Anxiety. I have anxiety.
WHEW. I said it. I already feel better.
Oh wait — I don’t feel better? It isn’t something we’re supposed to talk about? It’s something I’m supposed to deal with on my own or with my doctor, but not in a public setting. Oh wait, not my doctor, I shouldn’t get medicated for it. I should see a therapist… But wait… if I see a therapist, is there something wrong with me? But my life is so perfect? What on earth could I be anxious about?
In the last year, my family has been incredibly lucky in many ways (my oldest is getting good grades, my husband and I both received promotions, and my middle child stopped being THE WORST all the time), but there have been plenty of shit moments too. The shittiest of shit moments is when we found out that my mom isn’t getting better. This has been the hardest year of my entire life.
My anxiety has gone THROUGH THE ROOF in the last few months. And, ladies, I have to talk about it. Why? Because I can’t get better on my own! How many times have you shared something that’s happening to you/around you/because of you with someone who can relate? Sharing our problems doesn’t weaken us; it makes us stronger. Asking for help doesn’t make us incapable; it makes us human.
In Daring Greatly, Brené Brown says: “Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”
I am not perfect… oh no. I bite my nails, I raise my voice at my kids, I even (GASP!) drink too much wine! However, I know that through it all, I am a good mom. My anxiety has made me a better mom. Some people might read that statement and think I’m bonkers.
Let me say it again: my anxiety has made me a better mom.
My oldest, Alexis, has started showing signs of anxiety: she gets physically ill after finding out she failed a test, she threw up when her dad and I were too hard on her, and she will completely shut down if she feels attacked. My anxiety makes it easier for me to identify and help her through her episodes. I will rub her back for two hours after others would give up, I will sit next to her without touching her just to be there. I don’t get it right every single time but I am patient enough to figure it out because I go through it as well.
My middle, Fiona, has started getting so worked up when she doesn’t feel listened to that she literally can’t stop taking loud, shallow breaths. She doesn’t feel better until we make full eye contact and breathe deeply five times together. I hope that my 4-year-old doesn’t have or develop anxiety, but I am here for her if she does.
Every time I have an anxiety episode or a panic attack, I have learned to let the people surrounding me know. It allows me to excuse myself and retreat into silence where I can focus on my breathing and not worry about what people think.
Since I started sharing with family, friends and coworkers about my anxiety, I have never felt more supported. I truly feel liberated after opening up and becoming vulnerable about anxiety … so much better than when I used to say “excuse me” and run into the bathroom to cry.
I wish every work environment was as mindful of mental health as the one I’ve worked in for six years. I know that others aren’t as tolerant because I recently spoke with someone about anxiety who said, “You just have to train your mind to work through it.” When I mentioned the chemical imbalances in your brain that create anxiety, this person said, “Well… I worked through mine without medication so I know others can too.”
Instead of telling others what to do, I think our job as humans, as women and as moms is to say, “What can I do? How can I help?” Or better yet, “Let me take this off your plate. Let me pick up your kids from school today.”
Sheryl Sandberg has shared that after her husband died, the best thing a friend did was to not ask what she can do to help — that places the burden on the person grieving or hurting. Instead, tell the friend what you’re going to do for them. “I’m coming over with coffee in hand…. What kind of cream cheese do you want on your bagel?”
During a panic attack, I can choose jalapeno cream cheese. I can’t, however, come up with a list of things that you can do to help me. I would never suggest that a friend asking what they can do to help isn’t incredibly kind, but my point is that there’s a better way of offering help.
Since I spoke up about my anxiety, I’ve felt an overwhelming sense of support. People are stepping up to help me when I’m weak and cutting me slack when I say “no” to events that I would’ve previously said yes to.
Struggling with mental health isn’t a weakness; being strong and talking about it is the best way I’ve found to deal with it. I just hope that anyone who suffers from anxiety has the support they need. If you suffer from anxiety and don’t feel supported, please talk to someone about it — even me! Sharing my experiences with anxiety has become one of the best decisions I’ve made, I hope you’ll do the same if that’s what is best for you.
Thank you to all of my friends and family for the support you’ve given me. I love you all.