So, is this it? Is this the madness that has been waiting for me set deep in my DNA just biding its time until pouncing? Is this the anxiety that is palpable, nauseating that others have described to me that I went blank on? Is this how phobias of all shapes and sizes begin and manifest themselves? Does this lead to the next worse and then worse than that level of depression?
People call their headaches “migraines” now. It is a routine name and I am not sure if the actual headache severity has escalated in our world or if our pain perspective has been recharted, making all pain worse. I felt that way about “panic attacks” until last week. I figured that, that too, was over-self-diagnosed and that maybe the sufferer was simply anxious about something or even furiously angry. The first time I bought into the idea of actual panic attacks being real was when a colleague and friend of mine, least likely to exaggerate or fall apart, had some full blown ones that completely unraveled her and her set of control tactics that had previously worked well. I became a believer. Through therapy and time, she got better. My turn waited in the wings.
My sister and I had not spoken in over a year. We had a close and intense relationship through most of our lives having been raised by a mother riddled with bipolar/borderline personality/depression to name a few. We had a mutually miserable childhood where we took turns trying to mother our manipulative mother and trying to minister to our understandably depressed father who ran away repeatedly. It was no easy task and for me it began at six years old, but for my younger sister at her birth. We were so important to each other because we could validate what was real and true as opposed to what was the nightmare we were in. I remember the exact moment I laid eyes on my new baby sister and the incomprehensible love I felt for her. That has never waivered though we have had envy, misunderstanding, other confounding relationships, unmet needs, and other friction that eroded our precious connections. The hateful things my mother said to me day in and day out caused me to develop a protective shield so when my sister told me the things she did not like about me and said I was a “harsh person” my “run-for-my-life” mode kicked in and off I ran. I regret not finding a way to work it out better instead of seeking the method I knew best from my childhood—“stop speaking, protect yourself.”
My sister made a strong and healthy recovery from breast cancer a few years ago. I was in awe as we went together to find the best surgeon and then I visited through her chemotherapy determined to keep her laughing through looking at old photos, laying in bed with her reminiscing with her famous red hair having succumbed to a shining bald head. The red hair grew back, she partied, danced, and celebrated, loving her life and bevy of friends as well as her supportive partner and daughters. The world came crashing last week when she told me that now, there were malignant tumors in her spine, in her hip, at the base of her skull and elsewhere which would be treated but not cured by radiation and oral chemo. She is strong and determined and that will go a long way for her and I have faith in that and always, in her.
However, I have not stopped being shocked over and over for two weeks now. It is as if I can simply not absorb this news and yet, I fear if I begin to cry about it, I may never stop. I do not know what my role is in her life now or if I will be given any, but I am willing to play in whatever she needs. Most of all, I need to ensure that she knows how much I love her and have never stopped for a moment.
This news came on the heels of our visit to my husband’s sister, Susan in Georgia. Shep’s mother died from Huntington’s disease. Susan has late stage HD. It is the most hideous of diseases and yet not always so well known. Shep’s younger sister and Shep have been quite sure that Susan is the only one to have inherited this. Unfortunately or fortunately, I just finished listening to an audio book about a family with this disease and it completely unnerved me sprinkling fear and doubt in my heart and overthinking brain. So, in the past few days I have become obsessed thinking and wondering, “what if we have not in fact dodged the bullet?” Previoiusly always striking in middle age, there is now what is called, “late onset HD” as well as “juvenile HD.” So, I have begun watching every odd movement, thought, or foot moving that my husband might make, thinking, “Oh God, is this it?” Then, I go to the darkest and most terrifying place wondering about the possibilities of heredity. We have five living sons. This gets me so worked up that I am unable to sleep or see the light of rational thinking.
My mammogram was the next day. I have been diligent about going yearly and now that my sister has had breast cancer, I thought even more so. When the radiation tech said, “it’s been 2.5 years since you’ve been seen Ms. Smith,” my mouth dropped. Holy shit. Here we go. Why doesn’t she just tell me the bad news now while I am expecting it and while she is smashing my breast flat. Nope. Gotta wait three weeks. Great.
What’s with the repeatedly elevated PSA’s my husband keeps getting. They cause much concern for prostate cancer as we have been scared about for years now. He’s had biopsies, but so far other than “being concerned about the trajectory, no one has definitive answers. Is it just a matter of time? Terror strikes again.
My birthday is coming in a few days. No matter how hard I try, I always hate my birthday and this is one to hate more than most. Yes, I know I should be grateful and believe me, I am obsessed with “grateful.” I am grateful for the damned dishes I wash after a meal, the car starting, the bed being comfortable and safe and every other possible thing including and especially the gift of being mother to six fabulous, beloved sons. But perhaps, over 20 years ago when my “kind” mother phoned me to say, “Today is the worst day in the history of the world. It is the day you were born,” has managed to stay in my heart no matter how many thousands of hours of therapy I have spent trying to undo it.
I worry. I worry and worry and then worry about worrying. I worry about money, about meeting the needs of my clients and their babies and I spend inordinate amounts of time worrying about my sons, each of whom has his own demands and dragons that they each try to slay. I worry about my husband’s health and my own and the terrifying thought of either of us losing the other. I know none of us “is getting out of here alive,” but that doesn’t make it any less frightening.
At times when my world feels like it is crumbling seems to be the time I am least of all able to find God. Isn’t that crazy? So, I begin searching for him like mad. “Oh God, hellllooooo, hey, where are you? I need you so badly. Please hold me. Please rock me. Please protect me, guide me, help me. Help, help, help!” And nothing. Can’t find him, even in church. Even at the communion rail. I know he will get back to me, but when? Is he just too busy right now or is my mind so congested that I cannot see or hear him through the fog?
And then, it crashed. I felt odd and prickly Thursday morning, having not slept much. And I had this fear of crying which most of the time, I would indulge in and find relief. By the time I got to my office, my heart was pounding so hard I thought I was in cardiac arrest. I waited. I thought, “Hey, get it together. You’re okay. Stop it.” Obsessive thoughts prevailed and screamed louder and louder over and over and would not stop. “Hey you have been through some pretty bad things. You can control this. Do it. Reel it in babe.” Nothing. Now it feels like blood is rushing and crashing through my head. Great, I’m going to have a stroke. I have a client to see in a few minutes. What if I faint in front of her and her baby? What to do? Go outside. Breathe. Can’t breathe. Face is flushed. Salad I ate an hour ago is sitting in my throat. Then, I throw up and as much as I hate that, I feel like it will make this all stop. It doesn’t. Everything is pounding more. Client is here. Please God make this be an easy one, one that I can do with my eyes closed. Of course it is not. It is one of the more complicated cases I have had. Cannot concentrate, checking in and out, missing entire sentences that she is saying to me. “C’mon, get it together. You can do this! Stay focused and it will help!” I can’t. It doesn’t. Shit. Help!
Finally, I drove home though I do not remember driving and dove into bed. I am thinking. This will help. Pull up the covers. Stop shaking. I am safe now. It doesn’t. I throw up again. Now, my thoughts are racing so non-stop and so destructively that I am designing an entire new life for myself which is making me more panicky but I CANNOT STOP! Later, I am able to talk to my husband who I am angry with, but then sobbing, deep wrenching sobs, which are likely the stopping point for me. I am exhausted but have to get up and sew patches onto my twins’s uniforms! Here is where some reality sets in. The cammo fabric, the sewing machine, the bobbin and the thread are tactile and real and ask for nothing except for me to avoid sewing my finger. I do it. The patches are on and straight. I can still do my motherly duties.
The day ends and I sleep fitfully that night and all the nights since. The worst of the total panic has passed but the residual fear remains. My wise friend says that I was weakened by one of the events and then all the others came upon a soul knocked over, with me laying in water as they tide rushed in. I don’t know how to swim. Never have learned. Normally strong me stood no chance against the other waves coming, coming and coming. And I am still rocky to say the least, still feeling quicksand below my feet.
So yes, I do believe. I do know the reality of panic and panic attacks and I will never doubt again. I also want to find a way out and hope to never go back into that terrifying place. But, you know, “never say never.” I won’t. I am a believer now.