The anxiety felt like an unrelenting electric current coursing through the air, through my lungs, all the way into my fingertips. My mouth tasted like metal; sometimes I spat to try to get rid of it. My lips were numb most of the time and there was no sleep. Ollie looked more and more manic every time I saw him on Skype, bobbing back and forth, looking over his shoulder, with a wild look in his eyes. He couldn’t tell me much, but he didn’t have to. I could see it. I could feel it.
The kids and I took a week long road trip over Spring Break to see their grandparents, friends and other family members. We had a lovely time in the Blue Ridge mountains: hiking, horse back riding, picking flowers. My brother stayed with us in a cabin on a small lake. I spent a lot of time on the porch, watching the road for official cars. Every time an unexpected visitor stopped by, my heart dropped to the floor.
I received two phone calls from Rear D while we were there. One of them was about an incident when LT Robert Welch was killed. Another was about more injuries within the company. Andrea handled the calldowns while I was on vacation.
I paced the porch and watched water pour over the dam.
A hike cleared the air for a little while.
I felt a bit better.
Then Clown happened while we were at lunch.
Aside from my personal anxiety hell, we had a great time with friends and family.
My friend Jamie, a former Army wife and FRG leader, stayed at our house while we were gone. It was great to come home to a lively household with her daughters running around. We spent the rest of Spring Break taking the kids to waterfalls and the zoo.
I was convinced that I was managing things pretty well. Ollie would be home in three weeks. The deployment was almost over. No more infantry deployments, no more worrying about him, no more of this crazy-making. Three weeks? No problem.
Jamie’s ex-husband was part of the rear detachment. One day he texted her to find out where she was so that he could pick up their daughters. It was completely innocuous and had nothing to do with me.
I sat on the front porch waiting for the official car in tears. I knew, I just knew, that this was it. He wasn’t texting about the girls, he was texting to make sure I was home so they could find me. Jamie eventually figured out what was happening.
“Megan?” she said, gently. “I think you need to get some help. You should probably go to the doctor and get some Xanax or something.”
For years I successfully avoided anti-depressant and anti-anxiety meds. Through therapy, yoga, self-care, meditation–I managed. I was three weeks from being scott free. I didn’t want to do it, but I could see the concern all over her face. She would be leaving the next day and didn’t want to leave me like this. I reluctantly made two appointments. I would meet with my doctor on my birthday and my therapist the day after.
At my doctor’s office, my carefully constructed emotional barrier evaporated. Through tears, I explained that I just needed help for two and a half weeks. “As soon as his boots leave the ground in Afghanistan, I will be okay.” I explained about all the casualties and the change I could see in his face–he was scared. She made sure I was seeing a mental health person and wrote the script.
Just holding the written prescription made me feel better. I got mad for a little bit and decided that I didn’t need to fill it. It was two and a half weeks–two weeks if you squinted and did some funny math–and I wasn’t going to go down like this. I was stronger than this. I don’t cry in front of people. What the hell?
I called Heather and told her about the prescription. She cackled as she said, “You gave yourself Xanax for your 32nd birthday!” We laughed and laughed. Feeling better, I took myself clothes shopping. I got some smokin’ hot heels and a few new outfits. Wearing my power shoes out of the store, I defiantly told my anxiety to go fuck itself. “I have no time for you,” I told it.
Ollie didn’t call that day. Or that evening. Or even late that night.
Although I knew this meant he was out on a mission, I held the anxiety at bay. At this point, I told myself, it would be a day by day wrestling match with worry. My energy felt renewed for this battle. I could complete this marathon without the meds and without being a nervous wreck.
I fell asleep, as always, with my phone in my hand.
On the morning of April 13, 2011, I woke up with an unusual sense of calm. There was no word from Ollie. I mowed the lawn the way he liked it–at a diagonal 90 degrees from the last time I mowed it (“The yard looks bigger if you do diagonals instead of horizontals!”). Afterwards, I dressed in my new sexy clothes and power shoes.
I sat across from Sarah, my therapist, and told her about the prescription and how I hadn’t filled it yet. “I don’t think I need it now,” I said. “The air has shifted. I have a very deep sense of peace about whatever has happened.”
“You think something has happened to him?” she asked.
“Yeah, I really do. And it’s not like the other times when I was terrified and anxious. This time I feel like I can handle it. Whatever it is.”
We talked for a while and she encouraged me to fill the prescription in case I had another anxiety attack. “It won’t hurt to have it on hand,” she said. “You don’t have to take it if you don’t need it.”
I agreed, but decided to put it off for the next day. I went home and did laundry, cleaned my desk, and got my affairs in order. There was no more pacing, no more electric current, no more waiting at the front door. The kids were just finishing dinner when my phone rang. I could see it was the Rear D commander.
“Birch, I’m going to take this call in my bedroom,” I told her as I left the room. “You guys can watch a little TV.”
I answered the phone as I walked back the hallway, “Brian! It’s never good to hear from you at this time of night!” I spoke lightly, knowing full well that I would hate anything that came out of his mouth next. This time he didn’t give me an obligatory chuckle or make small talk.
“Megan,” he said in the most controlled voice I’ve ever heard. “When is the last time you heard from your husband?”