“I try not to worry about the future – so I take each day just one anxiety attack at a time.”— Tom Wilson
Let’s talk about anxiety, shall we?
When I’m not busy DOING something, or actively taking care of the kids, I find my breathing can suddenly change, my heart rate goes up, and if I don’t start moving immediately, the tears come or I just feel unhinged.
My beloved sister-in-law called me while I was shopping in Costco yesterday, and all was fine until she mentioned planning something fun in the future. Suddenly the tears welled up. I left the cart and started walking so no one would notice. Next thing I knew, I was lost in that massive warehouse and couldn’t remember what I was shopping for, let alone where my cart was. I’ve taken other phone calls, and there haven’t been those problems. She was being perfectly lovely and supportive as always. Why should I get a panic attack then?
Today, I dropped off my car at the mechanic. For some reason, I couldn’t just tell him I had a flat tire. I opened my mouth to explain but could feel my breathing start to change, and the tears came. I felt so embarrassed, standing in the middle of that office with a man who was somewhat shocked and slightly uncomfortable. I thought: Do I always look this crazy to these people?
It hasn’t just started. It began while Vernon was in hospice. Everything was so intense. I would go go go, until suddenly the wrong stranger crossed my path or there would be a mixup in the nursing staff or a friend would offer something I couldn’t process in the moment. Then it would pass, though I’d be embarrassed of the out-of-control-ness of my emotions. I was told not to worry about it, to give myself grace. But it was new to me. And I didn’t like the frequency (and unexpectedness) in which it came.
I was fine going to the Back to School night at the High School two weeks ago—I handled it for nearly two hours, meeting all Maki’s teachers, without a stitch. But the next week was Parent’s Night at Justine’s school. Suddenly the sight of all those adults folded into tiny seats at tiny desks threw me into sudden panic and I had to turn around. Why then? Why sometimes—not other times? People say that this is a common symptom of grieving, and is to be expected.
But the problem is, Anxiety comes when you least expect it. I don’t have to be thinking about Vernon or a specific memory. In fact, I don’t have to be thinking about anything at all when it hits. It’s just a weird physical reaction to this new stage of life I guess. A different kind of un-knowing. My girlfriend who recently lost both her parents in the course of a year, and then her husband’s mother the next year told me she learned one thing about grief through all this: everybody goes through it differently.
Exercise helps! Last week I had a few down days and filled them with exercise as much as I could. My muscles got sore, but I didn’t feel anxious….at least not while I was moving! So when I was with friends in LA last weekend, they gave me plenty of opportunities to walk if the feeling came. I have also started volunteering once a week as a room mom in Justine’s class. Weirdly, going into that very different world of elementary school and doing phonics pages with the kids or laminating in the office is grounding in it’s own way.
When someone asks me what I plan to do next, the first thing that comes to mind is this: learn how to be a mom to a Tenth Grader and a First Grader. Re-learn how to cook and have normal mealtimes. Help with more homework, read more with Justine. These things aren’t coming as easily as I remembered them being before summer. I think we all feel slightly different now, but each in a way we can’t explain to each other. We don’t even understand it ourselves. I expect we are still in the portal of change, and this won’t be how it feels forever.
PS For a period, I was able to go off my anti-depressants, which seems ironic, as it was during the very stressful time of trying to help Vernon. Perhaps the sense of busy-ness and purpose helped lift me out of that natural-to-me behavior. It looks like I’ll be on them again…at least for awhile and for different reasons.