My Story of Anxiety and Grief

anxiety and grief claire bidwell smith
Today I want to share my own experience that you may be able to relate with. This is an excerpt from the introduction of my upcoming book, 
Anxiety: The Missing Stage of Grief, which will be released next week.

I wrote this book to help as many people as possible to understand what anxiety is, how it’s related to grief and the process of digging deeper to move through the feelings that are causing the anxiety.

To get a better understanding of the whole picture, how anxiety and grief work together, I’d like to share with some of my own experience with anxiety and grief:

I was fourteen when both of my parents got cancer at the same time. I was an only child, and the prospect of losing my family was something that loomed over me throughout adolescence. While my father’s prostate cancer was treated easily and he quickly went into remission, my mother’s late-stage colon cancer took us on a rollercoaster of hospitals and doctors and seemingly endless treatments.

My parents were wonderful people. They’d met and married late in life, both of them each other’s third marriages. My father was an engineer and a WWII POW. My mother was a glamorous artist living in Manhattan. She was forty and he was fifty-seven when I was born, and even though my father had three grown children from his first marriage, my mother had always wanted one of her own. I was born in 1978 in Atlanta, Georgia and for a long time our lives were good.

But by the time I headed off to college my father was in his seventies and my mother’s cancer had begun to win the five-year battle she’d been fighting. She died midway through my freshman year at a small liberal arts school in Vermont. I didn’t make it in time to be by her side during her final moments.

My mother’s death rocked me. I was absolutely floored by it. Nothing could have prepared me for it. Not the five years we’d spent helping her combat her illness, not the talks my father had with me about her potential demise, not the school guidance counselor’s sessions. The truth was I never believed she would actually die. Because: Mothers don’t die. Bad things don’t actually happen.

I now understand that these beliefs were at the root of my anxiety. When my mother’s death disproved the two things I’d so fervently held onto, the whole floor dropped out. If my mother could die, anything, absolutely anything could happen.

I took a hiatus from school and moved back home to Georgia to help my father pack up the house. I got a job as a waitress and I struggled to relate to my old friends from high school who came around to check on me. No one I knew had experienced so significant a loss. Everyone was sympathetic but nonetheless, I felt very alone in my grief.

The anxiety attacks continued to surface. I lived in fear of having them, and I navigated a constant undercurrent of panic. I worried that my father was going to die at any moment. I worried that I would die. And less concrete than those fears, I simply felt a yawing dizziness at the idea that life was completely out of my control.

I turned to alcohol to quell the anxiety, and I attached myself to a young man who had recently lost a family member and who was deep in the throes of his own grief. Together we made our way to New York City, and it was there, in a college psychology class, where I realized for the first time, that what had happened all those years ago on the road trip with my high school boyfriend: I’d had a panic attack.

Understanding this was the first step in my healing process. Recognizing that I had anxiety as a result of my mother’s death actually helped me to better face the loss and enter into my grief. Losing someone we love is so deeply painful that we often turn away from the feelings, rather than letting them course through us. But when we choose to push away difficult emotions they don’t just disappear, they simply fester beneath the surface causing anger, frustration, and anxiety.

Find out more and pre-order Anxiety: The Missing Stage of Grief today!

Love,

Claire