Friday, August 22, 2008

Always lurking

When my grandmother was a young girl, her mother died suddenly. She was only 39, dead of a heart attack. Her father was an alcoholic, whenever she talks about him the adjective involved is usually 'jerk'. She bounced from foster home to foster home until she was 18, and could live on her own.

At 39 my grandmother had a nervous breakdown. She wouldn't leave the house; neighbors did the shopping and made sure the three children got to school. I know she was treated with medication, but I'm not sure what would have been used at that time (about 1959). My father was 13 years old and has no memory whatsoever of this time. My aunts, both younger than him, cannot believe he doesn't remember anything about this time in their lives. I asked my first therapist about it, and she felt it was totally normal for a boy of that age to have blocked the memory.

I don't know how long it took, but grandma did improve, and went on to live a very active life, despite the anxiety she lived with on a regular basis. She's always been busy, doing for others- baking, crafting, sewing, volunteering, caring for. I've always been in awe of her life of service, especially in light of her childhood.

I spoke to her last week; she often calls the office and knows she might catch my dad or me. She said she hadn't been feeling well lately. I thought she sounded stuffy so I asked if she'd had a cold. No, she said, I've been having terrible anxiety and panic attacks. She asked if I knew about her breakdown. She told me that when she was 39 she thought that she would die, since her mother died at 39. Recently more of her friends are dying, and she also heard from a friend whose daughter died after a long battle with cancer. She's feeling anxious about dying.

She did go see her doctor, and has found some relief from the medicines he prescribed her. I believe she's been on anti-anxiety medications for a very long time, but I don't know what she takes, and I don't know what the doctor gave her recently.

I vowed to myself that I would make sure to call her at least once a week. I spoke to her yesterday. She says she's coming along; she was going to have her hair done and then going to play mah jong, which she'd skipped last week. She still doesn't feel up to doing everything she usually does, but she's resisting the urge to hide out, and forcing herself to get out of the house and do things.

It breaks my heart that she's struggling so. I wish I could run up to NY and wrap my arms around her. She moved from San Diego back to NY, to be closer to family, about two years ago. She's been so happy. It's scary to know that anxiety can lay you low, even when you take care of yourself, even when you know you have anxiety. It can sneak up on you and leave you paralyzed before you even know what is happening. I don't think I've fully accepted that yet. I sort of have my fingers crossed that my current medication will last for a long time, that I'll continue to use and develop productive coping strategies, and never be laid low again. But that is probably just a dream.

It's going to be ok, grandma. You've beaten back this beast before, and I know you can do it again.

6 comments:

Suna said...

I'll be thinking of your grandmother. Sounds so much like my mom's struggle.

Karen Maezen Miller said...

She's being so honest. What strength and courage in that.

cathy said...

I'm so glad she can have real conversations with you.

Have you told her you can relate to the anxiety of wondering if the anxiety is going to shift and knock you flat again? Does she know about your journey?

Sounds like she's doing all of the right things -- not hiding out, talking about it, inviting people who understand (like you) to be in touch with her.

patience said...

sending peace to your grandmother (and you too) today...and hoping she feels your love deeply even from a far.

patience
kindness girl

Arnita said...

Talk about getting to the heart of things, you have expressed it, so true, I've really never quite looked at it this way before. She does seem to be doing better. As long as she takes her meds. I also think the meds she took for fifty years or so just didn't work any longer and she needed a change.
I have a thing about never wanting to go anywhere, do anything, always thought I was just a homebody, like my dad. Maybe it just runs in the family!
I enjoy reading your posts I learn alot about you. I need to find people with my bipolar issues and blog. Its soooo difficult for me to write, that means I have to think about my feelings and try and figure them out. Thats gets too confusing and its hard for me to do without crying. I don't like that, it hurts too deep.

I Love You NYJLM.
Aunt ALM

Kiandra said...

awww. my thoughts will be with your grandmother.

my grandma has had to take what she calls "nerve pills" for such a long time, i never knew what she was talking about as a kid. but now, as an adult i think i know what she's talking about.

i think her dr. has given her anxiety pills as of the last few years, her kidneys shut down and it really hurt her emotionally. she was recently in a car accident...hit head on by two cars having road rage...cracked her chest. but she is so strong, she pulled through.

i tell you grandma's are the thing of legends. they just truck through things and make you wonder where do they get all that fortitude all that strength. my grandma and i have a really close relationship, we are just alike. and she has taught me to not "worry" so much like she did as a young woman. she never had a break down...but she was always a worrywort. just like me, i'm taking her advice and trying to live my life without worries.

sending you both love...