7 Ways To Work Through Grief, Fear and Anxiety
BAILEY VAN TASSEL
I went into urgent care with a looming feeling. My chills and body aches were almost so uncontrollable that I was shaking. This isn’t normal I thought – this isn’t just a cold. I sat there for the inevitable 45 minutes and finally was seen by a nurse.
“Since you’re pregnant, and early in your first trimester, we are going to give you a prescription immediately. We have to take every precaution.” I nodded, as tears welled up in my eyes.
I had been sick, tired, nauseous, sad, depressed, anxious, and overall feeling terrible with intermittent bouts of either actual illnesses from my son in daycare, or from all the forms of anticipatory grief, traveling to see a sick parent, and Lord knows what else, for too long. I just kept thinking, I can’t go through anything else. I can’t receive any more sympathy. I can’t take one more thing. And then I got the flu.
Before leaving the room, the nurse turns to me and looks square into my red, watery, barely-holding-back-the-tears eyes. “Are you feeling any cramping?” That was the question of the day. Every doctor call ended with them cautioning me about the symptoms of a miscarriage. Asking if I was having cramps or abdominal pain. No ma’am. No cramps. But yes, I was nervous.
I have lost a lot of things in the past 12 months. I traded being my own little old me self for being a mother, I closed my business and gave up being an entrepreneur, I had a miscarriage, and I lost my father. It all felt relatively managed, and I was good at just trucking along forcing smiles and getting through my day to day. This is life, right? People have it much worse, I’d tell myself.
Two nights after getting my flu diagnosis, I started having trouble breathing. My back had tightened up and it felt like someone was squeezing my spinal cord. The doctor sent me straight to the E.R., you know, since the early pregnancy. Great, more questions about cramps and pain. Eventually I see the doctor there, and he tells me I’m 100% fine. But do I feel anxious? Do I feel anxious?! F&*% yes I feel anxious!! I want to scream and cry and take something – anything that will help me not feel, well, anything. I’m nervous that I may literally break from life, and yes, I feel nervous about my pregnancy, since last time I was in the ER, I was having a miscarriage. I feel anxious. I feel afraid. I feel overwhelmed – I’m an American woman with children and a husband, who works full time. How else would I feel? “Miss, I think you’re having an anxiety attack. Which caused a back spasm.”
I went home a little embarrassed, but relieved. I slid off the ER bed in my giant winter coat, uggs, and SARs face mask that they make you wear, and just felt sorry for myself. I moped all the way home. I felt so annoyed and tired and done. Done feeling terrible. Done being scared. Done carrying around my dark cloud.
That night, while laying on a hot pad for my back, at 11:15pm I made a list of all the things I knew that I could do to tackle this anxiety and really give myself a shot at healing. It had been since my 15 month old was born that I worked out or really did anything dedicated to my care. Alas, I made a list: yoga, meditation, therapy, gratitude journaling, massage. That was what I knew to be anti-anxiety the natural way (no Xanax for pregnant women), what I had done in the past, and what could help me. Within one week, I felt better. Within two, I felt almost normal. Within three I was able to see a slice of hope. For me, feeling better means that I can sustain a good mood, I can laugh at my husband, I have energy to make dinner, and I am excited about the future. That’s my “normal”. I’m not singing in the streets, but I have more days now that feel light and have some ease.
I’m not cured of these issues by any means, and I’m not over it. You don’t get over losing a parent, or losing an unborn child. You learn to move with it and to embrace it. To see loss as the great measuring stick that it is, of the depth of your capacity to love. There are seven things that I am actively doing to find some peace. That is my overall intention: peace in my heart. Here is what I’m doing and why it’s helping.
"If we don’t give our brains a break from negative thoughts, then it can’t heal or repair itself."
1. Meditation – It was described to me that when we feel anxious or fearful, our brains emit hormones in response to those feelings (aka: what causes fight or flight). If we don’t give our brains a break from negative thoughts, then it can’t heal or repair itself. You need your brain to heal and repair and be able to send out happy hormones, otherwise you remain depressed. Mediation stops the cycle of negative thoughts and gives you a pause. It gives your brain a break and can allow for some of that happy repair work to happen.
2. Yoga/ working out REGULARLY – Endorphins y’all. And health. I HATE the oxygen mask analogy (you know the whole airplane bit about putting your mask on first, then helping others). I can’t hear it one more time. But I do believe so deeply in the fact that when I am not well, I can’t take care of my family. Exercise is the number one way I get out of ruts. Once I’m physically moving, everything else falls into place, I eat better, energy is higher, etc. I committed to 3-5 days of exercise a week. Can be yoga or circuit training, or whatever – just some good movement that works up a sweat.
3. Therapy – Not everyone can afford therapy, though there are free clinics. I can’t stress enough how important it is to talk to someone in a totally safe place, who can see your life from 30,000 feet. It takes time for therapy to “work”, but really it’s helpful to get all the things off your chest and again, allow a break for your brain. Allow a professional to help you see the negative habits you’ve formed, and help you create a plan to get out of it.
4. Connecting with my Dad, in my own way – Grieving for me feels like heaviness and distance. I just feel like my dad is so far away, and it makes me ache with sadness that I can’t talk to him or hug him. I’ve found that when I do things like read James Herriot novels or listen to Fleetwood Mac, I feel closer to him. So I do those things.
5. Admitting I have a problem – I had to admit that I wasn’t doing well, in order to get this whole train moving. I had to tell my family and friends that I was feeling overwhelmed and anxious and working on a plan. Their support has been so helpful in allowing me to not make excuses or to slouch off my commitments. It’s also helped me embrace this season for what it is, and move forward.
6. Filling up with people that give me life (ONLY) – Absolutely zero space for people and places and things that don’t bring me happiness and relief. If it’s not a “hell yes!” then it’s a “hell no”. Make up excuses, be painfully honest, whatever your style is, be ruthless with your time. Healing is no joke, and ain’t nobody got time for energy-sucking people or guilt trips. Just say no.
7. Gratitude Journaling – I am actually doing this everyday and it’s just a great way to recap on the blessings in your life, and reframe your lens. I alternate between mornings and nights, but the morning lists really set a good tone for the day. Sometimes I do it bullet style, sometimes I write it all out. Usually I say, “I am so happy and grateful for…” and then just list the things. Sometimes it’s about healthy family, sometimes it’s about sandwiches – doesn’t matter, but it anchors me. I also talk about what I’m grateful for in the car with B each morning, so he gets into the habit too.
I haven’t read any books about grief, and I don’t know the stages of it. Maybe I should know that. For now, this is what’s working for me. I feel like I can see more clearly and can slog through my emotions better. I don’t meet every happy moment with guilt anymore, and I don’t worry if each day will bring hardship. I can be present and I am much less of a scary mess for my husband and son. I am starting to feel like what didn’t kill me, is actually making me stronger. At least just a teeny tiny bit.
Bailey Van Tassel is a writer and urban farmer, raising babies and veggies in Orange County, CA with her husband and mini golden doodle. You can follow along with her at baileyvantassel.com.
How to Get Out of A Cold Weather Rut
Health & Wellness
The end of winter is near, which if you’re anything like me means you’re probably going stir crazy at this point. Feeling very ready for spring and the promise of sunshine summer will bring, yet (especially if you live up north) warmer and lighter days are still weeks away. Growing up in small town Wisconsin I used to get terrible seasonal depression.