Busted has a post up about anxiety. We talk a lot about the pain of grief, about the cost, the emotion, and the sensation of loss. Those aspects of it are all easy to understand. They have a clear source. Just about everyone can comprehend those emotions (even if some people have a hard time realizing how long we continue to feel them). But I think the anxiety surprises everyone. I know it caught me unprepared and when I try to explain it to people outside of a select few, they get this look on their face like they think maybe I’ve slipped a gear or two.
I didn’t notice it until we went back to work outside of the house. From the day I went into the hospital until seven days after Zoë died, I hadn’t been alone for more than an hour or two. Shannon worked from home, I couldn’t drive. But then, Shannon went back to work in the office and I stayed home for one more week. He walked out the door that first morning to start his 35 mile drive to work and I felt my heart leap up into my throat. It seemed like someone was squeezing my chest so I couldn’t breathe. Suddenly I could imagine a hundred different scenarios that could happen and, as you can probably guess, none of them included his stopping at the coffee place, driving uneventfully to work while listening to NPR, and arriving safe and sound, which is how his drive usually goes.
It’s only been about two months that I haven’t needed him to call me when he arrives at his destination or before he leaves to come home. He’s still pretty good about sending me an email shortly after getting to work, just so I know he’s there, but if he forgets I don’t feel so strong a need to call. His wreck a few weeks ago undid a lot of my progress, but I’m definitely doing better.
In a similar vein, I also can’t stand the thought of going somewhere he isn’t. I haven’t travelled on my own. Normally, I’d have taken one or two trips back east by now. I try to see myself getting on a plane and going to visit my family while he stays here, but I get queasy. It isn’t fear that something might happen to me…it’s that something might happen to him if I’m not nearby. Of course, my presence didn’t save Lennox or Zoë. It’s a very helpless, hopeless feeling. You fear being too far away to do anything all the while knowing that being nearby won’t do anything either. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t so you end up frozen in place unable to go either way.
Crowds are still a problem. It doesn’t matter if they are friends, family, or strangers. I can understand the anxiety over Shannon being out of my sight. The intensity of the anxiety surprised me, the amount of time it has taken for me to start to deal with it has surprised me, but the feelings themselves were no shock. I wasn’t prepared for the fear of people though and I don’t really understand it. The thought of being in a group makes me ill. I’ve left more than one almost full shopping cart in a store because being around so many people made my skin crawl. I’ve had to psych myself up to attend parties and evenings out with friends and even those I’ve cut short. Is it because I feel so out of sync with the rest of the world? Am I trying to protect myself from a poorly considered comment, from the sight of a happy family? Is it the fear that I’ll start shaking people and screaming, “Don’t you know how quickly it can all go wrong?” What is it I’m so afraid of?
I know it gets better. I know it IS getting better. I believe in making myself push my boundaries. I let him go out on his own on the weekend and don’t demand that he check in, just that he take his phone. I’ve been to the parties, I just make excuses to leave after an hour or two. I grit my teeth, take deep breaths, and finish the grocery shopping with my head down. I’ve learned that if I’m not feeling well, if I’m tired, it takes less to trigger it. I practice deep breathing when I’m in the car and the other drivers seem intent on running us down.
When it first happened, Shannon and I got lots of lectures of things to watch for, things to be aware of. If I was sleeping too much, if I wasn’t sleeping enough; If I was too detached, unemotional. No one warned us about the anxiety we’d both feel. The fact that a migraine headache, which I’ve dealt with for 15 years, would now make Shannon’s stomach clench and have him hovering next to me trying to anticipate every need came as a complete shock. The thought that if it took longer than he thought it should for me to run to the car and back to where he was sitting outside the store, he’d start to imagine me collapsed on the ground seemed laughable, until now.
When your whole world gets turned upside down and you learn just how little control you really have? Is it any wonder that afterwards, you see the overwhelming uncertainty in everything? Maybe they didn’t warn us because it seemed obvious. But as I’ve read more and more blogs and seen how many people beat themselves up because they can’t seem to shake the fear, I think it needs to be the FIRST thing they warn us about. We’re smart people. We know we shouldn’t be so worked up about these things, so we start to think it’s silly or stupid and we get angry at ourselves. Maybe if I’d gone to a therapist or read a book I’d have known. I’m stubborn like that. The books all made me roll my eyes and I really didn’t think a therapist would offer me much comfort and I couldn’t bring myself to going through the process of finding someone I thought I could really work with. So, I stumble along and learn each new aspect of this new existence and I find as I read about others’ journeys down this same path that I’m not so alone, so different. And I start to feel a little less anxious.