Anxiety & Life in the NICU

While my daughter was in the NICU, I experienced paralyzing anxiety. Leaning on God was not my first instinct. But through studying His word, I see now that is what He wants me to do. Since our discharge, I've armed myself with bible verses so I am better prepared to handle anxiety in the future.

The bible study I’m currently participating in from LovingGodGreatly.com is entitled Fear & Anxiety. Great topic for this new mom! Actually, the mom part really isn’t relevant. I should have clarified, it’s a great topic for this CONTROL FREAK. As I do my readings and spend time with the Lord each morning, I continually reflect upon what was only 4 months ago. Life in the NICU.

 

New Definition of Pressure

If you would have asked me a year ago if I struggled with anxiety, I would have answered, “Sure, when I’m feeling stressed at work or pressure to be ready for an event or trip.” But the anxiousness I felt in those moments was more motivating than anything. Deep down, I’ve always taken pride in this ‘quality’. I’ve always said I work best under pressure.

 

Looking back, I don’t think I ever truly understood what  anxiety looks like. Sure, there were moments in my early sobriety that I vaguely recall experiencing it for a week or so. But definitely not for days on end.

Enter Amelia — 14 weeks early.

Reality Hits

Amelia was born on a Thursday night. I came home on Tuesday afternoon. Those days in between, I had very limited mobility and was recovering myself. The reality of our situation hadn’t sunk in yet. At that point, she was down a couple of halls in her room. Hubby would run colostrum or a few drops of milk down to her. And when I felt up to it, he’d wheel me down to see her.

 

And then we came home. Without her. The last time I was in my house, she was in my belly. And when I arrived at home, she wasn’t with me anymore. She was in a strange room that was not ours with tubes and wires all over her, fighting for her life. 5 miles away.

As we unloaded our car and unpacked, panic set in. All I could think about was getting back to her. Hubby reminded me she was fine and being taken care of, but my stomach churned and my heart started racing as I thought about how badly I needed to be back with her.

 

An Endless Race

Each day I went to the hospital; and each day it seemed like an endless process to get there. Everyone around me drove too slow. The parking garage at the hospital was a mile from her room. The front desk staff took too long to check me in! My brain was continually telling me HURRY, you don’t have time for this! And my attitude showed “Stay out of my way!”

 

In the beginning, I really had to be careful because I was recovering from surgery and HELLP syndrome (Read about My Birth Story). And there was nothing I could do for her anyway. So I sat in her room. Pumping every two hours. Reading to her. Singing to her. Desperately trying to feel a connection to this little babe of mine.

 

Helplessness

The first two weeks were the worst. Due to my condition post-surgery, I was stripped of some of the most basic privileges that I realized I had taken for granted and, for someone like me, the process of acceptance was, at times, grueling. One example was the fact that I was unable to drive. So, in more ways than one, I had to wait for someone to take me to my girl. If you don’t know this already, I was the girl in school who did everyone’s work to make sure the group received a good grade. I do best with taking initiative and shouldering responsibilities. To be the one who sits back and relaxes while someone else does the leg work was excruciating to say the least.

The thought of knowing that others were taking action on my behalf, made me cringe. The thought of being an inconvenience to anyone made me sick to my stomach. So I would painstakingly plan each day around not being a burden to friends and family in my time of need. (I’m aware that I was not actually a burden, that people cared, but that’s how I felt.) Trying to fit in appointments, getting groceries and letting the puppy out was overwhelming. All the while, being militant about pumping…every two hours!

 

This was truly a new level of helplessness for me. And I did not handle it well. The anxiety overtook me and I regularly pushed myself beyond my limits. I’d tell myself, “I’m not working and my baby is not with me, I better be doing something!” There was very little effort in those early NICU days to lean on God for the strength. I was on complete auto-pilot/go-mode. I’m not sure what I was feeling or thinking other than just to survive this. And make sure Amelia survives.

 

Crashing Halt

And then my doctor told me I needed to rest. She reminded me that I was very sick and my body needed to heal. She gently reiterated that I was standing in the way of allowing the healing process to commence. Ultimately, she feared that if I didn’t take it easy, I ran the risk of being readmitted to the hospital. I clearly received the message: If I didn’t slow down, she’d put me right back in there. AND — she told Amelia’s doctor that too. This ‘advice’ transcended throughout Amelia’s staff. Remember, the hospital was where I spent most of my time, with that staff. Consequently, more than once it was politely suggested that I go home…

So now, I had to allow my body to get better. What?! Stop? I don’t know how to do that. More helpless feelings. And more anxiety. I need to be there, but I need to be home resting. When I was home, all I could think about was being there… and when I was there, I was enthralled by all of the things I wasn’t taking care of, myself usually last on the list.

 

My Anxiety

After 3 weeks, my body was in a better place. The fluid had drained. I could drive. But Amelia still wasn’t home. Each morning, I’d wake up with a huge pit in my stomach. I didn’t know how to start my day. In the past, I’d go to the gym. Not after a major surgery. Pray? Ok sure. That lasted for about 2 minutes until the voice in my head was so deafening I couldn’t concentrate.

 

Anxiety. That is what it has to be! From the moment I woke up, I was paralyzed with anxiousness and not knowing what to do first. I couldn’t even make the logical decision to pray, shower or eat breakfast! All I could think was GET TO AMELIA! There were other responsibilities mixed in and I had no ability to prioritize. I’d forgotten how to do life. I didn’t want to do THIS life.

Within minutes I’d start and stop 5-6 things. I’d plan and re-plan my day. Usually I would end up in a ball on the floor sobbing.  The first thing I did each day was call the NICU for an update and the nurse would ask “What time are you planning on being here?” That simple question would put me over the edge. Now. I want to be there now! Why wasn’t it as simple as walking across the hall? So I’d call a friend who could talk me off the ledge. It was also always nice to get a pleasant reminder that taking a shower was the right first step for the day.

 

Solutions

This same friend aided me in decision-making day after day. She helped me realize that this was anxiety and it made sense that I was struggling with it because of the traumatic experience I was enduring. We came up with some ways to help me through these intense moments.

I started planning my days the night before and would run them by her and/or Hubby. At this point in my life, I just needed to hear someone else tell me yes, that is an OK way to do your day. It was such a strange way to live, but it became necessary. The bad thing was, I wasn’t inviting God into the planning. I couldn’t hear Him, and part of me really didn’t want to.

 

But Jesus IS My Answer

The overwhelming feelings still came each day and I would have to pause and breathe deeply, reminding myself I made a plan. Another friend had agreed that it was a good approach for the day. It was going to be OK. One foot after the other.

 

My new plan needed to include some time with Jesus. I knew He was my answer through this, but I felt so distant from Him. So instead of forcing my way into prayer, I found a great daily devotional by Jen Hatmaker – Out of the Spin Cycle. Reading it each day helped me get my day started. I’d hear His word from my sister in Christ, get a laugh and start to build a routine.

This routine continued for the next 3 months.

 

Preparing for the Battle

As I currently dive deeper into His word, specifically as it relates to Fear & Anxiety, I have found verses I wish I would have known before. These words are calming to me, and I can truly feel His presence as I adjust to stay-at-home mom life, still not quite knowing what to do at any given moment. At times in these ambiguous moments I find that I need not be finicky.

 

For me, our time in the NICU helped me truly understand what anxiety can feel like. I won’t pretend to know how it feels to live with a clinically diagnosed variety of anxiety for years on end, with minuscule relief. Furthermore, there are obviously circumstances that warrant medication, therapy, dietary changes, etc. Although I’m not an expert on the topic, this experience did allow me to work on my coping skills. And looking back, I can see some gaps that God pulled me through while I was “in it”, allowing some space to work on this more on the other side.

What I have learned is that regardless of your situation, there is hope in His Word. No matter when the relief comes, we have to hold on to His truth. And know He never leaves us.

 

**Special thank you to Hubby for helping me write this one. Not an easy topic and I’m still learning more about myself as it relates to fear and anxiety. He always shows me truth in love, and this post is no exception. Also, he is an amazing writer!**

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