My mind is racing, thinking about my more-than-full plate; it has been a stressful week. Steve is away on a trip, gone five days now, and I'm in the final throes of negotiating an offer to sell our house. Contractors and inspectors have been traipsing through my house for days; between them and meetings with brokers, juggling our hectic schedule and working, I feel stretched beyond my limits.
I sigh, and lean my chin on my hand. My body freezes: what's this? The heel of my palm feels a lump in my neck. As my fingers probe deeper, feel the contours of a hard, round ball nestled just below my jawline, an icy blade of fear slices through the middle of me.
My hands start to shake, my palms sweat. My extremities go cold with panic, and my gut clenches. I can feel myself start to shut down.
Somehow I make it until the end of Finn's class, shuffle the kids home and go through the motions of cooking dinner, doing homework, brushing teeth. They chatter on about the usual things, oblivious to the raging sea of panic that boils within me. I can barely concentrate, my brain is paralyzed with horrible images.
I tuck them into bed, slump downstairs and curl into a ball. I'm dying, I think. It's got to be something awful. The anxiety that has been dogging me since my Dad's death, flitting around the edges of my consciousness, kicks in the door and settles on me like a cold blanket.
I remain frozen in a ball, unable to fight back the fear. A tiny, rational part of me knows my reaction is disproportionate, that I'm coming unglued, but I can't help it. I just don't have any reserves left.
I think about all the times I have told women to face fear, to talk about it, to feel pain and not go around it. I would do anything to go around this, to disappear from myself for a while. A drink would do that, I think. Just a couple of drinks to take the edge off the fear, bring me back to baseline.
Even as I think these thoughts, I know I'm not going to drink. I know what I need to do. I pick up the phone with trembling hands and make a doctor's appointment for the following morning. Face it, Ellie, I think. Don't hide. After making the appointment I call some friends, cry a little, and box myself in. I tell them what is going on, and ask them to make sure I go to the appointment. I know I'm in a place where I can't trust my own thinking.
The doctor rips off the blood pressure cuff with a loud scritch, and gives me a concerned look. She tells me my blood pressure is scary high, and asks if I have been under stress lately.
I open my mouth to say 'yes, but nothing I can't handle', and instead hear myself babbling on about all the pressure I'm under, the knife blade of fear, the anxiety that won't leave me alone. I am surprised to hear myself talking about how my Dad's death from an infection - so unexpected, when he was so healthy - has left me paralyzed with fear. "It's all so fragile," I say. "It scares me." The tears run down my cheeks as I unload it all.
"I need help," I choke. "I can't live like this anymore."
Three simple words: I. Need. Help. Oh, they are so hard to say, but once the words are out of my mouth, I feel a weight lifting, and a sense of lightness and peace comes over me.
We talk awhile about anxiety, about how it is effecting my health, my blood pressure, and how there are medications that are safe to take in recovery. She tells me it isn't about will power, that I can't think my way out of it, that anxiety is a physiological condition, and in it's acute form - like I'm experiencing - my usual tools of exercise, rest and good nutrition aren't enough. We talk about how the anxiety jeopardizes my recovery, how I'm triggered when I'm hit with a panic attack.
"It's okay," she says. "This has nothing to do with how strong you are."
I've been here before, when I got sober, and I know the drill. Surrendering my will is hard, it feels like defeat, but I know in my heart it isn't. It's the way out of my mental prison, the path to freedom.
We agree to watch the lump in my neck - I have other symptoms of a cold, so it could be a virus or infection causing a swollen lymph node - and make an appointment to follow up again in a few weeks.
As I drive home, I think about acceptance, about how my brain longs to control something uncontrollable. No amount of emotional hang-wringing or anxious thinking will change the outcome of anything; all anxiety does is ruin the moments right in front of me, here and now. The fear tickles at my consciousness, scratches at the door, whispers: let me in.
I breathe in faith, breathe out fear, and bring myself back into the moment. I'll get through it, whatever it is, I think. One moment at a time.