Anxiety attacks present themselves in different ways.
Mine appear to come out of nowhere. Seemingly I'm doing "fine" and then something happens and I'm running to the public restroom trying to hold myself together, while at my sons hockey game.
A few saturday nights ago, I was the first of the parents to arrive for the third game in four game tournament. The lights go out, the players are being introduced, and I'm alone on the bleachers. The opposing team's parents give me a puzzled glance and I shrug my shoulders.
The rest of the parents arrive early into the first period. I would say half were holding the drinks they brought along on the shuttle bus. No one was out of hand, but as recovering alcoholic, I was quick to notice that a good majority had a subtle shift in their inhibitions. They quickly surrounded me apologetically on the bleachers. The volume was higher, the outrage for blown calls was greater, my heart started to beat louder.
To my left, was a mom who had been collecting information on me and my son, not the son that was there, but the son that was home, with my husband. The son that would not be able to thrive in a hockey tournament setting. The questions had been steady all weekend. Where's Dermot? Is it hard when you have to leave Dermot at home? How does Joe do with your son Dermot? Is he able to care for him by himself, or do you have a nurse to help? How does he communicate? How do you know what he needs?
And to my right was a self confessed tea totaller who was still working on her first beer. Her son seems to get called for too many penalties due to his size and she was getting sick of it.
The moms I usually sit with were in front of me and were unaware of my mounting anxiety. If it was just the team parents that were there I would have been fine. But three separate occasions from across the ice, we had all witnessed the coach of our team, scream at a few of our children. I mean turn red, then purple because he was so worked up. These twelve year old boys had been told "time and time again", not to do what they were doing and choose to do it anyway. One crossed the blue line at an inopportune time, the other didn't come out of the game when his replacement was ready to get on the ice. And the other, my kid, got a roughing penalty called on him while he was defending his goalie.
Shame came to these twelve year old boys. It was swift and loud and completely inappropriate. "That's the problem with youth sports these days" I could hear my husband's voice say in my head.
That was it, all I wanted to do was run to the bench and punch the coach in the throat. I stood up and ran to the bathroom. Locked in a stall and began to silently hyperventilate. I looked up trying to quell the tears for coming and destroying the white in my eyes. I couldn't do it tonight. This wasn't the time, I told myself. Keep it together, find a safer place.
I walked directly back to my spot and my purse was waiting for me, I grabbed it and ran up to the other side where a dad was up there with a few of the younger siblings. This dad was safe. This dad had been where I was. He wasn't afraid of crazy. I didn't need to talk, I just needed to be next to someone who's struggled too. I'm sure he was completing unaware of his calming presence for me, but I appreciated it.
This story doesn't seem like much on its own. but after I returned home from the three night tournament I was struck and how immensely sad I was. For a day I couldn't figure it out. I stood a few nights in a row crying to myself while watching Dermot sleep before I went off to bed at nearly one a.m.
This is what acute grief looks like:
It looks normal,
it looks like the perfect house
the perfect outfit
too many packages purchased in the wee hours of the night arriving via UPS
a stack of unread books on my night stand
ramen noodle cups in the pantry because I don't want to cook
hundreds of dollars worth of jewelry making materials and no creative juices flowing for over a year
explosive anger directed at my puppy for eating the pizza on the counter
the empty bag of peanut butter M&M's in the trash and the second empty bag in the floor of my car.
It looks like everything is going to be okay but it isn't.
My son is dying. Bit by miniscule bit, a piece of him disappears each day. His voice, his smile, his arm movements, his flexibility, his "normal looking" hands and feet. It crushes me. Most days I keep swimming along doing the day to day tasks, not thinking too much about the future. I can't even answer you when you ask if we have any spring break plans, But every so often, when I switch back and forth from "Typical" mom and "special needs" mom the transition throws me for a loop and I end up wondering why I just ate an entire 20 oz. bag of M&M's.
My family's journey is up and down, better and worse, yin and yang. I need to remember that. I need to have compassion for myself and my feelings. Let myself be sad, allow the happiness to take over every once and a while. Most of all, I need to remember to talk about it, so I don't end up in the restroom stall hyperventilating, alone.