Last week my wife had flu-like aches, pains, and fatigue, but without the head-cold symptoms. It really freaked her out, so she eventually decided to go to urgent care just to make sure she wasn’t missing something serious going on. Turns out she was fine. They ran labs and tests and chalked it up to some weird virus being weird. She had a check-up on Monday and all is still well.
Last Thursday I left session and texted her to let her know I was heading home. She didn’t respond, even though I knew she was home. So then, because I knew she hadn’t been feeling well, I decided to call her and check in. She didn’t answer.
I totally panicked. Full on losing-my-shit-while-standing-on-a-crowded-train-platform panic. Not great.
I called and called, but no answer. Then eventually I stopped calling to gather my thoughts. And by “gather my thoughts”, I mean that I did a complete visualization of going home, finding her dead, having to tell her parents, planning the funeral, not being able to support myself financially, losing my apartment, dropping out of school, and becoming an insane, unemployed homeless person.
This visualization thing is not terribly out of character for me. Part of how I deal with scary situations is to picture my worst fear. Then I picture myself either handling it or killing myself when it gets unbearable. It’s not ideal, but sometimes you just need that cyanide capsule.
Eventually she called me back. Turns out we were both trying to call each other at the same time, so the cellular world exploded and would not allow either of us to ring through to the other. She was alive! Yay!
But that feeling….the panic…still lingered.
I’ve been feeling this so much lately. Specifically about my wife. I have these tremendous fears about everyone else in my life just walking out and abandoning me by choice. I truly believe Wife would never do that, so my fears of losing her express themselves as abandonment-by-death instead. It sucks. It’s paralyzing.
Last night, My Mom did eventually answer my text response by calling me back. She said, “I figured if you were sitting on your couch holding your phone, thinking about calling me, you might as well be actually talking to me!”
I appreciated the sentiment. And the fact that she had checked in on me at all. I tried talking to her about my grandfather dying, but it was hard because I got a lot of “But Andi, this is what you wanted…this is good.” Which is true, but also not. Yes, I did want my toxic family out of my life. But what I truly wanted was not to be estranged from my family, but to have a family worth keeping in my life.
Anyway. She ended the conversation by reminding me that I can call or text her whenever I want to and she will always want to talk to me. Then she asked, “You know that, right? You know that you can ALWAYS reach out to me if you just need connection, right?”
I said, “Of course. And thank you.”
But internally I was cringing. I hung up the phone following a round of “I love you”s and somehow felt even more isolated and alone. I called Therapist and left a voicemail.
She called back. I explained everything about feeling afraid of Wife dying and everyone else leaving and feeling really triggered by Mom essentially asking me if I trusted that she would really be there for me. It was all just too much.
She responded, “That sounds awful. And I hope you can see how much this is a trauma response that is so very related to what happened with Zooey. What she did was traumatizing. She hurt you and she left you. So now you’re emotionally raw and of course you’re afraid of everyone leaving you. I think what’s especially important about the fears around Wife dying is that it indicates just how much you trust that she wouldn’t otherwise leave you. But all of this makes so much sense and is a standard trauma response.”
“Yes! I do feel that! I do feel like this has to do with Zooey…like she lured me into this false sense of security and convinced me to trust her, only to end up hurting me just like the others. So now I’m even more afraid of that happening again.”
“That makes sense. And it’s not stupid. I know that the people in your life don’t always understand. And I know that you tell yourself it’s stupid and that you’re stupid for feeling so intensely about it, but it is not stupid at all. She really hurt you and it makes sense that you’re responding the way you are. “
I just started crying. I felt so much RELIEF from hearing her say these things! I told her that I didn’t even realize how much I needed to hear all of that until it came out of her mouth.
She asked how I was feeling. I said, “I feel much more valid. Thank you. I will see you Thursday” and then we hung up.
It was an important call and an important moment for us. And I really appreciate the way she’s helping me (us, really) understand the role that trauma plays in how we respond and react to the people and events around us. It makes it all feel so much more containable.