Tuesday, May 05, 2009

On Mental Health (Part 2)

Thank you so much for all of your encouragement to keep posting on this topic! I must say that I've doubted myself many times over the last week, as I've thought about my next post. I'm not shy, at all, when it comes to talking about how I've suffered and do suffer from anxiety and depression. I'm not embarrassed to admit that I'm on medication and have been for years. I'm even not ashamed to talk about how helpful counseling was or to admit when I have an appointment with my psychiatrist. However, I don't usually go into details about the specific subjects of my anxiety. This is because I know how irrational my mind is being! I'm thankful for the ability to recognize this truth. But, I just can't help the cycle that goes through my brain, regardless of how irrational and ridiculous I know I'm being. And my fears can be, well, embarrassing.

So, I'll swallow my pride and plow on, regardless. To pick up where we left off, Linus was born and my life was full of all of the anxieties that go along with having a brand new baby. This baby spent a week in the NICU, was my smallest baby, and seemed more fragile than either of the girls. So, I worried when his temperature was too low, when he had a stuffy nose, when he didn't seem to be nursing enough, when Amelie sat on him accidentally, when Duncan fed him formula that might have had a broken seal (long story), when he slept too long...should I continue? I think you get the picture. And then, about a month after he was born, my main source (as I said before, there's always a main source for me) of anxiety shifted.

Let me back up to the summer of 1996. Some of you faithful blog readers lived through that time with me. I was a camp counselor at Pine Springs Camp and was admittedly fearful that I'd have to deal with a puking camper. I had always been vomitaphobic. (There's a real term, but I think mine sounds better.) And wouldn't you know? I had to deal with vomit, in some way, shape, or form, nearly every week of that summer.
Fast forward 11 years.
I'm a mother of three. No longer a camp counselor. And while I had dealt with vomit in my own kids, it hadn't been anything major in my three and a half year stint of motherhood.
And then,
it happened.

We came home from a weekend away. And Violet threw up out of nowhere. And thus began my new focus for my anxiety: I was afraid that my children would throw up. Since October 2007, this has been the main focus of my anxiety: vomit.
Are you kidding me? Isn't dealing with puking kids a badge of motherhood? Isn't it something that happens to everyone? And I'm AFRAID of it? Yep. All of that is true.

When I admitted to Duncan what my problem was, his response was simple.
"Yeah, good. It's something that will happen (as opposed to aliens landing in your yard or dinosaurs running around your house--two honest-to-goodness anxieties that some personal friends have had) and I've seen you deal with it in very appropriate ways. So, good."
Well, thanks, I guess?

So what does this anxiety look like?
It looks like lots of hand washing. Making sure my kids eat healthy foods that have been washed and prepared properly. It means more hand washing. It means that every sound I hear over the monitor at night could mean someone is throwing up. (I've seriously considered pitching said monitors.) It means eating out in a restaurant with the kids is a struggle for me. It means that traveling is a real struggle--rest stops, public bathrooms, restaurants, etc. It means cleaning hands with wipes when we can't get to a sink. It means that I make sure my kids stay on their sleep schedule, because being well-rested helps the immune system. It means that I make my kids eat a lot of yogurt. It means I pick up toys and books that are in and around their beds, and all along the path to the bathroom so that there is a clear puking path. It means that my stomach drops whenever I hear of someone with a stomach bug--immediately thinking of whether or not we have a physical connection with them. It means fewer trips to the library upon finding out how disgusting books are from there. It means incredibly dry hands for me and the kids in the winter. It means avoiding play dates or at least a struggle with wanting to avoid a play date. It means making my kids put their hands on their heads while waiting in a public bathroom, so they don't touch anything. It means constantly thinking about these things, pondering how I can keep my kids healthy, keeping them from getting germs that could cause them to vomit. Always. Thinking. About it.

So what does this anxiety look like when someone is actually in the midst of vomiting?
It looks like me scrubbing carpets, wiping floors, stripping beds, doing laundry, holding bowls, rubbing backs, holding back hair, reading stories, watching tv. It doesn't look like me running away or hiding in a closet. I think it looks like a pretty normal mom doing her job. Duncan remarks every time at how he's amazed at how calm I am when I face my biggest fear. The only way I can explain it is that for me, the anxiety lies in the anticipation, the possibility of my fear being realized, what will be ruined in the process, how big the clean up job will be, who will be affected, or where it will happen. (It's always a struggle to sleep at someone else's home.) And once someone has vomited, well, it's over! There is no anticipation left. The fear has been realized and it needs to be dealt with.

There's so much more to share...what I learned in counseling, the recent strides I've made and things I've learned, how my faith plays into this whole thing. But those will have to wait for the next post(s). Thanks for bearing with me. This writing process is quite therapeutic in itself. So, I'm fairly certain I'll keep it up.


Lea said...

Nancy, I totally get the whole "anticipation" thing. Totally. Thank you for sharing.

Megan said...

I didn't even read this whole thing but when I got to the part about throw up I had to comment right away. That is my main anxiety and is the reason I become anxious around holidays and trips - because I fear the possibility of a stomach virus taking us all down. So now I'll go back and read, but just had to share that I am with you on that anxiety. Anytime I hear someone else struggling with that very thing I feel a bit less crazy (poor choice of word? but that's how i feel!)

Megan said...

ok finished and have to say that it just sounded so familiar. i told matt that I hate fb in the winter b/c all i read are updates about people's sick kids and it seems like it's everywhere! but yeah, mine is the anticipation as well. i deal with it alright (my appetite drops of course!) and don't hide, but it's all about the anticipation! my mom calls it control issues, but i just know it as fear!

chrissie k said...

HA! So glad to see that my sweet sister in law is reading faithfully ;) ... when I read this Nanc, I immediately thought of Megan! HA! I love that you two are blogging friends.

CA Skellys said...

I won't go into the I understand the anxiety stuff because that's a super long comment but someday we'll talk :) But I have to comment that when I hear of a stomach bug, I begin to clear paths and remove stuffed animals and move trash cans...ahhh, the anticipation of it all!

CA Skellys said...

...and how fun to have us puking at your house! Sorry :(

ChrisandMissy said...

Nancy! I would never have imagined vomit would be it. God knows what He is doing though. I don't know that I can relate to that specific fear, but I'm glad that I'm learning more about you.
Also, that's funny you have the kids put their hands on their heads in public bathrooms- I always make Anna put her hands on her belly. I bet I could pick up some germophobic tips from you...

Mrs. Fix said...

Nancy, thank you for sharing this. I'm sure it's not easy and yet I'm sure it's helping you and helping all of us to get to know you better.
I also wanted to say that in light of this post, I am doubly thankful that you planned play dates with us this past month -- and that we saw your family at the library! Oh and for the record, Rock has never had a monitor. He's survived just fine, and I've probably gotten more sleep because I don't hear him unless he needs me to hear him... bad parenting? Perhaps. I don't know but it works for us.