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Running Through the Anxiety as a Special Needs Mom

As a teenager, I had ongoing issues with anxiety, depression, and suicide attempts. According to a medical doctor, I internalized my feelings. This was the explanation for my chest pains. And like those closest to me, I wasn’t adept in dealing with my feelings. Fast forward through an emotionally and physically abusive relationship, nearly dropping out of school, and my roaring early-20s, I decided I didn’t want to feel weak anymore; in mind, body, or spirit. So, I began to rebuild my life. I began to run. Running was my channel for anxiety and it pulled me out of a realm of hopelessness. Running helped me set goals, become disciplined, and focus on what’s ahead. I’d itch at every chance to run. No matter if it was heat, wind, or freezing rain, I had to get miles in. Every run was not only a physical challenge but a mental one too. When I wasn’t running with my team, Happy Feet, I ran alone. Alone on a trail with my thoughts, and memories of people trying to break me down with verbal and physical abuse, I overcame deep-rooted anguish. At 28, I pursued my master’s degree, worked in higher education, and trained for a half-marathon. Then I met someone. As my life fell into place, I felt like I was on top of the world. After a few months of dating, I found out I pregnant. Instinct told me it would be a difficult pregnancy. And sure enough, I was right. With complications during the first few weeks, I grew worrisome and opted for genetic testing. At 12 weeks, the results of the test indicated there was a mass near the umbilical cord. When I was 16 weeks pregnant, my partner and I met with specialists. We learned our baby boy would be born with a relatively rare congenital birth defect called Gastroschisis. This causes an opening in the baby’s abdominal wall which results in internal organs, such as the bowel, to be pushed outside of the body during utero. My heart sank as anxiety took over. I stopped running out of fear my high-risk pregnancy would abruptly end. I researched in medical journals about the diagnosis. Meanwhile, my depression grew. During my pregnancy, I had to undergo several tests and ultrasounds to ensure our baby was growing. Eventually, our son stopped growing in his eighth month. The specialists learned that our son’s bowel was in worse condition than expected weeks prior. We expected an earlier delivery. The next week, our son was born early; ready for the fight of his life. Only a few hours old, he had his first intestinal surgery. The next day, he had his second surgery for the first central line in his chest. The next three months in the NICU were traumatic, more surgeries on his intestines and emergencies to witness. Daily, I tried to keep it together, hold back tears, take care of myself, but I was barely present mentally while at the hospital daily. After another surgery on his intestine and two more months hospitalized, our son came home with a rare disease called Short Gut Syndrome, and special care needs. Quickly, I learned how to be a nurse to care for our son. Still not caring for myself. I lost a lot of weight due to stress and not eating well. I still wasn’t able to run because of lower back pain from a herniated disc, advanced disc degeneration, and arthritis. I also had a bulged disc and advanced disc degeneration in my neck. The first two years our son was so sick so often he became a frequent flyer at the children’s hospital. With every bout of sickness, infection, surgery, hospital stay, or emergency treatment, I was there along with anxiety attacks. There’s a certain inadequacy that some caregivers experience when their children become ill. I beat myself up and blame myself. I felt lost. Until one day, I laced up my shoes and ran again. Two years after having my son and being part of his special world, I trained for a 5k. My son is four now; still with special needs. He’s stronger and he helps push me through training and races. This year, I stopped taking medications for anxiety, pain, and other health issues. I’m stronger. My story isn’t over yet because his is just beginning.


By Brianne Coffey

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