How do you stop worrying?

At the moment, I am trying to meet a set of deadlines that will allow me to complete my doctoral defense (hopefully!!) approximately two months from now. I’ve got a lot to think about; aside from finishing my final chapter, I need to prepare the overall document, write a public presentation, and prepare for a closed-door examination. I’m also working on ideas for grants for my next project. This means a lot of worrying about details and plans, and small problems grow into large issues a little too quickly.

I’m having a hard time focusing on my work, however. This is not unusual for doctoral candidates so close to finishing, I’m told, but my struggles with distraction include some family situations that aren’t typical. As you know, since you’re reading this blog! My parents are doing okay, but there are things that could be going better for them. It’s really Lily that is having problems. For one thing, her day program just hadn’t been working out, so she’s staying with my parents during the time that program would have filled. It sounds like the setting up daytime staff for her current program is going to take time. Oh, and patience on the part of my parents, who have to deal with bureaucracy to get her the help she needs, and train new people, watch Lily and keep her entertained, and keep track of their own lives and work. So I’m a bit worried that Lily is bored and driving my parents crazy.

But the thing that really worries me right now is that her neurologist suggested changing one of her prescriptions, which we all had hoped would help get her behavior under control. (She’s been having outbursts of screaming that my mother in particular thinks could be related to seizure activity.) Unfortunately, it didn’t work. On the new drug, she had trouble sleeping, which meant that everyone else in her life was more tired than usual. Mom told me Lily also had trouble with drooling, to the point that she asked to have her shirt changed, up to a couple of times a day. So now they’ve taken her off of the new drug.

In the meantime, her behavioral problems haven’t gone away. She’s still prone to outbursts of the sort she never used to have – screaming, carrying on, being physically violent, throwing things. It’s not clear whether this is related to her seizures or not; Mom and I wonder whether the tantrums reflect seizures in the parts of her brain that control aspects of behavior. Then again, there might be something wrong with her teeth; this would explain why she gets fussier at mealtimes, and could cause more general pains (including headaches). I understand that she’s going to be sedated for dental work next week. (Today she’s going to see the family doctor in advance of that, as well as for general check-up purposes.) It bothers me a lot to think of her getting general anaesthesia, but I know that the doctors can do a lot more to help her when she’s not resisting or scared or in pain.

My third grade teacher cautioned me against being a worrywart. (I must have been, what, eight years old then?) It’s something that I’m really, really good at, though, and every now and then, I give in to worrying, because it’s familiar and I know how to deal with it. With things relating to Lily’s health, happiness, and care, the last ten years have provided a new angle: worrying at a distance. I was thousands of miles away from them for college, and close enough to a thousand miles away from them now for my doctoral work. There are definitely times when I regret those choices, wanting, even if only for a few minutes, to be close enough to my family to be able to step in and fix things. Or, you know, try. Or try to be helpful, or distracting. (When I found out that Lily was in the hospital with a life-threatening infection last year, my instinct was to head to the airport that night, even though: the last flight there had left a long time before, I didn’t really have the money to travel, I had to teach two labs that week, and, um, I was supposed to fly back a few days later for unrelated family stuff.)

The only way I’ve managed not to give in to my general worries about not being physically present and able to help during the past few weeks is by recognizing something important: there’s nothing i can do to help right now. Even if I were there, I can’t change Lily’s medical reality. I can’t provide a day program, or even do much to help my parents (except housework, and I know that’s a huge help). It doesn’t help her to have me worry – it helps her to have me call on the phone and be cheerful, or at least normal.

Another aspect of being a sibling-at-a-distance is not feeling useful even when I’m actually there, but I’ll put that in its own entry. Time to get back to work!

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One Comment on “How do you stop worrying?”

  1. […] All of the wonderful words and affirmations of life without unnecessary worry that I’ve written about here (new window) were completely wiped out. As I’ve learned from my own frequent doctor’s […]


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