The Anxiety Anniversary

Yesterday, while researching for an essay I’m trying to write, (It. Is. A. Mess. Apologies to Nicole who I’ve tasked with reading it.) I realized it was the five year anniversary of the day I learned I was cleared to be Derek’s liver donor. I am fully aware this is the five year anniversary of our surgeries because despite being dreadful at math, it’s pretty easy to subtract 2014 from 2019 and get the number right. But when I realized it was the anniversary of learning I was a match, I started sobbing.

I answered the phone, she told me the news, I made a joke. I asked her if it was the best liver they’d ever seen and she said, “oh yeah, we called the Smithsonian already.” The minute I picked up the phone my heart was pounding, when I hung up I felt a very strong urge to throw up. There was so much adrenaline in my bloodstream I had to stand up and shake my hands and legs. It felt a lot like the moment right before I’ve had to speak in front of a large crowd. Blood pounding in my ears, saliva drying up from my mouth and reforming in my armpits (that’s how it works, right?), hands quivering. The difference being when I’ve had to speak in front of crowds, the minute I start talking, I calm down. This time it lingered.

It wore me down. I spent most of my days buzzing, every molecule in my body felt supercharged. At the end of the day my body would just shut down, like someone had flicked a switch, and when I woke up there was no warm up to the anxiety. One minute asleep, the next fully awake and quivering. It was unsustainable.

I called the transplant office and asked if I could have an appointment with the social worker and the psychiatrist. I was worried body parts were going to start rattling off from the extreme vibration. What is the tensile strength of tendons? I spoke to the social worker who gave me some cognitive exercises to help me slow down the cycling of worry happening in my mind. The psychiatrist listened as I told him how I felt most days. He wrote me a prescription for lorazepam, a small dose. “Take it in the evening. Do your CBT exercises. See if it stops the cycle.”

Taking it scared me. Not taking it and watching the cells of my body break down and turn me into a pile of salinated goop seemed worse. So I took it. I split the tiny pill in half. And. It worked. It made me sleepy, or maybe I was sleepy anyway, but it felt like the relief you feel when a constant droning noise stops. As the drug kicked in I felt my muscles relax, my brain slowed down, and the vibration faded away.

When I woke up it was back, but knowing I could shut it off at night was a relief. Some mornings I would do the CBT exercises and it would work, and I’d have a few hours of calm, some mornings I would lean into the nervous energy and clean the floor on my hands and knees.

I found out I was a match and I would be giving up 60% of a vital organ in January and we scheduled the surgery in April. As hard as it was to live with a feeling of constant anticipation, I needed to mentally and physically prepare for what was about to happen.

A friend told me worrying was a fools game, it wouldn’t help in the long run and would definitely hurt in the short term and I listened and worried anyway. It is the behavior I am most frustrated with. Worrying doesn’t help and yet it is my default mode, the switch stuck in the on position.

Five years later and the pain of the surgery has faded, but the memory of the anxiety is still fresh. If Derek coughs I worry he has a cold or the flu, a complicated problem for someone immunosuppressed. I thought giving a piece of myself away would solve my worry, if we could survive a transplant together everything else would feel trivial. As if the epicenter of my anxiety was the piece of liver I gave away.

Yesterday when I remembered what it felt like to hear the good news I was a match, I thought about my liver and how much I missed the piece of me that’s gone. She did her level best and failed and I don’t blame her, even though I often feel like I am the one to blame. How is it easier to be proud of my organ than it is to be proud of myself? This realization might be the key to me giving myself credit for something I often feel I don’t deserve. Deflect the compliment to my liver, the piece of me that worked so hard to keep my husband alive. If I can give a bundle of missing hepatocytes the love it deserves, maybe eventually I’ll feel deserving of that love too.

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