Anxiety — Why Does it Hit at 1 am?
My dad has always been an anxious person. Childhood trauma mixed with his service as a tail gunner in WWII set him up for a lifetime of undiagnosed and untreated apprehension.
You can’t see the anxiety, but it’s there. Constant movement, rearranging furniture, always needing to fix something, shift something, do something. It’s like he has a giant endless checklist in his head and he checks-off those boxes and then creates more.
When he was in his 50’s he discovered marathons — and marathon training, that kept him moving on the weekends. During the week, he’d walk home from work every night, regardless of the weather, about a 3 mile hike.
When he could no longer run, he took to rearranging his office space in the basement, moving two desks and four jam-packed filing cabinets from one wall to the other, proclaiming each time, “I’ve finally figured out my perfect set-up.” A month or so later the basement would be in disarray again, dad still looking for that perfect set-up.
After my mom passed, he decided to tackle the first floor, dragging furniture back and forth across our narrow living room.
Today, living in an assisted living facility he’s agitated and restless. He has moments of light-heartedness, but his anxiety has started to creep in and it caught him and me at 1 am this morning with a desperate phone call saying he was having trouble breathing — yet he was able to dial my mobile and have a full 10 minute conversation with me — all while saying it was hard to breathe.
As he’s gotten older and outlived his wife, one of his younger sisters and so many friends and family, he’s started to question why he’s still here, while waiting for some fatal disease to creep up. Before the pandemic he had several trips to the ER. They could never find anything medically wrong with him.
“Maybe it’s just anxiety,” more than one medical professional has said to us in reading his long and winding hospital chart.
The American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry classifies Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) as afflicting those who suffer constant worries, with nothing or little to cause to these worries. Those with GAD are overly concerned about health issues, money, family problems, or possible disaster. Older adults with GAD have difficulty relaxing, sleeping and concentrating, and startle easily.
Check. Check. And check.
We’ve talked with dad many times about taking something for his anxiety but he’s always pushed it away.
When I talked with him just now he was sitting in his chair contemplating how he could rearrange his room. “I think my chair would be better by the window,” he said.