couple close comforting

Things are getting a bit chaotic and stressful with all the planning and changes taking place for our wedding this summer. My nervous system has been on overdrive as I struggle to process all the details. As it is my second marriage and there are children involved, it is complicated. My highly sensitive system is on the lookout for any threats to me, my children, Mark and his children.

What’s your story?

When things get overwhelming, I tend to revert to my default insecure attachment story, which goes something like, “There is so much to do and no one here to help me. I give to everyone and can’t really count on anyone. Here I go again, alone.” Intellectually, I know it is not true now, but there were years when it was 80% true, and the loneliness of those years sticks in my system. The loneliness feeling comes up involuntarily when I get a whiff of overwhelm.

Dr. Puff

To calm my nervous system, I’ve turned to Dr. Puff (I know). Dr. Puff has a podcast called happinesspodcast.org. I access this podcast through my favorite meditation app, Insighttimer.com. Dr. Puff has a fantastic talk called Being Happy vs. Seeking Happiness. Some of his other guided meditations are not as good, I’ll be honest. He uses the word ‘alls’ which distracts me, as in “Alls you need to do is…” but there are a few of his talks/meditations that give me enormous peace.

In the Being Happy talk, he discusses rolling with life as it is and not fighting it or reacting strongly when things go wrong. This way of thinking matches one of my favorite sayings, “What you resist, persists”.

Dr. Puff says we should say to ourselves, “This is not what I expected, but that’s OK. I’ll work with it.”, when things go off the rails. Imagine him saying it in the calmest most optimistic Mr. Rogers voice. I’ve been practicing saying that to myself lately when additional responsibilities or negative reactions from others pop up. It makes me laugh and actually does soften my reactions.

This is new and unexpected

Wednesday morning this week, I went upstairs to feed the kids’ guinea pigs as the kids were at their dad’s. I bent over to give them water and felt an instant dull pain between my neck and right shoulder. I stood up and noticed my right arm felt weird, like I had no control over it. I moved my shoulder and raised my arm to improve the circulation in it. I still did not have normal feeling in it. Then I felt light-headed. I thought I might faint. I sat down on the floor.

A zillion thoughts ran through my head — Is this a heart attack? No, that involves your left arm usually. Is it a stroke? Maybe. Do you take aspirin for a stroke? Do I have any aspirin in the house? There might be some  nine-year-old Excedrin migraine in the bottom of the bathroom drawer. Don’t try to walk down the hardwood stairs. You could fall. Should I call 911? The neighbors will wonder what the hell is going on if an ambulance pulls up to the house… Should I call Mark? What can he do? He’s 45 minutes away. I could die, alone.

After a few minutes, I felt stable enough to walk down the stairs. I drank some water and ate two prunes. They sounded good. I sat on the couch and breathed deeply and slowly (another Dr. Puff saying). My arm was back to normal.

I googled my symptoms… a heart attack, transient ischemic attack (TIA,mini-stroke) or panic attack seemed the likeliest options. I was praying for a panic attack.

I then worked out downstairs. I know, but I felt fine at that point. I felt even better after the workout. I called my primary care physician and made an appointment for 2PM.

Welcome to your late forties

After years of never going to see a primary care physician, I’ve seen this guy four times in the last year. One was for a regular check up, the rest the result of hitting my late forties?

I told my physician, Dr. N, about my ‘episode’. He listened to my heart and had me do a few strength bearing exercises with my arm. All looked good. He gave me the option of doing an anemia test and an EKG. He did not say I should do them, but he did not say I shouldn’t. He hinted I should error on the side of caution. I had the tests done within minutes in his office. He expected my EKG to be fine, because the time to do an EKG is when the ‘episode’ is happening. Those tests came out fine.

Then he talked to me about a TIA (mini stroke). He said I am someone who is at low risk of one. I am not overweight. I don’t smoke. I am not diabetic etc., but if what I experienced was a TIA, it is considered a warning stroke. The next one could be a ‘big dog’ stroke — Dr. N’s words.

Still hoping it was a panic attack, I asked about those. He said most panic attacks don’t involve weakness or numbness in the arm.

Are you claustrophobic? 

To be on the safe side, Dr. N said I should have an MRI immediately and a carotid ultrasound and echocardiogram as soon as possible. Umm…

This is not what I expected but that’s OK.

I was able to get in for imaging (MRI) right away, so I left my doctor’s office and headed to the hospital. I called Mark on the way. He said he’d leave work and meet me there.

I signed in at the hospital and was taken back to the MRI area quite quickly. Mark did not have time to get there, but I knew he was coming.

MRI machine

MRI machine

I waived the chance to get medication to keep me calm inside the MRI machine. Claustrophobia is an issue with those confining tubes. I hoped I wouldn’t panic. They told me it would only take 20 minutes.

I removed all metal objects from my body, including my engagement ring. That gave me pause. MRI machines use powerful magnets to obtain pictures of your body. They don’t want any metal objects ripped from your body during the process.

Alone but OK

The technician put a white wash cloth over my eyes and gave me fluffy headphones to muffle the sounds of the noisy machine. I listened to a mellow station on Pandora (no ads) while the machine took images of my brain. I am grateful for the wash cloth, because I think I would have been more nervous if I had to look at the close ceiling of the machine for 20 minutes.

As I lay inside the loud, white tube listening to Dust in the Wind, I almost laughed (but couldn’t because you’re not supposed to move while having an MRI) because I kept hearing Dr. Puff say, “This is not what I expected.” I certainly did not expect my day to go like this. I never would have imagined I would be lying in an MRI machine at the end of the day.

Not alone and even better

I made it through the MRI, got dressed and met Mark in the waiting room. They were going to get the results to my doctor right away. I would talk to him as soon as he looked them over. It would take about 30 minutes.

I was relieved to walk in the waiting room and find Mark. We hugged and sat down on a little sofa that allowed us to sit close together. One of Mark’s amazing abilities is the way he comforts me. No one has ever touched and comforted me the way he does. He held my hand and talked everything through with me. I had brought a People magazine from the MRI room to the waiting room, thinking I might need a distraction while we waited for the results, but I didn’t need the magazine.

The time went fast. Surprisingly, I did not get too anxious. The receptionist called me up to the desk about 35 minutes later. My doctor was on the phone. He said my images were perfect. No signs of any damage done by a stroke.

I later thought, I hope I can get copies of my brain images. It would be cool to see pictures of my brain on music and Dr. Puff.

I am scheduled to have the other tests done in the next two weeks, then I’ll meet with a neurologist. I’ve felt normal every day since that day, but I want to error on the side of caution.

Changing how we think and feel

What I noticed, during that long scary day was that I was not alone. Even when I had to go into the MRI by myself. I was OK. I had a knowledgable, accessible doctor and medical team behind me. Once I told Mark what was going on, he was there in person and in the most compassionate way. I was even able to shore myself up with Dr. Puff’s words.

I don’t want to go through a medical emergency to confirm I am not alone, but that day of support eased the grip of my insecure attachment story. It literally helped create new neural pathways in my brain. I hope they show up on my MRI.:)

What is your insecure attachment story? What do you need to heal it?