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There are so many unexpected sides of grief and its many stages. The worst and most pervasive of those for my journey is social anxiety.
Let’s be honest. Grief sucks. Loss sucks. Everything about it sucks. But it is a normal, and unfortunately necessary, part of life. Some people are seldom touched by it, others seem to spend their lives in one stage of grief or another. My life has been touched by grief many times. The loss of classmates, a high school friend, acquaintances, role models, and my grandfather. His death was the closest to me in terms of family. It was difficult to let go of him but he lived a full and wonderfully meaningful life.
This Time It’s Different
Christian’s death is an entirely new journey in grief. It’s all-consuming. And it’s awful. It has affected my relationships, my sleep, the way I see myself, my confidence, etc. But the side effect that has hit me in the worst way is anxiety; specifically social anxiety. I’ve dealt with anxiety during my episodes of PMDD and while it is no fun, I can handle it or at least wait it out. People in public couldn’t tell I was having panic attacks. Now I feel like I can only live half a life. I agree to plans because that’s what I would “normally” do before. But then when it’s time to go I suddenly feel as though it’s the worst decision I’ve ever made.
I’m afraid, afraid of everything. I’m afraid of triggers and sudden emotional eruptions that I can no longer hide from the casual observer. I’ve rarely left the house in the past five weeks, and for only very specific purposes with at least one family member. My fear was that I’d run into people who knew I was pregnant and would ask about Christian. I’d have to answer questions and I wasn’t prepared with a way to satisfy them without dissolving into tears. There was fear I’d see people with their kids and not be able to handle my sadness. I was afraid of anything that would trigger my grief.
Those fears are not unfounded. I was taken to Disney as a “distraction” shortly after Christian’s death. I cried through half of the park. Had it not been dark, I’m sure every park goer would have seen my tear stained face. Watching parents with their children reminded me of what I had lost and all the things I wouldn’t get to show my little boy at my favorite place. It was complete misery.
His Favorite Toy
Then two days before Christmas I went in to a craft store to buy a picture frame. I made it all the way to the line to check out. I was starting to feel anxious but I was handling it. There in line I saw a small stuffed Mickey Mouse. And the anxiety completely overflowed. Christian was given a Mickey lovie by our favorite nurse in the NICU. Each night I tucked him in with Mickey when I left the hospital and told him that Mickey would look after him while I was away. That day at the craft store I barely made it to the cash register. I held back the tears for as long as I could. As I walked out to the car where the Hubs was waiting for me, I sobbed. I missed my baby so much and the sorrow I felt at seeing that one small plush toy was overpowering.
People from My Past
Last week the Hubs and I went to the grocery store. We were almost done shopping when I bumped into one of my former student’s grandfathers. He asked how I was and then asked, “Hey, weren’t you pregnant? How’s the baby?” It felt as though an eternity passed in my mind contemplating what to say. I wasn’t prepared and I didn’t want to deal with the question. But I answered simply that I had lost him. He very kindly hugged me and offered his apologies. I smiled and continued on in my shopping. A few aisles away it began to hit me. My little guy, the one I should be toting around in a car seat in the grocery cart, he wasn’t there.
What Might Have Been
Today my mom and I went to the library, a seemingly harmless activity. I saw two moms with their little girls walking out as we pulled up and I avoided fixating on what they have that I don’t. I was doing good. Inside the library I wandered the aisles and cover shopped through the books. After wandering aimlessly for about ten minutes I listened to a conversation at the desk near the front. A guy and his friend had come in to use the library computer. The friend explained that they only needed one computer because he would be helping because his friend who was legally blind.
I suddenly wondered if Christian and I would have been like those friends. He had vision issues that probably would have left him mostly, if not completely, blind. I felt that familiar pit open up in my stomach. The one that’s painful and hollow. The one that leaves me questioning what would have been if I hadn’t lost him. How would our life have gone if he’d lived?
Living with Social Anxiety
Some days it’s a little easier to face everything. Some days the thought of having to explain to one more person that my child is gone is terrifying. To be looked at with pity and sadness adds to the ache in my heart. I try to get out of the house. I go on walks and go to the store. We’ve been out to eat every few days. Each time there is something to trigger my emotions.
I try my best to avoid it, but I am so often struck with despair. And it makes me afraid to leave the safe solitude of my home. A place where I can grieve and cry in private. The anxiety of what could happen and what will probably happen is debilitating and I find it difficult to push beyond that fear.