When I was a kid, I would have a breakdown every single time my parents left the house. It doesn’t matter who babysat me – my grandmother, aunts or uncles, that cool teenage girl from my church…nope, didn’t matter. I would cry almost the entire time they were gone. Shake. Panic. Scream. Everyone assumed I had a terrible case of separation anxiety, but I didn’t.
I was an independent kid who actually enjoyed alone time. I didn’t mind playing alone in my bedroom for hours, lost in my imagination. I was attached to my parents, but I didn’t really miss them when I knew they would only be gone for a few hours.
No, I cried and shook and panicked when they left because I was terrified they would never come home. But as a 5-year-old, that is really hard to explain to the adults around you. People assumed I couldn’t handle being away from my parents, which in a sense was true, but it wasn’t for the reason they thought.
I didn’t miss them. I was convinced they were going to die.
This was back in the days of no cell phones, so when my parents went out to that Christmas party two hours away, or on a dinner date that went a bit longer than my 5-year-old brain assumed it should, I had no way of contacting them. And they had no way of contacting me.
So as soon as they left the house, I had no way of knowing if they made it to their destination safely. I remember one time, when I was around 7 or 8, my aunt called the house. I rushed to the phone as soon as it rang, as my mom told me she would use a friend’s phone to call me when she arrived at her Christmas party.
My aunt and my mom sound identical on the phone, and as soon as I heard her laugh and say, “No, it’s your aunt!” my relief turned to tears. I had one of the first major panic attacks I actually remember of my young life.
As I got older, I mostly grew out of it. Cell phones helped, a lot. But in general, as I became more independent and starting driving myself, the fear that my parents would tragically die in a car accident began to slowly fade.
Until I got into a relationship.
Unfortunately, the immense fear I once felt for my parents, I now feel for my husband. I was actually prompted to write this post by him. As he was about to leave for a literal 5-minute drive away to pick up some Taco Bell from a few streets over, I had just set up my laptop and was ready to blog. But…writer’s block. I said I didn’t know what to write about.
“Why don’t you write about the fact that you’re having a panic attack right now?” Jefferson said.
“How did you even know that I’m having a panic attack?!”
“Because you have one every time I leave the house.”
My reaction was pretty much this:
I wished so hard in that moment that I could laugh and say, “of course I don’t!” but that would be a lie. Every time my husband gets into our car, I have those terrifying, intrusive thoughts all over again.
I didn’t realize that I had obsessive thoughts until my psychologist pointed it out a few years ago. Now it just seems obvious, but I didn’t realize that my constant, unwanted thoughts about something terrible happening to close family members was actually a symptom of OCD.
Though I don’t have many “traditional” compulsive tendencies (though I have struggled with compulsive checking in the past), avoidance is actually considered a compulsion too.
And of course, if my anxiety had its way, my husband would never leave the house. No one I loved would ever do anything, because, of course, the one time they actually did leave (a.k.a the time that I allowed it to happen) would be the time they died and it would be my fault.
Of course, in a relationship, this is a major problem. It’s controlling, and it’s not in any way healthy. The only thing that helps is continuing to work through the fears. Every time I give in, it sets me back a few steps. So I sucked it up and wrote this post as Jefferson drove to Taco Bell. And he was fine. And so was I.
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