You know Nervous Nelly and Debbie Downer. But have you met Anxious Amber?
I’ve found that anxiety is a worthy and conniving foe. We’ve battled it out for years and so far, it hasn’t defeated me. But, as is required for proper tension in any comic book or superhero flick, it does get the best of me temporarily and puts into question my ability to keep the upper hand. Perhaps the worst incident occurred during my senior year of high school (pretty much a living hell), when, after being verbally attacked by a fellow member of the softball team, I collapsed at the bottom of a stairwell and literally could not move my strangely numb, curled-up fern frond arms for a good hour. That has happened–without loss of arm function but with complete loss of my head–numerous times since Stella’s birth, most notably during her now legendary, but thankfully resolved, feeding aversion. This past Sunday, anxiety dealt me a huge blow and it took two days to catch my breath. In an extreme bout of panic and lingering postpartum depression I projectile vomited despair in every direction, not as actual puke but in the form of desperate phone calls and/or emails t0 Dooce (yes, I emailed a celebrity blogger who doesn’t know me from a speck of dust on her fancy “#26”-engraved computer monitor), a member of my PEPS group, my sister, my mom, and my therapist. At the time, I thought I was going to break. My recurring thought was, “I can’t do this anymore.”
What caused this latest attack? I have been pondering this question and, amazingly, reached a conclusion, which I rarely do, preferring instead to roll around in indecision and agonizing in-between-ness. First off, I don’t take care of myself. I drink less water than is required to keep a cactus alive, I stay up too late, and I eat about half as much as I should and most of what I do eat is chocolate and coffee. I rarely take the supplements that I invested $250 in, thereby dismissing the solid hour that I spent with an insightful nutritionist in order to come up with a way of out feeling so crappy.
That lack of self-care puts me on shaky ground. I’m not nearly as stable and healthy as I should be, and perhaps because I’m not on solid ground, I still worry about Stella too much. Or maybe because I worry about Stella so much, I don’t take care of myself. Either way, it has to stop. Afterall, Stella is thriving to such a fabulous degree that I cry when I think about it.
The thing is, I’m an incredibly determined and persistent person. This helped me get Stella off of her feeding tube–I mean, no other outcome besides “Stella, with no tube, eating happily on her own” was acceptable (I told her doctor this) and I literally would have cut off my arms off if helpful. But there’s a dark flip side. When I don’t have anything to worry about, I find something to worry about, damn it! I recently realized/admitted that when I don’t have anything tangible to obsess about, I swear, there is an uncomfortable void. So in my spare time, I’ll read a book or website that plants problematic mental seeds. Voila! Worry and a sick sense of order are restored. Stella had a small mark above her lip this weekend. I convinced myself that it was a cold sore that I caused by kissing her, and that I had doomed Stella to a life of humiliation due to constant cold sore outbreaks. The mark was gone on Monday, and was clearly not a cold sore at all. More likely a little nick from her razor-sharp finger nails which I don’t cut enough because Stella. Never. Stops. Moving. I don’t even get cold sores. Nope. But my worry was hungry, and I fed it.
I believe I am addicted to anxiety. I’m so used to it that I can’t function without it. Granted, I function poorly with it, and it’s really no way to live, but I simply don’t know how to live without it at this point. And that is what I need to work on and move past.
I find that it helps to have other people around. A healthy distraction, a necessary part of a balanced life. We don’t have family in the area, except for one fabulous cousin, so that doesn’t help matters. I have kept a possible move back east (I’m from the Boston area) on the table, and we continue to consider it, though the economy seems to get in the way. I know that moving wouldn’t solve my problems, but it might help create some much needed breathing room and comfort.
At the end of the anxiety-ridden, dehydrated, unshowered day, I have to ask myself, “Why?” Why don’t I take care of myself? The answer is probably very simple, and sad. Though I must say, most new moms go through this and in that way, I’m pretty normal. I realize that. But I think that in my case, it’s a bit extreme–the lack of self-regard and eating and whatnot. On some level, the simple truth is that I believe I am not worthy of care. I don’t deserve it. I’m awkward and “less-than” and disorganized and crazy and, for lack of a less cheese-tastic cliche of a term, unlovable. Yet, amazingly and immediately, when I look these hidden beliefs in the face, when I pull them into the light and dust them off, they start to fall apart pretty quickly. They’re old and worn out and need to be tossed out like the garbage they are (as do the entire contents of our basement). I am a really, really great mother. I care about Stella, and all babies and people, really, so much that sometimes it’s hard to bear. I am practically Gandhi! (Yes, I know I sound ridiculous but I do care a lot.) But if given the proper balance, that sensitivity is a powerful and good quality. I am a warrior and I can do any-f’ing-thing I want. I can help myself and others, with great success. I’ve proven it time and time again. Now it’s just time to pick myself up (again) and do it.