What It's Like To Have Debilitating Anxiety
From the corner of my master bedroom, I sink into the oversized arm chair that overlooks the backyard, setting down my coffee mug and taking a few moments to just soak up the sunlight radiating through a nearby window. This “me time” thing is new to me, but I’ve firmly committed to taking 30-60 minutes a day just for myself, simply to exist and get out of my own head.
Regardless of how many deadlines I have to meet or who is sick that day, I’ve decided to take a “no excuses” approach to keeping these daily meetings with myself. Sometimes I meditate, other times I just read a book.
Reflecting back on my words, you might be inclined to say that I’m in tune with self-care and am rocking the balance of motherhood. I often project this message to the outside world, but if we’re being honest – sometimes it feels as though my world is completely crumbling around me and that I’ve become unraveled. Thanks to my anxiety, I sometimes wonder if there’s a point of return.
I was always an anxious child who grew into an anxious adult. As I’ve learned from my personal development books, anxiety can be defined as the deep need to control your surroundings, the trajectory of your day, and your future. It’s no wonder simple things like a sick kid or a broken air conditioner can send me into a complete state of panic. It’s not the logistics of the issue that I fear, such as a doctor trip or paying a repairman – it is, in fact, the deep loss of control that I sense when there’s a situation in my environment that is seemingly out of my hands.
The ironic part of this, of course, is that I am a mom of three children. We all know how unpredictable children can be, but that lack of control over little things might be part of the reason why my anxiety has spiked since becoming a mom. I used to be ashamed of my anxiety as I went through the motions of motherhood behind a mask of balance and calm. I didn’t even tell my own husband just how bad it had gotten until this past winter, when it peaked to an uncontrollable level.
The word “anxiety” gets tossed around loosely in our culture, but if you know what it means to suffer from true clinical anxiety, you know just how debilitating it really is. It’s so much more than being nervous or worried – it’s a continuous message of dread looping through your brain, and the inability to climb out of bed and face the day because your fears are so great that sometimes, you feel like they might swallow you whole.
This past winter, we were going through a really rough patch with our 4-year-old son. He was scheduled for surgery and had some behavioral issues that we hadn’t yet come up with a game plan for managing. It was then, burdened by the intense stress and multi-tasking, that the intrusive thoughts crept in. Feelings of shame, doubt, and worthlessness became almost suffocating.
You’re not enough.
This message I told myself trickled to every corner of my life, and I began to doubt my worth as a parent, a spouse, a friend, and a professional. It got to a point where I didn’t know who to turn to for help. I very carefully opened up to a few of my close friends who I felt safe with, and simultaneously made appointments with my family doctor and a mental health professional. I began to read personal development books to figure out the root of my anxiety and if there was something I could be doing on my end to stop it.
From an outsider’s perspective, nobody knew how badly I was suffering. They only saw the pieces of my success in my business, the cute photos of my kids, or the Instagram post of the drink I had with my girlfriends last week. There was no knowledge of the deep pain and self-doubt, the intrusive thoughts, and the feeling of wanting to crawl out of my own skin just so it would stop.
Today, the path to keeping my anxiety under control is still a learning process. I’m working hard to find the right combination of mental and physical changes that have helped me keep the darkness at bay, but if we’re being honest? Sometimes it’s really hard. For those of you who are suffering: first, I’m so sorry that you have to walk this path. Here’s something I want you to know, though – you deserve help.
When we ride in an airplane, we’re reminded to secure our own oxygen masks before attending to those of our children. This is simply because if we are unable to function, ourselves, we will not be able to help those around us. Mental health is no exception to this. If you had a broken leg, you’d see a doctor, get a cast, and heal. If you cut on your arm, you’d wash the wound, apply antiseptic, and put on a band-aid. Your mental health is not an afterthought – your brain is the driving force of your body, so put on your oxygen mask, mama.
I wish that everyone in the world had access to quality mental health services.
I also wish that mental illness didn’t have such a stigma surrounding it.
I wish I could literally hold the hand of every person in the world who is suffering and tell them that I’m here for them and that I understand their pain. I hope that by sharing my own story, I can give someone else the courage to seek help because they’ll know they aren’t alone.
We are all worthy. And we are all enough.
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