Shift in the Fear

The last time I wrote about my postpartum anxiety was several months ago. I was in the process of finding and getting help and was still trudging, knee deep, in fear each and every day. I started weekly counseling in October? November? I don’t really remember, sometime in there, with a doctoral student at our hospital’s behavioral medical center.

It was clear from the first day that a huge part of my anxiety was about control. I could not control what happened to my child, so I was anxious. I couldn’t control his breathing or his airway clearance at night. I couldn’t control what happened at daycare and as such, those were my 2 biggest anxiety sources. I would stay awake at night thinking about what I would say if I had to tell everyone that my child had died. I would imagine car accidents whenever I closed my eyes, imagine finding him not breathing when I walked into a room. My imagination was constantly coming up with new horrors. It was exhausting.

Since starting therapy, some of this is better. I’m getting better at thought stopping- where I literally tell myself to stop once I realize I’m going to one of those ugly scenarios, though admittedly, I often don’t realize it until I’m already deep into it. I’m getting better at identifying the times I’m most anxious (work days, car rides) so I can equip myself and occupy my mind. It’s still a struggle, but a lot of it is better. I worry less about the baby. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m dealing with my feelings or simply because he feels so much more sturdy these days, less helpless, but either way, I spend fewer hours imagining him being hurt or killed. This is a good thing, even if it sounds so cold and crass to write. I hate admitting this stuff out loud because it comes across so matter of fact- I imagine my child dying- but the reality of it is that it is wrought with emotion, not matter of fact at all.

As my worries about Eli have gotten smaller, other ones have taken their place. My new paralyzing fear is that something will happen to me. That I won’t get to see this amazing child grow up, that I will miss out on other kids, on grandkids, on nieces and nephews. It’s terrifying. It’s exhausting. It’s heartbreaking.

Whereas my prior anxiety was more background noise than anything else, these new fears are not subtle, not in the background. They are out and out panic attacks. Last week while running Eli’s bath I broke out in a cold sweat thinking of all the things I should make sure my husband knows in case I die. I thought about how I need to tell him to sometimes call Elijah Eli because I love that nickname and I want him to know that’s an option for what to be called (my husband primarily calls him Elijah). I realize how silly that sounds, how non-urgent it should be, but even writing this makes me feel panicked. Like if something happens you’ll read this and think about how tragic it is that I worried about dying and how much more tragic it is that I was right.

It feels both scary and kind of meta, I won’t lie.

I find it much harder to thought stop these new fears because they come on so fast. I’m drowning in them before I realize that I’ve even begun thinking about them. I get much more worked up, crying even, when these anxieties swell because I find the idea of it so heartbreaking. The idea of missing out on these wonderful things literally takes my breath away sometimes.

I’m not sure what the answer is. I’m not ready for medication yet for a couple of reasons. The fast acting stuff is great, but I’m not wild about using it while pumping for Eli. The maintenance stuff always makes me sicker than a dog for the first few weeks and I just don’t have the time for that. And since I’m still functioning, I don’t want to go that direction just yet. I’m still doing therapy and it is helping, but I’ve come to a point where I’m realizing that I’m probably always going to have anxiety like this. I’ve struggled with other anxieties for years, but somehow I thought this set would be short lived. That once I got over the initial hump, it would sort of disappear. I’m pretty sure that isn’t the case.

At this point, I just hope for management. I hope to learn to let go of some of the control issues (ask me how I feel about germs and you’ll quickly understand how poorly that is going) and get out of my own head. I want to spend more time thinking about what I’ll do tomorrow than worrying about if I’ll get one. I want to not have to stop thoughts all day long and instead entertain happy daydreams. But I know this won’t come quickly or easily and though I am tired now, I understand that the hard work will be worth it, even if not immediately. I don’t expect to live anxiety free, but I want to live in spite of it.

12 Responses to “Shift in the Fear”

  • Crysi:

    After my my oldest was born, I could have written this same post. I had been freaked about something happening to her & once I got that under control, it was fear that my death was imminent. I was convinced I was going to suddenly die of a heart attack because I was overweight. It helped me lose 40lbs, but I was neurotic. And while losing the weight, I ended up needing emergency surgery to remove my gallbladder. I was a nervous wreck before the wheeled me into surgery because I was certain the anesthesia would kill me. Almost 6 years later, I still have moments of anxiety when I think “what if”. I have 3 beautiful daughters that I want to see grow up. I can’t imagine my husband being a single parent. My anxiety now mostly resides around my husband though, but I think that’s pretty common when you’re husband is a police officer.

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  • My mortality is on my mind a lot, I think because of my mom’s sudden death and all the unanswered questions she left. I’m about to start writing a journal specifically for Moe so that if I do suddenly die, now, later, some day, he’ll have something solid he can hold on to. Is this healthy? I’m not sure. But, I don’t really care, because my mom had a ton of journals that my sister and I cannot read because they were for her. They are dark and full of sadness. I certainly have those kinds of journals too, but I want to leave something for Moe so that he has more to go on than just the darkness if something happens.

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  • Elizabeth:

    As you know, I’m in this boat with you and it’s a terrifying ride. Good for you for continuing to get help.

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  • Girl, I totally feel you. My newest fear is I fear dying before I am able to experience being a mother. Sometimes that fear causes me to completely lose it and then I panic over the fact that I’m still not freaking pregnant. I have accepted the fact that I have an anxiety problem and it is something I may have to fight for the rest of my life. Therapy definitely helps me as does praying and exercising. The more I am taking care of my body, the better my mind does.

    Also, I don’t want to go on medication either. One reason is that I am really sensitive to side effects. The biggest reason though, is I want to learn to manage it myself. I know that the moment I went off anxiety meds, the anxiety would come back and I would be back where I started. And I sure as heck don’t want to take anxiety meds forever. I would much rather learn coping skills on my own.

    Anyway, that was all to say that I understand how debilitating anxiety can be. It hurts and it’s so damn hard. But keep working on it. Even though I am not anxiety free, I win small battles (like the fact that I used to get so anxious before any trip that I would spend the entire week before running to the bathroom every few minutes. I can now travel mostly anxiety free!) and I’ve noticed things getting better. You CAN get better and it WILL get easier. You’re one strong, smart momma.

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  • I tried everything and—at the time—medication was the ONLY way I was able to be a functioning MOM.

    If you are avoiding places where you’d normally take a child (my gym or whatever), to me, that’s borderlining not functioning—because it’s not fair to your child and it’s not fair TO YOU.

    I’m happy to say that I’m almost a year meds-free, which is nice. But I had no issues taking the meds that would help me make sure my kids had the best shot at normalcy. Because that’s really what it’s about–not passing those anxieties on to them.

    HUGS.

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  • kimybeee:

    long time axiety sufferer – would not trade my meds for anything!! sometimes you can’t get over what is bothering you because it is a chemical imbalance, not a personality issue. each of us choose what is best for us and the many reasons we make the choices we do.

    as an outsider that does not know you – what you are describing does not sound like you are functioning. you are not even able to enjoy the little things because of the fear of the huge things. you just do what is best for you and your family and enjoy every moment of everyday to the fullest – you only get one chance!!!!

    my children would not allow me in the house if i didn’t medicate – it makes my days so much more worry free and happy. it feels good to let go of all the things that are not important and to really cherish what is. i feel like my meds give me the opportunity to enjoy my blessings and push all the other stuff out of the way. i am a better me with meds!

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  • Kathy:

    I have issues with anxiety. After doing everything I could to minimize it, my doc put me on Viibryd. It’s a new generation anti-depressant. I normally have horrible side effects with anti-depressants but none with this. Doc said its been a lifesaver for many of her patients. Finding what works is hard work!

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  • akl:

    Oh, I am so happy you have continued to write about your experience. My daughter is just a little bit younger than Eli, and I’ve been going through the same thing. These horrible fantasies where your mind just goes to the worst possible place. I still struggle with flashes of the horrible that could happen to my daughter, to me, to my husband, even to my dogs. and I do the same thing – how would I tell people? what would be my first reaction? how would my life go on? would my marriage fall apart? it’s awful and exhausting and only adds to the terrible mom guilt.
    Therapy does help me, because I feel like it gets to the source of my anxiety. I’ve also found that meditation helps too. it helps me more easily dismiss those thoughts. but I readily admit that being on sertraline has done wonders for me. I didn’t realize it until I inadvertently went off it for a week and had a complete breakdown. it was not pretty, but it gave me a swift kick in the butt that something is not firing in my brain correctly, and it needs some help.

    Please be well.

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  • How come no one tells you that it’s not normal to worry every second of the day / night about SIDS. My PPAD was not diagnosed until about 1.5 years post partum. I really believed that it was normal to have a crazy, uncontrollable, all consuming fear that my child would never wake up.
    As for treatment, I went with meds (strong family history of mood disorders left me sure that I needed them, and a lack of available therapy options in non-english-speaking countries. It was a no brainer.) It’s a personal decision, how to treat this disease, you’ll make the right call for your family. All I can tell you that meds worked wonders for me. I had to play around a bit to find what did work, but it made a huge difference in my quality of life.
    If you’re interested there’s a really helpful book called Pregnant on Prozac. Might be worth checking out.

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  • Praying for you. You are so brave.

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  • Liz:

    Hi there…long time anxiety sufferer also. I was on meds after each baby, but after my last baby (9/2011) I thought I’d try and go without. I was great (or so I thought) up until he was almost one. Then the panic attacks started…I thought I was having a stroke because my entire body went numb and rigid. The paramedics had to be called…apparently I was hyperventilating. Anyway, I still fought taking meds. I took tranquilizers occasionally and felt incredibly guilty about it because I was still nursing (even though my obgyn said it was okay as well as my lactation consultant). After Christmas I finally lost it and had to be admitted to the hospital. It’s taken a couple of different meds this time around to get me to feel better…and I’m not all the way there, it’s only been a month, but thank God that I was pushed…and I mean PUSHED…by a few people in my life to do something. I am in therapy too, but right now it’s the meds that are helping the most. Even though I thought I was “functioning” I was not. Now that I can see a little clearer I can tell what my anxiety is doing to my children. It’s wearing off on them and I wish I could go back and just do the last year over, take the dang meds right after my baby was born and skip this whole experience. But I didn’t, and now I’m dealing with the consequences. I hope with therapy and continued medication management that eventually I won’t need it forever, but right now if it helps me feel normal, act normal, and not have panic attacks that make me feel like I’m certain I’m dying, it’s incredibly worth it (and by normal I mean not freaking out about everything all the time :-) ). To each his own, and I hope that whatever you are doing to get help will work for you in the long run. But don’t ever beat yourself up if medication ends up being a temporary (or even long term) answer for you. You need to do what is best for YOU and your family.

    Hugs :-)

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  • I had the same what if thoughts that revolved around my daughter & then later on around me dying. You are definitely not alone. It has been almost 4 years for me now but I can finally say that through therapy, a medication, & finding support, I am doing so much better. I know I will always deal with some anxiety but it so much more manageable & doesn’t interfere with my life anymore. I hope you find what works for you too soon. Hugs mama.

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Welcome!
I'm Katie, a 30-year-old, wife, mom, former teacher-turned PT, who also had brain surgery in November of 2007. This blog chronicles my daily life, from mundane to crazy, often with far too much detail. Sit down, get comfortable and stay for a while.
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