Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Facing My Fear

And making it to my son's wedding


It's May, and my youngest son's wedding is just around the corner.  Noisy, crowded social events often precede a severe migraine headache, and I'm afraid of ending up in bed, missing one of the most important days in my son's life.

Andrew and Jenny are getting married in Sayulita, Mexico, a destination wedding with 52 guests.  I'm excited and looking forward to the event, but a part of me is already anxious about coping with the physical demands of travel and the social demands of a high-density 5 day party.

I've been doing better lately, but that can change in a heartbeat.  Given the right - or wrong - set of circumstances, I regain consciousness in the wee hours of the morning with a feeling of dread, an ice-pick pain in my temple and nausea gnawing at my gut.

Two days before the wedding, a harsh 3 am alarm wakes us to catch a 5 am flight, which will set us down in Puerto Vallarta after multiple plane changes.  In L.A. I get a text from my son asking about our arrival time.  We coordinate plans to meet up at the airport and share a van ride to Sayulita.  We're looking forward to seeing him and pleased to get a sliver of family time before everyone else arrives.

Mexican customs features a magical red/green button.  We push the button.  A green light, and the customs agent waves us through and out the other side.  Searching the swarm of noisy travelers and hawkers, we find our driver holding a sign with my name.  Fifteen minutes behind us, Andrew, Jenny and family swim through the throng, greet us with hugs, and we all climb in the van.

Forty minutes later we bump down a narrow dirt road in Sayulita and spill out of the car into moist, salty air at beachfront Las Hamacas, our hotel and the site of the festivities to come.  There are 6 tall houses, 3 bedrooms and therefore multiple families in each house.  While most of the guests are arriving tomorrow, some few are already in residence, lying around the pool or wandering paths bordered by palm and banana trees.  We're gratified to be sharing with Ivan, my son's old high-school friend and his young family, who have already settled into our house.  Still, sharing accommodations with others means less privacy, less personal space and more social requirements starting early in the morning and continuing until bedtime.  My easily over-stimulated nervous system needs time to calm down, and I will be getting less of it.

It's already 6:00 pm, the evening of a very long day.  I'm happy we've arrived in this verdant little ex-pat beach town with no major hitches, but I'm tired and need to eat soon.  As we stroll down the beach to find food, my stomach flip flops between hunger and pain.  The fish tacos taste good, but I still have butterflies in my gut.  As the sun sinks into the water, we wander back toward our room to chill out and read. I am edgy and unable to relax into the rhythm of a warm Mexican night. Not even the geckos skittering across our wall and chirping from a hidden crack amuse me as they usually do.

On our first day (and everyday thereafter) I crawl out of sleep early with a dull headache and creeping anxiety. I use my SpringTMS to treat my headache and go back to sleep for a couple of hours. I get up with a dicey stomach and the fear that I may already have contracted a Mexican intestinal bug.

The wedding is tomorrow, so today is open. We take it easy, hang out around the pool greeting newcomers as they roll in from New York, Calif., Arizona, Florida, Washington State and elsewhere. Several come with kids in tow, and by mid afternoon the pool is full of families.  My older son Ben and grandson Liam show up and move into a downstairs bedroom. We are now 5 adults and 3 kids age 5 and under. Lunchtime is a spontaneous group get-together. We sit on benches, digging our toes into the sand at a shady beach restaurant. Later dinner is with Ben and Liam, who is tired and cranky. Things are just getting underway. The group is high on anticipation and shared experiences, but I'm already feeling crowded and overwhelmed.

The next morning is a headachy, intestinal repeat, and i'm convinced the only recourse is to quit eating for 24 hours. I hang out on the patio with Ivan and family and play with the kids while enjoying the tropical birds and trees hanging over our 3rd floor balcony.

At 10 am, Andrew and Jenny and our two families meet on the beachfront lawn for a wedding rehearsal. I'm calm and engaged in the moment, thinking only of the ceremony and those of us involved. The rehearsal is brief and fun. There's a lot of good feeling flowing around. We will gather at 5 pm for appetizers and drinks. The ceremony is at 6.

When everyone takes off for lunch, I stay behind swilling a coco frio to stay hydrated and give myself a little sugar. I'm torn and sad. The quiet is a relief, but as always, I hate being left out. My head and gut calm down, and time to myself brings the dawning recognition that fear is magnifying my symptoms. While I have had migraines since childhood, anxiety entered the picture in recent years when headaches began to occur almost daily. Now, re-evaluating symptoms gives me some options. I increase the dosage of one of my medications. I begin to use some of the tools I learned practicing meditation. I name the emotion. "This is just a feeling of fear." I breathe deep into my belly, consciously following each breath in and out, reinforcing it with visual imagery.

50 chairs and a simple flowered arch on the sandy beach in front of the hotel set the wedding scene. Jenny, in a beautiful short dress, is barefoot. Andrew, in linen pants and a white guayabera, wears flip-flops. Everyone else is beach casual in everything from shorts to cocktail dresses. The ceremony is conducted by friend Pete with vows composed by the couple. The reception is on the lawn next to the beach, the sound of surf singing in the background. A couple rolls cigars; tacos al pastor are sliced from a flaming spindle of pork topped with pineapple; the churro vendor serves up flutted tubes of pastry squeezed from a tube into a deep-fat fryer. Kids frolic, tightrope their way across a short wall separating the lawn from the beach, box with the wedding beer koozies over their small fists and line up to take their blind-folded turn at pummeling the piƱata.

The next 5 days ease into a slow pace of pool gatherings, communal meals and one of the best parts for me, swimming in the ocean. We take a golf-cart spin into town, eat dinner under a tree filled with iguanas and buy a coco frio to take back to Lucy, the 6 year old next door. We watch my grandson take his first dog paddle into the deep end of the pool, sit on the terrace reading comic books and playing checkers with the kids. A little green lizard zips by on a low garden wall. While early-morning, low-grade headaches, anxiety and tummy troubles still plague me, I'm no longer running so scared. I've reached a detente with my body and emotions that carries me through this important family event. I've learned a lesson in facing my fear, respecting it and moving on.