“I’m here to pick up a prescription.”
Standing in line at the pharmacy, I reflect back six months. Back to March 2020 — a time of uncertainty following spring break, premier of Tiger King, initial shelter in place orders, and disinfecting groceries in the garage before allowing them to enter the house.
I was worried, irritable, emotional, and spiraling out of control.
But, wasn’t everyone feeling that way? I’ve never been a big crier. Let me rephrase that. I cry at family goodbyes, sweet commercials, and feel good Facebook stories. However, when there are real problems to deal with, I can usually put my emotions aside as I navigate them. By March 2020, this was no longer the case.
For months, I was experiencing minor panic attacks.
It started as just feeling uncomfortable in my clothing or jewelry. It quickly escalated to feeling tight and suffocating. I kept telling my husband I felt claustrophobic in my own clothes. I had broken necklaces trying to get them off quickly and quit wearing scarves no matter how cold I was. But it was winter and it’s normal to feel overheated and uncomfortable in layers, right?
I was increasingly irritable and quickly snapping at my children.
The littlest things would set me off even when I was in a seemingly good mood. But mom life is stressful. We all lose our cool occasionally, right?
I started crying . . . a lot.
Not just at sweet commercials and Facebook stories. My mind was constantly spiraling with scenarios making me feel like I had no control and all I could do to cope was cry. But it’s 2020 and we all feel out of control, right?
I continued to make excuses.
It’s not that I was unfamiliar with anxiety. I grew up in a family of mental health professionals. I preach about ending the stigma around mental illness. But still I continued to attempt to rationalize my behavior.
Then, quarantine started. I felt guilty that my kids didn’t get to go back to school (little did I know this would continue indefinitely) and my husband was putting in countless hours at work while I felt like I was falling apart. So, I did the only thing I could think of. I told everyone in the family to write down one special treat they wanted from the grocery store. I just wanted to get everyone something to make them happy. My three daughters picked Oreos, Zebra Cakes, and Nutty Bars. I turned to my husband. “I don’t need anything,” he said. I replied, “Please just pick something. I just want to get everyone something they want.”
Extreme Moose Tracks chocolate ice cream.
I added the treats to my short shopping list and walked out the door. As I entered the store, I remembered the air felt heavy. I was acutely aware that everyone was looking down and not exchanging normal midwestern pleasantries. I unfolded my list and began to pace through the aisles. I remember how I couldn’t focus. I went back and forth through the store forgetting items I had written down. My breathing started to race and I gripped the shopping cart tightly. I knew something wasn’t right, but I was confident I could just push through and so I continued.
Finally, the only thing left on my list was the ice cream. As I stood there in the ice cream aisle, I realized they were out of Extreme Moose Tracks. The one item that I forced my husband to pick so I could do something nice. It was at that moment that I completely lost it. I stood there with tears rolling down my cheek. I felt like I failed. I felt solely responsible for ice cream being out of stock as if I set him up for disappointment. I didn’t want anyone to notice I was crying so I quickly began pushing my cart up and down the aisles trying to compose myself.
I texted my friend, “I’m at Hy-Vee in an aisle trying to keep from crying and I’m feeling a panic attack coming on. Tell me something comforting.”
She replied in the most thoughtful way that only she would, “Feel your feet solid on the floor. Read the ingredients of something in front of you. Smell some coffee beans. You are alive and well. You are safe.”
I stood in the checkout lane reading ingredients on the back of the Zebra Cake box and finally had a sigh of relief as I left the store. I felt safe again. At least for the moment.
Like most of my parent friends, I was constantly telling my kids, “Be careful. Doctors are busy and we are not going to waste their time.” It wasn’t really a threat that we wouldn’t seek medical attention if needed, more of a firm reminder that their time was valuable and therefore we should be mindful of our actions so we don’t end up having a freak accident landing us in an urgent care or ER.
While there was no question I would always prioritize my children’s health and safety, I wasn’t prioritizing myself in the same way.
I had taken this parenting advice to heart. Every time I admitted to myself that I needed to reach out for help, I immediately felt a sense of guilt and selfishness. Who was I to take the valuable time of healthcare workers during a global pandemic? My situation wasn’t severe enough to require their time. I told myself that for a few more days until I eventually broke down and my friends and family members who knew I was struggling would no longer allow me to use that excuse.
Regretfully, I made the call to my doctor on March 20, 2020.
My regret is not because I wasted anyone’s time. My regret is that I didn’t reach out for help sooner.
Six months later, I still have to feel all the feels of 2020, but I feel much more equipped to do it. It’s like the airplane oxygen mask scenario — you have to take care of yourself first so you’re able to care of others. Our children need us now, which means we have no other option than to make sure we are taking care of ourselves.