Grief does not come alone.
He brings along his friends to help crash your party too.
These have all been my ever faithful companions since we lost our son, Joshua, four and a half years ago.
But to be fair, the anxiety has always been there.
It’s been something I’ve battled since childhood, but loss compounded it. It gave a face and a reality to my fears. It took my worst thoughts and made them real. The darkness is very real and that makes anxiety a very scary companion to have along a grief journey.
When we had our rainbow, Madeline, I stayed awake for the first 36 hours in the hospital with her. We had lost Joshua 36 hours after he was born. Even though the two pregnancies and the two births couldn’t have been more different. Joshua had been born at 29 weeks and Madeline at 38. Joshua spent his time in the NICU and Madeline was healthy and in our arms. But still, my anxiety told me otherwise. 36 hours. I had to wait 36 hours before my eyes could close. 36 hours before I could take my eyes off of her and think for even a brief second that this one was really coming home. I watched the clock. I held my breath. I laid my hand on her chest and tummy feeling her breathe.
This time was different, but my anxiety would not relent.
Once we brought her home my anxiety did not let up.
I didn’t want to put her down. I needed to hold her. I needed to feel her breathing. I would wake up in the middle of the night panicked. I just knew that she had quit breathing. I would quickly reach out to feel her the rise and fall of her tummy. She was still breathing. She was still alive. My heartbeat would start to return to a normal rhythm once again, and I would exhale slowly not realizing that I had been holding my breath since I had been startled awake.
Even now, three and a half years later, I still wake up multiple times a night to check that she is breathing. My head tells me it’s not rational to need to check on her five times a night, but my anxiety screams “Do it! You must keeping checking!”
The anxiety cripples me.
And it doesn’t just extend to fears about our daughter.
I have panic attacks when my husband, who works as a manager at a bank, doesn’t reply to a text message. My head knows he is probably just busy: reports to complete and a lobby full of customers. My anxiety shouts my worst fears at me instead. The bank has been robbed. He is tied up or dead. I have lost him now just like I lost our son. Just as I’m mid-panic attack my phone usually buzzes with a text message. “Love you more, lovely” my husband says. He’s okay. I can breathe again, at least until he gets in the car and starts driving home then I’ll have to hold my breath again until I hear him pull in the driveway.
The anxiety is paralyzing.
I try my best to remain calm and pulled together. I have a full-time job in addition to being on mom and wife duty every morning and evening. I don’t have time for daily panic attacks and sleepless nights. But then they happen and I feel like I’m failing myself and my family.
After losing our son I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Walking into a doctor’s office, a blood pressure cuff, seeing the white snow fall, the weather getting cold. All of these things bring back memories. Not just memories but all consuming, can’t breathe, feel like I’m right back there in the hospital watching my child take his last breath in my arms memories.
I wish I had a magic solution.
But the truth is that I don’t think there is a magic solution. There is no easy way to walk through grief. And there is no easy way to silence the anxiety and fear and everything else that comes with it. It’s a process. One that I will continue to work through for the rest of my life.