I ran from a baby squirrel

I’ve had this kitschy title in the back of my head for awhile now as the hook for a blog post that would hinge on a strange but ultimately laughable thing that happened. The point of this hypothetical post would be to talk about my tendency toward magnifying dangers, and reassure myself / readers that there is often nothing to worry about: sometimes a baby squirrel is just a baby squirrel, like in a much tamer Freud picture book.

In the beginning of October, my husband had a routine medical screening, and I was on edge in the waiting room. I’ve had extreme nervousness about health issues and an overpowering fear of loss for as long as I can remember, but it had escalated in recent years, maybe because one’s 30s are the time these screenings start becoming more crucial, maybe because of a scarring experience I had in the chair of an insensitive dentist a few years prior. When he emerged from the recovery room, a little loopy but happy and well, I was elated. But outside, I couldn’t even deal with a bee flying near me without screaming and running. Clearly, little things still set me off. In the background of all this, we had woken up to news of the mass shooting in Las Vegas, yet another terrifying missive of violence and death to add to the grim calendar of 2017. I couldn’t fully process this information – especially with other concerns at the forefront of our daily life – but no doubt it was helping to make the usual brew of fear and hypervigilance into a stronger tonic.

As we walked out to get some food, a tiny squirrel was sitting not too far from the door, just looking at us and making a noise I had never heard before. How weird, I thought, for a second, but for all the other seconds of this instance I was convinced there was something wrong with the squirrel and it was about to bite. I bolted, seeing in my mind’s eye the teeth boring into flesh, and we ended up on the ground, thankfully cushioned by a pile of fallen leaves with no marks in sight.

Once clearer thinking prevailed, I couldn’t believe my anxiety had gotten to this point. I’m a long-time coper, I can be quite thorough about self care, and I thought I was managing at least adequately. But I couldn’t focus enough to write the post about this, or even focus on my work, which was beginning to take longer and longer to get done.

Fast forward to the present. I am recovering from a week where I was convinced I was sick, but multiple doctors I trust tell me it’s most likely I’ve been experiencing the physical symptoms of anxiety. The racing heart, the hyperventilation, the tingling in my limbs and the sense of “weakness” though I am, in fact, strong. I’m used to thoughts and feelings, but feeling it in my body this way is new and unfamiliar.

Mentally, too, this period has been trying: much like that “fire and fury” week toward the end of the summer,  my mind was giving me a sustained, dire message that what lie ahead would be at best, suffering and at worst, nonexistence.

But I’m thankful to live at a time in history where mental health is talked about openly, and portrayed with nuance in the plot of several excellent TV shows, where healthcare providers are acknowledging anxiety as a mind-body condition and not just something that’s “all in your head.” Most importantly, I’m thankful for my love, my family and friends, who are all willing to listen and talk about the ever-evolving journey of living with worry, trauma, and all the complexity of being a human in 2017.

I’m in therapy once again for the generalized anxiety and panic, and I am going to resume the treatment with an SSRI that I stopped years ago. The other silver lining of this weird time is finding what seems to be a solid team of professionals to help me navigate both mental and physical challenges in the days ahead.

Excited to take ownership of my body, care for my frazzled mind and embrace the sensations of life instead of analyzing or running from them, I exhale. It’s going to be quite the trek, but they say climing mountains is worth the strain. 😉

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