I had a panic attack at 4am Christmas morning. August was awake with a cough and wasn’t falling back to sleep. I started thinking about Christmas and if this pure exhaustion the three of us inevitably were going to have was going to ruin it. I was thinking about the covid world we’re living in and how it was affecting so many plans for what is supposed to be such a magically day for so many. Then I started thinking about the month of January and the approaching 5-year anniversary (something I can’t seem to wrap my head around, but that’s for another post). All this while worrying about my empathetic three-year-old seeing me in this state of uncontrollable emotion. My chest started to get heavy, and I realized what was about to show its ugly head. This quickly became one of those panic attacks that made me slightly question if it was in fact a panic attack or if there was something physically happening to me. I couldn’t shake it. I kept asking Bear if I should go to the doctor. My heart was racing, and I couldn’t sit still. For anyone who has ever been in that state, you know just how awful, scary, and out of body this experience is. I needed to find my peace.
In the midst of the panic, I’m also realizing just how hard of a time I’m having with these negative emotions, when feeling like being optimistic isn’t an option. You may be saying “but how could you NOT have negative emotions” (something I’ve also had to remind myself of on numerous occasions). I’ve been told how well I cope with what I’ve gone through. I tend to hold my crying for showers or car rides alone. I like to see the positive more than the negative, but that hasn’t been happening lately (see reasons above). When I’m positive, it’s genuine. We’ve gone through hell, but I do feel proud, thankful, and genuinely happy often. So, when the negative feelings take over for long periods of time, and I’m not as optimistic as I genuinely like to be, I don’t like it and it’s not a comfortable place for me to be in. This was one of those places.
After about an hour of trying to talk myself out of it, doing deep breathing exercises, sitting in the dark, talking to Bear, and watching tv, I gave myself the okay to take an additional anti-anxiety medication. It sounds strange to say “I gave myself the okay” but it’s how that conversation went in my head. I had to give myself permission. Even though I had been prescribed this medication, I had not touched it in over three years and I wanted to do everything I could to continue this streak. But why did I feel like I was in a competition with myself to stay away from something I knew would help? Why did I feel I had to “give myself permission”?
I take a small dose of an anti-anxiety medication every day that has been just enough to help my daily life. My child died and this medication helps my brain get through some of the trauma. This additional anti-anxiety medication that I’m now feeling I have to give myself permission to take, is something I have taken in the past and it is something that has helped me. Feeling the way I felt, at 4am on Christmas morning, I needed to give myself allowance to go outside of my own head and do what I felt was right at that moment.
The trauma that comes with experiencing the death of a loved one, especially the death of your child, has been proven to change your brain. It’s not visible like a broken bone, but it is in fact broken. With a broken bone, you often need therapies to fix it, and medications to help the pain. But when it’s your brain that is ultimately broken, therapies to fix it and medications to help with the pain are not looked at in the same way.
Medications for mental health can be such a controversial subject in today’s society. It takes a lot of convincing to give myself the okay to take a pill that is prescribed, safe to take, and has been proven to help me. And that stigma that goes with taking these medications, often times lingers in the minds of those that could benefit from them, including mine.
As bereaved parents, we need to be selfish and do all that we can to help ourselves. Whether it’s therapy, crying, laughing, knowing that getting through a day like Christmas is a win or taking a medication to help with the serotonin in your brain, it’s what we have to do, and what we deserve to do for ourselves.
Taking that pill early Christmas morning made me feel slightly defeated, but at the same time, it also gave me the confidence in knowing that I could read my body enough to know what was needed to help. Of course, I would like to be someone who doesn’t need a prescription for these instances. I’d like to be someone who doesn’t know the pain of child loss. I’d like to be someone who has both of my children to cuddle up with in bed on Christmas morning. There’s a lot of things I’d like to be but ultimately, being someone who can share my experiences and let others know that it’s okay to accept the help, is something I can be.
I choose to be open about my journey as a bereaved parent, a vilomah, and the trauma that inevitably comes with it. I wasn’t sure I wanted to share the experience I had on Christmas morning, it’s scary and hard. But I also don’t want to hide about myself, what others may also be experiencing. I don’t want to have to talk myself into taking a pill that will help fix my brain in a moment when it is really hurting. Maybe talking about it will help change that way of thinking, not just for others, but also for myself.
And yes, taking the medication did help. I was asleep within an hour. I had a panic attack “hangover” the next day, was exhausted and still slightly anxious, and nervous that it would happen again the next night and the next night. So far, it hasn’t, but, if (or when) it does, I know what I can do to help myself if needed.