Anxiety and a Complicated Pregnancy
Preface: In the paragraph below I realize that I gloss over and omit a lot of information about my physical health and the health of the baby. This is because that information feels very private to me right now and isn't relevant to the discussion about anxiety. Please respect that boundary and don't ask for further details. Thank you!
It's been a few months since I last updated on this pregnancy. I left off with the situation being that I was on bed rest with bleeding and cramping and pain. Since then, my care has been switched to an OBGyn, we (eventually) discovered the cause of the bleeding is a large cyst and doesn't impact the baby (although it still hurts!), I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes ending up on insulin, and have been subject to a battery of tests and ultrasounds which show that the baby is so far doing well but that some other things are less-than-optimally healthy. All that plus a toddler, sciatica, heartburn, and all the other aches and pain and sleepless nights that come with the third trimester of a pregnancy!
One of the hardest things (and what this post is really focusing on) about the last few months has been a crippling anxiety that developed and quickly overwhelmed me. I've never really dealt with anxiety on a scale like this before and was completely unprepared.
I had a deep belief that most people in my life wanted to hear that I was fine and that my pregnancy was fine. Combined with the isolation of bed rest, even though friends were reaching out to help, I withdrew and began to internalize my stress and pain. Things quickly spiraled out of control and I began having anxiety attacks (heart racing, hands and feet going numb, confusion, pressure in my chest) sometimes up to 20 times a day. Some triggers for anxiety included doctor appointments and ultrasounds, finding out more bad news, dealing with my constantly high blood glucose readings from the diabetes, people innocently asking "how are you?", the constant and intense pain, and any time I started spotting again.
Eventually I reached a peak and after a couple of very bad days I spoke to my midwife about my feelings. And by spoke, I mean that I sobbed my heart out in her office while Jay held my hand. I still remember her asking me if I had talked to my friends about my feelings and what was happening and it was only in that moment that I realized that I had cut myself off from even my best friend and my sister, who normally hear every tiny detail of my life.
Our midwife recommended a therapist in town who had experience in helping prenatal and postpartum women. I went to see her within a day or two.
The therapist has been so helpful. She summed up the situation well when she said that my anxiety was like an overly full balloon. If you don't release some air, it will pop. But if you just let go of the opening, it will whiz around the room in total chaos - which is fun if you are actually a balloon but not so fun if you are a person. I did feel like I was a vortex of misery and that if I tried to let out even a tiny bit of it to express to a friend how I was feeling, I would lose control and disaster of some kind would ensue.
One thing about anxiety is that it really messes with your perspective and focuses on the negatives. The truth is that the people who love me are happy to handle any and all of my feelings. I ended up emailing my best friend first - email felt distant enough that I could let it all out without having to look anyone in the eyes or try to control my emotions. Then I managed a few phone calls and visits with my sister and a couple other very close and wonderful people. Slowly, the air was leaking out of the overly full balloon. The therapist has also helped me develop a range of coping strategies like breathing exercises, positive visualizations, relaxation strategies, and more.
Today I am about 6 weeks past the worst of the anxiety. Things are not perfect. I still have anxiety attacks. I am still working every day on controlling the negative thoughts, relaxing, not letting the physical pain of my body overwhelm my feelings, reaching out to people, getting out of the house. The therapist helps me make lists of questions and actions to take while at the hospital appointments so that I can advocate for myself, ask the questions I need to ask, and remember all of the information - then she helps me unpack it all at our next session and deal with the bad news in ways that are constructive and not just sheer panic.
I'm still regularly getting bad news at each appointment. I am still an "uncontrolled" gestational diabetic, even though I religiously follow the diet and give myself insulin and follow everything the doctors tell me to do. I still worry every single day about the baby and my own health. (Fun fact: stress raises your blood sugars. You can easily see the days where I have hospital appointments on my blood sugar tracking sheets.) I am still in constant pain and hobbling around like a 90 year old lady with a cane (yes, I sometimes need a cane). But the end is in sight (5 weeks left!), and I am being tracked by an excellent medical team, and I am coping better now than I was.
I share all of this in hopes that if you are having a difficult pregnancy, or struggling with anxiety, or any mental health issues, that you know that it can happen to anyone. And neither the anxiety or the pregnancy - or whatever situation you are in - will last forever (I tell myself this every day! Ha!). Ask for help if you need it. Asking for help is very brave and qualifies as "coping", even though you (and I) might feel like we are the exact opposite of "brave" or "coping".
And in the meantime, you can send me whatever prayers or positive vibes you have to spare, because things are still feeling hard over here and these last few weeks of this pregnancy are likely to be filled with more bad news, more hospital visits, and more anxiety.