Two weeks ago, I thought I was going to lose my mom. What first was said to be an enflamed gallbladder, ended up being fluid around the heart which led to kidney failure. As I got the news that she was being moved from one hospital to another, better one farther away, my mind fell into a panic.
What should I do? What exactly is happening? How is this even happening? She was so healthy. She took care of herself. Never had any kind of diseases or serious health problems. Should I get on a plane to Canada? Is she going to be ok? Is she going to die?
Thoughts ran through my mind in loops. I felt like a broken record, over and over again, the words repeated in my mind. I couldn’t sleep or eat as the dark possibility of a funeral lingered in my mind. I cried in my boyfriend’s arms as he told me everything would be fine. I tried to will myself into believing him. I tried to tell myself that I would see her again. We had so much left to do together, I thought. She was supposed to teach me how to make her tomato soup. She was supposed to knit blankets for my future children. She was supposed to support me on my wedding day. She was supposed to tell me everything was ok whenever I would have an anxiety attack. I still needed her. I couldn’t bare the thought of losing her. They were some of the worst days of my life.
Luckily, one of my sister’s has been a nurse for almost 20 years, and has a lot of experience in cardiology. As soon as she heard that my mom had fluid around her heart, she drove the three hours from her home in the US to the second hospital my mom was being treated in. She spoke with doctors and nurses, checked the monitors and charts, and assured me everything would be ok as long she didn’t have any more serious diseases. It would just take time. But for my mother, who had spent the first sixty three years of her life in a relatively healthy state, what she was going through was excruciating and terrifying. To her, the possibility of death was very real as she watched her body swell with any extra 15 litres of fluid and stayed up all night trying to breath despite the fluids building up around her heart.
She was put on dialysis, she had water removed from her lungs, she had a biopsy of her kidneys done, and finally she had the fluid removed from around her heart. The biopsy came back clear and when the fluid around her heart was removed, she basically regained life in every part of her. She started breathing normally and her kidneys starting working again. The word relief doesn’t even begin to sum up how I felt. Suddenly, every other thing that I had ever spent time worrying about didn’t matter.
Here’s the thing: we are each alive for only a short period of time. At any moment, we or those we love, can die. It only takes a split second. And it only takes you a split second and life or death situation to make you see that life is everything and nothing. It’s everything because of the people we love. It’s nothing because all of those trivial things we worry about every day actually don’t matter at all. We all tend to live in fear of something: failure, criticism, rejection. We spend time beating ourselves up about the things that we haven’t accomplished or the mistakes that we made or the person we wish we were but aren’t. We spend time worrying about what other people think of us – whether they think we are attractive, intelligent or talented. For those of us with anxiety, we spend time thinking of scenarios that haunt our dreams and follow us like shadows in our waking lives. We spend all of this time not thinking about the most important thing: that we are alive and we have people that love us.
When I called my mom on FaceTime when she was finally feeling well enough, she teared up talking about how happy she was to be alive. She talked about how much time and health she felt she had wasted on worrying so much. She kept telling me: Be happy you’re alive. Be happy you have a wonderful partner. Be happy you’re healthy. Be happy you have a roof over your ahead. Everything else: money problems, work problems, friend problems – will work themselves out. It will be ok. Be grateful for the things that really matter.
Of course it’s difficult to stay positive and be grateful. Anxiety makes it even more difficult to remind ourselves of this, but the only thing we can do is keep reminding ourselves and try to hold onto it. I have had a horribly stressful week, but then I remember that my mom is alive. That I’m alive. That I have a partner that loves me. At which point I think, who cares about the stressful week? I’ll eat a bag of chips, laugh at a funny movie, and start again next week. Who cares what people think, who cares about the things I have or haven’t done in my life, who cares about the money I don’t have. Who cares. Because, I am alive and I have people that love me. That’s all that matters. Ultimately, life is short. So fight the fears of daily life and live it all in love. It’s really the only thing we can do.
– A. V. Sz.