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.