Whenever a potentially life-altering event looms, we tend to find that often overwhelming and all-encompassing anxiety can accompany the very anticipation of the event. Whether it is waiting for an upcoming surgery, a move to a new location, the birth of a child, a wedding, a death, or even a child going off to college, a natural human reaction is for anxiety to penetrate our soul and dominate our emotional life. Yet, when the day of that event arrives, I find the beginning of a release of the emotional tension of my very apprehension of the event. I tend to feel as prepared as I can to confront both the event and my fears of the possible changes to my life. The anticipation tends to be harder to face than dealing with the change.
I have had twenty-four surgeries. While I do believe that we should look to surgical options as one of the last desirable remedies, I would not have gotten out of the four years in a wheelchair, being able to go from taking steps in to actually walking again, able to read, drive a car again and most importantly, have life continue without these surgeries—events that were physically and emotionally demanding on both me and my husband. I have had numerous well-intended stated comments suggesting that one should only resort to surgery in extreme life-threatening situations, if even at all. While desirable, this has not been my reality living with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. Had it not been for these surgeries, I would not even be alive after having numerous catatonic episodes, not being able to breathe, respond or walk. So, I chose life, turning to what turned out to be life-changing surgeries. I was careful to be sure I was in the correct surgical hands. However, the anxiety brought on wondering what the process will bring on is overwhelming. The recovery is isolating and painful but it has a purpose, unlike the extreme emotional discomfort which can dominate the process of anticipating the surgery. The best day in the process for me emotionally is the day it all starts to move forward. Those days of waiting tend to be just miserable.
That same feeling of wondering what life will be like came as each of our four sons moved on in life and went off to college. As a parent who adored having her children part of her daily life, the anxiety crept into my soul, wondering if I could be as happy and productive without our sons home with us. The worst was the day we dropped off our third son in VA, we were aware that the distance would inevitably limit our direct contact with our son, perhaps permanently. My husband and I said our goodbyes, got into the car and started driving home, both in tears. And then, we would soon receive our first call from our son already expressing his thrill to be there. So upon graduation, when he was accepted to study in Egypt, we understood his excitement and passion and were better able to accept and move forward with our lives, not feeling lost without him. But again, the anxiety brought on first was worse than having the inevitable change happening.
And then there is the anxiety of a huge move in life which we just completed last week. After over thirty-six years on our farm, the anxiety of downsizing was just overwhelming. Along with that was the reality that this would most likely be our final home. Facing your mortality can be overwhelming. We were confronted with the challenge of our own possessions and a great deal of unwanted “stuff” left by our adult children along with cleaning out a small bar. We worked away on throwing and giving away items. In time, we were able to reduce our material possessions to only that which was needed but that anxiety of wondering what life would be like with a new home, different surroundings and moving away from our dear neighbors, our memories, and even the organic garden that we loved and ate from year-round was overwhelming. What were we doing? Yet, in our hearts, we knew it needed to be done to keep me safe with my two incurable conditions. My husband loved the farm work but was ready to slow life down and I couldn’t be much help. But that anxiety brought on was as intense as we have ever experienced. But then, all fell into place and the move and transition happened. Someone asked me how long it took to feel at home in our new place and the answer was literally “the next morning” we awoke to feel home again. The relief of having it over was amazing and so comforting. Again, it was the anticipation before that was much worse than being in “action mode” of doing what had to be done.
No matter what comes into our lives, we all go through times of having to cope with the anxiety of anticipation and the unknown. We need to hold on to hope that whatever we are facing will calm as we activate and take it on, instead of thinking about it. We somehow find our ways of coping and having no choice but to face what is next.
May life be kind to you,
Ellen Lenox Smith
Author of: It Hurts Like Hell!: I Live With Pain- And Have a Good Life, Anyway, and My Life as a Service Dog!
The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of National Pain Report.