Hypervigilance

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To most, “hypervigilance” is but another word amongst millions of words. Likely, it’s a word few people use in their daily life. But for those of us with an anxiety disorder, hypervigilance is the thing that paralyzes us with fear. Imagine.

I had the resonator in my car’s exhaust system replaced the beginning of February. The place that did it had great reviews on Yelp and came recommended by a friend whose opinion I trust. (No, this isn’t about the muffler shop, not really, but read on.) A month or so later, I noticed my car had a clicking noise when I shut it down. Immediately fight-or-flight kicked in.

What’s that noise? What does it mean? Lots of cars click. It’s the metal contracting, isn’t it? I have a new metal thing in my car, and this is the first time I’ve driven it in warmer weather. That’s got to be it, right? I can’t take a car back to a muffler shop and say my car is clicking. It’s a stupid reason. All cars click. This is the sort of inner dialogue I must always invoke when confronted with fearsome things. This is what hypervigilance leads me to.

So I decided it was likely a normal thing and let it be. Well, sort of. You see, once a thing is revealed under the influence of hypervigilance, it doesn’t simply “go away.” And letting it be? Well, forget that. The refrigerator turning on and turning off has been known to send me reeling. And that’s a set of noises I have carefully catalogued as “normal.”

I “ignored” the clicking for a little over a week. Then a few days ago, I had reason to get out of my car while it was running, and I heard (oh, those pesky, hypervigilant ears of mine) the same sound that had sent me to the muffler shop in the first place. (And in my defense, let me say that I hadn’t heard the sound initially—the guy at the smog check place had originally pointed it out to me.) I freaked. I’d had the new resonator for just over a month, and it already broke?

This led to an overnight anxiety attack. I decided I’d call the shop in the morning, get a feel for their response. That would allay some of my fear. The guy at the shop said he couldn’t tell me if continuing to drive the car would be safe unless he saw it. Okaaaaay…

So off to the shop I went yesterday. It turns out the clicking sound which others might have noticed or might not have noticed, but which I dismissed because my coping mechanism convinced me it was a dismissible thing turned out to be the very thing that caused the mechanic to decide to replace the original resonator. Not the sound I thought sounded like the sound that had triggered the comment from the smog-check guy. The click I’d dismissed!

This is what hypervigilance does to those of us disabled by anxiety. I see things and hear things and smell things that set every nerve in body off on tangents I wouldn’t wish on an enemy. So I share this because most people don’t “get” anxiety and tend to tell those of us who do to relax and that everything’s fine. “Don’t worry about it,” they advise condescendingly. Sorry, that’s not possible in my universe.

#cancersucks

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How do I explain to my child-self that it’s okay that Nancy’s kitties have a new home?  Their new home.  The new home they need because their mommy can’t take care of them anymore.  How do I tell Nancy?  She’ll put her good face on, but I know inside she can’t help but weep.  It should be good news, but damn it, it’s not good news.  It says Nancy is dying and is too sick to take care of them ever again.

Why does she listen to my advice and proclaim me the person in charge?  I’m not, you know.  Not yet.  Until she is declared “incapacitated” by two doctors, her word goes.  But she’s deferring to me, and that scares me.  Everything scares me, and everything about this scares me more than anything I’ve ever done before.  My parents?  They were easy compared to this.

What happens if I fuck it up royally?  I almost did, just this Monday.  The nursing home wanted to send her to her oncologist 12 miles away.  By transport.  A long trip for a woman who cannot sit up in a wheelchair for more than a few minutes.  I made some phone calls and determined this was for a followup for her to continue chemo.  We’ve discussed this and it was my understanding that she was done with the injection of poisons into her body.  (But my crazy mind wants to know—is she done with chemo because she’s done with chemo, or is she done with chemo because I’ve expressed the opinion that I suspect she’s done with chemo?)  I called the rehab facility and talked to her nurse, suggesting that she talk to Nancy about whether or not she wants to go back for more chemo.  I mean, why put her through a difficult trek if she doesn’t want it anymore?  And then I hung up, proud of my kindness and hard work on behalf of my friend.

Three hours later, I sit up, like a bolt, on the couch.  If Medicare can give her a 48-hour notice for refusing physical therapy or making no further progress on it, what’s to keep them from throwing her out for refusing treatment?  I freaked out.  Multiple phone calls to multiple friends, including Nancy encouraging her to tell them she’s not sure if she wants chemo or not and maybe they should remake the appointment.

Now, we are a little more than 48 hours out from beginning the push for emergency Medi-Cal, the thing that will keep her safe in the nursing home until it’s over, and another thought occurs to me.  Why does Medicare think everyone has a family at home to take care of them, a family who can put the time and the money into their loved one when so many single, childless boomers are reaching this stage in their lives?  Nancy has no family, and I’m her only friend left in the area—another matter, this one rejection by one of her friends that left me alone and sent me reeling last week.  It’s me and no one else.  I have to get her on Medi-Cal or I’ll either have to live with her or have her live in my house.  I’m already losing it the way it is; how well do you think that is going to work?

Tuesday morning I called the man who’s going to handle the urgent Medi-Cal filing and tell him the predicament I think I’ve gotten her in.  It turns out that physical therapy and treatment options are two different animals in the Medicare zoo, and a refusal to continue chemo should not elicit a Medicare eviction notice.  And, so far, it hasn’t.

This is the hardest situation I can ever remember endeavoring to survive.  My introversion is reacting with massive exhaustion as I spend too many days in a row out amongst people whose souls continue to suck the life out of me, and my anxiety disorder, quite simply, keeps begging me to ditch the bitch and run away.  It’s tempting, believe me, but how could I?  She’s my friend, and none of my struggles can compare on any scale anywhere to the state of her life now.

Soon, I hope, with the Medi-Cal issue settled, I’ll be able to give myself a little self-care—lunch out with a friend or two, a movie, maybe even a pedicure or that way-overdue visit to my own doctor.  Not to mention a few days off after every foray out into the world.  In the meantime, I will rely on friendly phone conversations spiced up with a joke or two and the kindness of not so much strangers as that of those who have traveled this rocky path before me.

Yes, indeed, #cancersucks.