Stress and worry and anxiety – or, you know, a normal day

I love Maura.  I love her dearly.  She has changed me in so many ways, good ways, happy ways, kick ass ways.

But as they say, magic always comes with a price.

The price for being Maura’s mom, besides all the fabulous kick ass stuff?  The not so pretty stuff.  Like the stress.  And the worry.  And the slightly screaming case of anxiety.

I’m pretty open about it all to friends, because I’m not ashamed of it.  Why be ashamed of it?  Living with Maura, dealing with her issues and all the nonsense that comes along with those issues is stressful.  I do worry about her.  And it all causes my natural tendency towards anxiety to sometimes spin out of control.

What, have I made this all look too much like a cakewalk?  Because I do that you know.  I put our best faces forward. I tell the jokes, and laugh at the nonsense, and do my best to ignore the stress and the anxiety and hide the worries.

Many moons ago, when I was in my pregnancy phase of life (aka my twenties), I spent a lot of time with baby blues.  I didn’t think it was post partum depression because there was so much more going on around my life to explain away feeling down.  And it wasn’t that bad, honestly.  But with Maura, I could see, even before giving birth, that I was dealing with something more.  After she was born, it didn’t get better, but it wasn’t awful either.  I told myself it was a mild case of PPD, and my husband was lovely and supportive and made sure I got out of the house when I needed a break.  And things seemed to get better.

Of course, the timing was off.  Because as the fog of PPD started to lift, we were informed that there might be something….off….with Maura.

And that’s when I hit depression like a brick wall.

I had spent so much of my time trying to keep my head above water, and then I was handed a sack of rocks to hold while treading the waters.  Yet most people didn’t notice.  I was still The Good Mom, taking kids to soccer practice and making sure they were clean and fed and loved.  No one saw that I had gone on auto-pilot.  I was going through motions while inside, a voice in my head screamed “There’s something wrong with the baby!  Fix her!” .

Several months or so after we were told that there might be something wrong with Maura, I looked up one day and realized I’d been ignoring my other children for that whole time. And I got slammed into the brick wall of mommy guilt.  So I tried to do better by those kids while taking Maura to doctors trying to pinpoint the cause for her delays.

Eventually I broke.  There were panic attacks, sure.  But apparently hyperventilating in my kitchen over something that wasn’t a big deal wasn’t a big enough wake up call for me.  Nor was hyperventilating over other things enough.  Nor was my messy house enough, or inability to make decisions, or urge to just run away from it all.  No, what did it was my husband asking me to get some help so I could be happy again.  Not that I was going around being outwardly unhappy.  I was just sort of frozen, unable to move forward with anything, and hiding my head in books and crafts.

So I made a call.  I saw a therapist.  I tried different anti-depressants.  I discovered that my system was quite sensitive and some of them made me nauseated.  I joked that being nauseated didn’t make me happy, and happy pills were supposed to make me happy dangit! I kept going to therapy.  I discovered that Prozac in a very low dose helped stomp down the screaming anxiety.  I figured out how to start digging the house out of its horrible state.  I learned to let some things go, and grew a backbone when it came to confrontation.  I cut through bullshit, and realized that life was too short to let my anxiety keep me in a choke hold.

I got better.  I weaned off the Prozac.  I was doing good.

But the problem is, I still had Maura.  I still had a natural tendency towards anxiety.  There was still stress, and there was still worries.

See, being a special needs parent, it’s like you have PTSD – except you never are “post” the traumas or the stress.  There is always something trying to rear its ugly head at you.  There is always something to set you off, make you worry, make those alarm bells scream in your head.  If Maura gets sick, I go into High Alert Mode and don’t sleep well because I worry that maybe this will be the illness that triggers seizures again.  If she acts off, I keep a close eye on her.  If she’s still awake at 11 pm, well, I’m not going to sleep any time soon either.

It’s an ongoing crisis.  It’s like having a low hum of anxiousness always playing in the back of your brain.  It’s living life knowing that one of your worst fears is your child dying before you, but your other worst fear is your child outliving you.  It’s having a moment in time when you realize just how much of your world is no longer “normal”.  It’s trying to live in the now, but worrying about what happens in five years, ten years.

It’s a never-ending cycle.

So when, after a move (which is stressful enough) internationally (which is even more stressful) and having to place Maura in a new school after a not great inclusion experience in the past (which just brings up all sorts of bad feelings) there was one day last summer when I had to drive over the bridge.  In the rain.  Which is actually quite normal in Seattle.  And was quite normal in Ireland.

I couldn’t do it.

I just couldn’t do it.

I pictured us spinning out of control, horrific crashes, and started hyperventilating.  I had to leave the highway and cancel the appointment I was taking Maura to.  Then I cried because I was disappointed in myself.

Being the jerk that I am, I tried to keep going along.  I thought that maybe I just needed to give myself a little more time to adjust to the big deal international move.  That maybe my anxiety would calm down.  Sure, there were days I couldn’t manage, and decisions I just couldn’t make.  Sure, I would think of something and the panic would pound in my chest and I’d have to control my breathing and calm down.  But I was certain I could manage it still.  Then my husband surprised me with a trip to Paris, and I realized my anxiety was so out of control, I was scared to death of getting on the flight.  Because, you know, plane crash, horrific So scared, I began to hope that maybe I would get ill and then couldn’t go. To Paris.

And I realized that my anxiety was getting the better of me again.  I mean, to give up going to Paris?  I had lost my damn mind.

So I ran to my doctor and said “Help!”, and she said “How?” and I said “Prozac?”  and she said “Here’s your prescription”.  I said hello to my little friend  again, then got my happy ass on the plane to Paris and made memories with my husband.  It wasn’t a cake walk, getting on that plane, but I was able to do it and didn’t cause a scene that required air marshals to tackle me in the aisle.

And you know what?  It’s okay.  It’s okay that I need a little Prozac to keep my anxiety more at bay.  It’s okay that I need some help dealing with my stress.  Anyone who thinks otherwise, who thinks I should just suck it up and deal, well, they can come spend a week in my shoes.  And then another week.  And another week. And another week.  Because this life of mine and the things in it?  This is for the long haul.  It’s a never ending cycle of stress and worry and anxiety.  There will be bad times, and there will be good times.  I’m just going to ensure that I have more good times than bad, and if that means taking a little bit of Prozac, or needing to talk to a therapist, so be it.

I will also highly recommend it to others going through this special form of never-ending PTSD.  We’re so quick to get help for our children, get them the therapy they need.  Just make sure you get the therapy you need too.

Me, in Paris.
Me, in Paris, which was therapy itself.