Oh, thank Christ.
Two years ago a dermatologist thought my daughter might have neurofibromatosis, or NF. It’s a terrible genetic disease that neither me nor my husband have. Even though the diagnosis didn’t really fit, even after a physical examination, we were still referred to genetics for “counseling”. I put it off for two years because it just seemed like bullshit.
To make a long story short, we finally went to the appointment after I dove down several internet rabbit holes. First, I talked privately to a genetics counselor who wanted to know all about my and my husband’s family history and how everyone died, and then the department chief of genetics examined my daughter. In as many words, the doctor pretty much said, “OMG are you kidding? She doesn’t have NF. That’ll be $45.00.” We then joyfully drove away, but not before the genetics counselor told me that if I wanted to get tested to find out my chances for getting breast cancer, I could make that appointment any time. Thanks for that, lady. Whatever. I told them I would schedule a mammogram. I’m 40 and a half and just weaned my third child earlier this year. We’re just getting over this NF scare. Give me a minute before I leap tits-first into the mammogram machine. I can’t wait to get the mammogram and then shit myself for a week until I find out the results.
We arrived back into town from this NF appointment and I dropped my daughter off at school. I returned home at 11:30am and cracked open a beer. I know, it’s not even noon. I haven’t even had a beer in forever. It just tasted so good and it was so nice to find out that everything is OK.
In this situation, an overzealous dermatologist sparked a marathon of worry and panic, and I’d like to think that most parents would be quite worried had this happened to them. The difference between me and another mom would be that the second the whole NF thing passed, my mind went to another worry. Like water slipping into the next available crack. Also, when you’re a level 10 worrier, it’s hard to know what’s “normal”, especially when faced with a situation that’s legitimately concerning.
Instead of worrying about what hasn’t happened yet, I should concern myself with the problem in front of me everyday. I should worry about the fact that my anxiety takes me away from the things I cherish the most in this whole world. I have the present day to be thankful for, but as I continually look into the past and possible future, I can’t stay in the moment. I’m so worried about being robbed of my future that I can’t stop robbing myself of today. This anxiety is deeply rooted in the concept of control. If I worry so much, it won’t happen. It’s a lie I tell myself even though I know it isn’t true. It’s a heavy set of handcuffs that stops me from enjoying every good thing I’ve got going on in my life today. What a huge price to pay for the illusion of control. Until I give up that illusion, I will always be in those handcuffs. I will never be free.
My daughter’s school hold weekly mindfulness trainings for the students. Things have really changed since I was in the first grade. I routinely talk with her about how to stay cool in the moment, practicing breathing exercises with her that have been sent home by the school, all the while being completely unable to stay in the moment myself. Children in general are pretty great at living in the moment, and grieving children are no different. As soon as things get too crazy in their heads, they’re off playing dress up or immersed in a book. Overwhelming feelings are scary for a child, so when it gets too much, they’ll turn it off like a light until later. Adults aren’t quite as adept at doing this.
I decided several months ago to begin an easy mindfulness practice anytime I got overwhelmed. Please know that I still suck at this. But, when I can manage to do it, it really does work. It began when I would drop my daughter off at school. It was during a time when I felt particularly anxious, and after the hustle and bustle of the morning school routine was over, I would feel overcome with fear of something else happening to our little family. I hadn’t even exited the school parking lot when it began and I didn’t know how to turn it off.
I whispered aloud to myself, “What are you doing right now? What exactly are you doing?”
“I’ve just dropped my daughter off at school”, I answered.
“What else? What else is happening?” I was thankful that anyone who saw me would assume I was speaking to my son in the backseat.
“I’m driving home. Floyd is in the car.”
“The sun is shining. It’s a beautiful day. My husband is home working. We might have lunch together. Everyone is safe and happy.”
“No, I’m just driving down the road right now. I’m going home. We’re just in the car going home.”
I kept going like this until I felt better. By forcing myself to live in the moment, I was able to appreciate the good things happening all around me. When people ask me how we’re doing, I tell them that we’re doing well, and it’s the truth. My head notwithstanding, everything in the present is fantastic. As anxious and fearful as I can get, I’m not a quitter. Me living out my days in an anxious ball of fear is not acceptable to me. I’m just a couple years out from losing my son, but I already know that this can’t be my forever. I have a lot of work ahead of me, but I’m going to make it. We are all going to make it.