Fear, Anxiety & The Primal Wound

By Patricia Ann Knight Meyer | Adoption

Apr 12

I wake up this morning and I feel it again, the wave of sickness lapping my gut, a slow tide rising in the depth of my belly, a heat warming my throat, stealing my breath, burning my chest a bright red. This is no serene sunrise, I crave peace and tranquility, but no, my heart beats hard like it thinks I am asleep trying to wake me up. “Do something about this,” it shouts. My eyes open and I recall what day it is.

Today is the day, like the many before, which my husband, a first degree blackbelt, will test for his next rank in Taekwondo (TKD). This used to be a special night where we would all head down to the school to watch him punch and kick his way to the next rank. “Bravo! Good job!” But now, at least for me, it is my worst nightmare.

… the severing of that connection between the child and biological mother causes a primal or narcissistic wound which often manifests in a sense of loss (depression), basic mistrust (anxiety), emotional and/or behavioral problems and difficulties in relationships with significant others….

jimtkdYou see a year ago my husband was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardio myopathy, a genetic heart condition that affects heart rhythm. After suffering loss of breath during his TKD practice, he went to the heart doc who then told him to wear a monitor. The monitor clocked his heart while sparring at 280 beats a minute, quivering was all it was doing. The next day the phone rang,”Mr. McDonald, how soon can you get to the doctor’s office?”

Within a week they had placed an implantable cardiac defibrillator (ICD) in his chest. They told him things would change, he would not be working on cars, or mowing the yard, or using cordless tools – all those things could mimic a heart rhythm and confuse the device into pushing 700 volts through his chest — stopping his heart, so it could start itself again and hopefully pick up a proper rhythm.

They told him he probably ought to consider a different sport, as contact sports were not advisable. Sports like football, basketball, TKD had an increased risk of impact, the device could be hit and dislodged causing his arteries to tear and bleed, or the wires could move from his heart muscle and puncture the sac of fluid around the heart. Also any hard impact could just stop his heart period.

But he did not stop doing TKD. And less than a year with the device, during a TKD tournament I watched my husband’s body take the jolt and fall to the floor during his Free Form routine. I was sitting in front of him minutes later as it shocked him again. I was standing alone in the street as the ambulance took him away. I will be at the hospital again in a few months as they perform a cardiac ablation to try to control the bad heart rhythms that medicines won’t fix.

… although we may call the fear of being abandoned by the adoptive parents a fantasy, there is precedent for that fear in the original separation experience, which may be felt only unconsciously. What the adoptee is fearing isn’t a fantasy, it is a memory trace which at any time can be repeated … Is it any wonder that adoptees go through life feeling as if at any time the other shoe could drop? To what extent does this fear of abandonment affect their development?

And this is why I am now sitting on the couch crying. I don’t understand why he is beside me telling me he will be OK, when he really has no idea if he will or won’t . I can handle him taking classes. I have come to the point that I can drink a glass of wine and watch TV and sit by my phone and get through it twice a week. But the testing scares me, terrifies me, sends me into a panic attack every time. It’s hell.

Heart disease and I are no strangers. My grandmother had heart disease and numerous heart attacks during my young life. My Daddy dropped dead at 58 with congestive heart failure. My mother too suffered with her heart, and we endured several heart attacks. Even my Uncle, the man who was supposed to walk me down the aisle died after bi-pass surgery two weeks before my wedding. Now my husband has this heart problem, and as if all that was not enough – I learn my birth father has a stint and a failing heart valve, and the worries continue.

Because of their experience with abandonment, is it possible that this threat is one which hangs over the heads of all adoptees like the sword of Damocles all their lives, but about which they might not be consciously aware?

But truly my prior experience with heart disease is only a part of this terror – all those deaths and heart attacks and threats of death only serve to fire up the adoption-based fears of loss and abandonment that have burned like somber coals in my chest my whole life.

All of this anxiety, my tears on my husband’s shirt as he holds me and makes himself late for work, is significantly magnified by the fact that I was adopted, that at the very beginning of life I experienced primal loss, rejection and abandonment.

…it is this threat which causes the generalized anxiety so often found in adoptees. Anxiety is different from fear …Children who have been abandoned have an early awareness that they need to be cautious, alert and watchful–a response which is called hyper-vigilance. This gives them the means by which to try to avoid another abandonment…

This is why my reaction is so raw, so hard, so gut wrenching. Since I have started studying adoption I have learned so much about myself. Why I react to things the way I do? Why no matter how much I don’t want to be I am a worrier, I am. Why the worst case always seems to sit at the front of my mind in any situation. Why I fear for the security of my family on a daily basis. Why I am hyper-vigilant and waiting for the worst to happen.

Think about it – on day one in my life the worst happened. I was rejected by the one person who is supposed to be there no matter what. It did not matter to the infant that I was that she was forced, it did not matter that I would get wonderful adoptive parents. For two weeks alone in the hospital I experienced significant pain and loss and fear as I searched for her, cried out for her and found her not there. And even then, after my adoptive mother took me into her arms and rocked and soothed me, adoption studies say I knew she was not her – and this meant attachment and trust and bonding would be made that much harder.

Additionally doctors say this early experience imprints into the developing psyche altering the physical wiring of the developing brain, meaning these babies become basically wired for stress and anxiety.

This was my Day 1 – “What else can life take away from me?” is always at the back of my mind – remains with me and it never goes away.

My husband says he needs TKD in his life to be happy. I suppose many wives, like those of servicemen, race car drivers, stunt men, or snake handlers, support their husband’s risky decisions, out of nothing but love and wanting their spouse to be happy and fulfilled. Still I am still struggling with understanding how my husband weighs such risk and deems it worth it.

I will get through his testing although I can’t watch it. The last time I watched him test my heart rate rose to 150 and I thought I would pass out. Tonight I will go have diner and margaritas with a new friend. The margaritas should help, but my phone will be on high, the ringer will be on, and my heart will be racing until I see him again.

PS. I invite you to read Core of Love – the story I wrote of my husband’s collapse on the eve of our first wedding anniversary. We did not know about his condition at the time of the event. Now that I know the truth the story is that much more visceral.

Reader’s Note: As borrowed from, http://www.terrylarimore.com, excerpts from Nancy Verrier’s Primal Wound appear in italics throughout this blog post.

About the Author

~ “Who in the world am I? Ah, that's the great puzzle.” ― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland I am this: Reunited Adoptee/Daughter, Inspired Writer/Author, Wanna Be Yogi/Techie, Advocating Adoption Reform/Komen 3-Day 60 Mile Walker, Hungry Organic/Optimist, Lover of Coffee/Wine/Cheese, that’s me.

(3) comments

Add Your Reply