Phil comparing his chronic pain to what I feel was an eye opener for me. Although I’m not in physical pain, I am most definitely in emotional pain 24/7. Maybe not as bad one day as the next, maybe not as bad one second as the next, but at some level I feel it always. Our talks resonated on a level I’ve been unable to reach with anyone other than Todd. He talked about missing his life before his accident. How he missed doing something as simple as going to the store without feeling pain. The jealousy he felt when he saw others doing random, everyday things with such ease. How his personality and the way he viewed the world were completely flipped upside down. That as much as his family wanted to help he knew they couldn’t. This was his life from here on out. All he could do was learn how to accept it and find the strength to push through each new day. He said something to me one night I’ll never forget. He said, “Shelly, I use to think life was short. Everything was going by so quickly. Now every day feels long. Life feels long.” Oh boy, did I understand what he meant. I knew I couldn’t say anything to help him, and he had told me on a number of occasions he loved that I didn’t try.
As the days went on, I started to be able to differentiate between what symptoms were anxiety and what symptoms were something else. So many things played into figuring that out.
First, the hospital is very scheduled. Everything has a place and time, and every day is basically the same with very little difference. This is key for an anxious person. If something happened that wasn’t scheduled, I would get extremely anxious. Shift change was horrendous. I started trusting a nurse and then she was gone. I felt this need to explain my entire history to every new nurse who took over. I wanted them to know if something happened to me what all I had been dealing with in case it was important in an emergency situation.
Second, as much as not having Crue and Todd with me was one of my biggest anxiety triggers, it was also key to getting better. I needed time to myself to concentrate on myself. Up until that point, I had been trying my hardest to ignore how I felt. That meant keeping my mind off of me. Being in a hospital with nothing but myself to concentrate on was incredibly hard but also necessary.
Third, being in a hospital setting was the only way I could have done this. My anxiety had reached a level I didn’t know anxiety could even reach. I was having physical symptoms. This was affecting my health! I could not function. I was lucky I was tying my own damn shoelaces. I could no longer eat, sleep, do my hair, put on makeup. I had been going to work looking like a complete train wreck. The only reason I even went was because I was afraid to be alone. I cried all day, every day. I had panic attacks anytime someone came or went. I couldn’t be left alone with Crue, or by myself at all. It’s hard to explain this to someone who hasn’t suffered severe anxiety or depression. Even in the middle of all of this, I was dead set that something was wrong with me and was not thinking it was anxiety at all.
I think that the biggest misconception is that people can control this. I couldn’t even wrap my head around the fact that it was anxiety let alone try and control it. It’s hard to fix something you are not even aware of. The hospital made me feel safe. Safe to take medication for the first time. Safe to have panic attacks. Safe if my symptoms manifested into something more serious.
Lastly, being around others who had similar issues helped. When they would explain their panic attacks, their thoughts, their pasts…it was like they were speaking for me.
All of these things were key to helping me get better. At first it was only the small things that I noticed, like my bathroom visits had almost stopped as soon as I was admitted. I not only started eating but actually wanted to eat. I wasn’t crying as much. I hadn’t had a panic attack since the second day there. I had to tell myself these things wouldn’t just go away on their own if it was my physical health. These symptoms were going away as I got my anxiety more under control.
One day I was lying in bed and just thinking about life, about how I had ended up here. Why was I still so dizzy? Was this something I had to live with forever? Was something seriously wrong with me but they just hadn’t found it yet? As much as these were just passing thoughts, I felt that pit of anxiousness in my stomach as I stared out the window but this time I recognized it as anxiety–something I was unable to do four days earlier.
On my fifth day there I was told the next day would be my last. Talk about anxiety returning. I was feeling better in this bubble they created for me, but didn’t think it would last. I wasn’t the only one–many of us had a hard time leaving. I was torn between wanting to be with my family and wanting to stay in this protective bubble forever. How was I going to go home and function at the level it required? How was I going to take of Crue? Go to work?
The psychiatrists didn’t feel my dizziness was anxiety related. They pushed me to explore all avenues in order to figure it out. Although I knew this in my heart, it was discouraging to hear. I had seen many symptoms disappear as my anxiety became more controlled. I was hoping the dizziness would be the next to go. I was, however, grateful they heard me. Grateful they understood how much this was affecting my life.
The following day I met with the psychiatrists a final time, along with the nurses and the social worker. They went over a written emergency plan with me. I had to list three people and numbers I would call if I felt depressed. I had to list three things that calm me: coloring, hanging with my family and friends, snuggling my dogs. Also, I had to list three things to avoid if stressed: large groups of people, being online, thinking about having another baby. All easier said than done. Today was the day I would say goodbye to the people I had grown to admire. My fellow survivors. The strongest yet most fragile people I have ever known. The people who statistics show will most likely leave this earth by their own doing. Saying goodbye to them would be harder than I ever realized.