Baby Terror. And Agoraphobia Terror. And Just Plain Terror.

Lou can tell when I haven’t been taking my zoloft, and his accuracy is alarming. It never ceases to astound me how totally chemical anxiety is.

Without getting too detailed, having another child is almost a physical impossibility for us at this point. We’ve decided we won’t be having any more kids for some time, and knock on wood, there won’t be one. But that doesn’t stop me from peeing on a pregnancy test every single month, even though pregnancy is nigh-impossible and my husband is rolling his eyes in exasperation. There’s no way we could be pregnant this month right? I ask, three times in a row, rapid-fire. Without fail, he raises his eyebrows in a ‘you’re insane’ way. No, he says. Have you taken your zoloft? So there you go.

 But I can’t help it. I think it’s how your hormones shift after you ovulate. A doctor drew it for me on a napkin once, after I told her that during ovulation, I feel amazing. Great! Stable! No anxiety here! Depression? What’s that? And then a week later, I am hyperventillating, crying, obsessing, and generally wanting to hide in a hole.

Go figure that your hormones (progesterone, I think? And estrogen) plummet after you ovulate. And when your hormones plummet, you start to feel like shit. Your anxiety (or depression, or both) comes back in full force. You go from thinking, hey, life is pretty great! to over-analyzing completely everything. When I’m ovulating, I think, you know, having another baby wouldn’t be so bad. Maybe in a year or so…? We’re in a good place right now. A week later, I think of having another baby and my heart starts pounding. Oh Jesus no, I think, no no no, please don’t send me another baby, I couldn’t mentally handle it. 

Truth be told, another BABY wouldn’t be so bad. Pregnancy and birth are what I hate. I have an intense fear of vomit and some vestiges of medically-related PTSD that makes birth and pregnancy a whirlpool of uncontrollable anxiety. A pregnancy without antidepressants is not possible for me, but now that I’ve had a child with a neural tube defect, I’m so terrified of taking anything during pregnancy, in case it was a medication that caused it. I start skipping my zoloft after I ovulate — you know, on the near-impossible chance that we actually did concieve a baby and on the premise (which is not evidence-based, by the way) that the zoloft actually caused his NTD somehow. Anyway, I’m terrified. And the terror convinces me to skip a dose or two. Which makes it worse. Which means until I start getting some mad therapy (and until we get, like, our own house, obviously), there are no babies on the horizon.

If it were morally licit and I had a zillion dollars, I would totally have a test tube baby. No vomiting for months on end. No danger of me poisoning the baby with my very-much-needed antidepressants. No painful, terrifying birth. No danger of a post-partum hemorrhage. I would have like ten test-tube babies. I would have my own Jurassic Park full of test tube babies.

Literally a conversation my husband and I have had, post-delivery.

So it’s with alarming accuracy that Lou can tell whether or not I’ve been taking my meds. I start sounding a little bit like Shoshanna from GIRLS, hyper and fast-talking. I start talking over and over about things I can’t control and I start imagining worst-case scenarios. An example: I was pinning away on Pinterest the other night, dreaming of having our own condo and what it might look like. For some reason, people like to pin pictures of trap doors in houses – trap doors under the stairs, hidden rooms behind bookcases, that kind of thing. I’ll admit it’s pretty cool, but when I haven’t taken my zoloft that day, I start imagining myself as a Jewish woman in 1930s Germany, cowering with my children while Nazis tear through the house. Or I imagine I’m Jodi Foster in Panic Room, and I have to corral my child in a safe room while intruders try to coax us out. Basically, I start running through a billion scenarios in my head where my children are in danger and I have to protect them. And then my heart starts pounding. And I have to shut off the computer, take my medicine, and go to bed. All because of this:

OH JESUS, YOU CAN TOTALLY SEE THE HINGES, THE NAZIS WILL FIND US

I also, ever since being diagnosed with PTSD, have struggled mightily with agoraphobia. When I skip a few days of my zoloft, and then convince myself I’m miraculously pregnant, and then skip more zoloft so I don’t poison my imaginary baby, and so on, and so forth until I’m literally incapacitated by anxiety, it is hard — nay, impossible — for me to leave the house. This was a phenomenon I never really understood until a counselor sat me down, opened up the DSM-V, and showed me the part of the book where it spelled out explicitly what agoraphobia is. I half expected to see my picture next to the description.

Avoidance? Well … I only avoid class because there might be a shooter or something. And I avoid Devon Avenue because it reminds me of India. And I can’t walk to CVS without a buddy because there might be a stabber on the loose. But other than that, I’m cool!

Restricted Travel? Not really. Except I haven’t been able to take the train in three months without a panic attack. And I’m late for class every day because once I muster up the courage to go to class, I have to walk three miles to get there. That’s normal, right?

Fear of being confined? Uh, duh! If I’m confined, I can’t escape if there’s a shooter!

This is the picture they’d use, too. Because CRAZY EYES!!!

I can safely say I no longer have PTSD. But I very much still struggle with agoraphobia. Even with medicine, it is hard for me to voluntarily leave the house. I can’t tell you how many times we miss Wednesday Rosary at church because Henry pooped his diaper twice this morning and he might do it again when we’re out! or June is potty-training and she’ll pee everywhere! or there might be rain — the sky is cloudy!. It’s not logical. It doesn’t make sense. But, I guess, the anxiety I have makes me have an incredibly low tolerance for anything surprising, or unplanned, or anything from whence I can’t immediately flee. At the height of my PTSD, I couldn’t ride in a car because if I had to pee while I was driving, I couldn’t immediately get out and pee. I would have to wait and find a gas station or something first. That terrified me. Legitimately. One night, on our way to a friend’s party, I suddenly had to pee while we were on the highway, and we had to drive around looking for an exit, trying to find a Burger King where I could relieve myself. We found a gas station within fifteen minutes, but by then I was a sobbing, hysterical, hyperventillating mess. Because what if I had peed my pants?

Believe me, it doesn’t make sense, and I lived through it. That’s the funny thing about anxiety. Your brain takes situations that, to anyone’s right mind, are no big deal. Wearing a dress. Riding in a car. Going to Wednesday Rosary. And it takes those situations and warps and perverts them until they become insurmountable obstacles. You start thinking this dress is too tight! I’m gonna asphyxiate and die! I have to pee and I have to find parking before I get out of the car! I’m gonna have to hold in my pee forever and I’ll die of uremic poisoning! And on. And on. Until you’re a crying mess.

Whoever drew this knows what’s up.

By the way, the anxiety is never really about being in a dress or going outside. The anxiety is about things happening that you can’t control. The anxiety is about the fear of having a panic attack. It just feels like you’re freaking out about something mundane.

 Even worse, sometimes anxiety manifests itself as a physical sickness. Ever wonder why people go years and years with untreated anxiety or depression? It’s because sometimes anxiety or depression doesn’t look like a humorous personality quirk. Sometimes, back in college, I would start coming down with the flu. Achey limbs, runny nose, sore throat, headache. And then I’d cancel my plans and all my flu symptoms would go away in an hour. That’s weird, I thought, and thought nothing of it. It took years and years to realize that, oh, this feels like the flu, but it’s not really. It’s kind of like having a twinge in your stomach and then finding out it’s cancer. It kind of tilts your world on its axis.

 Anyway. I guess my point is that it doesn’t matter what your triggers are. Anxiety triggers look different for everyone. And they only very tangentially make sense. And your anxiety symptoms will probably not look like the next person’s. And they might change over time, as well. (Ask me about the time I developed Irritable Bowel Syndrome and I couldn’t go anywhere without the fear of crapping my pants! Actually … don’t ask me.)

But my point is that anxiety is debilitating. And elusive. And it makes you crap your pants.

And all you can do about it is suck it up, take a deep breath, and try your best to make it to Wednesday Rosary. Even if June pees her pants on the way there.

And get some zoloft. Sweet, sweet zoloft.

 

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12 thoughts on “Baby Terror. And Agoraphobia Terror. And Just Plain Terror.

  1. I can relate to so many of the things. So many of the things!!!! I have an extreme fear of vomiting too.
    Omg we totally need it get drunk sometime.
    Sunday?

  2. Oh my goodness.

    My comment won’t be in the category of “literary genius” like Tracey said hers was before it got eaten, but I am sending virtual hugs to you and will give you extra, ACTUAL hugs on Sunday. I don’t know what exactly what this feels like for you but I HAVE fought anxiety a bunch and it royally sucks. Take care of yourself. You are loved!

  3. Anxiety sucks. It really sucks. I come by it honestly, from my mother, but it was never a big problem until my son was born, and I suffered PPA. It’s the biggest reason we didn’t have a second baby, although my son is awesome. Hugs.

  4. Anxiety sucks. It SUCKS. Having postpartum anxiety is the number 1 reason we have just one child when we always dreamed of two. I get it. Hugs, mama.

  5. I will never forget my first therapist visit in college. I had a real concern of being dropped from the teacher certification program. In reality, I just needed to work hard, do my best, and if I was dropped, reapply.

    When my counselor asked what I thought would happen, I talked through a CRAZY spiral that ended in me being homeless.

    Am I teaching right now, using that teaching certificate (that I got, btw)? No. And am I HOMELESS?! Hell no. I’m just glad I’ve had those spirals now so I can relate to other people when they do. Whew!

    • Oh, I so relate to that. My therapist would always ask me, in the throes of my anxiety — okay, so you pee your pants (or whatever I was obsessing over at the time) … so what? What then? And I would always counter with some insane anxiety spiral that always ended with me having to go to the hospital for some reason (helloooo, PTSD!).

      I agree — the best thing I got out of those awful years was that now I can relate to other people who have the same crappy spirals!

  6. I was reading through your blog posts and really digging your voice, then wham!!! I was punched in the gut by your Holocaust/Anne Frank/Nazi ‘joke.’ —- “Oh Jesus, you can totally see the hinges, the Nazis will find us.” —- I was so deeply saddened, dismayed, and shocked to find this brand of humor on your blog. 😦

    As you know, the Nazis methodically hunted down, tortured, starved, beat, raped, and brutally slaughtered millions of women, men, babies, and children. They weren’t just numbers or diaries or unrelatable facts in a history lesson….they were moms, dads, sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, uncles, aunts, grandkids, grandmas and grandpas. If you will be so kind as to bear with me, I will try to make my feelings about your ‘Nazi humor’ more relatable for you.

    Did you know Nazi SS officers used to rip babies from their mothers’ arms and smash their baby’s heads against walls or the pavement, (either by swinging the baby by the feet into a masonry wall or smashing the baby down on the pavement) while the mother watched in horror….pleading, screaming, and sobbing hysterically for her baby?

    Did you know young children (under the age of 13) were considered “useless,” by the Nazis thus lined up and shot or sent to the gas “showers”? The Nazis used Zyklon-B gas, formally used as a pesticide. It passed through the mucous membranes, the skin, the blood, and principally the lungs, resulting in a kind of internal asphyxiation causing fear, panic, vertigo and vomiting before death. Mothers and children often watched each other die this way.

    The Nazis also hunted down and murdered mentally or physically disabled children, labeling them in propaganda as “life unworthy of life,” “useless eaters” and “burdens upon society.” They passed a law for the specific purpose of exterminating physically or mentally disabled children. Doctors, nurses, and midwives were required to report newborn infants and toddlers who showed signs of mental or physical disabilities. Soon, special needs children up to age 17 were added to the Nazi’s kill list.

    Nazis doctors also performed experiments on pregnant women and children without the use of pain meds or anesthesia….using scalpels, lancets, forceps, and needles to cut, sew, slice, extract, and inject caustic chemicals. They “experimented” on pregnant women by sewing or tying their thighs tightly together while they were in labor and ready to birth. All was done without pain meds or anesthesia. They did experiments that resulted in the birth of deformed babies, then killed the babies in front of the mother.

    Most people know the rudimentary facts of the Holocaust but too many are still inured to the immeasurable degree of the trauma and horror because they cannot fathom or personally relate. I’ve found I can most often get through to mothers when trying to convey the viscerally painful offensiveness of Holocaust ‘humor’ or emotionally removed and abstract comments. The dawning is in the details (not just the numbers).

    I know from your posts on your pregnancy, PTSD, panic attacks, overseas hospitalization, and your beautiful baby’s SB diagnosis, that you can relate to that ‘I-can’t-believe-you-said-that, punched-in-the-gut’ feeling when people make ‘jokes’ or comments that are dishearteningly offensive, thoughtless, painful, and flippant. You know how it feels when it comes from an unexpected source that should know better, but somehow missed the memo. Usually because the people making such comments have no personal or subjective frame of reference or cannot envision one, even when they are in positions to know better.

    • Neshama – I apologize and did not mean to offend you. Believe it or not, I knew all those facts about the Nazis. They were terrible. My comment wasn’t to make light of the terrible atrocities they committed, but to make light instead of my very real anxiety disorder, that has my brain imagine all sorts of scenarios about Nazis and hiding my family from them.

  7. Your anxiety disorder is manifesting in scenarios about Nazis and images of hiding your family from the Nazis? Why do think this is happening? Do you think it’s because you have a special needs child?

    For readers that may not be aware of this, the Nazis passed laws to exterminate all special needs children, regardless of their religious background or lineage. It was not restricted to Jewish special needs children. In his obsession to create a “superior Nordic-Germanic race” Hitler implemented the promotion of the “genetically healthy” and the elimination of the “sick,” which included all those with hereditary illnesses and mental or physical disabilities. This form of eugenics became the basis of Hitler’s National Socialist genetic health policy and state doctrine.

    Please write more on why (or why you think) your anxiety disorder has manifested in this very specific (and I would guess, unusual) way. What did your therapist say about it? Please enlighten me and your readers.

    • It’s possible it’s because I have a special needs child. I think it’s just because I have children, period. I have an intense desire to protect them and I think my mind just makes up scenarios where I wouldn’t be able to protect them sufficiently. Hence, Nazis. Among other things. Intrusive/anxious thoughts are part of having an anxiety disorder.

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