Sunday, February 16, 2014

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How Having a Baby Helped Me Overcome My Anxiety Disorder Part II

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How Having a Baby Helped Me Overcome My Anxiety Disorder Part I

My attacks always began in the night, so I dreaded going to bed. All of it revolved around sleep. The evening hours approached me like a cliff. I started exercising two hours every day, mostly cycling. But then I had a panic attack one night, and I assumed that I must have done something wrong. Perhaps I didn’t exercise enough, so I upped it to two and a half hours. Within a year, I was exercising four to five hours a day (biking, lifting weights, running…). I exercised more on my days off. If I wasn’t at work or in bed, I was in motion. If I didn’t get enough exercise, I feared that I would have a panic attack. I dropped out of school because I couldn’t stand sitting for more than a few minutes. I sometimes I peed blood because of over-exertion, and sometimes I still threw up from anxiety. It felt a lot like I was running from something, some hidden danger that I couldn’t define, but feared nonetheless.
Friends often asked about my life, why I never hung out anymore, what was my motivator for exercising so much. I was open about my problem. I often explained to them my fears of sleep and anxiety, but when I put it all into sentences, none of it made sense. It all seemed irrational, even to me, and yet it was very real and painful inside my body. I often wondered if there was some disconnect between fear and logic inside my mind, and I wondered how I would ever get myself back into sync.
I sometimes wondered what stress in my life brought about my problem. I wondered if it was nature or nurture, was I born this way? Or was it a product of the stress around me. Was it my father’s drug addiction and abandonment that made me this way? Or was it my mother’s rage and depression that was a result of my father’s abandonment? Perhaps it was a mix of both. What I do know is that everything I did, every action, every thought, became focused on avoiding another panic attack, and when I think back on this time, I realize that my anxiety controlled my life.

It took me three years to figure out the right mix of medications, exercise, and schedule, but eventually I started to live a relatively normal life again. I got back into college, and at 22 I got married. I’d started to gain a little more control over my life, and a little more weight, but there were still times where I felt out of control. Where I couldn’t go to sleep because of a panic attack that made me ill and irrational for days or sometimes weeks.
Mel and I were married about three months the first time she suggested that we have a child. This must have been early 2005. We were living in Provo, Utah, renting a small two-bedroom condo. I suppose we’d talked about it while dating, but it was mostly playful. We talked about what the child would look like: short and stocky like me, or short and slender like Mel. We talked about its personality: would it be funny and loud like me? Or reserved and thoughtful like Mel? We picked out names and discussed who wanted a boy and who wanted girl.
But it didn’t seem all that real until after we were married. And I suppose I’d always had mixed feeling about having children. Sometimes I wanted them. But mostly I didn’t. Especially when I was around other people’s kids. The screaming, yelling, whining, and the late nights really freaked me out. I didn’t know if I could emotionally handle a child.
It was early evening, around 5:30 PM, and Mel and I were making dinner.
“Trying what?” I said.
“Having a baby.”
“What? Slow down,” I said. “I think we need to wait.”
Mel went on, asking me why we needed to wait. Why we needed to slow down.
“We love each other… right? We are married? There’s no reason to wait.”
I agreed with her on the facts that we were married and in love. But I told her that we needed to get used to being a married couple. We needed to save money. We needed to be more secure. I brought up a bunch of cliché arguments as to why I didn’t want to have a baby yet, but really, all I thought about was how babies don’t sleep through the night. I thought about her going into labor at midnight, and how it might bring on a panic attack. I thought about my medications, my schedule, and how much better my life had become, and I wondered if I was strong enough. At the time, I honestly waited for the anxiety to take over again. I worried that I might stupidly trigger it, somehow, like a lost soldier unwittingly wandering into a minefield. Would having a child undo all that I’d done? I was terrified of having a setback.
Mel and I went back and forth on the subject. It wasn’t until things got heated that I brought up my anxiety.
She knew about it, but she’d never really seen the brunt of it. I’d had a few attacks while with her, but never a full-blown one that lasted a month or more. I worried that she didn’t understand what I was going through, and what having a baby might do to me.
“I will get up in the night with the baby,” she said. “I will take care of that. Don’t worry about it.” And when she told me this, I did feel a little better. But honestly, I knew the truth. I knew that if we had a child I would have to help in the night. I couldn’t avoid it, nor did I think it was right for me to avoid it. I thought a lot about my father and how he wasn’t around, and felt a strong sense of duty. If we had a child, I needed to be there. Every hour of every day. I needed to be fully committed. I refused to walk out on my child like my father had done to me. And the thought of that duty scared the hell out of me. I feared that I didn’t have it in me. I feared that somehow my anxiety would get in the way, making me incapable of being the kind of father I wanted to be. 

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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, and a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His essays on parenting and marriage have been featured in Huffington Post Parents, Huffington Post Weddings, and The Good Men Project. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo by Lucinda Higley