Saturday, November 10, 2012

an unwelcome guest

I'm kind of an intense person...hyper. I do my best to tone it down, to be chill and professional. But if I get excited about something or if I'm around a group of friends I haven't seen in a while, I turn into a jack russell terrier. I was tightly wound as a kid, and perfectionism plagued me in high school, but I didn't realize I struggled with anxiety til my sophomore year of college. I honestly thought I had a heart condition but it turns out the palpitations were "just" anxiety. A few years later, Andrew had to pick me up from work and bring me to the emergency room. I was super pale, sweaty, throwing up, and my heart was racing. The doctor said I was having a panic attack. I found that really strange because I hadn't felt panicked at the time. In fact, I had felt bored. The doctor said the panic attack was probably my body's way of telling me it was tired of constant, low grade anxiety. He gave me some pills I could take when I was feeling especially stressed. I only took them maybe three times, but it was nice knowing I had them just in case. I also saw a therapist for a few months.

Surprisingly, infertility didn't trigger my anxiety. Maybe the sadness and constant disappointment dampened it. I went several years without experiencing much anxiety at all. In fact, I was so calm that I wondered if I had misdiagnosed myself. Pregnancy after two losses increased my anxiety a bit. It came in waves but it wasn't anything I couldn't handle by taking a deep breath and reminding myself Someone bigger than me was in control.

But recently...my anxiety came back. He didn't call ahead or ring the doorbell. He just sort of slithered in when I wasn't looking. He didn't arrive with a loud voice or a taunting laugh...just a whisper. I didn't even notice him until he had unpacked his bags and settled into a cozy spot underneath my bed. It's his favorite place to hang out because he knows I'm vulnerable at night when it's dark and quiet and my brain is easily hijacked. He knows my weak spots and pokes at them with his bony finger while I'm trying to sleep.

"Harriet's going to wake up," he says. "I wouldn't fall asleep if I were you. You know she'll start crying the second you drift off."

I ignore him, try to think about something else.

"She may never sleep through the night," he tries. "There are kids who wake up several times every night til they're teenagers."

I roll over, do my best to shut him out.

"It will probably hurt her development. Kids need sleep and if they don't get it, they don't learn or grow properly." He's louder now, sitting on my pillow. "And this is all your fault. She probably senses your anxiety and is starting to feel anxious herself. You better chill out or you'll mess her up for life."

Yes, he even uses reverse psychology.

Lately, my anxiety was feeling kind of bummed out because Harriet's been sleeping better and that tactic hasn't worked as well.

Take that, anxiety.

Unfortunately, he found a new weapon and it's a good one.

Weaning.

My anxiety knows that I'm terrified to wean Harriet. It's the last thing I want to do but if we're going to move forward with any fertility treatments, it's step one. Why am I dreading it so much? Harriet is a huge fan of nursing. Even if she had a big meal right before I get home from work, she immediately wants to nurse. She pants. She sticks her hands down my shirt. She latches onto any exposed skin. She acts like a crazy person. Lately, she's so active that nursing her is like nursing a baby otter on ritalin, but it's still a really important part of her day. She likes to nurse when she wakes up, when she goes down to sleep, if she bumps her head, if she's tired, if she's thirsty, if she's hungry, if she sees me changing my shirt, if I've been away for a few hours...she likes to nurse.

nursing, day one 

















Upon entering this world, nursing is the very first thing she did. It was hard in the beginning but she and I worked through it and became a great team. I have fiercely protected her right to nurse. My milk supply was abundant and my letdown was fast, making her scared to nurse for a while, but she figured out how to make it work and nursed anyway. Her sleep has been awful at times and people have told us to put her on formula, but we continued to nurse anyway. I went back to work part-time, still nursing. I got engorged and had to stuff my bra with smelly cabbage...didn't give up. I missed out on social stuff when she was tiny because I'd spend half the time in the back bedroom nursing Harriet, but it didn't even tempt me to stop. I HATE pumping but I do it several times every day because it's important to me...to us. People have commented that she's too old or that she doesn't need to nurse now that she gets solid food, so I quote the World Health Organization or the American Academy of Pediatrics, and we keep nursing. When Harriet was a few weeks old, we were in the back corner of Target, a long way from the dressing rooms. I could tell Harriet was hungry and she started having a meltdown. My mama bear instinct kicked in and I pulled my shirt down right then and there, in the toy aisle, without thinking. When other shoppers approached, I just slipped around the corner into another aisle before they could figure out what was going on. It was a bit awkward but it wasn't a big deal. We've worked hard for this, so it pains me to think of giving it up before she's ready. I would love to let her wean in her own time, but she needs a sibling and we don't know how long it will take.

at Target...that's a "now what?" look on my face.

"Chop chop!" My anxiety says. "You better wean that baby or you're never going to have another one."

I tell Andrew about my worries. He says something kind and encouraging, but my anxiety gets right up in my face, making it hard to hear my husband.

"Can you imagine how tough it's going to be to wean her!?" My anxiety cackles, "She's going to be a wreck. She's going to think her whole world is collapsing. She'll feel so rejected. You'll never, ever be able to get her to fall asleep without nursing her. She's going to be angry and hurt and confused. This isn't going to work, and if it does, Harriet will suffer!"

He's getting to me now. His weapons are big and I feel very small in comparison. His voice is loud and mine is quiet. I start to feel the physical effects of my anxiety. He's winning. So I pray. I call someone. I distract myself. I know that I can't slow down my heart but I can slow down my breathing, so I breathe slowly, calmly. I stay positive and remind myself that everything is going to turn out just fine.

The anxiety loves to use repetition. He loops thoughts in my head so they play over and over and over again.  No area of my life is safe from his attacks.

Some of the thoughts are reasonable: "Your licensure exam is coming up and you haven't even started studying."

Some are semi-reasonable: "She still hasn't responded to your text. You must have offended her. She's probably so mad."

Some are downright crazy: "Harriet is going to fall down the street drain."

Yes, the thoughts can be that bizarre.

I'm annoyed that my anxiety is messing with me. I'm angry that he thought he could come back into my life when I'm taking care of a baby. I'm furious that he is trying to turn me into an anxious mom, and because I know that anxiety can travel through generations, I refuse to let him get his claws on my daughter.

I'm done with him.

[Deep breath.]

So now, I don't show my anxiety that he's getting to me. When he launches a fear my way, I respond with a bored yawn, "You're using that one again, huh?" He tries something more potent and I reply, "Okay, yeah...sounds good." He starts to get upset and I just become less amused, "Um, are you almost done? I'm kinda tired." I feel like one of those small birds with the colorful plumage that looks like a big, scary face. I hope he doesn't catch on. I fake it til I make it.

I practice controlled breathing and a calm body every day, usually while I'm trying to walk Harriet to sleep because that's when it's the hardest. Sometimes I fail miserably. Yesterday, after 45 minutes of trying to get Harriet to fall asleep, I gave up. (When it comes to fighting sleep, my daughter is straight up UFC.) Andrew took over and I did some writing. That helps too.

If I have an anxious thought, I share it. With Andrew, with a friend, with one of my parents. Sometimes saying something out loud takes away its power.

I think of a time in the future when this worry will have melted into the past and completely lost its potency.

I pray and sing and remind myself of Scriptures that speak hope into my fears.

"Do not fear for I am with you. Do not be dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." Isaiah 41:10

"Do not fear for I have redeemed you. I have summoned you by name. You are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. And when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned. The flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior." Isaiah 43:1-4

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:6-7

I think my anxiety is realizing he's no longer welcome in my home. I've hurt his feelings too many times. I've ignored him. I've recruited others against him. He's getting tired and it won't be long before he packs his bags and hits the road.

He won't be gone for good. I know he'll be back again. But it's okay.

Next time, it'll be a short visit.

7 comments:

  1. Dear sweet Em, I had to weep when I read this. My son has had and still has those very feelings, thoughts, and actions. I have written them off and thought it was something else, but your thoughts brought it all into perspective for me. I pray that Dane can find the peace that you have, and that he can find the inner strength to fight this demon, along with others, like you have. Thank you so much for your heart, words, and spirit. You are a blessing to all.

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  2. Dear Karla, I'm so sorry that Dane has to struggle with these issues. It's such a difficult battle. I too pray that Dane will find the peace and inner strength you talk about. In fact, I'm saying a prayer for him right now.

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  3. I'm just reading this post now. I remember you saying on my similar post that just getting it out helped you to control it. I hear so many echoes of my own unwanted anxiety in what you said.

    I think becoming mothers in some ways makes it much easier for anxiety to get a look-in, since we have that one area where we are hopelessly, forever, vulnerable. If he can't get a rise out of us with our parenting choices and/or our child's developmental milestones, he can always go for the big guns: our child's health and safety. I know I have totally insane thoughts sometimes about E. as well- that I'll let go of the stroller and it will suddenly careen into the street. It is tough to keep perspective, but I do try.
    T.

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  4. What you said about being vulnerable to anxiety in our motherhood is right on. It always has that handle on us.

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  5. Em, I just happened upon this post and I felt like I was writing it! Thank you for being so open talking about this, because hearing someone else saying the same kinds of things that I feel all the time, was really reassuring. It never occurred to me that the feelings i have are full fledged anxiety, but what you described is often exactly as I feel. I don't know what that revelation means, but I'm still thankful for it and thankful that you happened upon my blog awhile back.

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    1. So glad you found this post and so glad it was helpful to you.

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  6. I just found your blog via facebook minutes ago! I can so totally relate to everything you wrote and feel like I've found a soul mate in you. I have six children (15-27), two of them adopted, and I nursed my youngest till she was three because she, too, loved it and I loved bonding with her in that way. Weaning her was a big part of my prayer journal for months and I was harassed for not doing it sooner. I, too, suffer from anxiety, but work to keep it at bay. My daughter found the following article and recognized me in it for which I am deeply grateful - http://hellogiggles.com/7-things-people-anxiety-want-loved-ones-know/2#read. This child who I nursed for so long is a profound blessing along with all of my precious children. Thank you SO much for you refreshing honesty. I love the cute pictures, too!

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