My childhood memories are dotted with many happy, warm images such as Sunday family dinners at my grandparents’ house, late afternoon dance classes, playing Barbies with my best friends, and swimming any place that had a pool. At the same time, they are threaded with a constant stream of worry that I recognize in adulthood as being anxiety.
Be that as it may, I never thought anxiety would be an omnipresent force in my life.
Every Mom Worries When Her Kids Get Sick.
However, my psychology background forces me to recognize that my sleepless nights, distorted thoughts, and panic in my chest every time my kids get sick are not normal. Or healthy, for that matter.
Granted, we’ve never had a year like this before. Since Halloween, we’ve been the recipients of colds, sinus infections, stomach bugs, and everything in between. For the first time, my oldest contracted the flu right before Christmas. Since Friday, he’s undergone highs and lows, fever and chills, body aches and nausea, congestion and coughs. It’s been absolutely horrible to see him in that much pain and feel absolutely helpless to stop it. Every batch of homemade elderberry syrup, force-sipping of sports drinks and cough syrup, hot/cold packs, frenetic cleaning/disinfecting, and essential oil diffusing do not seem to make a dent in his misery.
They say the body can hold past trauma even when the mind tries to forget. I wholeheartedly agree. Today, I felt such a heavy weight over my chest and stomach that I knew something was about to gush forth. Even so, it wasn’t until later that I realized it was my old, unhealed stuff caught up in my present worry.
It Started With a Headache.
Almost nine years ago, it was an ordinary weekend. I talked to my mom pretty much every day on the phone, however, this phone call seemed different. She sounded a bit “off,” telling me that she’d had a weird headache lately.
“Don’t worry, I’m going to the doctor to get it checked out.” Since my mom was notorious for never going to the doctor for anything, I felt a bit concerned, but quickly brushed it off. My husband and I had just tied the knot six months earlier, so I was still feeling those blissful, untouchable feelings.
Later, I thought my sister and my mom were both overreacting when my sister called me and said, “Mom forgot how to write a Y. I’m taking her to the emergency room.” Seeing as my mom was prone to some anxiety as well, my husband and I discussed that she most likely was just getting a bit older. She was in her late 50s, so we reasoned that she may have experienced some age-related cognitive changes.
Everything Will Be Okay.
I was at work when I got the phone call from my sister. “They found a brain tumor. Mom’s having emergency surgery today.”
As I raced down to Phoenix from Flagstaff at a speed I never dared to reach before, I prayed: Please let this be nothing. It’s got to be nothing serious. Certainly, I thought that everything would turn out fine. Everything in my life had always worked out in the end, even if I couldn’t see “the why” of many things at first. In view of this, I knew nothing bad would happen.
Until It Did.
My mom was diagnosed with glioblastoma and lived just a little over two years after she had brain surgery. A traumatic, clinical-trial entering, memory-losing, seizure-having two years.
Does that mean a headache always equals death? Of course not. Logically, I know this. However, the shock and trauma of it all still lives somewhere deep in my body, in a place that is not accessed by my conscious mind. As much as I try to push it down and let logic win, the panic sets in eventually. It resurfaces when my children fall ill, when my husband travels for work, or when my head hurts with an unfamiliar pain. Not only did I lose that optimistic, untouchable naïvety of youth a long time ago, but I also learned that everything is not always going to be okay.
As a Mother, That Is a Terrifying Feeling.
Even as a therapist, I don’t know how to heal myself of these thoughts and feelings. Obviously, it takes time and patience… both of which I admittedly struggle with. Notably, I’m grateful to my husband for always trying to comfort me and keep me grounded in these situations, but I feel guilty for always putting this stuff on him.
All in all, talking it out helps. Giving voice to these irrational thoughts and feelings on paper or to a caring listener makes a big difference. It doesn’t eliminate the trauma, but it helps to identify the anxiety as just that: anxiety.
And anxiety is not a reliable source of truth.