. I was just really stressed, but because I am a mom, I could set all that aside and basically panic all day long while I read books to the children and while I gave my kids rides. It started to continue to amp up. As I’m deploying more tactics to try and get it to stop, that’s not happening. Eventually, I ended up — it was actually on Mother’s Day that I realized things were sliding too far too fast. I began to become terrified of the anxiety itself. It’s just a cycle. Luckily at that point — well, I had gone to my gynecologist. She said, “Quit your job.” Everyone asks, why the gynecologist? I just didn’t really have another doctor at the time. I think that’s very common for a lot of women because you go for a while. Also, I had pretty severe postpartum baby blues bordering on depression. My gynecologist was the person that saved me. Dr. Wells was the one who had said, “What do we need for you?” She saw what I was going through. She understood. That was where I started, but that ended up being a wrong move and just giving me another doubt. I’m realizing this answer is going on really long. I will really have to learn how to tighten this puppy up.

Zibby: We have a whole podcast. In this format, you do not have to tighten it up. If this was a five-minute broadcast, you would fail. You would just be kicked off the show. This is totally appropriate for the format.

Julie: Okay, good.

Zibby: I was actually hanging on your every word because — first of all, I also have terrible allergies. I went through years of allergy shots. I don’t think they’ve worked. I feel like I should go back. I had all these new adult allergies. It’s so annoying. I have also blessed my kids with all of my allergies. I feel kind of guilty about that. Anyway, your experience, everyone is just one step away from having it.

Julie: Yes. When you read this book, that’s the thing. When I tell this story, there aren’t many remarkable moments or anything that you’re going to read and think, oh, my gosh, I can’t believe that happened. You actually can believe this happened because it is one of those things that’s just, we are all so close. Also, for so many of us, especially people who are caring for someone else, whether you’re a mom or whether that’s your job, we are often so burned out that we don’t realize it until something happens to break the camel’s back. Then suddenly, you’re in, basically, a free fall. That was why, for me, I started scrambling to find help. It was hard to find a therapist. It’s even harder now, unfortunately. Luckily, I feel like some of the resources that are out there are filling that hole, so that’s great. This was 2018. We weren’t using Zoom. Some people were, but I wasn’t. All of these pieces.

Thankfully, I was able to get to my PA, who ended up telling me that he thought I was depressed because I wasn’t able to fix my anxiety. He was very right because I am someone that likes to control what is happening in my life, and especially what’s happening with me. He did a great job. Then I was able to find a therapist. Luckily, she was a fit from the start. When I started therapy, things got worse for a little bit because it’s very stressful to open that up. Finding support shouldn’t be as hard as it is, but it is. That’s my hope, too, with this book, that people will have that idea, exactly what you’re saying. We’re all pretty close to needing that, but you want to find it now when things are not desperate. When you’re in the throes of a mental health crisis, it’s really not the best time to try and call people on the phone. I hate making appointments just on a regular day. Doing it when you’re not feeling yourself, it can be a barrier. It sounds almost silly, but it’s not. It is one of those things where if you can have those supports in place, people that you know that you can go to, and even friends — I stopped talking to my friends. I really made a lot of mistakes that I hope that someone else can benefit from.

Zibby: It’s, sometimes, our brains just working against us. You should read — maybe I’ll send you my copy. Gary Gulman has a book called Misfit. He’s a comedian. He’s a stand-up comedian, but he went through a major depressive episode. It opens with just how hard it was for him to even get to his therapist appointment, the million thoughts and feelings and basically, the weights that he felt like were sort of holding him to the bed. He didn’t say that. I’m ad-libbing here. Anyway, how difficult it was just to navigate the traffic and get there on time and get out of the house. When you’re in one of those depressive states, the ordinary things, like getting help and realizing that you need help, it’s all just — as opposed to some sort of physical diagnosis.

Julie: My leg fell off. We all know that.

Zibby: You know how to deal with that, essentially. I mean, not exactly, but yes.

Julie: You’re exactly right. There is a major hang-up. That’s part of what I talk about in the book too. We don’t know what we don’t know. Until you’ve been there, it’s easy to assume we understand what someone’s going through. Even for me as a person who’s experienced anxiety and depression, my depression has never really looked like, I can’t get out of bed. It looks different. That’s something that Mando, my husband, and I really started to understand in this time because he didn’t have any framework for what I was experiencing. For him, there was an element of, well, just stop thinking about what you’re stressing about. Stop being anxious, which is the worst thing you could say to a person. When you don’t know, you kind of get stuck. It’s so true, the many barriers that exist when you are not feeling yourself.

Zibby: I am in this camp also, I feel like, high-functioning depressive/anxiety types. I can be having a day where inside I’m — I know how to hide it, essentially. It doesn’t flatten me, but I’m feeling it inside. People are probably like, no, you’re not, because look, you just did this really upbeat podcast. I’m like, you can’t see what’s inside today.

Julie: Correct. Yes, for those of us that fall into that camp of, okay, I can set this aside for now, but it’s there, and then if you don’t deal with it, it reaches a point where it will begin to leak out the sides. That’s not a good feeling for anyone.

Zibby: I feel like now I should actually have you in conversation with Brittany about this, Brittany Means, another Zibby Books author. She is all about how therapists can have their own stuff going on and make them really bad therapists. You have to find the right fit for yourself. It might not be the one who’s on your plan or the most convenient or whatever. You have to keep digging. Maybe you don’t know what makes a good therapist. Maybe you feel like this is all therapists. This is another thing that I feel like your book helps people realize. Find the fit for you and the right voices in your head.

Julie: Yes, you’re exactly right. That is something that is true. Brittany’s case — by the way, her book is so —

Zibby: — It’s different. I know.

Julie: But I love it. I have to say, too, what I loved about her book is it’s very heavy, but I never felt tanked reading it. Some books, for me, are too depressing or too anxiety-inducing, basically. Hers was so wonderful. To your point, I got lucky there. Also, in a way, I was so desperate that I couldn’t overthink it. That’s where I get stuck. I’m a typical person who would think, oh, you seem fine, but is there a better therapist out there for me? Sometimes it can be, hey, you’re just right for now. I think, again, that’s why there’s an argument for doing it ahead of time, for preparing for yourself and saying, I have this plan in place. I know this person understands me. Then when I’m not well, I can just go there. I cut out all of those extra pieces. Brittany and I can totally talk about our issues. It would be great. I love that.

Zibby: Not the issues themselves. Just finding the right person for you.

Julie: Our therapist issues, of course.

Zibby: I would love to just listen about your issues in general. When you said earlier, there’s nothing remarkable in here, I wanted to raise my hand and be like, I totally disagree with that. You might not find it remarkable because it’s your life and your feelings. Not everybody can dissect the everyday and the running thoughts and feelings and turn it into something that will help other people and are significant moments. You had many turning points in the book of when you realized these massively life-changing things. That doesn’t mean that you’re scaling a mountain in whatever. The hurdles that most people overcome are not these out-of-the-ordinary, life-changing, visually dramatic, soon-to-be-adapted productions. Most of us have, oh, I realized that if I do this little thing, then my life is this much better. That is really profound.

Julie: I appreciate you saying that. I think you’re exactly right. I see it on that scale of what’s happening to me, necessarily. I had a conversation with Kim, my therapist, at one point. I was saying she’s such a good fit for me, which she is. She also said, “Julie, we’re a good fit because of our personalities and because of all these things, but also, you are naturally pretty intuitive.” I pay a lot of attention to what’s happening inside me. I pay even more attention now. I think that’s the thing that is, hopefully, good for people to know and see because I think it’s so easy to forget that people among us who are high functioning still have that base layer of stress and examination. Then for those of us that are able to look at it and then share it, hopefully, that’s helpful to other people because I know that can be really tough. At that time, it was so painful for me to examine anything. To look back and be able to do it from this perspective and then also get better at doing it in the moment has been a huge gift.

Zibby: Essentially, what you’re doing is you’re being a good friend to people who don’t know they’re your friends yet. You’re just telling your story the way you would if we were sitting down to coffee. You’re like, oh, my gosh, listen to this. Seriously. You write in that tone where everybody feels like, oh, yeah, we’re friends now.

Julie: I love that. That’s truly some of my hope for the book, that it can be a friend to someone. You and I share this love where — books are friends to me. There are books that are so precious to me. I felt like that reading Kelly Corrigan’s and some of these other writers that just feel so familiar. I feel like, oh, my gosh, that’s exactly how I would’ve put it. If this book and if I can be that for someone, then there’s really nothing better than that.

Zibby: Amazing. I haven’t even asked you this offline, but are you working on anything else these days? What are you working on?

Julie: What a good question you ask.

Zibby: Funny I should ask.

Julie: Funny you should ask. That’s weird. Are you in the publishing business? Odd. This is the funny thing. I started working on a children’s book. I was sure I was going to write a picture book. So far, it’s been an abysmal failure. I keep trying, and I keep failing, which is great because that is something that used to be so uncomfortable for me, not being able to do something right away. For a long time, that was literally destabilizing for me. The idea to think, okay, I’m just not good at this yet — I’m really not, which is ironic because I read picture books all day. They are so distilled and so challenging to write. It’s really given me a new appreciation for these authors who can craft a story. That includes you. My agent was very sweet. I sent her one. She was like, “I don’t think this really works.” I thought, yeah, you’re right, but I was hoping that you would say it would so that I could stop working on it. She, rudely, did not.

Zibby: By the way, the whole first draft that I wrote of Princess Charming, my editor was like, “No, throw it away. Sorry. This is for much older kids.” I was like, not really. My kids liked it.

Julie: There’s that element of, are you sure? I’m pretty sure I know because I just wrote it.

Zibby: I obviously know more than you.

Julie: Children’s books are tricky. I have started working on a novel slowly. I have about fifty pages that I’ve just been tinkering with. It’s fun to go back in and think about, A, making everything up — I don’t know if you found this to be true when you wrote Blank. I feel mad with power. I can make these people do anything. Anything can happen. I don’t have to have any eye for what actually happened. That’s kind of freeing. Then also, I’m realizing how much I respect novelists, especially who write longer books. I don’t know how they keep track of everything. I know they make outlines and all the things. Right now, I’m working on it, but it’s mostly just an experiment in seeing if there’s something there, which used to be — when people would tell me, I wrote this book, and then I put it in a drawer, that was a nightmare scenario for me. I just remember thinking, what? That sounds like an incredible waste of time. Now I’m sort of doing the same thing. We’ll see. It’s mostly in the magical realism, rom-com-y, somewhere in there.

Zibby: Amazing. Good for you. That’s so fun. You can’t just show up one day and write a perfect novel. Everyone I interview, and I’m sure you too since you’ve done a lot of these interviews — you have to write practice books. That’s what they are. They don’t feel like practice books because it takes forever. Doctors don’t just perform brain surgery on day one. They have to go through all this training and working on the — this is such a dark analogy. I should just stop.

Julie: No, but you’re exactly right. Thank god for their training. I would prefer someone not on their first day up in the brain. Yes, you’re exactly right. That’s the thing, though, for the perfectionists among us. That’s the other thing I should’ve mentioned about this story. You are looking at a perfectionist who would not have called herself a perfectionist. That’s kind of an interesting thing too. For all this self-awareness I have, it was also very revealing, and I think you read this in the book, to find the ways I hid from myself. We have very engrained stories about what a certain thing looks like and what we look like. For me, I wasn’t a perfectionist because I didn’t care about looking perfect, but I definitely cared about doing everything perfectly. That was just as toxic for me to have this trait that I didn’t understand. So much of it is asking yourself those questions. You discover so many things about you as you do anything, as you learn to write, as you learn to think about yourself, as you learn all these things. Apparently, everything takes practice. You have to do it forever. I find that super annoying because I just want to be good at things and then move on with my life. Apparently, that’s not happening yet.

Zibby: I’ll join the campaign for making that happen. I think that would also be very convenient. What you said earlier about the children’s book, which just jumped out because this is a whole big thing at the kids’ school and everything, you’re like, I haven’t perfected this children’s book yet. It’s all of that, the whole power of yet, blah, blah, blah, but it’s true. I haven’t figured out how to do this yet, but I’m working on it. We could all benefit from just having that attitude instead of being so hard on ourselves all the time.

Julie: It’s such a gracious way to walk through the world. For people that don’t know, it’s growth mindset, so this idea that you can say, I’m not good at that yet. That’s the thing that I realized, too, in the book. The way that I care for my kids and the way I’m attentive to their needs, I just didn’t do that for myself. To turn it around and be able to say, Julie, you’re just not good at that yet, or that’s not your strength, or also, hey, good job, you did an amazing job at this or that — that’s also something I’m not good at, is enjoying those wins when I have them. That is part of it as well, just befriending yourself, befriending who you are today and who you would like to become and believing that there’s space for both of those to exist.

Zibby: Amazing. I am a hundred percent sure that there are so many people who are going to pick this up and feel much better and live happier lives after reading it, even if it’s just in these very small, as you said, little by little, small steps that they can implement. Knowing that you’re out there and that they are not alone, I am just so excited to see all these people out there taking the time for themselves that they need after reading this book and feeling the permission that, basically, the book is giving them to do so and that it’s not just permission, but it’s actually sort of required.

Julie: It is required. You’re exactly right. I’m just so happy to hear that. Zibby, thank you for all your team and all you have done and who you are to me in my world. I’m so beyond grateful. It’s a dream come true.

Zibby: Thanks, Julie. Congratulations. Yay!

Julie: Thank you.

Julie Chavez, EVERYONE BUT MYSELF: A Memoir

EVERYONE BUT MYSELF: A Memoir by Julie Chavez

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