SHARED BY CARRIE ABBS
What is it like to be in a house where four people with four distinct personalities suffer from anxiety—and most of us have had depression, too? Let me put it this way: some days, it is really hard, especially when all of us have our anxiety up. It is kind of like living on a melting ice floe—thank goodness that is a rare occurrence.
So while it is great that everyone in my family understands what anxiety is, the anxiety still presents differently for each of us. For my son who has autism, it takes the shape of increases in certain behaviors, especially resistance. For my daughter, it is a narrowing of her ability to look at a situation rationally and her ability to manage her time effectively. My husband gets extra fidgety, and his behavior changes. For me, anxiety is that tickly feeling; my heart rate increases, and I get more than a bit irritable. I tend to hyper-focus on things.
Picking Up Steam
Anxiety is something I have always dealt with, although it peaks at different times of my life. I remember having horrible anxiety in fourth grade. I was dealing with a bully, and it made my stomach hurt so bad I would cry. It happened again in junior high when my babysitter and her brother died in a house fire. I was scared to sleep upstairs for a very long time. In fact, that is one of the harder issues I deal with at times when I leave my family. (I know it is irrational, so I have learned to control my anxiety and not let it control me.) Anxiety reared its head again when we were in the process of getting my son diagnosed with autism. It caused insomnia that still plagues me to this day.
But where my story really starts picking up steam is January 2013. I am not going to lie: my husband and I had not been great about managing our money. We had never been shown how to budget or to keep track of things like that, and sometimes, that caused us problems, especially coupled with the fact that we were a single-income household. (We now own our debt issues and have worked hard to decrease our debt and have succeeded well. Are we out of debt? No, but we are making strides.) But our house was built in 1956 and has required some expensive repairs. I am not sure what the previous owners had done, but so many things were poorly managed. By 2013, we had been in the house for nearly ten years and we had dealt with the following:
- Replacing the water heater
- The furnace
- The air conditioner
- The dishwasher
- A water softener
- Waterproofing parts of the basement
- Reflooring the basement
Added to all of that, we have a child with a disability, and we live in a state where we receive no additional assistance for him or the costly therapies he needs.
In January, we started having water back up in the floor drain. At first, it was just an occasional thing, but then it became constant. We had a company come out to evaluate the drains. The previous owners had replaced most of the drainage tile but had neglected to do the last six feet. That was the most expensive part—eight feet down, for six feet of tile was $9,700. I started to cry.
It was a constant battle to not continually think about how much money that was. And then we started having behavioral issues with our son, Ted. He is a very easy-going kid and always has been. Even when he was started on a new medication a year before, he had done well with it other than it affected his appetite. But as we were dealing with the drain, he had an increase in aggressive behaviors, further restrictions on eating, and issues at bedtime.
Things started to slowly spiral downward. Spring break came, and I was barely sleeping. Over the course of seven days, I slept only twenty-two hours. (Being scared about not being able to sleep is very counterproductive to sleeping, in case you were wondering.) By Saturday night, at a very random time in the morning, I began thinking that maybe I had depression.
As it turns out, I was right.
You want humbling? Try checking yourself into a mental institution. It was harrowing experience, but I was at the point where I couldn’t help myself at all. As a nurse, I was embarrassed because I felt like I should have caught this earlier, not let it get this far, etc. In the end, it didn’t matter. I needed help, and I got help. Being treated at the hospital helped me start back on a path to healing. There were some in-patient hospitalization issues, but being a nurse helped me advocate for my rights correctly when an issue arose.
From my husband who ran things at home, to his boss who let him work from home, to my book club friends who cooked for us, and to my local family for being there—I realized that I had a very caring and compassionate group of people who loved and supported me.
The day after I was discharged, my family and I took my son down to Lurie Children's Hospital to see his doctor one last time, and we removed him from his new medication. It was a hard day. That following Monday, I started the out-patient program. There, I learned the skills that would help me start knitting my life back together. The out-patient program lasted three weeks, and then I had meetings with my counselor, Michelle, for the next year—weekly at first and then less often as I progressed. Over the next year, here is what I learned:
1. I have to take care of me first.
You know when you fly the friendly skies, the flight attendants always tell you to put your own oxygen mask on first before you help others. There is a reason for this. You can't help anyone if you are passed out—or under a lot of anxiety. I had to learn to take care of myself. In learning that, I learned a very freeing word . . .
2. The answer is "No."
The power to say no is a freeing choice. I could say, "No, I don’t want to do this." I could say, "No, I can’t help you today." I could tell people that I couldn’t be the glue that held my family of origin together—a role I held for nearly 30 years. I didn’t realize the burden it was until I didn’t have to carry it any longer.
3. Stay in the here and now.
Until I was much further along in the healing process, I could only look at the things that were happening immediately or in the next week. I couldn’t control my anxiety to look much further than that (and I am not talking about the pleasure of looking forward to a vacation). In the middle of my out-patient program, our basement flooded, again. We had amazing friends who came and helped us move furniture. They sent me back to bed, and they helped my husband deal with the water. It could have set me back, but it didn’t.
4. Bad nights of sleep happen.
I can’t let one bad night set a pattern. This one was a struggle when I got home. Due to my anxiety with not being able to sleep, I couldn’t sleep in our bed. Too many bad associations with insomnia there. So we played musical beds. I slept in my daughter’s room, she slept in our room, and my husband slept on the couch. This went on for almost a month and a half. Eventually, I was able to transition to sleeping back in our room. Now my husband is the one who has issues with sleeping, and he is back on the couch. I am hoping this summer to try sleeping without using medications. It has happened once, and it was such a tremendous victory when I realized it had happened!
This one goes with learning to say no. My family of origin has a lot of issues. The issues are too complex and complicated to discuss here, and I do want to maintain a sense of privacy, as our situation is unique. However, I was able to tell my mom that my son needed a place to decompress during our visits there. She needed to police the situation and ask my nieces and nephews to not disturb him. I also stopped being the go-between. I learned to effectively communicate with my siblings. It was worse for a time, but each of us learning to take responsibility for communicating with others has strengthened the relationships.
6. Know your posse. Know your plan.
Whom can you call? Who is your posse? Whom can you talk to if you are feeling lonely or scared? Every night, we had to list who was on our list of people to call, what the plans were for that night. We had to have a plan. What were my coping strategies? What were my distractors? I am a reader by choice, but during this time, I had to read books that I had already read, things I didn’t have to think about. I am not sure if I will every pick up the Chronicles of Narnia series again. I also colored. A LOT. I don’t do it as much now, but it is something I love to do.
7. Find things that speak to you.
Music has always spoken to me in so many ways. Anyone who sees my playlist looks at it and laughs. I have everything on there from classic Disney music to classical to Piano Guys to pop hits from the '80s and '90s to ABBA, country, etc. You name it, I probably like it. (Except my husband’s EDM trance music. That is just not my thing.)
The song that speaks to me the most is Sara Bareilles’ "Brave." My problem was not the volume of my voice. I didn’t need a song like Katy Perry’s "Roar." I needed one where I could gather courage to speak my words. My favorite lines are letting the light in and speaking out.
Today, the song is a touchstone for me. Rachel Platten’s "Fight Song"—both her version and the version performed by the Piano Guys—is another anthem that lifts my mood when I need it.
My final touchstone is my Living Locket. I don’t think Jen knew how much it would come to mean to me. Inside that locket are reminders of my life, both the good and the bad, the nurse and the parent, the spouse and the person I now am.
As I am writing this, it has been four years since the incident with the water in the basement happened, and by the time this publishes, it will be nearly four years since my hospitalization. Per my psychiatrist and my counselor, I am a success story. I have handled everything that has happened in the four years since. This includes losing my final two grandfathers (I was very blessed to have them in my life for almost 40 years), my husband dealing with his second round of depression and anxiety, and my daughter struggling with the same issues, as well. My husband lost his job this past summer, and I did well with coping then, too. I have learned to ask for help when I need it.
In the immortal words of Stitch: