I cried during my therapy session last Friday. It was a soul-cleansing cry that was so unexpected but at the same time so good for me.
My therapist and I have been working on finding the cause(s) of my panic attacks or anxiety symptoms, such as heart palpitations and lightheadedness. She suggested a book for me to read. In that book there is a tool called a Daily Mood Log. I have been using the daily mood log to document any upsetting events, my emotions surrounding them, and my negative thoughts about them. After I write them all down, I am supposed to come up with neutral thoughts that are true 100% of the time to replace the negative thoughts. (Instead of positive thoughts as stated in the log, my therapist suggested neutral thoughts because positive thoughts are not always 100% true.) So the last few weeks I have been finishing up two to three of these logs each week in order to understand more about my thoughts and feelings. I noticed that the first couple of weeks most of the mood logs were about Okra’s tantrums. Since his extreme tantrums have dwindled down, I find myself focusing more on the aches and pains I feel on my body and my negative thoughts and feelings surrounding that. It is almost like because I don’t have to focus on Okra anymore, I have more room in my head to look for something else to worry about. Last week all of my anxiety or worries had to do with any physical symptoms that I felt: throat irritation, phlegm, blocked nostril, gum irritation, skin irritation, muscle pains. My mind would go really far and I would wonder if I had cancer or COVID. Especially now that the COVID numbers have gone up in the last few weeks and with the new variant showing up in my area, I find myself having anxious thoughts even going grocery shopping. After going grocery shopping last Tuesday, I panicked for a few second wondering if I caught COVID afterwards. The following were the negative thoughts I wrote down: “I have COVID despite being careful”, “It is easy to catch COVID even if I wear a mask”, “I will get COVID no matter what I do, “I will get COVID even just grocery shopping”, and “I will die of COVID”. I am also supposed to write down how much I believe each thought. For these thoughts, I wrote down a range between 50% to 70% for each.
In the book that my therapist recommended, the chapter after the daily mood log is called “Uncovering Your Self-Defeating Beliefs”. These are beliefs that are either about what you believe you need to be or do in order to be a worthwhile human, or about what you believe your relationship with others need to be like. In the book, it explained that your self-defeating beliefs are always present, but negative thoughts only come when you are upset. You use what the author calls “Downward Arrow Technique” to ask yourself that if a negative thought were true, “Why would it be upsetting to me? What would it mean to me?” Once you come up with another negative thought, you ask the same questions. You repeat this process until you eventually come up with your self-defeating beliefs. When I first read that chapter, I just started doing my daily mood logs and felt overwhelmed by this process of “Downward Arrow Technique”. My therapist told me to just get myself familiar with writing my daily mood logs first and not to worry about the next step. Last Friday during my session, my therapist and I went over my negative thoughts regarding COVID. After we talked about them, she asked me if I was ready to talk about finding my self-defeating beliefs. I was like, well okay let’s try it. She told me to pick a negative thought. So I picked this one:
“I will catch COVID despite being careful”
She asked, “If that were true, why would it be upsetting to you?”
The following are the negative thoughts that I came up with after asking that question repeatedly with the “Downward Arrow Technique”:
“I will get very sick”
“I will die”
“My kids won’t get the care that will get from me because I am dead”
“My kids will grow up without me”
“My kids will be miserable growing up without their mom”
“My kids will be miserable, unhappy adults, and not be able to life a fulfilling life without me being around”
When I got to that point, I started tearing up. I tried to hold back my tears but the more I wanted to, the more I felt like crying. I ended up sobbing uncontrollably for a few minutes. Why? I asked myself. I felt this deep pain inside of me when I dug deeper and deeper into my fears: me being dead and not be able to watch my kids grow up. I was ugly crying while trying to catch my breath so I could talk. I was crying and talking and crying and talking. I told my therapist that mortality had been on my mind because I really want to live to see my kids be adults and want to be with them every step of the way. It is not that I don’t trust my husband. I do. I am sure that the children would grow up to be happy, healthy adults even without my presence. BUT, I so want to be here to witness it and be an integral part of their lives. The thought of not being around for that really pains me. I told my therapist that this probably has everything to do with me bringing them into this world after all these years of infertility. I feel a tremendous responsibility to be healthy and alive in order to take good care of the two human beings that I so desperately tried to bring into this world. I tried so hard to have children early on but infertility happened and I was already 43 when they were born. When they grow up, if I am still alive, I will be in my 60s. I have this fear that I won’t live to see them get married and have kids. It hurts my heart to even think about leaving them behind. This is why every time I think about my health, I go into this deep fear of something really wrong with me. I am afraid that my kids, who were conceived with the help of an egg donor, would grow up hating me for bringing them into this world without me being around to protect them. I was so surprised by these tears. I did not even know that I had these fears. I wonder if I didn’t have any fertility challenges, if these kids were made with my own eggs, or if I had them in my 30s, I would still have these fears.
My therapist is so good. She waited for me to cry and to finish my thoughts while looking at me with so much compassion and empathy. She then said to me, “You must have been carrying a lot of pains all these years.” She suggested that I be kind to myself and practice self love by writing myself a letter about all the fears that I have. She also suggested I write the grownup version of the kids a letter, telling them things that I want them to know if they were to grow up without their mom. Before we parted, she kindly said, “Take good care of yourself this week.”
After we ended our session, I just sat there and was in awe of all that was uncovered. Therapy is powerful. This tool is powerful. I didn’t know that infertility and the pain associated with it still haunt me. Now that we have uncovered my fears, maybe this is the light at the end of the tunnel for reducing and eventually eliminating my anxiety symptoms? I sure hope so, but I know there is a lot of work ahead of me in order to reach that place of wellness.