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Archive for the ‘Anxiety’ Category

In case you’re curious (like I was, before being pregnant), here is a description of what it’s been like for me:

From weeks 6 to 18, I felt nauseated all.the.time.  It never stopped.  It was worse if I didn’t eat, so I tried to snack every 2 hours religiously, but even snacking only reduced my nausea.  I would get up in the middle of the night to throw up, which felt unfair because of course I couldn’t eat while I was sleeping.  My body didn’t seem to care about how unreasonable that demand was. My doctor finally prescribed anti-nausea medicine to take at night, and the nurses at the clinic made me feel like shit for taking it, because of course pregnant women should not take any medicine – I should just be stronger.  And get out of bed at night to vomit, and somehow be able to drive my sleep-deprived self to work on the highway without any caffeine in the morning five days a week.

I had a very poignant image during that time period of some kind of hunt being chased by fey or faeries.  I saw myself as the hapless human with these merciless, beautiful people riding me down in the woods like a fox.  I was running and stumbling and knew I couldn’t stop or they would get me, but knowing I could run to death and they would not stop pursuing me.  Pregnancy was like that – this supernatural phenomenon that was beautiful and cruel and chasing me down, and there was no escape.  Sometimes I would daydream about how much money I would pay people not to feel like vomiting for a few minutes.  I was so tired and the nausea just wouldn’t stop.

My skin looked awful, and the worst part was that people would make mean comments to me.  At work, people would ask me all the time why my skin was so bad – was that because of the pregnancy?  They had never seen my face so broken out.  (Gee, thanks.)  My mother-in-law and the other Peruvian women around us kept telling me to go to the doctor and get medicine because there was something wrong with me – my face was not normal and I should be given drugs.  I had talked to my doctor, and was trying so hard not to use prescriptions if I didn’t have to.  Have PCOS means that your acne is pretty much always bad, unless you taking strong drugs for it – drugs that are bad for fetuses.  I got tired of explaining this to well-meaning people, and just internalized the feeling that I was unacceptably ugly.

I felt bad at being pregnant, like I was a failure.  Other women loved pregnancy, and for me it was like trying to love the most unremitting flu I had ever had.  I agonized that my baby would be able to feel this unhappiness in me, and that she would feel unwelcome.  Maybe I would have a miscarriage because the baby would think I didn’t want her and it would be my fault.

The way my anxiety manifests itself, I like to be able to exert control over my life.  If I can just get things in order, and control the small details, everything will be okay.  But everything happening to my body was very out of my control.  I was gaining weight and break out and vomiting, and I couldn’t stop any of it.  Most people didn’t understand, and I didn’t want to say anything to them because they would think I didn’t want my baby (which we had tried so hard to have), and they would think there was something wrong with me.

I remember one night being awake after my husband had fallen asleep and sitting out in the dark at the dining room table and just weeping.  I called my mom – the one who I always have such a tumultuous relationship with – and miraculously, she was there for me as a mother should be there for her daughter that night.  She confessed to me that she had never been as unhappy as she was while pregnant, and that I wasn’t broken or a failure, and that I would still love my baby, and that she was sorry she had never told me.

The truth is that I was doing something really hard.  I was pregnant while having chronic fatigue syndrome, and still working 5 days a week without missing work and without the benefit of caffeine.  I was pregnant while having depression and anxiety, but having no medicine to help me through it.

The first trimester was the hardest part, but I still struggle a lot with being fat and pregnant, and seeming to have the worst acne ever.  I felt the baby move for the first time at 16 weeks, and my nausea stopped at 18 weeks.   That first movement felt like a little tap, and came while we were watching the Walking Dead (true story).  As the baby got bigger, I could feel her movements more easily until people could feel them from the outside as well.  Now that I’m 8 months pregnant, it’s fun because it’s almost like I can interact with her.  She startles at loud noises and if I jiggle my belly up and down, or press where she is, she’ll kick.  It’s amazing to realize that in some way, I’m playing with her even though she hasn’t been born.  She hears my voice and my husband’s voice, and seems to have preferences.  (She hates when I lie on my back even for just a minute or so – she kicks a lot.  I think it squishes her.)

Once she started moving, she became more real to me.  It helped that I wasn’t vomiting anymore.  Now the hardest thing for me to fathom is actually meeting her in a few weeks.  I can’t wrap my mind around the idea of how irrevocably our life is going to change.  We will no longer be just 2 people – we will be a family of 3 people.  I know everything will be different, but it doesn’t seem real to me exactly how different it will be.

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This is a really sensitive topic for a lot of people, and I want to preface this post by saying that while we chose not to do prenatal genetic testing, I in no way oppose other people doing those tests.  This is a decision that we wrestled with, which is why I want to post about it here.  A few bits of background information:

(1) Neither my husband nor myself come from ethnic backgrounds that normally flag a couple for a lot of genetic tests.

(2) I’m relatively young (26), so I was not at a high-risk for having a baby with a genetic defect.

(3) My husband is from Peru, where I’ve heard anecdotally that genetic testing is not common.

The genetic testing that we were offered (a first trimester screen or nuchal translucency test) would not have told us definitively whether our baby had an abnormality.  Rather, it would have given us a set of odds that the baby would be born with such an abnormality.  Every baby would have a certain set of odds based on the results of the tests (like 1 in 1000 or 1 in 300), so I thought that however I looked at the results, I would have a nagging feeling that my baby could have something wrong with her.  I’m prone to anxiety, and being exposed to a lot of stress is supposed to be bad for a fetus, so I thought that for our family it was not a good choice.

My husband felt strongly that regardless of whether we knew something was wrong with her, she was our baby and we were going to have her.  It was very black and white for him.  He made me feel a bit morally inferior, because even though I am opposed to most types of abortion, I wondered about bringing a baby into the world that I knew would suffer and have medical problems.  I thought that the advantage of knowing in advance about a defect was being prepared and having time to do a lot of reading and meet with a lot of specialists.  But the disadvantage would be a long period of worrying and being upset, and perhaps I would be less likely to bond with my baby/pregnancy.  My husband seemed like he could still fall in love with a pregnancy that we knew would have medical problems, but I wasn’t sure of my own fortitude in that area, so it seemed better just not to know.

I was praying a lot about the decision, wavering and debating and discussing with people, when I finally decided that primarily because of my tendency toward anxiety, I didn’t want to know.  I once I made up my mind, I felt peace about the decision, and decided that the trade-off was worth it even though if there was something wrong I wouldn’t have months to prepare and educate myself.  Then I read this beautiful post about a woman who gave birth to a daughter with down syndrome and she did not know in advance.  For me, reading her birth story reinforced the choice we made.

Most of the people I’ve talked to have opted for the test.  In fact, everyone I’ve talked to except for one person opted for it.  It was more because of my own personal struggles with anxiety that we chose not to.  If you’re reading this post because you are trying to decide what to do, I hope that you’re able to make a choice that brings you a sense of peace as well.  You should also feel free to hit people who admonish you not to worry too much while pregnant because it’s bad for the baby.  Hitting those people is probably an excellent stress reliever.

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Normally I post on Mondays, Wednesday, and Fridays as sort of a writing exercise because my hobby is books, and someday I’d like to do creative writing.  Also, it’s a good outlet for things that I can’t talk about IRL.  However, I’ve switched focus to preparing for a translator’s exam, so I’m going to be posting less often for a while.

Also, I’m just kind of a downer in general at the moment, which makes it hard to write.  Normally I lean hard into religion to get me through times of madness, but I’m dealing with a lot of doubts right now, so that makes most of my normal coping mechanisms less accessible.  I’ll try to check in periodically and keep you posted on things that are pissing me off (like what the Supreme Court justices have been saying about Arizon’s immigration laws) or things that interest me (like the way watching TV works in a bilingual household).

 

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I stumbled this last week in dealing with my anxiety, but I’m pulling myself back up.  I have been gearing up to see Casting Crowns in concert this week and while listening to their new CD “Come to the Well” I was struck by a song they sing about God and how He exists outside of time:

All my fears and all my questions
Are gonna play out
In a world I can’t control
When I’m lost in the mystery
To You my future is a memory
Cause You’re already there
You’re already there
Standing at the end of my life
Waiting on the other side

There is peace for me when I cling to the idea that God knows how my current crisis is going to turn out.  I cannot control this world, but it’s okay, because wherever today is going, He is already there and He is waiting for me.  I think if I lived forever I would be more calm because I would have seen every type of crisis at least once and I would know I could handle whatever comes my way.  Since I’m not going to live forever, it comforts me that I’m relying on someone whose experience is eternal.

More than God being in control, this song also makes me wonder, what do moments feel like when you’re immortal?  Novels with immortal characters (usually vampires) always focus on how much ennui they feel when they know they’ll never die.  They are jealous of humans whose mortality gives moments poignancy and immediacy in a way that they have long forgotten.  I think God must exist both inside and outside of time in a way that distinguishes him from angsty teenage vampires and allows him both vast perspective and the ability to savor each moment.  Do you wish you were immortal?  I don’t.

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I practiced meditation for a half hour each day after school as a kid in elementary school.  Sometimes I fell asleep, but mostly my mind raced.  I learned the rosary as an adult to help fight off panic attacks.  Despite not being Catholic, it occurred to me because of movies about exorcisms because panic is like a demon inside of me.  After using this method for more than a year, I discovered that repetitive prayer or actions can actually help meditation.

I have a hard time sitting still and letting go of my racing thoughts when I try traditional meditation, but I’ve discovered that doing certain things at the same time can help me stay in that state of mind.  For instance, if I just think about a bible verse on worry, it’s not enough to hold my attention, and I’m soon pulled under again by whatever anxious thought is stalking me.  However, if I visualize in my mind writing that verse out in cursive, it’s a sufficiently difficult task that I can focus on it.  I have to think hard about how to make some cursive letters, and the visual component of this makes doing it in your mind absorbing.

Another example is the rosary.  I used to just say the prayers over and over again during panic attacks because repeating something I had memorized helped distract me.  Then I learned the way the rosary was meant to be prayed by people who are actually catholic and don’t just suffer from anxiety.  After you say the creed, on the first 3 beads above Jesus’s head you say one hail Mary each for the increase in the world of faith, hope, and love.  That’s my very favorite part.

While your mind is babbling (I prefer to say my rosary in Spanish) the same repetitive prayer, you can hold the intention in your head of there being more hope in the world.  I think of something different all the time – children in armies in Africa who need to believe there is life outside of war, people who’ve made such terrible mistakes that they think no one will forgive them, families who don’t know where their next meal will come from.  I imagine the hope growing in their hearts while my mind carries on with the prayer.  I can hang onto this train of thought without getting sucked back into my worry because saying a prayer in Spanish while you visualize sending hope to the hopeless is complicated.

When you get to the decades of the rosary (the 10 little beads between each big bead in the chain), Catholics meditate on one mystery per decade.  (There are luminous mysteries, joyful mysteries, sorrowful mysteries, glorious mysteries…there’s a schedule for each day of the week.)  For instance, if they were doing the joyful mysteries, they would meditate on the first decade about the annunciation, on the second decade about the visitation, on the third about the nativity, then the presentation of Jesus at the temple, and then finding Jesus at the temple.  I don’t know the mysteries unless someone is announcing them (which they do when you pray the rosary in a group), but I like to think about one problem per bead or per decade, depending on how big the problem is.

Thinking about both the prayer and the problem simultaneously helps my mind not to wander off.  I don’t need a rosary to pray this way anymore – I can do it in my head or on my fingers, in English or in Spanish.   I think I associate the litany now with peace and calm, so even if my mind is too full of racing thoughts to meditate, trying to think of two things at once is just my (manic) speed.  When I start to feel panicky, I find myself automatically reciting the words in my head and I begin to calm down.  Dios te salve Maria, llena eres de gracia, el senor es contigo…

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I think the trickiest part of the verse I’m studying (Proverbs 3:5-6) is the section that discusses “in all your ways acknowledging [the Lord].”  What does “acknowledging” even mean in this context?  I like what Chuck Swindoll said about recognizing that God is “sovereign.”

I picture entering the audience chamber of some liege lord where his people can bring their problems to him for judgment.  I imagine the relief at saying, “I can’t pay off my debts,” and him listening carefully and then saying, “I’ll take care of it.”  What would it be like to know someone so powerful that he really could just take care of it – someone who ruled the entire realm so thoroughly that he could pay your debts or make a deal with your debtor with just a word to some lackey?  Obviously feudalism wasn’t romantic like that, but I’m fantasizing about that notion of absolute power.

This week I have been practicing being mindful of the idea that God is sovereign over my problems.  That word – sovereign – is exactly the word I needed.  I’m running late…but it’s okay, because God is sovereign over this traffic.  He will clear it up, or he won’t, but whether I arrive on time or late, he owns this land and this car and this problem and he is powerful.  Maybe this sounds like echos of Nectar in a Sieve.  Maybe you’re thinking it smacks of defeatism and I should care more about my own agency.  If that’s what you’re thinking, I’m pretty sure you don’t have the kind of anxiety they’ll give you the good drugs for.

My life feels like it’s spinning wildly out of control all the time.  I don’t trust other people to do things the way they should be done – it’s probably easier if I just do it myself.  I’m not arrogant – I’m afraid.  The concept that this chaotic world is in someone’s control, and it’s not in my control, helps me slow my racing heart and unclench my fists.  It’s a trust like falling.

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I’ve been working on a series of posts relating to anxiety because I feel like I’ve been doing a pretty good job of coping with my anxiety.  The strategies I mention in the posts I’ve written have been helping me a lot, but today it feels like nothing is working.  Today feels like one of those days where despite all of the progress you’ve made, you still fall flat on your face.  Since all else has failed today, here’s what I’m going to do:

(1) I am going to take a lunch break.  A radical notion, right?

(2) I am going to put off some unpleasant tasks until tomorrow.

(3) I am not going to work late.

It’s kind of sad that that’s all I can think of since prayer just doesn’t seem to be helping me today, but I think this is going to pass.  I think giving myself this permission to rest is going to helpful and tomorrow will be better.  What do you do when you’re struggling with worry and you can’t seem to let your problems go?

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