That’s the number of times I have experienced sudden, severe symptoms of anxiety in the car park of my local shopping center over the last few weeks.
It wasn’t because I compromised our savings on too many donuts (although donuts seem to be all that’s on my mind since starting a gluten and dairy free diet) so I have been on a mission this week to find out why.
As I am writing about it here on The Chronic Pain Couple site, you have probably guessed we found some answers relating to chronic pain.
Interestingly, that car park is the only place those strong emotions have popped up. Lucky for me, my in-house psychologist (a.k.a. my husband Johann) accepts payment for therapy in the form of nappy change exemptions so I was able to make a lot of progress with this issue on the cheap.
If I start at the beginning, I must let you know prior to our time living in the UK I was rather outgoing and social. I was a singer-songwriter who enjoyed performing and would probably have been described as outspoken. Sure, I had moments of being anxious and was a people-pleaser but I was fairly happy-go-lucky.
This is why Johann and I were shocked when, one year into our time overseas I had a panic attack because a girl stood too close to me and, wait for it…. her hair touched me. Not my proudest moment. It became clear I was spending too much time alone in hotel rooms when Johann was working so it wasn’t long until we packed our things and returned to Australia.
So, anxiety isn’t a new thing for me BUT anxiety attacks in shopping mall carparks is so I took myself back to the moment when I drive into the carpark and realised I have a habit of visualising who is also visiting the shops as I find a park. It’s the middle of the day so I imagine workers on their lunch break, mums with their children, some unemployed people and a few holiday makers and retirees. I also think about who isn’t in the shops, like my hard-working husband and close friends.
Then comes the big question. Which one of those people am I? I don’t have my son in toe, he is in daycare as I need a rest day between caring for him and seeing clients the following day. I haven’t come from work, remember I had to drop my work hours recently due to pain and although my body feels like it’s time for retirement, that’s a long way off.
So…am I actually one of those people and just doing a terrible job at keeping up with everyone else? Should I have my son with me or should I be at work today despite the pain? How can someone so young need a rest day! Surely, mums need to have more than one child to justify daycare on a day without work? These thoughts begin to spiral into a well-rehearsed chant of how incompetent I am. Cue anxiety.
But as any good psychologist would ask, is that the truth? And lucky for me, my husband can also remind me of what my life looked like a month ago, a year ago and many years ago.
Two years ago, I was in a wheelchair. It was that carpark where I learnt you should go backwards up a ramp in a wheelchair or you end up lying on your back. Again not my proudest moment.
It was in those shops my mother spent an hour helping me walk back to the car when I couldn’t take a step without excruciating pain. She was right, we should have packed the walker.
One year ago I was still stopping at every bathroom to be sick and couldn’t do the food shopping because I couldn’t push a trolley.
Johann is quick to remind me that it isn’t normal to experience pain insomnia, to need Botox or steroids to keep joints moving, be in hospital often for treatments or to think constantly about how to sit and stand upright. Why would I try to compare my schedule to a ‘normal’ working parents schedule? Is there even a ‘normal’ person to compare to?
Everyone has their own struggles.
When I think of who is in the shops, I forget to remember the woman who can’t have a baby, the cancer survivor or the man who lost the love of his life. I suppose it doesn’t help that most of my friends are intellectual gems with an insane amount of energy though.
So yep, I am not at work today and I don’t have my child with me, but there are probably a few others with chronic illness and chronic pain in the mall who would jump for joy with me if they knew that I can now complete the food shopping, have halved my nausea medication and can now walk the length of the shopping center.
I think that’s the sort of shopper I am. A recoverer. I am working a little, looking after my family a little, and trying to beat a disease that doesn’t care about the hours I work or the mummy guilt that comes with daycare.
I have to remember in my final days, I won’t be counting the hours I worked or the days my son went to daycare. I need to think about what I will be reflecting on and make that my priority. I hope you do to.
With love and pain,
The Chronic Pain Couple
P.s. If you want to read more about chronic pain and psychology head over to here. If you want to read more about working with chronic pain visit The Ultimate Guide to Working with Chronic Pain.