Sunday, February 19, 2017

What happened when I got afraid

I got afraid twice this winter.

As a political progressive, I got afraid when the new president started signing executive orders that were frightened me. It wasn't exactly the orders that scared me. It was the idea I got in my head that the checks and balances built into our Constitution wouldn't hold against a challenge. When the executive order pertaining to immigration got overturned by individual judges and then by a court of appeals, and the administration decided to take another look at it, I was relieved. Since then, the wild ride that is the new administration is something I keep up with, but it's now out of curiosity rather than fear.

That's the political fear. The other one is entirely of my own making.

I have health anxiety. Whenever any issue comes up around my body, I immediately think of the worst-case scenario, and then I run with it. Here's what happened.

Just before Thanksgiving I caught a bad cold which I took with me on a plane ride from Tucson, where we live in the winter, to Seattle, where we have our family home. After Thanksgiving, I brought the cold back to Arizona.

The next week I noticed I'd feel out of breath after walking a block or so. I had an episode where, after walking two blocks to our activities office, I had to stand outside the door for a minute while I caught my breath. That scared me. My husband took me to a nearby ER where I was diagnosed with bronchitis - though I didn't have a cough - and prescribed meds for bronchitis.

The meds didn't work, but the breathing issues improved somewhat. I did notice, though, that when I'd read out loud, or have a conversation, I would sometimes run out of air before I was done speaking. And then, when I did take a breath, there was a soft wheeze. Probably my post-nasal drip, I thought.  I tried to put it out of my mind. Instead, my anxious brain went to the worst cases: lung cancer, COPD, heart disease. And there I resided for two months.

I told myself it was because my health insurance is through an HMO, which will reimburse in Arizona only for Urgent or Emergent care. I thought I ought to wait until May, when we return to Washington, to be checked out.

Here's what happened in the meantime:
  • I had three friends who commented that my breathing sounded funny, or my voice sounded hoarse. I told them all I had post nasal drip.
  • I started exercising less. Hardly any water aerobics. Very few recreational bike rides. Fewer walks, more driving.
  • I had two more friends express concern that I hadn't completely recovered from my cold. I told them I had post nasal drip.
  • I started missing nonessential scheduled activities because I didn't have a lot of energy, and besides, I didn't want people making comments about my breathing.
  • I isolated somewhat from friends I have at home, not emailing or texting as much. One of my very close friends, Deb, asked me what was wrong. I told her I was fine, thanks. I didn't return phone calls or messages from other friends for a week or more, and then responded tersely. 
  • I noticed that nothing sounded really interesting - not even my upcoming trip to Greece.

Finally, last week, I turned myself in to Mary Beth, the nurse practitioner at our resort. I already knew her from a shared activity. I told her what was going on. She said, "Yes, you have restricted breathing. I have noticed that for a while."

It was finally okay to tell the whole story. It felt like I'd gone to confession. Mary Beth took my history - including that my dad had tied of emphysema and cirrhosis when he was 57. She and I both noted that I have had my share of injuries - broken leg and arm and ruptured Achilles tendon - but that I have had few illnesses other than colds and flu. 

Then she said, "I think you have asthma, but I'm going to run a few tests." I got a breathing therapy session that day and the next. It was wonderful, as I rode my bicycle home after the first appointment, to feel the whole new gymnasium of air now available to me in my own body. The chest x-ray was normal. Lung capacity was normal as measured by a spirometry test. Circulation was fine.

When Mary Beth told me the chest x-ray was normal, I was thrilled and exhilarated and told her so. "No, you do not have lung cancer or COPD. Your worry about this is part of your anxiety disorder." What a relief that was. Embarrassing, but a relief.

She prescribed me meds for allergy-induced asthma to knock down the current asthma symptoms, an inhaler, and meds to minimize the possibility of future occurrences. She told me I'd feel better in a week, and I believe her.

Here's the deal, though. My fear and denial kept me from making that appointment for six weeks. During that time I ignored or disregarded the concern of my friends. I avoided activities that wouldn't allow my denial to persist. And I spent a lot of time in my anxious mind - which is a dangerous neighborhood.

Yesterday I was talking to a friend, a retired nurse. She said, "Linda, I told you twice last year that I thought you had asthma. You said no, you didn't." So this must have been a developing thing. I don't recall having any symptoms last summer in Washington or on any of the eight trips I took. But maybe I did.

I have relatively few fears - health issues and falling from a height - but both have been personally limiting. It may be time for me to do something about them. 

In the meantime, I want to make amends to the friends I disregarded. That's a first step, at least.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Bag Lady thinks about past-present-future

I am pretty good at letting go of the past. I rarely worry or "what if" much about it.

I'm okay with present issues, too. Yesterday I had a long travel day, flying from Tucson to Salt Lake City and then to Portland, and driving south to Roseburg for three hours in the rain and dark in a rental car. I never know what will happen on a journey, but I'm usually okay. I don't assume things will go smoothly, and when they do it's a treat.

I am getting better at letting go of the future, but it still stresses me out sometimes.
  • I am giving a deposition this afternoon. Will I remember to just answer the questions, without elaborating?
  • Will I ever recuperate completely from the respiratory stuff I've had off and on for a couple of months? Am I the only one in the world experiencing this?
  • If I lose 30 pounds, will my upper arms still look like bat wings?
  • How will we do as a nation with the new administration? Will we squabble with each other over our differences - we love the new president or we're afraid of the new president - and lose sight of the many, many things we have in common with each other?
So, with regard to these future things:
  • I will remind myself to just answer the questions.
  • I will remind myself that this is a bad winter for respiratory issues, that I am not the only one, but only one of millions.
  • I will remind myself that I am 68 years old and that my body is normal for my age.
  • I will remind myself to be a good listener, to remember that we are all in this life together and we are, mostly, doing the best we can.
Tomorrow I go home, with another long travel day of driving and flying. I will set that aside until tomorrow, when I will live in the present, with my usual "take it as it comes" travel spirit.