Lately, he’s taken to sleeping in my room, my eleven-year-old. It isn’t nightmares keeping him awake and robbing us both of peace, it’s the panic. Hours into what I insist will be a quick article on anxiety I finally commit to print what I’ve easily admitted out loud; My son’s anxiety and OCD are suffocating me. The feelings that wash over me as I look across the room to watch him sleep, are not what any mother should have to experience. At the sight of my sleeping son, afloat in the largeness of my bed, I am filled with a heady mixture of love and sorrow…fear and panic.
It kills me to see those words laid out before me — to know that I’m the one responsible for giving them life; but if I don’t begin to give these emotions a voice how can I ever expect to conquer this? It isn’t an exaggeration to say that if I don’t get these anxieties and fears under control, his and mine, I’ll die. I suppose it sounds extremely melodramatic to read those words and in another time, another version of myself would have agreed. That person no longer exists; in her place is just me, and I barely remember yesterday.
In 2012 my “severe asthma” was finally said to be relatively mild. I was diagnosed with Vocal Cord Paralysis or Vocal Cord Dysfunction. By the time I learned what it was I had endured roughly 24 medically induced comas. Each to assist in intubation and ventilation. My marriage had ended, my health was failing and despite the gift I knew them to be, I wasn’t appreciative of my sons. Mine was not the life I’d expected at 33 and I’m ashamed to say I didn’t want it anymore.
Another three dozen or so intubations, comas and Intensive Care stays would follow. Each time was traumatic and it never got any easier, but more important was that I wasn’t the only one suffering. Each time my boys were inevitably affected and I hadn’t grasped the extent. One moment I’d be fine and minutes later I would be rationing my breaths and trying to hold on long enough for paramedics to arrive on the scene to take me to the nearby trauma center.
My boys had it worse — If it were past bedtime and I had tucked them in for the night? They’d have fallen asleep in one world and awoken in another; one where I had vanished. They’d go days to weeks before they could see or speak to me again. The fears and incessant worries my son began to exhibit should have been enough for me to see what was happening to him. Still, I didn’t see. I didn’t see, because I had chosen to punch out of my life.
“…The truth is it’s always easier to put off today’s pain for tomorrow right?…”
Remembering this time in my life is harder than I imagined — I’m afraid I ignored signs in my son that I should have recognized. That I didn’t want to see them because doing so would force me to deal with the issues and dealing was just too damn hard.” As I type these last few sentences, words that are an admission of guilt and failure, panic is trying it’s best to invade my personal space. My heart is pounding and within a few short minutes, my own anxiety tries to settle in.
When he was nine one of my twin sons began having erratic outbursts and irrational fears. When I saw signs of depression and he opened up to me about obsessive thoughts I had no choice but to seek counseling for him. He was diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder(OCD) and Anxiety. This past school year after extensive testing he was diagnosed with Auditory Processing Disorder. He just turned eleven.
When he and his brother are playing a videogame and he notices his twin has snack wrappers under his bed he needs to have the area picked up. Dusted, vacuumed, bed remade ‘just-so’. He’ll do it himself if that’s what it takes. He needs to scratch the invisible itch on his brain that yells at him that nothing is as perfect as it can be. The small room needs perfecting, cleaning, even if it is for the third time. It’s the same voice that demands he count his toys repeatedly ensuring he has them all. It doesn’t matter that they’re inside a sealed backpack and placed within eyesight. What if one fell out during transport to the couch? What if he counted wrong the first two or three times? How will he know?
Through every trial my boys have loved me unconditionally, kissing me on my neck where the trachea tube jutted out or caressing my face in their little hands, just because. I’m ashamed that I was so willing to give up on them, and I’m afraid. I’m afraid that now that he needs me as much as he does I’ll have made a decision that will leave him where he probably fears most — alone in this world. When it became too much for me to endure I made the decision to remove the tracheal tube that was assisting my breathing and preventing another intubation.I did so with the warning and word of caution from my ENT specialist that she would not likely ever be able to successfully complete another one.
So every day I battle — I fight.
I battle to keep both his and my anxiety at bay. I battle to keep his OCD in check, to prevent the depression that I see trying to overcome him from doing so. I battle to keep the well-meaning advice from family members away from him and not lose my temper because they don’t have a clue what they’re talking about! He doesn’t need “discipline” and he doesn’t just need to “get over it.”
My most important battle is my battle to breathe. Not for myself but for him. He and his brother need me and knowing that has overpowered my unwillingness to live. It has completely robbed me of any ability to continue being selfish and wallow in my own self-pity and pain while ignoring theirs. Finally, although long overdue I see that their existence here is not made better by my death. They love me, damaged and all and they just want me. Alive, breathing and present.
Vocal Cord attacks continue to threaten my life. They haven’t gotten any easier or less frequent. What’s different is that I react differently. I do what I hadn’t done before and I fight. For all those times I might have prevented another hospital stay and needless time away from them. I fight to make up for not making him feel as loved and valued as he should have. When that all-familiar tightening begins around my throat and the terror tries to invade my space, I defiantly order it off. ‘Not tonight. Tonight I’ll fight.
If nothing else, I need him to know that it will never be okay to make the decision that life is not worth living. He’s too valued, special, and loved. I battle because I want them both, need them both to know when their momma had lost all hope in life it was their complete and unconditional love that rescued me.
The least I can do is return that gift.