I’ve always been sort of a high strung person. While I’m not as vocally expressive as others–i.e., I don’t like to make waves–I definitely need a schedule to function, even if it’s a loose one. When I wake up in the morning, I like to know what I have planned for the day and what I need to do. I’m a list maker, and I love crossing items off my to-do list. Nothing bothers me more than a neglected to-do list (okay, that’s an exaggeration, but you get what I mean), because then I feel super unproductive–even if I actually got a lot done, or did something enjoyable with my day.
I say all of this to prepare for the rest of the post. Even though I’m high strung, I never really considered myself an anxious person. Sure, I would get nervous if I realized I forgot to lock the car door, or if I realized I put my laundry on the wrong setting. Minute things. But as far as overwhelming, mind-controlling anxiety, I didn’t really struggle with. Until this year.
A few things happened that contributed to my heightened anxiety. For the first time ever, I was ONLY working, which was an adjustment period, even if I was excited. Last year, I moved to a new place, which (again) is exciting, but it was further away from my friends in the area. But the tipping point was when I fell in February and fractured my ankle.
I consider myself a pretty well-adjusted person, so when I realized the leg I had been walking on for two weeks was fractured, not sprained (thanks, first doctor), I took the news in stride. I understood what it meant, and I was able to acknowledge the next steps necessary for recovery. This didn’t stop me from breaking down in tears in Perkins with my parents, or having fears of never walking again (my brain went nuts), or any number of irrational fantasies. Luckily, my mom came to MD with me and was able to help me get around, which helped tone down many of my irrational fears. I was doing OK, until…
I visited the ortho for a check-up, told him about a pain in my leg, got an ultrasound, and ended up in the ER because of a blood clot. Let me tell you, guys–I have not cried that hard in months. I was literally breaking down in the waiting room because I literally couldn’t wrap my mind around what was going on. A blood clot? What? This was something I had never worried about in my life, ever, and suddenly I was sitting in the ER because of one, listening to doctors tell me about blood thinner medications, and getting CAT scans to make sure my lungs were clot free.
Even though I didn’t express it this way at the time, I can understand now what happened. Something I had never worried about was suddenly consuming my life. What other things that I’ve never worried about could pop up next? What did I need to prepare myself for?
And then, like knocking over a witch’s cauldron (bad metaphor, let’s just move past it), my brain was FLOODED with anxieties and worries. I spent hours reading online forums about DVTs (blood clots). I cried on the phone to Rahul, to my mom when she flew back up to stay with me (because she’s awesome). I would have to stop grading to have intense thinking sessions about what the DVT meant and what the blood thinner was doing in my body. I put off taking Xarelto by one day because there was no antidote if I ever started bleeding a lot and only felt mildly okay taking it after talking to Rahul, Rahul’s dad (both doctors), and hearing advice via my mom through my aunt and uncle, who are both nurses. In the midst of freaking out about what was going on in my body, I fed the anxiety monster that had taken over my mind with several full meals many times a day. I let the anxiety win. Suddenly, I was imagining what would happen if I happened to cut myself cooking, or if I got in a car accident, or if someone mugged me on the street. Bad circumstances at any point, sure, but a thousand times worse while on a blood thinner.
I just finished my course of medication, and I’ve moved away a bit from the initial panicking. I have my follow-up appointment this week, and will probably get another ultrasound image to check in on the clot, even though it’s not required. If the xarelto did its job, my body should be clot free. Since receiving the initial news, I’ve done certain things to help my anxiety: I stopped reading medical forums. I (tried) to stop overwhelming conversations with friends about the medicine, because I was only doing it to make myself feel better (again, feeding the anxiety monster). Rahul has helped a lot, because he won’t engage in conversations that are purely motivated by my anxiety. What he’s doing, and what every person who struggles with anxiety needs, is providing support through not engaging my anxious self. Anxiety often pushes you to place certain needs, thoughts, etc, over others, and most of the time, they’re irrational fears, or things not related to the present. Also, for any person who has ever read up on anxiety, you know it’s often future-focused. Most anxiety is stoked by concerns about future problems, not present realities.
Through all this, one thing has stuck with me. One thing that reared its ugly head when I became convinced that I would majorly injure myself while taking the blood thinner; that popped up the other day when I became convinced I had appendicitis; that shows up every night when I check my locked door: the WHEN. Lately, my thoughts have been consumed by not “if” something happens, but “when” it will happen. And through all of it, I’m amazed by the powerful hold anxiety has on the mind, because it’s all mind-related. The minute appendicitis pops in my mind, it becomes “WHEN I get this.” WHEN I get into a car accident on 495. WHEN my apartment catches on fire. WHEN the blood clot lets go and travels. WHEN I fall while running and break another bone. Some are based on some level of reality–i.e., the blood clot concern. But most of them are severely irrational, and only cause my anxiety to increase by the thousands.
I know anxiety is mind over matter. It’s controlling your emotions, it’s refusing to feed the monster. But, you guys, it’s hard. It’s hard when it’s so simple to feed that monster just a little bit, just a bite. But it never works that way. It’s like opening a bag of salt & vinegar kettle chips: once you have one, you have to have 25 more. Anyone that struggles with anxiety knows what I’m talking about, and how unhealthy this is. Also, anyone that struggles with anxiety understands the upsetting confliction of being able to understand what’s going on in your mind, and understand what you need to do to stop it, but not being able force yourself to take the leap.
Instead of leaps, it’s much easier to start with baby steps.
I really like this quote from the clip: “All I have to do is take one little step at a time and I can do anything.”
In the baby steps I’ve taken since receiving the blood clot news, I’ve been able to, for the most part, successfully squelch my need to do certain things, like look up medical advice online, or talk about my health problems with everyone under the sun. Amazingly, once a few days pass without doing the thing, the desire passes. It alleviates. Of course, I could reignite it by one simple Google search, but now I’m removed enough to tell myself I have the option NOT to do so, and I feel okay about it. Also, I think about it this way: how easy it is to strike a match, start a fire, but how hard it is to put one out. The same applies for feeding my anxiety, and I’m slowly, slowly (baby steps!) choosing not to do so.
The big thing I’m working on right now is changing the when back to if. I’m reminding myself that just because it happened with a blood clot doesn’t mean it will happen with everything. The terrible part about the blood clot was how blindsided I was: suddenly, I was in the hospital, learning about blood thinners, hemoglobin tests, staying away from sports and heavy drinking; all these things that were literally so far from my radar the day before. I was scared, most of all by how unaware I had been. I’m trying to remind myself that that isn’t the case with everything. Just because I was blindsided by this doesn’t mean the rest of my life will be terrible. This one incident doesn’t mean my life will become a series of “whens.”
Plus, I’ve made a deal with God, or whoever is listening, that the first half of this year can suck, and that first half ends tomorrow on June 30. I would really like the second half of this year to be awesome. So, a deal is a deal.