I have struggled with clinical anxiety since college, and am no stranger to its debilitating, nightmarish affects. Even now, remembering how those attacks would sneak up on me, killing my joy at a fun party, or squashing my confidence while attempting to take a test — ugh. It makes my stomach turn. To make matters worse, I was young and stubborn back then, so I did not seek the treatment I needed.
It wasn’t hurting anyone but me, I thought. I would figure it out eventually.
I was wrong on both accounts.
When I became a mother, the outward impact of my mental illness became more apparent. I had been home with my newborn for three whole days, when anxiety struck again. One moment, I was rocking my son, taking in the sweet scent of his soft little head, and the next, it felt like a million bees were screaming in my brain. My hands went cold and my heart started racing, and there was nobody — nobody — in the house who could help.
When my husband came home, he found me crying into a pillow on our bed. Our infant son was hungry, and red in the face from wailing. But I was paralyzed. My brain was going a million miles an hour, but my body couldn’t respond. That was the day I finally sought help for my anxiety and depression.
I can say with confidence that learning to cope with my anxiety has changed my life for the better. Seeking treatment made me a better parent and a happier person. My only regret is how long I waited to get that help. I still have those panic attacks, occasionally, and they are just as awful and scary as they were ten years ago. But now when those moments strike, I am more prepared. You see, I’ve garnered some hard-earned wisdom on this journey to mental wellness, and today I want to share some of that with you.
Remember, mental health recovery is a journey–not a destination.
Recovery is not just about limiting the symptoms of your anxiety, it’s about living your most satisfying life. The journey to whole health and happiness is not a straight or easy road, and believe me: you will have ups and downs. There are triumphs and setbacks on the journey to mental wellness, and you need to have grace enough for yourself when you fail. It will happen. You will lose your cool and scream at your teenager. That doesn’t negate your progress. You will stand outside the door of your screaming infant and, in your anxiety, resent that tiny baby. That doesn’t make you a terrible person. You are simply on a healing journey with hundreds of stops, turns, and detours. But one day you’ll look back and see how much progress was made. And believe me, you will be proud.
It’s important to cultivate acceptance for your mental illness.
Excuse me for a moment while I reveal my inner nerd. A wise man once said, “Understanding is the first step to acceptance, and only with acceptance can there be recovery.” That wise man was Dumbledore, the headmaster wizard from Harry Potter. And he was right. It can be hard to accept that you are wrestling with clinical anxiety, because of the lingering stigma associated with mental illness. Well, screw stigma and the people who perpetuate it. Anxiety is a very valid medical condition that merits clinical intervention. You wouldn’t stand by as a friend suffered without medical treatment. Love yourself as much as you love that friend.
Learn to practice self-care with zero shame.
It’s important for yourself and your entire family that you take moments of self-care. I know that moms struggle with this, because they feel like disappearing to the gym for an hour or taking a “parent time out” is inconvenient or selfish. The fact is, they are neither. Start with your basic health. Diet, exercise, and sleep all contribute to the holistic well-being of a person. You can’t recover from a clinical condition and treat your body like crap. So, make changes wherever you can. Ask for support from your loved ones to make your self-care efforts possible. Oh, and this is important: Don’t feel guilty for treating yourself like a human being.
Nobody can work nonstop, sleep a few hours here and there, and expect to remain a healthy, thriving person. Self-care is essential, and making space for it in your life isn’t selfish. Because when you take the necessary steps to better manage your anxiety, not only will you feel healthier and happier — but your entire family will feel benefit, as well.
You deserve to be happy. Your family will benefit from that happiness. Take that first step toward mental wellness, and seek the help you deserve.
It will be worth the journey, I promise.