My husband left for work about an hour ago, and I feel panic rising in my chest.
I didn’t think the anxiety would come at first, but that was silly of me. It always came along with shallow breathing and tingling in my arms and legs. My hands would shake, yet my muscles would feel tight and painful. My thoughts race on top of each other, each one scarier than the last. I’m powerless to stop them even though I have tools to cope with my anxiety.
I’m supposed to remain still and let each thought pass without reacting. I try to ground myself using my five senses, something tangible I can see, hear, touch, and taste. I try to pretend it’s no big deal, just some anxiety that will fade like it always does, but I can’t trick myself that way. Anxiety feels like a nightmare and all sensible things I could do fly out the window in the depths of my terror.
I sit on the couch and draw up my legs and hug them, still trying to stop shaking. I feel like a crazy person. My husband will be back home later in the day. Knowing this should comfort me, but all I can think about are the “what ifs.” What if there’s an accident? What if he meets somebody else? It just doesn’t stop, and before I know it I’ve imagined myself homeless and shivering out in the cold. It makes absolutely no sense, but my mind is the scariest place to be when this happens.
All my husband did was go to work like he does every day, and I’m having a full-blown panic attack. I want to call him on his mobile, but I know it would be silly. What kind of person can’t handle being alone? I just don’t get it.
But in a way… I do get it.
The Roots Of Abandonment
I wasn’t old enough to remember the first time somebody abandoned me, but it was a story my mother loved to tell. It made her happy to make my father look bad simply because he was the one I adored. She said that when I was two years old, my father walked out on us. We had to live at the YMCA after my mother couldn’t pay rent on our apartment. She called it the worst time of our lives, especially the night we came back to the YMCA past curfew. The doors were locked, and we ended up sleeping in my mother’s car.
When I got older, I was brave enough to ask my dad about it. He said he wasn’t sure why he left. He said he freaked out and took off without really thinking about it. He rented a motel room in Reno, Nevada, and cried every day we were apart. He came to his senses about a month and a half later and went back to me and my mother. Clearly, she still held a grudge.
My mother stopped telling me that story after she abandoned me herself. I was twelve years old, and the two of us were living in Upstate New York. She announced that she was moving to Florida to live with her brother to get her life straightened out. I hoped it meant she’d stop getting drunk every day and start taking her psychiatric medication again.
She dropped me off with my grandmother and promised to send for me once she was stable. Nobody asked how I felt about that. By that point, I didn’t want to live with her no matter how stable she got. There were times she’d driven drunk with me in the car. She either yelled at me or kept me home from school so I could watch her sobbing over her married ex-boyfriend. I’d lost all respect for her by that time and didn’t want to live with her again, much less have her parent me.
She sent for me six months later. While we were reunited in Florida, not much had changed. Our time apart only strengthened the bad feelings I had for her. In my eyes, she’d had her chance to be my mother and squandered it away.
I also experienced abandonment when I was 35. My then-husband sat me down one night and told me he was leaving me. This man was my whole world and took care of every single thing in my life. He left me not knowing how to do my own taxes, change a tire, or take care of two little boys alone. I suppose I could have learned those things while we were married, but I never thought I had to worry about them because my husband was always there doing it for me. I was twenty years old when we got married, and when he left me I felt like I hadn’t matured at all. It was like starting my whole life over from scratch.
Being Abandoned Still Affects Me Today
I guess you could say I come by my abandonment issues honestly. Sure, these events happened a long time ago, but my old fears pop up even now. I know it’s hard on my husband because even when he says he’d never leave me, I don’t quite believe him.
Gig nights are the hardest. My husband plays guitar in a local band and is usually out at least three nights a week. By the time he gets home around midnight, I’m usually asleep after a night of worrying about him. My racing thoughts betray me as I imagine every bad scenario that could happen. The terror of dying alone crosses my mind more than I’d like to admit.
Of course, my husband does come home after every gig, doesn’t cheat, and still seems happy to be married to me. The fears of abandonment are only in my head, and I let them grow so huge I can’t control them. I’m afraid that needing him so much will push him away, so I pretend like it doesn’t matter when he goes out at night. I’m not always successful though.
When I got a divorce from my ex-husband years ago, I remember talking to my best friend, Susan, over the phone. She has been my wisest confidant my whole life. Through tears, I asked her what would happen to me now that I didn’t have a husband anymore.
“If I don’t have a husband, what do I have?”
Susan gave me the wisest of answers. “You have yourself.”
Before she told me that, it never occurred to me that maybe I was enough. It was as if I only existed if I was one half of somebody else like I couldn’t be whole on my own. Loneliness has that kind of power. It makes you do and say things you normally wouldn’t.
My husband knows I test him sometimes. Sometimes on gig nights, I become aloof as if I don’t care if he is leaving for the night. My husband sees through the test every time, loves me, and makes me feel better. It makes me sad that I need constant reassurance. I want my husband to feel free to do the things he needs to do without worrying about me getting upset over it.
For today, though, I’ll wait for my panic attack to go away and instead be grateful for everything I have. It’s better to see how blessed I am than to borrow trouble. I’m learning to appreciate what I have in my life.
Because I have myself, and she’s not so bad after all.