Knowing When Something Is Off

I know that the beginning of therapy is hard work.

an abstract watercolor illustration of a silhouette of a sad woman in yoga clothes sitting in front of a window
Image created via Midjourney

A few weeks ago, I felt like my heart was racing and I could not get calmed down.  I know the exact date: February 14th.  Valentine's Day.  The day after Iris's birthday.

Ger and I had spent part of the day in Chicago, having lunch.  On the drive back out to the suburbs, I felt it.  Like I could not catch my breath.  It was odd since I had no reason to be upset or nervous - in fact, we had just spent a lovely morning together.  I brushed it off, wondering if perhaps I was getting sick.

The next morning, while I was running errands, I felt it again, accompanied by a slight pain in my chest.  After consulting Doctor Google, I decided to go to walk-in care.  But by the time I got home, the feeling was gone and the pain was gone.  The pain reappeared later that afternoon, but specifically when I turned to look at something behind me.  I convinced myself that I had pulled a muscle, nothing more.

Over the next week, the panicked feeling would return.  I have had full-blown panic attacks before and this was not quite on that scale, but it was enough that it was impacting me.  The last time I had panic attacks was when I was pregnant with Autumn, and there was no medication that I could take for fear of side effects for my baby.

I know all of the tricks to try and force myself to relax.  I took Epsom salt baths.  I used lavender oil.  A few days, when it was nice enough, I took a walk outside.  Nothing was working.  My FitBit clearly reflected how I was feeling on its heart rate monitor.

After more than a week, I broke down and went to see my primary care provider.  I have only been seeing her for about two years, since after Autumn was born.  I explained the slight chest pain, and told her that I have had a history with panic attacks — but in those instances, I knew the exact reason (pregnancy after loss) and in this case, I could not point to a cause.  To be safe, I was hooked up to an EKG and had bloodwork done, to rule out a heart problem.  Both normal.

I left with a two-week prescription for Xanax.  My doctor said that we would circle back: either the panicked feeling would resolve itself, caused by some unknown temporary stressor.  Or would continue, indicating perhaps an ongoing need for medication or perhaps looking more closely at some other cause (like heart) that wasn't initially obvious.  I told my PCP that I had every intention of beginning individual therapy again, since I know myself enough and something was off that was causing me to feel this way.

After a negative experience at a counseling location where first an individual therapist told me that Nelle would want me to "move on" and then a second individual therapist who spent an entire session telling me about her own pregnancy, I decided to go back to another counseling center that I had started with shortly after Nelle died.  The original therapist I saw was no longer there, but I have had enough work in therapy to know what I wanted.

I spent about thirty minutes on the phone with an intake person, looking at profiles of therapists that would fit my schedule.  Neither of the first two really grabbed me, and I pointed out to the intake person that their profiles did not specifically list "grief and loss" as areas of interest.  I wanted someone who understood that grief is something that is always carried, and not something from which I could just "move on."  The intake person asked if I would be willing to go to another location, slightly further from my home, and I said that I would.  She paired me with a therapist that did list grief and loss on her profile, as well as women's issues/fertility.

I know that the beginning of therapy is hard work.  It is a lot of talking about the past and going through memories that I do not access all of the time.  Somewhat fortunately, I tell the story of how Nelle and Iris died somewhat regularly, when I speak on parent panels at the hospital.  But talking about other significant events in my life, around someone I know that had a mental illness episode in front of me, and recognizing that Ger was struggling with anxiety - it was a lot to squeeze into a one-hour session.

She gave me an analogy, drawing on a piece of paper (and I found out after that it is an analogy that others have used as well).

She told me that grief is like a box with a red panic button, and a large ball that fills almost the entire box.  When grief is fresh and new, it is constantly hitting that panic button.  Over and over, all of the time.

Over time, the ball gets smaller.  But it is still inside of the box, moving around, occasionally hitting the panic button.

She said that for whatever reason, right now, my ball is hitting my panic button a lot - causing me to have a constant anxious feeling.

We set up recurring appointments, and she also wanted me to see their psychiatrist regarding whether I need medication beyond the small supply prescribed by my primary care doctor.  She also told me that if I ever did any journaling or writing, I could send it to her in advance of sessions to read.  I replied "Oh I do a lot of writing... I can send you something."

In advance of my session this week, I poured through my own writing on this blog.  Not wanting to to make it a huge chore for her (being only one day before my appointment), I wanted to limit what I sent her to only two posts.  I finally chose something that I wrote only one month after Iris died and something that I wrote earlier this year.  I felt that they were a good reflection of the place I was in at the time, and where I am now, perhaps helping in that "getting to know you" phase of therapy.

I am hopeful that this will be a good match, that I can establish a relationship with this therapist and return to her long-term whenever I feel that I need some extra support.  And try to piece together what is triggering me now.  Years of therapy and learning coping skills at least allowed me to recognize that I needed some help.

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