I’m freaking out.
In January, I was one of those people who was paying attention. I was devouring world news and knew about the Coronavirus and I started to get nervous. I remembered SARS very well, as I had delivered the twins at the same hospital where it first broke out in Scarborough, just a month before. All of our follow-up appointments had the surreal introduction of elements we had never really dealt with before: face masks, dividers in waiting rooms.. fear. Reading the news online in February, I really started to panic internally. I was paying attention when the shelves were getting cleared in Australia’s grocery stores from the panic buying. In early February I got online and bought my family each a n95 mask, a wall-mounted Purell dispenser and a case of Purell refills. The girls in the office made fun of me all day about it while I ranted my paranoia. I told them how I’d even heard a news story out of Toronto saying that they were running out of masks and sanitizer because people were buying it to ship it to relatives in China. Within a couple of days, the girls and I snuck a minute at work to go online, as my worry was contagious and they wanted to get a mask as well. They were already sold out. The hand sanitizer dispenser was already 5x the standard price I bought it for and there were no refills to be found on Amazon. This thing was real and it was headed to Canada.
What I didn’t realize before this year, is that I suffer from some serious anxiety. Stress was always a given, but I suppose because I was functioning and somehow ‘managing’ to pull off the juggle of all of the different parts of my life, I thought that I was free of any real damage to my mental health. If you’ve read some of my other posts, you’ll know that I wasn’t actually managing anything well and the hairline fractures started turning into canyons in 2019 and even I couldn’t keep up the pretence of being okay by the beginning of 2020.
Besides the racing mind; the hamster-wheel thought loops I would get trapped in; the brain fog; restlessness and sleep issues; and the massive physical health deterioration – I would say that my anxiety most presents itself in my need for control.
I’m a look five steps ahead and plan for every option type person. If I anticipate every possibility, then I can control the outcome because I planned for it. When we bought our house in Calgary in a neighbourhood that sat along the Bow River, I remember looking up at the ancient high banks of the river and I had a vision of what the river must have looked like hundreds or even thousands of years before and realized our house was on a flood plain. I’d talk about it with J (my ex) and get myself worked up, sharing my worries that with global warming and the ice melt, it was inevitable that there would be a great flood to come from the glaciers and flood out our neighbourhood. Maybe we shouldn’t be living here and should buy on higher ground, I said. Eye rolls from him.
I get it. Why was I worrying about something that was improbable, or about something that can be punted waaaaay down the road into the future? We had more important things to focus on. But still I worried. (Important to note: we left Calgary in 2012 and the great flood hit that city in 2013. Yep.)
I have lists coming out the wazoo. I categorize. I have to-do’s that are colour-coded. I have a daily planner AND a weekly planner and that doesn’t include my journals.
I’ve learned this year that if I pause and take stock of the functions of some of my behaviour, I start to see that what I’m feeling is fear of not being in control. And the more I tried to structure my world and my surroundings to feel safe, the bossier I got. In the past, I overcompensated to control my environment and then it spilled over to the people around me and quite often, the people I love. Even in my childhood, I remember how I have done my best to control what other people would say out loud, because I wanted to control the outcome (or prevent unwanted confrontations).
It doesn’t take an expert to realize that I can’t control everything. People have agency. I know that. And now that I know why I have always had that need to control, I can’t pretend I’m not aware of my behaviour, so I am relinquishing that control. But that’s easy to say and not as easy to do when the anxiety is still there.
Stress is absolutely the biggest factor that contributes to my anxiety and despite looking at my life from every angle, there’s not much I can do about my stressors at this time. So when I remove stress, what’s left? Well, we’re back to fear and worry. So what do you do with all that stuff in your head?
If you do a search of the words ‘anxiety’ and ‘fear’ on our Willowjak site, you can read all the different ways our writers are reframing, resolving and working through anxiety and fear and they’ve got some amazing thoughts that are already starting to help me in my own journey. So back to the reason I’m freaking out and using this writing as a cathartic way to see how I can apply some of those learnings to my current anxiety that seems to be taking over my every thought.
Tonight I got the dreaded email from the twins’ school principal. Their school has a case of COVID-19. I started by saying that I tried to prepare for this pandemic before it was even declared. When we bubbled up in our lockdown in March into the following months, I felt fear like everyone else. But I also felt somewhat safe. I was at home with my loved ones – all three of my boys were under my roof. Perhaps it was also because of the fact that things were so bad IN my home, that this virus paled in comparison. But we got into our groove and the virus felt like it couldn’t touch us. Jake moved out. The weather warmed up and people relaxed a bit. Like everyone else, I felt a little safer; “We’ve got this. We can live with this thing if we’re careful.” Then Jake caught it. Shit got real. My fear switch was turned back on. Way on. I worried we could have been exposed from a visit and then I worried that we could have spread it. That worry drove my blood pressure way up and I swear I lived out of body until we passed the 14th day and had the reassurance that we were clear. The twins went back to school once I was reassured that they were probably as safe as they could be.
But now here we are. I am watching those sickening statistics coming from the U.S. and it absolutely terrifies me. It’s hard to separate their reality with ours in Canada sometimes. I tell myself we are not the U.S., it can’t get that bad up here. But now our numbers are skyrocketing. I’m not insensitive to these statistics, but I fear so many people are forgetting that these are our fellow neighbours and friends and community members who are dying. Thousands of real people with real families who loved them. This morning I read a quote that was recalled by a son who just lost his mother to COVID because of an outbreak in a long-term care home:
“Health statistics represent people with the tears wiped off”Sir Austin Bradford Hill
How do I find the balance of being healthily (is that a word?) afraid so that I respect the power of this awful virus, while not letting this fear overtake me? I barely slept last night. My mind was racing while I tried to plan all the different ways I could control the possibilities. I tried to plan how Jake might be able to come home for Christmas without bringing that cursed virus with him. How I could safely quarantine ourselves so that we might be able to be with some loved ones for the holidays. My fear grew as I realized that I can’t control any of it. Now that damn email and knowing that COVID has crept closer to our life and I can’t think straight.
Do I send the boys back to school? Do I keep them home for the rest of the year? Am I overreacting? In the last month, my asthma has been the worst it has been in over a decade and I am using my inhalers around the clock. I am terrified that my lungs couldn’t handle a cold, let alone COVID. And who would help with the boys if I get sick? What if I’m hospitalized? What if I have a stroke and die? What if, what if.. what if?!
What do you do with overwhelming fear? Please share and let me know.
Today, our friend Michelle Scrimgeour-Brown gave me some sage advice. (To summarize): take a moment, take a breath and be present in the moment, realizing that you are safe and so are your people. Be present because all we have is this moment.
Other things that I know have worked for me in the past is to take it one day at a time, or one hour at a time if that’s what I need to do. Ground myself with some meditation. This blog, writing, journaling helps me a lot. Once it’s out of my head and on paper, the load lessens. Talk it out – tomorrow I have an appointment with my therapist and I’m sure I’ll relieve some more of the pressure with him and he’ll help me find some new ways to manage my fears.
I don’t have the answers after writing this. I’m still afraid. I’m still anxious. But I do feel a little better knowing I’m not the only one.
I’m trying my best to pay it forward by dealing hope and sharing stories & tips on caregiving and how to survive hard things. I blog a lot about single parenting my adult twin sons who both have autism, and the challenges we face in surviving the everyday challenges and planning for a future full of unknowns.