In a matter of minutes, all hell broke loose.
We’d just returned from Minnesota – 12 lovely, fun-filled, family-rich days. It was a great trip, especially watching Ella and Annie enjoy the heck out of their cousins. Still, 12 days is a long time (for us; okay, for me), and – creature of habit and structure that I am – I was looking forward to being home.
The Re-Entry Itinerary contained some standard hurdles to leap (or, in my case, to knock over; according to the Olympics, basically anything goes with regard to hurdles, right?). Dirty clothes, empty fridge, unpacking. The grass was at least 8″ tall and we had the usual back-to-school litany: teacher meetings, orientations, sports, shopping.
All perfectly do-able — but, still, a rather jam-packed couple of days that would require me to turn off my Summer Brain and dial back into something vaguely resembling Competent School Year Brain. I just needed to keep my old, uninvited visitor, Anxiety, in check, and all would be well.
I’ve done pretty well making Anxiety talk to the hand this summer. I mean, summer and I will never be BFFs, but I’ve learned how to acknowledge Anxiety’s presence while not allowing her in.
Although the flight home was uneventful, traveling is always a bit exhausting, and I was doing that self-talk thing that we who struggle with anxiety know all too well: It’s all good, just keep going, I’ve got this. Not ten minutes after walking in the house, we discovered that Langston had a double ear infection. An Urgent Vet Visit had not been in the Re-Entry Itinerary. But, in between the grocery store and mowing and swim practice, I could slip in a trip to the dog doctor. Deep breaths. Hurdle added. I’ve got this.
Pitiful vet-visit face.
Since, in that moment, I couldn’t help poor Lang out, I decided I might as well accomplish something and took the first load of Minnesota Trip laundry down to the basement. There, in front of the washer, lay a strip of dried-up blue duct tape – the “fix” I’d applied to the tear in the rubber seal to prevent it from leaking. Anxiety raised her hand, contemplating knocking, but I told her to back off – then took another deep breath, gave myself another pep talk, applied another strip of tape, stuffed a towel at the base of the machine, and hoped that it would hold.
It wasn’t until I turned around to go upstairs that I scanned the room and saw, clear as day, at least an inch of standing water covering the far side of the basement. A further scan revealed a wide-open window (screen still attached), the cinder block wall damp beneath it.
(Our best guess was that a huge rainstorm must’ve overloaded the window well, causing the window to burst open from the pressure. GOOD TIMES.)
A review of the damage revealed that my teaching boxes, stacked under the window, were soaked, their cardboard frames flimsy and soft. Nick’s music equipment – guitar pedals, sound-effect-thingies (that’s the technical name), microphones, speakers – sat on the floor, surrounded by water. Without thinking, I grabbed a towel (not the one protecting the washing machine, thank you very much) and threw it into the lagoon; instantaneously, it sank to the bottom, useless and drenched.
My old, uninvited visitor was now persistently banging on the door. I could feel warmth rising in my chest; my pulse began to throb in my ears. When you regularly deal with anxiety, you learn which “helpful” strategies work for you and which make you want to punch someone. For me, mindful, slow, feel-like-an-ass-but-it’s-actually-calming breathing is my go-to. Deep breaths. Come on. Innnn two-three-four… Out two-three-four…
Surveying the mess, I understood this was not something I could tackle on my own. I don’t have this. Not right now.
I went to get Nick.
Together, we got the music stuff out of harm’s way, closed the window, picked up the sopping wet rugs and dragged them outside, rearranged the furniture so it was no longer in the lagoon, gathered enough towels to actually absorb the water, and made sure the dehumidifier and a fan were running. The non-stop action enabled me to momentarily suppress the panic that was waiting impatiently on the doorstep.
Hurdles: not gracefully leapt, but definitely knocked down.
The dog to the vet. The soaking wet basement. The potentially ruined items. The discarded rugs and the water they tracked through the house. The towels that now needed washing – in addition to our Minnesota Trip clothes. The faulty window. The mold that appeared to be growing on the basement wall. It was a lot to process, and my processing skills – exhausted from the deep breathing and Anxiety-fighting pep talks – were zilch.
When everything goes wrong at once, it’s probably a lot for anyone to handle, but for those of us who battle anxiety, it can seem temporarily insurmountable. Anxiety is a real bitch. She whispers in our ears that we do not, in fact, have this. She reminds us of all that can go wrong – and then, when we attempt to counter her, counters us right back.
This is a disaster.
If I take it step by step, it’ll seem more manageable.
Maybe someone snuck in through the broken window. It might not be safe here.
The screen is still intact and the petsitter would have noticed.
If the infection has been there for a while, Langston’s hearing could be affected.
I’m sure he’ll be okay. I’ll bring him in tomorrow.
What if that’s not enough? What if you aren’t enough?
I’m trying. I’ve got this.
Do you, though? I bet other people don’t feel this way. You’re obviously broken.
That’s the real kicker. In addition to causing you to feel nervous and unsettled over even minor things, to making you go down every absurd rabbit hole and through all the obscure What Ifs, anxiety makes you question yourself. Can I really handle this? Why don’t other people do this? What’s wrong with me?
It was now well past 6:00 and the girls were starving, so I ordered dinner. I’d planned to cook but I – mercifully – decided to give myself a pass. It’s most important that they eat. It’s okay. Give yourself a break.
August sunset on Long Island.
While waiting for the order to be ready, I ventured back to the basement to change the laundry… and found, yet again, a puddle in front of the washer. The duct tape hadn’t held. We needed a repair person ASAP.
More hurdles. The course was getting long.
Anxiety, impatient, began to open the door.
Before returning upstairs, I stopped to check on the drying-out process – and was stunned to discover another big ol’ pile of water in the middle of the concrete. Assuming there was some scientific explanation (the water was sucked back to the surface through blah blah, science-y words), I knelt down with yet another towel to sop things up… and heard the dripping.
The air conditioner unit was leaking. A lot.
Somehow, not only had the window burst open in a torrent – flooding the basement – but the A/C was also hemorrhaging water onto the floor. How this twofer managed to occur at the exact same time is clearly the work of the devil.
Anxiety stepped in and closed the door behind her.
The sides of my vision began to darken. The warmth in my chest turned to heat. My stomach began to knot. In addition to my heartbeat flooding my ears, there was also this rush of nothing – like white noise – that grew ever louder. My hands started to shake.
Innnn two-three-four… Out two-three-four…
I debated getting some medication – the kind specifically prescribed for times like this – but heard Anxiety telling me it was a stupid idea. “Other people don’t need that. Don’t be weak. Shouldn’t you be able to manage on your own?”
Another ironic kicker: that anxiety can make us too nervous to take our anxiety medication.
Nick found me in the kitchen standing at the counter and immediately knew something was up.
“I’m having a panic attack.”
Rather than running, rather than ignoring, he came closer. Putting down what he was holding, he took me by the shoulders and told me, measured and calm, “Okay. Let’s do this. We can figure it out.”
Yes, we can. I can. Breathe, breathe, breathe.
I told him about the air conditioner (we added more towels). He hugged me; tight, long.
“I’m sorry that I’m sort of broken.”
“No. This situation just really sucks.”
I’ve had panic attacks before and know their paralyzing horribleness. I also know, every time, I’ve gotten through them. I know that they end. I know, if I’m persistent, I can shove Anxiety back out the door. But I still need to remind myself each time it happens.
Between Nick’s reassurance, my breathing, the eventual return of my self-belief, and deciding that taking Xanax was actually the smart, strong way to go, things got better. My heartbeat returned to normal. My vision cleared. My stomach relaxed.
By the time dinner was ready, I was back to myself. The girls never even knew what happened – which was both reassuring (I wouldn’t want to worry them) and disquieting… because I want them to know that this is nothing to be afraid or ashamed of. In fact, my hearing Anxiety’s self-doubt-filled warnings, flipping her off, and doing whatever it took to kick her out are not only not shame-worthy; they’re powerful and awesome.
We, as a nation, do such a poor job handling things like anxiety and depression. Their taboo nature makes difficult situations even more difficult. I want to show the girls that, despite my own statements to the contrary, I’m not broken. I’m me – strong, smart, kind, Starbucks-loving, kickass me – and just because Anxiety has barged in, those things don’t change.
Also? I’ve got her number.
Less than 24 hours after the panic attack, the A/C guy had come (sweet fancy Moses), the groceries were purchased, Langston got to the vet, the floor was dry, and I’d made appointments with the washing machine and mold folks. I also mowed the lawn – where, mid-backyard, the mower cord snapped and I sprained my toe. Two more hurdles. But this time, instead of panicking, I boldly kicked them aside.
I wrote about the whole shebang on Facebook, treating it more like a joke. 24 hours later, it was a joke – but that was only part of the story, and I know that so many other people have similar stories… but we rarely share them. That’s why I decided to write about it: so that all of us who struggle with anxiety – or who recognize ourselves in this scenario – might feel a little less alone. Only by talking about it can we de-stigmatize it. So here I am, talking about it.
If you, too, battle anxiety, know that you’re not alone. You can do it – maybe on your own, maybe with the help of friends and family, maybe with the help of medication – but you can, and all of that is okay.
The hurdles will always appear… but remember that you don’t have to clear them. You just have to knock them down and keep going.
The girls having a blast at the Minnesota State Fair.
They keep me going.
Them… and caramel macchiatos. And Xanax. Amen.