You never know a person’s story until you take the time to ask them. Take me, for example, I have what many would refer to as an invisible illness: the good ol’ anxiety and grief. I also have the more typical stuff like ‘betes (type 2 diabetes) and high blood pressure, but that is not what’s going to kill me. No, it will be the grief that will swallow me whole when I least expect it. That is what makes is so scary… because it will, but only if I let it.
This is my second time meeting [medical student]. I’m in a better space today. It is a good day. The first time I met her, there was a lot going on. When [medical student] knocked on the door and introduced herself last time, I forced myself to talk with her. Kept telling myself that she’s going to be a doctor, she needs to know how to deal with difficult people like me. But I told her, “I’m not usually like this”, as an apology for what she got herself into by walking through that door.
She sat down on the stool with a caring smile. Made some joke about how Dr. W kept raising the chair too high, so her feet didn’t touch the ground. A game they played all morning long on whether she remembered to put the stool back to the proper height before she left. [Medical student] confessed she was sorely losing.
That broke the ice.
She then asked me what brought me in to see them today and I replied the usual plus a little extra this morning. Dr. W liked checking on me every couple of months, see how I’m doing. I usually cancel those appointments, because I’m doing fine, but I kept today. She asked what was going on and I told her I didn’t know her that well, so I’d give her a brief rundown. [Medical student] nodded, said there was no pressure, that she’d listen to whatever I’d feel comfortable sharing.
She reminded me of Dr. W, he is a great listener. Never made me feel like I was burdening him. So, I ended up basically sharing everything anyways. How I have an older husband with a failing heart who is constantly in and out of the hospital and six kids, but one is an angel.
[Medical student] sort of just tilted her head to the side in a silent question, asking what I meant. I couldn’t just explain the short version because I was too talkative for that. Instead, I took it way back to when the anxiety started. Six kids – three biological and three kinships (nieces and nephew). The angel is my eldest daughter who died 5 months ago after a yearlong battle with a mental illness.
I grabbed a tissue from the box on the counter, running it under my eyes. Crying is nothing new, I do it every day, but I try not to in front of the kids. They’ve seen enough without watching me cry. I power on, explaining how my daughter had gone on a date, and never returned the same. We never found out what happened, whether it was drugs or what, that caused her mental breakdown. I don’t know. But that led her down a slippery slope of too freaked out to go anywhere. Anxiety and paranoia over something she could never explain. She couldn’t go to work where she was a PE teacher. Since she didn’t work, then she couldn’t pay her apartment rent, so she moved back home with me. We didn’t have any bedrooms because my nieces and nephew had moved in with us, so she had to sleep on the pull-out couch in the family room. Then my other daughter moved in, which is a whole other story, but she’s doing just fine.
Then one day, my eldest daughter left to go to the food store and just vanished. No phone, no trace, we had no idea where she went. That destroyed me. For a month, I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat. Some people eat when they are nervous, but I didn’t. My husband was in the hospital for heart problems. My one niece’s biological father wanted his custody back, so I had to go to court. It was go, go, go and it almost got me.
[Medical student] squeezed my hand in support. I choked back a sob and said, “hold on, dear, I wasn’t done yet”. Then five months ago, I got a phone call saying they found her in [town] that I’ve never heard of and that she had no reason to ever go to. I forced myself to say the words, “that they found her body”.
Before [medical student] could even say anything, I sat up straight and wiped my eyes some more. I said now that I shared the sadness, I needed to share the joy my daughter brought to me. Talking about her hurts as much as it helps. It helps keep her memory alive. Helps with this grief.
That day, [medical student] didn’t know what she was walking into. But today, I gave her a big smile and was so happy to see her again. I was glad that Dr. W hadn’t run her off yet. Now I could redeem myself from last time. She laughed as we got talking about why I was there today. I winked and said, “don’t worry, today’s an easy visit. I have been playing basketball with my son and nephew and hurt my knee a bit. I’m not as young as I used to be.”
[Medical student] smiled, “What are you talking about? You’re only 29.”
I said, “Dr. W is training you right.”
She checked out my knee, asking me questions to figure out what was wrong and testing my knee moving this way and that. Then afterwards, she asked how I was doing. How the kids were doing. I said, “today is a good day. But tomorrow, who knows.” That unknowing feeling of when it will hit you, that’s grief for you.