Recognizing That Reaction

I would like to think that I acted at the right moment, in the right way — but who knows.

watercolor a spiral
Image created via Midjourney

About a month ago, I went through a very intense experience involving mental health.  Without going into details, I had to make some decisions, in the middle of the night, that I knew were going to have a lasting impact on the people involved.  I feared for my personal safety, and the safety of the people around me.

I would like to think that I acted at the right moment, in the right way — but who knows.  The next morning, I crumpled into a puddle from the stress of it all, shaking and sobbing.

As a result, I have had nightmares going back to that night, replaying the experience, sometimes with much more detrimental outcomes.  I have had moments of panic during the day, triggered or reliving the incident.  My head and heart would pound and I was unable to calm down.  I knew all of these symptoms of anxiety, reminiscent of after my daughters died, and then again during my pregnancy with my rainbow baby.  I was experiencing the after-effects of trauma.  At least I could recognize what was happening to me.

About a week after this happened, I talked about the incident in marriage therapy.  My therapist wanted to know how I was taking care of myself.  Baths.  Borrowing my son's weighted blanket to add to my own for extra weight when sleeping.  She made Ger promise to be even more helpful around the house, to remove stress from me.  When we got home from the therapy session, he immediately began cleaning the house.  He knows that a messy house sets me on edge, so he picked up in every room.

Sleep was elusive for a long time.  The extra weighted blanket helped, but I would wake in the middle of the night and be wide awake, with nothing that could calm me.   Sometimes, in the middle of the day, I was so torn between exhaustion and anxiety that I could do nothing except lie in bed, try to darken the master bedroom, and pray that a nap would come.  It never did.

One day in particular, I found myself so anxious that I couldn't focus on anything.  I abandoned any attempts to work, and turned my attention to the mulch in my yard.  We have mulch delivered in bags every year, so I carried about 20 bags to the proper spot in the front yard, split them, and spread the mulch, all while listening to some crappy 90s pop music through the tiny speaker on my iPhone.

In past years, I have used a rake to spread the mulch, but this time I got down on my hands and knees and pushed my gloved hands into the red chips.  I was tired from carrying the bags, and could tell myself that the increased heart rate was due to the exertion rather than anxiety.  It was more effort, more satisfying, to be on the ground and working in this way.  Toward the end of the project, I even took the gloves off and used my bare hands to position the mulch in exactly the right way.  The yard looked more polished, ready to greet summer, when I was done.

My arms were covered in dirt from carrying the bags, and my clothes stained with the red of the mulch.  I immediately tossed them into the washing machine and took a shower.  shower.  That day, I didn't feel like I had to hide in bed and wait for a nap to find me.

The unsung hero in this story is Ger.  He was there for me every step of the way: my consult that awful night when I had to make some decisions, listening to me talk over and over about the after-effects, taking on more than his share at home to give me some space.  His support was unwavering, even when I felt like the support from other people was lackluster, or not reflective of the seriousness of the situation.  Day-to-day with running a household and young kids can be hard, but providing what the other needs and help to navigate the most difficult situations, is what makes for a partnership.