I have been worried my whole life. Fear is my constant companion. As soon as I was old enough to know that pain and death existed, I feared for the times when they would happen to me. When I had children, this worsened – there was so much more to lose. The worry is always there. It is a part of my being. It is unconscious, unspoken. Most days, I barely notice how many times I have shut down a train of thought that would lead to panic, if I allowed it to linger.
Perhaps, as I walk down the street, someone will lose control of their car and drive into us. Perhaps, that whiff of gas is a sign of an imminent explosion. Perhaps, I should watch the tumble dryer until the cycle finishes, just to be safe; the majority of house fires are caused by such appliances. Most of the time, my rational mind wins. I push the thoughts away, force myself to keep walking, to leave the dryer alone. I know these things are no more likely to happen to me at this precise moment. But sometimes, I see house fires. Sometimes, I imagine pulling my children from the wreckage. Sometimes, I can think of nothing else and I get no respite or relief.
When it was first suspected that my son was autistic, he had some genetic tests to rule out associated syndromes and comorbid conditions. If there is a stronger chance that things may be true, when the worry is more than a whim, more than a whisper, I cannot suppress it. It spirals out of control, threatens to take over every moment. I researched every possible thing that the test may pick up. I read in-depth medical journals about the early physical signs of Fragile X and Muscular Dystrophy. I convinced myself that my darling boy, the joint axis of my universe, had something that might significantly shorten his life or cause him terrible pain and suffering. I made myself sick with worry, spent every second I had Googling and reading and checking his symptoms and his palms and his muscle tone. I was utterly obsessive, desperate, irritable, angry, alone. On the surface, I researched to find that one piece of information that would rule it out, that would prove it was not the case. In reality, for every reassurance I found, I found a new symptom that sent me down another black hole of obsession.
And then the tests came back clear.
It took a little while to shake. I still woke in the night, terrified that I had dreamed the results, certain that they must have missed something. It still happens, once in a while.
Over the last month, my migraines have been more frequent. After they have passed, I have noticed that my aura symptoms have been hanging around – for days, weeks after. My arm feels weak. My words are occasionally slurred. My mind feels foggy. It takes me a fraction of a second longer to find what I want to say.
So I started to Google. There are not many mild explanations for these symptoms – strokes, seizures, degenerative neurological conditions, the dreaded C word. I meticulously research each one. This morning alone, as I wait for my GP appointment where I will have some neurological tests and be referred, I have searched for dozens of terms, read hundreds of pages that may explain an increase in migraines. Hay fever. Screen use. Stress. Ha!
Once I have opened that door, once I have started down that dark path, there is no way back – only forwards, only deeper. I may look normal. I may smile at the cashier and answer the question and seem perfectly fine. But awful images are flashing across my retina. Hospital beds, hushed voices, the softness of my dying grandmother’s skin as I held her hand and said goodbye – these thoughts haunt me.
I am terrified. Sitting here, right now, typing this, I am a moment away from unbridled panic.
This week is Mental Health Awareness week and writing always makes me feel better. Explaining always makes me feel better, even when no one really wants to hear. During the forty-five minutes it took to write this, I have not Googled anything.
I can stop Googling – one minute at a time.