“How are you doing?” is such an innocuous question, but the answer–for me at least–not so much. Do I lie and brush it off with an “Oh, fine,” before changing the subject? Or do I really get into it, telling them exactly how I’m doing? Well, at the moment my heart feels like someone is squeezing the ever-loving life out of it. No, I’m not having a heart attack, even though I swear I can feel pain radiating down the left side of my arm, leaving sparks of numbness in its wake. My palms are sweaty despite the fact that it’s 15 degrees outside right now, and I’m pretty sure my feet have soaked their way through my socks. And I’m anxious. Have I mentioned that? Oh, so anxious.
But when you’re asking me how I’m doing outside the elementary school at pickup time, it’s usually just polite conversation. So I smile and nod. “As good as can be expected.” But who the hell would have expected this? Certainly not me.
Ever since having my son eight years ago, I’d noticed my anxiety had gone up a notch. It started with worrying about all the usual newborn things: Is he sleeping enough? Gaining enough weight? Happy? Healthy? But my worries never felt overwhelming or all encompassing, and I would shove them in the back of my mind or cover them up with other thoughts. I’m Jewish, after all, and worrying is in our DNA, right?
And so my worrying was manageable, until one day when it clearly wasn’t. A little over two months ago, I had what I now realize was a panic attack. A few days later, I experienced another one. These attacks were some of the most frightening experiences of my life. In addition to thinking I was having a heart attack, my legs started convulsing and I felt like the room was closing in on me. These feelings lasted half an hour until I found myself vomiting over the toilet. Ah, I thought. This is just some weird stomach bug.
Only, it wasn’t. For the next two weeks I was mostly unable to get out of bed. No fever, no aches or pains, but no energy, many stomach woes, and no appetite. In fact, by the end of the two weeks I was shocked to see that I had lost almost 20 pounds–almost 15% of my total body weight. Over the course of a month I was seen by a doctor or nurse practitioner more times than I can count (don’t worry, my insurance is keeping tabs). I gave vial after vial of blood multiple times, learned how to scoop a perfect stool sample (since I had to do it three different times), breathed into a bag to test my breath, had my chest X-rayed, got a CT scan, and in the end, was cleared for pretty much everything.
According to my providers, it was “just” anxiety. Anxiety that caused me to not fit into any of my clothes, forcing me to wear double layers of leggings just to make it through the cold winter days. Anxiety that weighed so heavily on me, I couldn’t get out of bed, needing to call on the reinforcements of friends and family to help out with my son and dog during the multiple snow days that we faced throughout January and February. Anxiety that made me lose weeks of work because of all the tears, fears, and flailing. Anxiety that made me feel like less of a mother, wife, and all around person.
And here I thought anxiety was just some heightened worry. How I would quickly learn that is far from the truth. Or… at least my truth.
So, how am I?
As I type this, I’m OK. I am under the care of my provider and a therapist. I am on medication that over the last two months has finally kicked in. The heavy knot in my chest is no longer constant, but rather intermittent, reminding me that I’m still dealing daily with something that manifests in my life in both a very physical and very emotional way. I’m also figuring out daily how to live with anxiety, how to parent through anxiety, and how to adjust to this new, totally-out-of-the-blue normal.
While much of this experience is still a complicated, muddled mess, one thing has struck out incredibly crystal clear: I am not alone. Each time I find the courage to talk about what’s been going on, and let another person in on what I’ve been going through, I find that I am far from unique. And while I would never wish this particular journey on anyone else, I find comfort in knowing that I’m not alone and that it will get better. And that is why I am writing about this. To wade through the stigma and inaccuracies that are out there when it comes to anxiety. To let others know they’re not alone. And, selfishly, to process the heck out of the last few months. So, I invite you to join me as I delve into a short series here on Kveller, looking at living a life–as a parent, a wife, and a woman–with anxiety