It felt like a 20 pound weight was resting on my chest, preventing me from doing anything, especially rest. I was not unfamiliar with the sleepless side-effect of constant worry, but this was different. It was also different from the stress of keeping myself busy to avoid feeling the emptiness. I tossed and turned in bed until I decided to get up, rather than wait for the alarm to signal the next part of my day. Even though it felt like I could barely breathe, I forced myself to go with the flow, swept away in the tide of the day’s timetable—even though that weight was giving me the sensation of sinking.
In 2010, I found that my natural pull towards overthinking was only inflated by the last four years of infertility.
New considerations were constantly complicating things, because all the possibilities seemed endless with undiagnosed infertility. But on this particular morning, it wasn’t all the treatment options, the grief of miscarriages, or the fear of a dying dream that filled me with dread. It wasn’t even my self-inflicted distracting. I found yet another layer of tension due to infertility—the growing distance it was creating between myself and my husband.
I had been playing a guessing game about the cause for months, and as it was getting worse, we got quieter. After all, we were both the type to take conflicts into our internal worlds. There I examined, processed, digested it all alone. I could not figure out what was going on. During this time I also happened to be working on my generalized anxiety, and I was becoming more aware that keeping it inside was not good for me. If I left the conflict unresolved for too long, it created an uncomfortable pressure in my chest that would grow until the conflict ended. I had been sensing that worry expand, creating in me what I called my anxiety abyss. A hole within my chest that feels like a vacuum, which only grows hungrier the more I feed it the worry it craves.
I was learning that what I let get pent up leads to panic.
Yet, having this panic attack forced me to realize that dealing with the reality couldn’t possibly be worse than what I was imagining. My worry was borrowing troubles that didn’t even exist yet! I was finally beginning to see that keeping it internalized wasn’t making it better, so my only option was to deal with it externally. Once I was brave enough to share my concerns with my husband, he had the courage to share the worries that had been troubling him. In the light of day these worries no longer held the same power over us.
One of my favorite quotes says it well. “Worry does not empty tomorrow of its troubles, it empties today of its strength.” (Corrie Ten Boom). The strength we needed came once we stopped trying to defeat our fears alone. Once we relaxed our fists, no longer in fighting stance, nor holding tightly to control, we could hold them open to better things.
Like grasping a loving hand for support.
Research on stress and anxiety show that we handle it much better when we have higher levels of relational connection. Even more so if you actually share your burdens with a trusted support. A study was done where they would expose a monkey to a stressful situation, after which their stress hormone levels were tested. Then they repeated the experiment but with one change— they brought another monkey into the cage to join it. Surprisingly, the stress hormone level dropped to half of the initial test’s levels! Just by sharing the experience. Just because they were not facing it alone.
This is one of the reasons I am so glad my husband and I figured out how we could support each other in this major stress we were facing together. But it also drove me to seek out a community of other women who understood what I was going through, a safe place to share. Infertility is isolating enough, so I am so grateful I have a community to support me when my anxiety is beginning to get the best of me. If you have yet to find community for yourself, Fertility Matters Canada can connect you to one. They are closer than you know. And I’m here too! I am blessed to offer the support I was given when I desperately needed it, so feel free to reach out.
Whatever you do, just don’t go at it alone any longer.
By Lori Alcorn, https://www.thepregnantpausecoach.com