Anxiety and Appreciation

I don’t talk much anymore about my anxiety issues. It’s not because they’ve all but disappeared — they haven’t — but rather because I’ve found ways to learn to live with them. To cope.

I share this today because my mother-in-law and sister-in-law arrived for their annual visit yesterday. Typically, as long-time readers know, I’d be fraught with anxiety leading up to the visit and throughout.

[In fact, my chew-and-spit incidents became more frequent  during one of their visits back in 2008; I also was on an overexercising binge that visit. It’s not right, but it’s how I dealt with the stress].

But this time feels different.

It could be because we just saw my family this weekend and I’m still riding high from that. It could be because I didn’t have a lot of time to think about the visit, to mull it over or feel stressed. It could be because it’s only 12 days instead of the usual three, four or five weeks. But really, I think it’s because I’m in a different stage of my life. I’m not perfect and will surely have my moments … but I know how to deal now — ways that don’t include ugly disordered behaviors.

No doubt it’s challenging having anyone in your home that long — let alone with the three of us, Rocco, my sister-in-law (who is 40 and severely mentally challenged; she is sweet as can be but essentially a grown-up toddler who has tantrums and such) and my mother-in-law who, at 74, is awesome and active but we struggle with language and cultural barriers. It’s a crazy, full, stressful house!

But my coping mechanisms now are healthy ones. I have Maya and Rocco to dote on. I work out. I try to view it from Luis’s perspective – this is his family he loves and misses enormously; the family he knows won’t be able to travel forever. I focus on work and blogging. And when I do this, I find myself enjoying their company instead of feeling burdened by it, as I have in the past.

And — and here’s the kicker — I have a whole new appreciation for my mother-in-law now, having chased Maya through the airport this weekend and dealt with her throwing her cups and toys. Without going into much detail about my sister-in-law’s condition, I can say this:  she does these things, too … except she is 40. And about 125 pounds. And strong. The very fact that my mother-in-law has raised her — a perpetual toddler — is really amazing. She’s done it with a mother’s love — and now that I am a mom myself, I get it. I don’t pretend to know what her life has been like, but I can at least look at it through a mother’s lens now — which I couldn’t previously.

Imagine for a minute, life with a perpetual toddler. Only in adult form. One who sometimes has fits and tantrums and seizures … but also one can hug like no one else. (C.’s hugs are the best — and she lit up when she saw me yesterday. “Leeeeesa!” she called out to me, waving a magazine and asking me  “Otro viaje?” (“another trip?”) — She LOVES to travel and loves Mickey – so I think we’ll all be watching quite a bit of Mickey this visit! 🙂

Life has never been easy for my mother-in-law … and to be honest, I was thinking last night that I wonder if she looks at Maya and thinks about how differently her life would be had C. not been born with the irreparable brain damage she was born with. But on the flip side, she has said raising a special needs child has taught her so much, too — patience, first and foremost. And that — plus lots of other positive qualities — trickle down to Luis, having been born after C. He’s who he is because of the family in which he was raised.

So when I think of all these things, my anxiety quells and I feel a special warmth in my heart for them both. This isn’t to say I won’t find myself irritated by certain things (I will — it’s hard not to feel uncomfortable with extended-stay house-guests) … or frustrated by the language barriers (my Spanish is about as good as her English) … but on the whole I feel a deep sense calm, which is freeing.

My anxieties feel soothed. I have the right coping skills now to deal with them, and not that I didn’t realize it before, but I have this new, deeper appreciation for my mother-in-law and what she deals with on a regular basis. Maya will grow up … C. never truly will. It’s a sad reality, and sometimes she has a pity-party for herself (completely understandable) but at the same time, she really makes the best of the deck of cards she has been dealt in life.

Because really, what else can she do? This is it. You only get one life.

It took me six years of them visiting us here in Michigan for me to get to this point … but I’m glad to feel at peace with things. I might always be an anxious person by nature, but I do have the internal power to keep my anxieties at bay. And right now, they feel far out to sea. It’s a really nice feeling.

How about you? What are some of your sources of anxiety? How do you cope?

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2 thoughts on “Anxiety and Appreciation

  1. I take deep breaths. It’s so cliche but it works – like in-1-2-3, hold a second, out-1-2-3. I will often stop in a hallway or stairwell to do this, or right before I go through a door or into a room. (I have a lot of anxiety going on lately.) I know I’ve taken enough deep breaths when I feel better/relaxed. It always works – it’s just that sometimes I need two and sometimes I need 12.

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