Tuesday was a really hard day for me. I woke up anxious, out-of-step. Big Girl was a weepy mess on the way to school and wouldn’t tell me why and I tried to coax it out of her with the promise of candy which made me feel like a weak and less-than mom. I knew she was cranky because she hadn’t really eaten breakfast, another thing which caused me some guilt. After I dropped the kids at school, I settled in at Starbucks to write. I ordered decaf because I was already a bit jittery. I opened my computer and just couldn’t get going. I decided it was the perfect time to order that new sofa and file cabinet for our office/guest room but the furniture stores weren’t open yet. I just sat there and looked around and kept checking my watch.
I kept checking my watch because I had a doctor’s appointment at eleven. Just a standard annual physical. But the thought of going to the doctor made my pulse quicken and my palms sweat. I knew all along that this is why I woke up anxious, probably why my mothering skills were a bit off-kilter, why I couldn’t focus. You see, I have a history of anxiety about doctors and hospitals. It’s called White Coat Syndrome and several doctors now have told me that I have it. When I go to the hospital, say, to deliver my babies, my blood pressure shoots through the roof. The first time this happened six years ago, everyone was concerned I had pre-eclampsia which is obviously quite serious. But I didn’t. I was just freaked out and so, apparently, was my body.
So, this is a pattern. And I know what to expect. More often than not, I feel anxiety prior to doctor’s appointments, an anxiety which quickly fades after the appointment. So I knew what all of this was about. But still. It was awful. And I couldn’t do anything, so I did what I do when I don’t know what else to do. I wrote words. I considered publishing them right after I wrote them, but my instinct was to tuck them away until after. Here’s some of what I wrote:
I sit here. At Starbucks. A known entity, a safe place. But I feel worlds from safe. In less than an hour, I have a physical. Just a regular visit to my physician for an annual exam. There is nothing, in particular, to worry about, but I sit here worried, the portrait of anxiety. And I’m not sure why. But I have a few guesses…
In 2009, Dad was diagnosed with cancer. One day he was fine and the next he was not. It was doctors who figured it out, whose pronouncements split his life, and our lives, into Before and After. Nine hard months later, he left us. And he’s gone now, and there is a hole and I miss him, but I am moving on, genuinely okay and happy.
But this didn’t help. This losing my father to a dreaded disease. Now my White Coat Syndrome feels like Super White Coat Syndrome. I am afraid of going to the doctor because I am worried I will learn, somehow, that I am not okay. I know that this is not rational at all. But still. I feel it. And I am scared.
But off to the doctor I will go. I will sit there in the waiting room with my racing pulse and sweaty palms. And I will go in and get checked out and hopefully everything will be just fine.
I wish I didn’t feel this way, but I understand why I do. How are we supposed to be easy-breezy about these things when we have witnessed, and felt, such unthinkable loss?
It is hard for me to read these words. These words I wrote two days ago. It is hard because in these words, I can glimpse my own fears and anxieties and they are deep. They are mine. But you know what? I’m really happy I wrote them because what I felt in those hours was real and hard and life. Not every moment is shiny and good. Some moments, some hours, some days are rotten and shaky and hard.
When my doctor walked into the little room and I sat there in my paper gown on the exam table, she asked how I was and I said I was okay but really anxious. She nodded, jotted notes, and smiled. She’s seen this. A lot. People get nervous around doctors. But the wonderful thing, the thing I wish I thanked her for, was that she asked me why, why I was scared. And this made me pause and think and then utter something wildly inarticulate like: I don’t know really. My dad died of cancer and I know people who have been sick and I guess you just never know. I am afraid to learn something is wrong. And she listened to me. She looked at me. And she was straightforward and reassuring and told me that the way she looks at it, all you can do is be vigilant about your health by taking good care of yourself and seeing doctors and then kind of throw up your arms and say if something’s going to get me, it’s going to get me.
I felt better when she said these things. The whole exchange was so honest and human and heartening. And then she did her thing, examining me. Everything was fine, good. And we chatted some more – about life and kids and my decision to forgo wine for a bit. She said goodbye and sent the nurse in to draw blood. And the nurse came in, a lovely and jolly nurse, and took my blood. And then I got dressed and went back into the world.
In the fresh air, I felt better. Still anxious, but better. I went about my day and when I picked up Big Girl from school she was all bounces and smiles. Despite her icky morning, she’d had a great day. We talked about how important it is to fill our bellies with good food so we have energy. I explained to her that sometimes I think I am feeling sad or worried but I am really just hungry. Yes! she said. Me too! And then she told me about the turkey hot dogs she had for lunch, how they were yummy, and she ate so much and now felt so good. We were skipping along. And then, yes, we got ice cream. Before dinner. Alas, I’m not perfect.
Yesterday morning. I woke up at 5am and poured coffee into my You are never to old to dream mug which was a gift from our beloved housekeeper. I took my coffee and went straight to my desk and I wrote. I wrote words of my next book, a book I’ve been struggling with and also loving. Isn’t it amazing that we can struggle with things and love them profoundly? I wrote and wrote and sipped and sipped and then it was 6am and time to shower and get the kids off. And I did those things and the way to school was one big gigglefest and the girls had eaten and we all held hands. Yesterday was the very fist day the Kindergarteners were expected to go into school by themselves and Big Girl did it. She kissed us goodbye and trotted on in. And instead of rolling around in that nostalgia-hued mommy melancholy, I celebrated this. That she is getting big and independent.
And then Middle and I went to school and we walked by shops on Madison and stopped and looked at a pair of floral boots that were oddly cool and we paused and took a few pictures of ourselves with my phone and then we rode the bus across the park and on the bus she held the carpet sample for our office and we talked about its color and texture and pattern. At school, she ran from me to play with her friends, but before disappearing, she ran back and gave me an extra, bonus hug. And I said those things I say in the mornings and she said them with me: Have fun. Be silly. Learn something.
I walked down Amsterdam and stopped at Coffee Bean and plugged in at a table with my good friend Heather and I ordered my coffee and my oatmeal and we talked about life and our girls and I told her about my anxiety the day before and she listened. She shared stuff about herself too. And we wrote and stopped and talked some more. I realized then that I hadn’t ordered cupcakes for Big’s school birthday on Friday and I panicked a bit because they must be nut-free. But a quick Google search revealed that the tiny bakery across the street from her school is nut-free and I called and ordered the perfect purple cupcakes. Feeling victorious, I came back to my computer and saw an email from a wonderful guy named Spencer from Bloomberg who had interviewed me the week before. The email had a link to my interview. Before I had a chance to click over, my phone rang. It was my doctor.
About your blood work, she said. And my heart of course did its jig. It was perfect. Your bloodwork was perfect.
Oh how I smiled. And then I borrowed Heather’s headphones and watched my interview. I was nervous, but it was all so exciting. How cool to be able to tell my story like that. And then there was lunch with my friend who is a History Professor here in the city. We talked and talked about parenthood and writing and this culture of self-help and self-love. And then a quick stop home to say hello to Middle who had two little boys over for a play date. She ran to the door and attacked me with the biggest hug. I nearly fell over. And I hung out for a bit and then I was off again to grab my Big Girl.
Another good day at school. And we went for tea with my friend and her little girl who is also a Kindergartener. And while the girls giggled and colored and did absolutely ungraceful magic tricks, my friend and I talked in those broken bits of sentences all moms know – about so much, about juggling and trying and working and imagining other lives. On a street corner, pumped to the gills with sugar, we all said goodbye.
Before bedtime, we all hung in the family room. Sundry screens ablaze, toys strewn about, magazines dog-eared in the crevices of the sofa. The big girls put about 86 barrettes and bows in the baby’s hair and everyone thought this was hilarious. My tiniest did a dance, and pointed to her head and said, “Bow bow! Bow bow!”
And bedtime was bedtime. Smooth and not smooth. There were teeth-brushing wars and stories and songs and kisses and words. And then, the lights were out. And Husband and I had dinner side by side at the kitchen island. We talked about our days and checked our phones even though that’s not great to do. I read all your wonderful comments on my posts and smiled. And then I opened the computer, right there next to the empty pizza box, and wrote these words.
This is a long and cumbersome beast of a post and if you’ve made it this far, thank you. It is not neat and tidy and pocket-sized but neither is life. And this, really, is about life. When people ask me what I write about on my blog, sometimes, too often probably, I stumble. But I am realizing this is not necessary. Because I know just what this blog is about. It is about life. My life. Your life.
And in life, that thing that all of us struggle to survive and to understand, there are good days and bad days. Really good days and really bad ones. And a slew of so-so ones. For me, it’s always amazing, and illuminating, when a really hard day is followed by a really wonderful and easy one. But it happens that way sometimes, doesn’t it? Emerson said it far better than I ever could, “Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in, forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day, you shall begin it well and serenely…”
So, I guess if there’s a takeaway here, a message at the end of this madness, it’s this:
Tomorrow is a new day.
Any good day/bad day stories? How do you feel about going to the doctor?