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.