Having panic attacks and an anxiety disorder isn’t something I can magically make you understand. No matter how vivid and detailed my descriptions, regardless of what I copy and paste from medical websites….you can only relate so much unless it’s happened to you. And there’s a very good chance that it has because anxiety and panic disorders affect an estimated 2.4 million Americans and they are twice as common in women. If you’re interested in reading more, WebMD offers a good starting point, but remember that there are many types of anxiety disorders and not everyone exhibits all symptoms listed on that page.
I’m terrified that Adam has post-traumatic stress disorder or will suffer complications later in life as a result of PTSD. While I have not been diagnosed officially I’m almost certain I have it too. The nightmares happen almost daily: Adam getting snatched from me while we’re out in public, him being removed from school, CPS swarming the hospital while I give birth, etc. It’s challenging enough having ‘regular’ anxiety– now this?
The purpose of my post is to give you an example of a situation where I got anxious and it led to a panic attack. Of course in doing so it presents the risk of working myself into a frenzy, so I’m purposely sticking with a more minor issue as to maintain my relatively calm state.
[[ Note: Perhaps 'minor issue' isn't the right phrase-- what I mean is something that previously wouldn't have bothered me before November 17th. Additionally, it's easier to revisit an incident like the one below versus something that happened, say, in the courtroom. ]]
With that being said, let me give you some background into how I view dressing and physical appearance so you can better see why this incident is atypical for me: I honor and appreciate the importance of dressing appropriately for the circumstance [i.e. wearing black to a funeral, business professional for a job interview, a cocktail dress for a formal wedding, etc.] but in my down time I have to be comfortable at all costs. Jeans and tee shirts comprise the backbone of my style. Time is too valuable to waste spending an hour in front of a mirror with a flat iron so I usually just throw my hair in a ponytail and call it a day. With the exception of eye makeup [and sometimes I'll even go without that] I don’t wear anything on my face. I’m guilty of making a WalMart run in my pajamas. I’m never going to hide from the friend with the camera because I ‘look terrible.’ I’m not going to be mortified for the rest of the day when I run into somebody looking less than my best. This is not to suggest that I don’t care about my appearance….it’s just that I must be comfortable [I'm a busy single mother who is constantly on the move] and have better ways to spend my day than primping. My hair and clothes are clean, teefies are brushed, I wear deodorant and other things that smell good, and I’m confident enough in myself that I don’t have to be dressed to the nines all the time. Give me five minutes and I’m out the door. Does that make sense?
On that fateful morning in November before our first court appearance, I slipped into my dress and zipped up my black boots. I knew my dress was more than appropriate [long sleeves, high neckline, modest hem, not form fitting] but what about my shoes? They had heels. Can a pregnant woman wear heels? Will they think I’m endangering my fetus by wearing heels and risking a fall? And my knees were exposed. The end of my dress was just above my knee whereas the boots ended right below my knee. Should I have gotten a pair of tights so I wasn’t showing bare skin? I was starting to get that feeling in the pit of my stomach. I decided to move onto my face and applied green eyeshadow [as I often do because my eyes are hazel. Green! Was it too over the top? Too festive? Would they think I was enjoying myself during these past few hellish days? Then the mascara on my left eye clumped so I tried to fix it myself and even it out by adding more to the right eye. Did my spidery lashes make me look like a prostitute? Would they think I was a creature of the night? At this point I had to stop and vomit and was getting dizzy. I was just going to have to fix my hair and try and make do with the rest of it. What was I going to do with my hair?! The top third of my hair was dirty blonde/light brown and the bottom two thirds black. What kind of message would it send to the court if I didn't have hair that was the same color? If my hair was inadequate would they think that I didn't attend to Adam's hair properly? By now I could hear my chest pounding and was convinced that a heart attack was imminent. I wet my hair [so it all looked dark] and put it in a sleek ponytail. Was a ponytail too casual? I slumped down on my bathroom floor with my back against the wall and was in a trance….until I snapped out of it half an hour later when my phone rang.
All of this prior to COURT ABOUT MY SON. Not a fashion show. So much was at stake here [or so I thought back when I naively believed that the system was fair and this would all be resolved soon] and I just squandered the past 30 minutes of my life being a slave to a panic attack. Let me reiterate that this is a very ‘mild’ example of something to cause a panic attack but hopefully it provides some sort of insight.
It is definitely worth noting that all of my depression, anxiety, and panic attacks have multiplied exponentially since 11/17/11. Though I’ve always struggled with these things, they have NEVER interfered with my ability to care for Adam, or been so devastating as they are now. I know unequivocally that once Adam and I are reunited, we’ll get our lives back. My mental health will improve exponentially. When my CPS worker grilled me about the panic attack I had that required hospitalization– pulling the ‘What would you do if Adam saw that?’ card– I could not believe it. That was the first and only panic attack I’d ever had that required hospitalization. Adam was not in my care at that time and did not witness it. And, uh, maybe– I’m willing to go out on a limb here– had he not been stolen from me I sincerely doubt I would have been in such extreme distress.
Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Having any sort of negative reaction towards your child being removed from your care makes you “hysterical” and “emotionally unstable” yet when I spoke to the worker the following day and tried my hardest to be composed, stoic, and answer her questions as succinctly as possible without trying to explain myself I was deemed “detached” and “uninterested in Adam [actual words used in my report].” I give up.
With infinite love, gratitude, and respect,