The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Control January 12, 2014

Yesterday the weather was misty, white and damp. The trees seemed to be floating in the sea of melting snow, and the lines of the garage appeared smudged and indefinite from our windows. When Elihu went out to shut in the chickens last night he said the air smelled like summer. At a balmy 48 degrees it was decidedly more spring-like than the below zero temps we’d just experienced a few days earlier. Even so, the driveway was still one big sheet of ice and the rain continued to fall all day, so we stayed inside.

My life has been rather consumed by outside events lately, and I’ve been going, going, going, with no time to stop and just breathe. Up until dad died my time had been all about the wait, right after his death it was all about the details, and getting through it. Shortly after that my son returned home, then school began and with it new music, new classes, new schedule. Apparently, it’s been getting a bit too much for my system, as the recent return of panic attacks has pointed out. On Friday I had a roaring, unrelenting headache and was worried about another episode of panic hitting me while at the piano during afternoon classes, so at lunchtime I confided in Elihu’s teacher my situation. She encouraged me to take a sick day. Really? The thought had never occurred to me. I mean, if I don’t show, there’s no music. The class is different, the teacher’s lesson plan is screwed up. I don’t want to do that to anyone. Personally, I gotta be deathbed sick not to come in. Or do I? I was feeling horrible enough. The idea of staving off a looming episode of panic was in of itself creating more of the same, and that headache was just about enough to make me throw up. Maybe I could wave the white flag just once. I went to my car and called the high school. Told em how lousy I was feeling, and that was it. I cast the possible consequences out of my mind. And wow, I felt better. So much better. I’d taken the reins and pulled the cart over for a short rest, and it looked like things were still going to be ok.

Elihu and I spent yesterday in our pajamas – we even managed to go next door to visit with mom without ever having to get dressed – and we went to bed in the same. Yesterday we just needed a moment. Even played hooky from his 4H group. It was just too much. Between his asthma and my panic, we were a little beat. I’m usually strongly motivated by doing what I should, doing what’s right and polite. But yesterday I let us both off the hook. I felt a little bad about the 4H thing, especially as Martha’s sponsored his membership, but our own mental and physical health superseded all of that. And although we spend the day in our bedclothes, it was certainly not an idle day, not by far. Because we cleaned house.

Contributing in part to my ill-ease these days has been just knowing that my house is, well, filthy. Absolutely filthy. Messy, ich, maybe a little. Systems needed tending; the cabinets, pantry and kitchen drawers were getting to be tangled, tossed-about snarls of stuff, but that was just a matter of putting like with like. That I can do (although it still requires time, that most valuable commodity of all), but it’s the cleaning that I find so daunting. As in wiping cabinet fronts, dusting the tops of shelves, sweeping the cobwebs off of the ceilings, and of course, dealing with the floor. I think back to those blessed days in Evanston when I’d had dear Marianna come in two whole days a month to help me keep my house in top shape. Even then, I’d work by her side as she cleaned; keeping a house in clean, working order takes many unseen hours of manpower. I know damn well that I could not have kept that house without her help. Yes, my current house is much, much smaller, yet it’s still no small task to see to its care. The past month or more it had just been too much. So yesterday was the day to take it on.

I’ve just woken up and have begun to assess my progress from yesterday. Sitting in my chair right now, listening to the basement sump pumps kick in every so often as their chambers fill with snow melt, I feel relief. While I may not have washed the kitchen floor (on the docket for today) I did manage to vacuum the whole place, and dust too. It feels better to sit here and look about me. Elihu, bless his ten-year old soul, organized and tidied the pantry, and I set other little corners in order. The kid even straightened out his room and it looked just as good as if I’d done it myself. We’d been a happy mood last night as we dined on artichokes and grass-fed beef burgers grilled outside on the rainy porch. I enjoy my son’s company so very much, and am increasingly grateful for his presence as he shows himself to be not only an able-bodied young person, but one who is earnestly cheerful and enthusiastic about doing his share. He derives a good bit of pride in helping to make his surroundings attractive. I think it helps to make him a healthy, balanced young man. It certainly helps me! To have a child that wants to help, that asks what he can do to help me… I’m probably luckier than I realize. (Not holding my breath, I realize we still have those teen years ahead.) So it lifted my heart a great deal  – and my burden as well – to accept the capable assistance of my wonderful son. And sharing a few lovely meals together was the perfect complement to our refreshed home.

In an attempt to take the bull by the horns and stop this panic thing in its tracks before it got worse, I’d recently asked my doc about going on antidepressants again. I’d taken them five years ago, when we moved here, in order to navigate the transition from my old life to this unfamiliar one. I guess they’d done what they were supposed to, because somehow, we got here. When they’d served their purpose I stopped taking them. That process, as I recall, was not without its unpleasantness. And so too, apparently, is the process of getting back on the drug. I took Sertraline for four days when I realized this was not the same experience as before. The last situation had been far different, after all. If for no other reason than the sheer amount of gin I had been drinking to get through. ! I’m not keen on admitting it (nor the Marlboro reds smoked at 4 am, but hey, it was a very tough time) but I do so in order to illustrate a point: finding the right drug – or the right solution to a medical problem – is not always as easy as one might hope. Lots of factors affect your reaction to a drug. In my last case I was already a bit impaired because of the alcohol, so my body was physically in a different place. Who knows the rest of the physiology. Back then I was acutely upset, and my distress these days is of a different nature. All of this must come into play, I’m sure. And – I would like to emphasize this clearly – it’s critical that one listen to and heed the wisdom and guidance that comes from inside. If it doesn’t sit right with you, pay attention to that feeling – take that tiny hunch and magnify it ten times! While I realized that the benefit of the drug might still have been a week or more away, I could see the process wasn’t worth it. In fact, it actually made my panic worse. Gave me sweaty hands, a headache, and in spite of prescription sleeping pills, it gave me insomnia. I felt as if I was in a tube, getting farther and farther away from my surroundings. In an attempt to gain control of my very life, I was, ironically, losing control. And loss of control is a founding component of panic attacks. Yeah, I was going to have to figure this out myself. Disappointing at first, but empowering when I thought about it from the standpoint of control. I wanted to be the one driving if I was able.

The morning that I decided to chuck my meds I also decided to go downstairs and see if I couldn’t get the treadmill working again. After fiddling around with the fuse and the starter I got it to move again, so then logged forty-five minutes of a brisk walk before I got to my day. That felt good. What a hopeful start. The tiny voice inside – like the spec in ‘Horton Hears A Who’ – had shouted to me that I must move. Throwing some endorphins in the mix might even help with my panic attacks. No doubt, my body needed action. While making breakfast and getting lunches ready for school I’d been watching the relentless barrage of early morning paid-for tv spots that advertised workout routines for transforming one’s body… so the January push to get back into healthy living was underway. I didn’t need to buy a ten dvd set. I had all I needed. Lucky me. One more time, here I go…

I don’t necessarily believe that my struggle with panic is over, but I can see a bit of relief ahead. The important thing for me, I think, is that I’m going to do this myself. I have begun to take back a little control. Whether it’s subduing the clutter in my home, attacking the floors with a thorough vacuuming or getting on the treadmill for a half hour’s walk, it’s taking control – taking action – that helps move me towards my goal. There is one thing that still looms large and uncontrollable above all, and that’s going to be the biggest challenge for me: coming to terms with my father’s death. I do think his passing has contributed to my panic. His departure from this world is permanent, and on some level that idea to me is flat-out terrifying. It’s more than I can bear some moments. But I need to come to peace with it somehow. That’s going to be another issue before me in the coming months as I try to regain control as I’m able, and maybe more importantly, relinquish those things over which I can never be in control. Tricky balancing act, but it’s a challenge every single one of us is working on each day.

I’m stuck here on this silly planet for the time being, so I may as well do my best while I’m here. It’s so easy to want to give in, to throw in the towel, to not fucking care anymore. Life sure can press in on you. The thing is, sometimes you just gotta reclaim what control you can and press right back.