I have learned a lot about living with anxiety since Hope came into my life.
I have always been a bit high-strung. I am incredibly self-motivated and will run myself ragged in the quest for achievement. I set goals. I achieve them. I have problems. I solve them. And while I have experienced depression and eating issues, I didn’t really think I had a problem with anxiety. That is, I didn’t until I started my doctoral program. During the first course, I started experiencing some physical symptoms of anxiety (chronic insomnia, IBS, etc) that I just did not understand. My doctor had to explain that I was really anxious about school.
He prescribed me something for my anxiety that reminded me of how my grandmother used to carry valium in foil in her purse. I used the medication judiciously, stepped up my exercise and clean eating and tried to get more sleep. I coped and got on top of it.
And then Hope came along and everything I understood about anxiety was completely blown up. I had no real frame of reference for a life with generalized anxiety dominated by somatic symptoms. While I could relate to her insomnia, I was mystified by the constant stomach aches, headaches, chest pains, constipation, diarrhea, the lack of hunger, the ravenous moods, the fear, the drama. We are regulars at the local Patient First clinic since I made a personal commitment to just take her in and let her have the attention she needs. It’s worth the co-pay.
Sometimes I’ll offer her some Tylenol or Advil. Sometimes I’ll make Hope tea or cocoa and we’ll sit together. Sometimes I sit and do some breathing exercises with Hope. I’ve even bought placebo pills to just give her something.
And still, she struggles. And when Hope struggles, I struggle. We all struggle.
During the last few weeks Hope’s anxiety has escalated to levels I saw when she first transitioned to our home. She complains about being ill daily. She swore she had food poisoning a couple of nights ago. She didn’t. She works herself into a frenzy resulting in no sleep, save an hour or so when her body just shuts down in the wee hours of the morning.
I look at her grades; I can practically map the days her anxiety is heightened. It tracks so closely with her performance.
I’ve alerted the team of professionals. We’re trying some strategies; I’m hoping we can help her find better ways of coping and letting some things just go. It’s easier said than done.
And like trauma, anxiety is contagious. There are times when I can’t sleep either, when my worry consumes me; when I can’t figure out my next power move designed to save Hope from herself.
I find myself daily trying to remember to release the stress in my shoulders and let them just hang. I have to remind myself to do some breathing exercises. Throughout the day I use timers to remind myself to do short 5-minute bursts of exercise (youtube videos!) to relieve stress. I try to stick to relaxing an hour before bed to help me wind down. And yet, my shoulders creep up, and my mind races trying to figure the way out of this trauma induced maze that we are stuck in, and I’m often consumed with all the things that need to be done to try to set Hope up for her version of success.
The truth is, that I’m almost always exhausted as a result. Her anxiety is our anxiety. I know that how I feel is only a glimpse of what she feels. I’m certain she’s exhausted too.
Each year for the last 7 years my doctor has re-upped my prescription for my anxiety meds. I usually fill it one time during the course of the year. I save the small white pills. I rarely take them, choosing instead to find other ways of practicing self-care to cope with my anxiety.
This week, I reached into the back of my side table drawer and retrieved the bottle of meds. I took two before bed. And the next day I took two more. I may take them a little more regularly for a while.
Hope left for her 4-day band trip two days ago. I’ve been looking forward to it. I’m so tired. The idea that I’m only available to Yappy for a few days is a weight off of my shoulders. Not that I won’t miss Hope. I know I’ll be eager to see her on Sunday, but not having to remember to make sure she’s up and functional is a nice thing. I hope that her time away will also be meaningful and relaxing.
As for me, I’m focusing on self-care: yummy food, the love of my couch, time at the dog park and maybe, just maybe, I’ll stay awake long enough to get a manicure.