I don’t want this post to sound like it was ripped from the pages of a Chicken Soup book by telling people who suffer from anxiety and panic disorders that the best cure (besides counseling and medication) is simply appreciating what you’ve got rather than worry so much about losing it.
That advice means nothing to people whose anxiety is triggered by circumstances; people who suffer as they do in part because they already have lost something or someone valuable to them.
In the weeks after my father died, my home was flooded with widows, and many stories I heard came from people whose spouses seemed healthy and normal, only to literally drop dead in a grocery store from an undiagnosed heart condition (or something of the sort).
I worry enough about losing people I love (and with good reason), so needless to say, when you already struggle with anxiety, these kinds of stories don’t help. People like me – the planning type – like to know what’s ahead, which is why anxiety is often coupled with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I would so rather know that something terrible is coming than have it strike my otherwise happy, quiet life without so much as a warning.
Marrying a physician assistant meant adjusting to a life of unpredictable scheduling: a patient could develop complications and need surgery at any hour of the day or night, meaning sometimes date nights get cancelled. That much I can handle, but what’s more difficult are the nights when my husband comes home hours later than usual – sometimes close to midnight – because there were complications in surgery, or an emergency came up, and it happens so quickly he doesn’t have time to text me “Hey hon, gonna be late tonight.”
What’s really frustrating is that I know, deep down, this is usually the case. It’s natural to worry from time to time, but for the person with an anxiety disorder, every hour that passes without hearing from your loved one is confirmation that they must have been killed by a drunk driver, and you may even start to develop heart palpitations strong enough to make you want to pop a Xanax.
You don’t need to tell me that’s abnormal: believe me, I know it is. That’s why it’s called a disorder. It’s with great horror I realize I’ve become That Wife, the constant worrier, not unlike the Mom with similar fears about her children when they are five minutes past curfew: it’s never “Oh, well, her phone must have lost battery, or it’s in the bottom of her purse and she didn’t hear it ring,” but rather Someone kidnapped her and she is trapped in someone’s trunk.
I’ve seen plenty of those mothers on sitcoms before. We laugh and make fun of such people, but consider for a moment that such fears go beyond a personality quirk, and are indicative of something more serious.
What I’d give to be more concerned that my husband is late because he’s out with his mistress, not dead or unconscious (okay, not really).
So what is the best cure for this? However well-intentioned this advice may be, “Just appreciate what you have while you still have it” is futile (can you tell I’ve heard it before?). Sometimes, when the beginnings of panic start digging their claws in, it helps to sit down and focus on breathing. Make a cup of tea. Sit with a pet, if you have one (my kittens have been extremely therapeutic). Pray, if you’re the praying type. You can’t change the circumstances around you, but you can pray for peace in the midst of them.
Honestly, last time this happened to me, I made a cup of chamomile and watched Frozen. Need I explain how empowering “Let it Go” is for the anxiety-ridden soul? 🙂