Have you ever nodded off at an inappropriate time? For a moment, your body gives in to fatigue. Your heavy eyelids begin to droop, and you start to ease into a peaceful slumber. It’s all going well until you are jolted awake by the force of your head dropping like a rock in water.
Next, your eyes widen, your pupils dilate, your heart pounds, and your mind races to catch up with your senses.
I experience this multiple times a day, but it’s calm that I fight, not sleep. Heavy-handed anxiety constantly yanks me from my serenity. I refer to this state of being as peaceful anxiety. My way of life is an oxymoron.
One moment, I’m relaxed and blissfully distracted by quiet, when suddenly I’m frightened by a bang in another room. Someone might have dropped something, but my mind skips over that thought and reaches for the worst-case scenario: Someone has fallen.
I can lose myself in music, a good book, a television show, or a movie, but I’m never lost for long. My senses are always eavesdropping on my surroundings and are never satisfied until I silence my peace. Anxiously, I listen closely, “Was that laughter, crying, or yelling I just heard in another room?”
The delicious smell of food cooking can have my taste buds anticipating that dinner is almost ready, but when I’m called to the kitchen, I suspiciously ask, “What’s wrong?”
And when I’m asleep, I’m suffocated by things weighing on my mind until I wake up and deal with them. Did my son Cullen take his nighttime medications? Has my other son, Aidan, come home from his friend’s house? Is my husband’s sleep apnea machine working properly? Where is the cat? Where is the dog? Did I call to check on my parents today?
I’ve always been a bit of a worrywart, but my fear of bad things happening was definitely enhanced when my son was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension. It wasn’t subdued when he received a heart and double-lung transplant, and six years later, I’m still anxious about his health.
I imagine I sound a bit neurotic, but in my defense, my anxiety extends beyond the worry of a caregiver. I’m a doting wife and a protective mom of two sons. I’m an only child to loving, aging parents who live on the other side of the country. I’m grateful to be a friend to many, and I support them through good times and bad. I’m fortunate to have a roof over my head, food in my stomach, and many enjoyable nonessentials, but all of that and medical care produces many bills.
My life changed in many ways when my son became ill, but it didn’t stop the world from turning. My blessings remained, but so did the concerns that come with them. And when my son received a second chance at life through organ donation, those precious gifts came attached with great risk and responsibility.
I thought my way of living with “peaceful anxiety” kept me strong all these years, but as I get older, I’m concerned it has been slowly weakening me. Constantly looking for and preparing to climb the next hill is no way to enjoy a peaceful path. I often feel happy but tired, present but distracted, interested but forgetful, organized but unsettled, OK but not really.
This self-evaluation has me pushing for space between peace and anxiety. Oddly enough, my anxious nature helps me help others. I’ll never be able or willing to release all caution to the wind, but to better help myself, I need longer, uninterrupted, peaceful moments every day.
Taking walks with my pets has been an effective way to improve my mental health. Nature and exercise are a helpful combination to keep my mind off my worries. When the weather isn’t ideal for walking, I go for a drive. If I’m in the car, the radio is usually on, but I have recently discovered the calming effect of driving in silence. Music triggers too many emotions and distracts me from the one I’m trying to achieve: peace.
So far, going for walks and drives are the only things I have discovered that truly calm me. Is it enough? Probably not, but it’s a start.
I hope you feel less alone if you relate to feelings of peaceful anxiety. Join me in finding a healthy way to fully enjoy downtime. If worry easily interrupts what you are doing, then you need to find a new way to relax, just like a head bob is a telltale sign that you need a nap.
If you are getting too overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to reach out for help.
Note: Pulmonary Hypertension News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Hypertension News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary hypertension.
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