Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Filling in the spaces

A few months ago, I posted about my anxiety. And then I stopped blogging. Not that the two were related, but I just could never get myself to take the time to blog. 

I’m a natural born worrier. I have worried about uncontrollable situations for as long as I can remember. It wasn’t until this summer that I found that my tendency to imagine the worst was more than just an annoying habit. Anxiety has become an entity in my life that goes with me wherever I go. Even when I’m not thinking about it, it’s always right there in the back of my mind. I constantly monitor it, judging if it’s at an acceptable level or not. I find it exhausting.

I wish I could say that after getting on medication, it all went away. I can definitely say that medication helped. Holy cow, it helped and I will always be very grateful that I made the decision to seek help. The place where I was all through August and into September was terrible. By the time I finally stopped fighting the idea of medication, I was in a dark and terrifying place. I was scared to sleep. I was scared to be in confined spaces. I was scared of passing out at any given moment. I was terrified to drive, especially on the freeway. It was awful, awful, awful.

It took a while for everything to even out. I was very grateful that I had decided to run an October half marathon. Having to do long runs each week gave me something to think about and plan for – a much needed diversion. I could also remind myself on a weekly basis with my long run that if I could run 7, 8, 9, 10 miles without passing out, that I could do the same while driving in my car. It took a few weeks, but I eventually got to a place where anxiety was in the background of everything.

I’d like to insert this quote from a Nine Inch Nail’s song:

“Then a tiny little dot caught my eye. It was just about too small to see. But I watched it way too long. It was pulling me down….I was up above it. Now I’m down in it.”

Isn’t that how it is? A tiny little dot, watched for too long, that somehow becomes all you can see. To be honest, my mom’s sale of her home and move dominated my thoughts for much of December and January. I had hoped she would sell for over 10 years (I can remember the first thing I said to my mom and dad when my dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s was – are you going to sell the house?) I tried to prepare her, pack her, convince her to move for a very, very long time. When she got the offer in November it seemed like a godsend, but the timing was awful. In the mix of all the December activities, her move was a giant arrow on the calendar with a few bullseye rings around it. On Christmas, I looked around at her house and realized how much still needed to be done. Even 10 days before the move, the house wasn’t nearly ready to be moved out of. I tried to do things to alleviate what I felt was an inevitable train wreck, but I couldn’t manage it. It wasn’t my responsibility to carry out, and though I did what I could, it was hard for me to realize my place in it or allow my brain to stop worrying about it.

On Human Rights Day I decided to drive down to see my mom’s house one last time. I had tried to be ok with saying goodbye to it the previous Thursday, but then I realized that I really wanted to see it empty. I didn’t realize how emotionally fraught I was until I found myself in a full on panic attack on the freeway on the way down. I decided that freeway driving may not be the best idea, so I took the back roads the rest of the way and talked to Amy on the phone. I was so nervous to see the house. I was nervous that the new owners would be there and I wouldn’t get to be alone. I was anxious to get it over with and be back on my way home.

When I got there, I had a pretty good experience. I took a few pictures that I really wanted to get. I walked through every single room. I walked over to the neighbor’s house and hugged her, crying and telling her how grateful I was that she had helped my mom for so long. I looked at the house in different angles. It wasn’t just that it was empty. It just looked so…alone. Left behind.

After about half an hour, I set off home. Now, I’m usually a greedy girl and stop at the gas station on my way home (there is a lovely gas station there that has a drive through!) but I was trying to hurry so I just didn’t stop. I found that my earlier panic started right back up where it left off. About 20 minutes into the drive, I pulled off the freeway again and decided to give myself a break by getting a drink. It was then that I discovered to my everlasting horror that I had left my wallet back at my mom’s house. The thought of going back to get it nearly pushed me over the edge, but panic attack or not, I turned back around. It was sort of good – I ended up seeing my mom at the house for a minute, which was good. But it sucked adding an additional hour to my drive home. The lesson I learned from this was that I can drive through multiple panic attacks for hours on end and come out of it somewhat ok. I didn’t go crazy or crash my car or even do anything remotely close to those things. It’s the small victories, right?

The best part of the whole thing is that it’s finally done. My mom is moved. I feel like she was incredibly brave to have done it. It is such a relief to have her moved to a more manageable home that’s closer to me and my sisters.

The hard part has been telling my brain that it’s over. Over the many years of waiting, I’ve worn a very deep groove of worry about her and her home. Once it was over, I found that I didn’t know what to do in its absence. The after effects of the stress were almost as bad as the stress itself – maybe worse, because now it’s hard to figure out what to do about my anxiety over my anxiety. All of the feelings came rushing back that I had dealt with last summer.

I think I’m finally on the other side of it all. I’ve learned an important lesson about how I react to stress. The fact that my anxiety goes up after the stress has gone is crappy, but something I’m glad that I’ve figured out because it sort of helps explain my reaction last summer when it all began. I’m trying to not to be hard on myself at the fact that I relapsed. I’m so very glad that I’m better equipped to deal with it this time around. But the process of finding new ways to spend the mental energy I used to spend worrying about my mom’s house has been not very fun. I’d like to start filling in the spaces with more meaningful and positive thoughts instead of turning my mental energy to even more impossible-to-control things like global warming or gang violence or Donald Trump’s presidential run. I think I’m on the right track. 


Feisty Harriet said...

Oh honey, I just want to give you a huge hug. I cannot imagine how rough the last few months have been for you, I sincerely hope that there is an upswing in your immediate future.


Melanie said...

It's so weird, but a friend of mine who suffers from terrible anxiety was talking to me about it recently and we came to the same conclusion. At the end of a very stressful situation, like driving home from the airport after dropping off difficult visitors, the anxiety goes way up. It's like your body knew you needed to function during the stress, but when the stress drops, your body needs you to work out that anxiety? I don't know, but you're definitely not alone. My sisters, mom, and aunts and I have noticed the same thing about our nosebleeds. We don't bleed in the middle of a huge difficult event, like making & serving all of the food for a ward party, but as soon as the party ends and we sit down, gush! Seems like the same things. Your body (and mind?) gear up for the stress and get through it, and then the floodgates open. I'm sure you wanted to hear this long boring explanation, that is all to say that you're not the only one. I'm glad for you, though, that the situation with your mom's house has finally worked itself out. That has to take a huge load off!

Love you :)