I woke up early to a text from one of my students sent long after we’d turned in for the night. They were asking to reschedule their lesson as they were struggling with personal issues related to anxiety. This is happening more this semester than in anytime during my almost 35 years of teaching- and we are only in the 4th week of classes. Understandably so. The longer the pandemic wears on us, the more damage it does to our mental health.
We were up extra early for Dan to be ready for an appointment downtown to have an electrocardiogram done. It seems that during a recent test they saw something that led them to believe he might have an enlarged heart, possibly causing the shortness of breath that he has experienced since battling Covid last April. The poor man has been through so much in the ten months since his hospital stay in UAB’s Covid Ward.
Everything seems to be overwhelming right now, filled with problems and mysteries that I- the Mary Poppins fixer- can’t solve and it’s all a recipe for the escalation of some pretty severe anxiety. There is always a hum of anxiety just under my surface, but the way it is manifesting is very different this time. There is a feeling of something bad about to happen, my heart is racing, I’m experiencing dizziness and some scary mental fog, along with some other strange physical issues. I talk with a therapist once a month, I exercise daily first thing to battle it back, I write it out, I live healthfully in a peaceful and loving home; and yet still anxiety sits on my shoulder, coloring everything that I do.
I have always had a lot on my plate and I like being busy and productive, wanting to be successful at everything I do in my career. I’ve been told that I care too much sometimes, but how do you turn that off? I carry the weight of responsibility on my shoulders for things in my work and professional life, some of which are extra heavy right now. All of that, along with worrying about Dan, my students, friends who are struggling, a pandemic that is still raging, and the daily dose of doom and gloom from the news, make me feel that I’ve gone over the edge of the waterfall, racing for the jagged rocks below.
I’ve had two major panic attacks this week during peaceful walks with Marley where I felt like I couldn’t breathe and had to get home as soon as possible. My sleep has deteriorated, my heart is racing, leaving me to feel like I am in hyperdrive. I’ve experienced dizziness, chest pains, abdominal pain, and a strange sudden appearance of many new tiny red moles on my abdomen. Dan insisted that I reach out to our doctor who wanted to see me in person.
Dr. Delaney is incredibly compassionate and talented. I love that she treats both Dan and I and really takes the time to listen. I never feel rushed, even though I know how busy she always is. I shared everything with her and she set up a battery of tests; electrocardiogram, bloodwork, abdominal ultrasound, and I’ll wear a heart monitor for two weeks to look for any irregularities. Both my mother and grandmother dealt with heart issues, so I’m grateful to get everything checked out. I’d rather be armed with knowledge and be able to act on it than to cower in fear of the unknown. Hopefully there will be answers. It could all very well be anxiety, pure and simple. I truly hate feeling out of control like this.
As I wait for tests and their results, I am doing my best to follow the advice I give to my students who are struggling; breathe, take one day at a time, sometimes one hour at a time…and sometimes one minute at a time. Take time for you, remember that you are loved and you can only do your best; once you’ve done your best that is all you can do. Things will get better- they always do. It’s tough when the teacher becomes the student, when you have to admit to your own fears and weakness. It is also liberating, too.
I am fortunate to have such a great support system around me. I feel no shame in admitting that I- like so many others- struggle with anxiety. While I may never master it, I’ll do my best to deal with it and to be compassionate and loving with others who deal with it, too. The feelings are very real and make it seem as if the world is closing in on you; it’s not as simple as throwing a switch to bring everything back into focus- it takes work. I’m rolling up my sleeves and getting busy with the job of moving forward the best that I can. Ever the optimist, I truly believe that better days are ahead, and I hope that by writing about this that my students and others will know that they are not alone.