I meet with my psychologist tomorrow. The timing couldn’t be more perfect. I’ve got the words to describe what exactly I’m struggling with.
Remember my posts on Sunday? How beautiful I made the hair cut seem? It was. It really was. The evening ended with a tricky bedtime for George, but I took a second to acknowledge how many coping tools I had practiced with great success all weekend. And I used them to get George to bed.
It was the first weekend in August that I hadn’t had one anxiety attack. I wrote to my counselor and congratulated myself. Big stuff.
Then I had a wake up at 2 am because I’m pregnant, which is fine, but George had a wake up at 330, which NeVeR enDEd. I tried for two and a half hours to put him back to sleep.
I needed a good night’s sleep to process and cement the successful work of my weekend.
I didn’t get that.
My prefrontal cortex was fried. It was in the middle of a rinse cycle. And it was not capable of any more labor. When I heard the crying that didn’t stop, I felt my logical self, my prefrontal cortex, just shut down. I visualized my capacity for rational thinking as a person in a crumpled heap on the floor, panting, trembling, and shielding her face from the traumatic stimulus. I’m defeated and scared and incapable of getting up, defending myself, and taking charge of myself.
So what have humans evolved to do? Rely on that trusty little limbic system. Nicknamed the lizard brain. The part of you that reacts on instinct to save yourself. This is fight or flight; well, fight, flight, or freeze. At times like these, I have only three options to cope with the situation, my first instinct is usually fight.
I chose to pick a fight with Nick in front of George. I regret it.
We were arguing about how to best get George to go back to sleep.
Now, don’t get me wrong, the situation wasn’t like anything you see in the TV show Shameless. We didn’t speak while he was quiet and falling asleep in my arms. But the anger and frustration and exhaustion clung to the air like tropical humidity.
Finally I gave up with the crib and I realized we had been at this for two hours. It was 530. It was awake time. Put him in the tub and wash off the stress sweat and tears. That’s when we got loud and out of control. I regret that moment a lot. I said things that I didn’t mean, and I didn’t remember them a moment after I said them, but of course my venom stung Nick and he remembered.
In the moment, that traumatized logical part of my brain recognized that I was about to make a bad decision, it warned me that this was a toxic idea. There’d be consequences. But that poor, defeated, exhausted version of myself wasn’t driving. I couldn’t stop myself. The limbic system had overridden the controls and I knew the fallout before it even happened.
We were crying and taking cheap shots at one another and saying things that we don’t mean.
When I left in the morning, to go to Roswell, I neither knew nor cared where Nick was. The rest of my day passed in a haze of exhaustion and regret. More of that lizard brain driving my skeleton through existence. My prefrontal cortex was operating at 15%. She knew I needed to apologize, I wanted to apologize to my son and my husband as soon as I saw them. I just hated not knowing if we’d have an opportunity to make up before another bedtime attempt. And that scared me. I am afraid of bedtime now, bedtime now triggers my anxiety and puts my logical salt in the backseat. For me, and for Nick too. So how else is George supposed to behave? If two adults can’t cope, how is a toddler supposed to do better? (Hindsight is 20/20, baby. None of this occurred to me until after I’d slept again.)
All day Monday, George was safe with Grammy, never worry. He actually ended up having a great day with long naps and big meals.
After work and during dinner on Monday, we came together and planned a new strategy for bedtime. There were two honest things that were said in the rage of the night that we still agreed on in the light of day. This version of bedtime routine was no good anymore. George needed a change of strategy. The other thing was that I say toxic things and I lash out when just to pick a fight. Now I realize it’s an instinct when I let my fear instincts take over.
The new plan didn’t work. I won’t even relay the plan, because it all just went to hell. We had a bonked head in the tub, a ripped diaper, erupting teeth, hungry belly, dry mouth, and too hot pajamas. Just everything that could have gone wrong, did go wrong.
I broke. I still hadn’t really slept since 2am the night before. This was my 7th failed attempt at putting my baby down to sleep. What on earth could I do differently? I was physiologically, chemically imbalanced, it had me trapped in fight or flight. The sensation was like like being restrained and then being tasked with assembling boxed furniture. Truly awful.
So I stood and cried. I howled and let it out. If George and I were competing for loudest family member, I won. Nick sent me downstairs. I wept tears until they dampened the bathroom floor. George continued to cry and holler sending me further into a panic. I lifted my hips, crouched on all fours, gripped the floor, and let out one long feral scream.
My house fell silent.
I’m certain neighbors heard.
It was a scream three months in the making: I was pregnant before I was mentally prepared. had two biopsies done while unsedated. I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had surgery while completely alert and sober. I had a sick child. I had transitioned antidepressant medicine. Oh, I’ve also started chemotherapy. But wait! There’s more! I have to birth my second child. I don’t know when. I don’t know how. It might have to be an emergency c section. It might have to be a premature birth. I don’t get to control these things.
So I screamed. Just that one roar from the bottom of my soul. A screech of agony. It left me breathless. And finally no one was crying.
Eventually, after hours more of breathing away the agony of anxiety, my family all fell asleep. It was only possible after my mom and dad came and rescued us. Grammy soothed and rocked George, offered him snacks and water, tickled and healed George enough to drift to sleep. I sat frozen until my son was calm, then I laid down on the couch. I stayed there all night. My family was a little broken that night.
So. What does this experience have to do with meeting my psychologist, and why is it perfect timing?
There’s a stark contrast between Brianna before midnight on Sunday and Brianna on Monday. One was prepared, rational, feeling emotions, but those emotions only guided the course. My logical, confident, sane self piloted my mind and actions. I am proud of myself. I have worked hard to hurry up and grow this much in 2022. The other Brianna, the one who hijacked my exhausted body, acted on base instinct. I was hurt, so every action was an emotional, hurtful, overreaction. I saw that clearly for the first time in my life.
Before this epiphany, I feared I was “bipolar,” but the clinical diagnosis never fit because I don’t have bipolar depression. I have a thirty year history of letting my anxiety and fears control me. I was confident enough saying it out loud to my team of mental health counselors; confident in myself and confident that they would understand that I need a little outside boost to support me and ask the progress I’ve made.
We decided that I would benefit from a very small, very low dose sedative to use on case of emergency. Just in case I have a panic attack that suffocates me and keeps my head under water. I have a last resort option, a big red button under glass. I’m comfortable not using it, in fact, just knowing I have a
The take away here, was that I got familiar with the lady in the mirror, learned about my anxiety, felt my feelings, then I thought about them. I made critical observations and learned how they affect me, I considered how to use what I learn to help myself, and realized that sometimes I just don’t have enough bandwidth to cope with everything I have to juggle. Lastly, I communicated my needs to my team.
I feel proud of myself. You don’t even know how far I’ve come to be able to say that.
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