When Anxiety Strikes Again

Photo by Steve Halama on Unsplash

When I was in sixth grade, I suffered from hives that covered my entire body.  They lasted for six months, unforgiving red circles that itched.  I saw doctors, I missed school – no one could figure out what was going on.  Finally, the pediatrician said “Let’s run a culture for strep throat – sometimes it can present with hives.”  Culture was positive.  A course of antibiotics later and the hives were gone.

The hives reappeared when I was in college.  After immediately ruling out strep throat, I saw an allergist, rheumatologist, and dermatologist.  No answers and months dragged on.  The dermatologist was the only one with enough curiosity to keep seeing me and try different combinations of medication to keep the hives at a manageable level.  He was an odd duck and every visit involved a lengthy wait at the office, but he was persistent.  Steroids knocked the hives out of my system but had horrible side effects so I couldn’t stay on them long.  Various combinations of antihistamines, multiple times per day, finally got the hives to subside on a daily basis, though any changes in temperature, mood, or stress could trigger a flare-up.

When I became pregnant with Theo, I had weaned off of the medication, taking it only as needed.  I remember wondering what would happen if pregnancy hormones would set off the hives and my medication options were limited, but luck or sheer mind over matter and the hives never appeared.  Nor did they appear in any subsequent pregnancies.

After Quentin was born, motivated by Pinterest and some time on my hands while maternity leave, I made some lifestyle changes.  Switched to all natural or homemade household cleaners, was incredibly conscientious of any product touching my skin, and dramatically changed my eating – cutting out as much processed food as I could.  Quite a few months later, I realized that I hadn’t seen hives in a long, long time.  I had started seeing an allergist when we moved to Illinois and told him about the lifestyle changes and shrugged saying “who knows.”

That was six years ago.  Since then, I can pinpoint a few times when the hives have reappeared.  Usually I can directly tie to an event, such as “after having a virus” or “visiting a park in another state” or “touching a fabric that my sensitive skin hates.”  A few days of antihistamines would take care of the problem, or in the worst cases, a low-dose steroid for a week.

A few days ago, I thought that Autumn might be getting sick.  She had puffy eyes, a congested sounding cough, and a runny nose.  Par for the course with starting day care and the increased exposure to germs.  I braced myself for her waking with a fever either during the night or in the morning.

Around 10:00 pm, I began to feel the panic.  The same anxiety I felt while pregnant – unable to control my beating heart and the lightness in my head.  That suddenly there wasn’t enough air for me to breathe.  I knew the cause: worrying that her illness could turn into something serious.  In that moment, nothing could have convinced me otherwise that she was perfectly fine.  I hurried to her room and burst in, not even trying to open the door quietly.  It woke her with a start.  After feeling her forehead and assuring myself that it was cool as a cucumber, I was able to fill my lungs with calm.  Of course, she began wailing at the sleep interruption and kept crying for another ten minutes.

The next day, the hives appeared.  They spread along my legs and stomach, so persistent that angry welts formed – the worst form of hives for me.  I started taking some antihistamines and they calmed, but I could still feel them: slightly below the surface, burning my ears and neck, waiting to reappear.  A physical response to the worst outcomes I had conjured within my mind.

I haven’t experienced anxiety that strong since a few months after she was born.  I assume that the hives were related: a further physical response to the outcomes I had conjured in my head.  I thought of Ger, and the anxiety he has been dealing with.  I know, I know how those moments feel, when nothing makes sense or is logical.  I thought of the individual therapy I’ve recently started again and how parenting after loss is a topic we haven’t even yet touched on.

Ger and I were talking recently about the impacts of trauma, and that losing our babies will forever change our response to certain situations – even when we think we are “fine” or not expecting anything.  As a seasoned parent, when my 10-month-old baby had, as the worst of symptoms, a runny nose, I was not anticipating such a strong response.  Yet there it was.