I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder in the Spring of 2010. My anxiety had finally come to a head and I needed help. At this time, I lived in the mountains and had to drive nearly an hour to my doctor’s office. Even driving to the doctor the day of my appointment, I wasn’t sure I’d mention how awful I was feeling. I didn’t want to talk about the breakdowns crying on my kitchen floor. It was embarrassing and, at times, my own anxiety frightened me. At the end of the appointment, the doctor asked, “Is there anything else going on that we didn’t cover before you go?”
It was like she knew, because I hadn’t yet shared what was going on.
I softly said, “I don’t feel normal, and I’m not sure how to feel better.”
The moment the words left my mouth, I started to sob. I felt like a failure. It was the most vulnerable I’d ever felt in my life and it was scary. My doctor encouraged me to talk to her about what had been going on. She was kind and understanding. I told her I was struggling to get through each day without feeling a tightness in my chest, without a breakdown and feeling “off.”
“We can certainly start a low dose of medication that may help, but I would highly encourage seeking a counselor or therapist,” she said. I now realize that her push to seek professional mental help was rare. It seems there is a pill to “fix” most things these days, but all to often we don’t seek preventative measures. Mental health and instant gratification don’t go hand-in-hand.
I Want a Quick Fix
I’d been through some therapists in college, trying to deal with my parents’ divorce. The connection with the therapists I saw were lacking so I found myself giving up on that avenue. So, when this doctor mentioned therapy, my answer was “I’ve tried that.”
One thing about therapy, counseling, and speaking with a mental health professional that I didn’t realize is that it takes time. Trial and error and patience to find the right fit. Think of it as dating — you don’t typically meet “the one” on the first try.
So what did I do? I got a prescription for anti-anxiety medication. Instant gratification, please. I had a job that needed me daily, I was planning a large event on top of work, and didn’t have the energy to put into a therapist. Basically, I had a lot of excuses. After about a week on the medication, I felt “normal” and more even-keeled. I could handle the day-to-day and didn’t feel like my chest was going to explode anymore. In my mind, that was all I needed, so I didn’t seek counseling.
The funny thing about instant gratification or a quick fix is that they don’t typically have long-term success. When larger things happened in my life, like my own divorce, being raped, getting remarried and becoming a mom, medication wasn’t enough.
Are you wondering why I put those things in the same “group”? Because even really great things like marriage and baby have caused my anxiety to change. Everyday life changes, or even lulls, can make anxiety soar.
Time to Put in The Real Work: Therapy
I got through many of the major life events described above with support and love from those closest to me, but I still struggled silently. Talking about my divorce made me feel like a loser. Telling anyone about being raped took time; even writing the word puts a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. Getting remarried was a huge feat; I kept trying to put the voices in my head at bay about being married for a second time. Becoming a mom was so exciting, but petrifying at the same time. When baby number two came, my husband’s mental health started to waver and my ability to carry everything fell apart.
Last summer, I could no longer handle my anxiety attacks and nightmares. They were completely debilitating. It seemed as though becoming a mom had triggered these nightmares to occur daily. Hearing either of my babies cry sent me spiraling. Having my rock of a husband need to focus on his own mental well-being forced me to rely on my own senses. I had no tools in my belt to handle all of this so, with my husband’s encouragement, I sought help.
Finding My Therapy Groove
After a very tearful visit to our amazing doctor, I had a name for a new therapist, a plan to help me through my anxiety attacks and some much-needed outside encouragement that there was help available. Within a week or two, I met my therapist. She diagnosed me with PTSD from the rape. It was yet another label I felt ashamed to own, but I finally had a mental health professional on my side. Since this first visit, I’ve worked through many things and learned helpful ways to get through tougher times. I’ve also learned to take the time to reflect on how far I’ve come.
Therapy has been the piece of the puzzle I needed to not only get through tough times, but to be my best as a person with anxiety and PTSD. I’ll never forget my husband saying, “Do you need to go every month if you’re feeling good?” My answer was something to the effect of saying, I actually enjoyed being in therapy and working through the good and bad.
Fast forward a couple of months, I mentioned to him that I may skip a month of therapy because of the cost. To which my husband said, “We will make the money work, you should go.”
It goes without saying, but my husband has been a big champion for me to seek help and I’m forever grateful.
No Shame in Seeking Help
Seeking mental health help, therapy or counseling seems to have a negative connotation. I’ve heard many people liken it to being weak, a luxury, or seeking attention. It is none of those things. If you suffer in any way, you do not have to go it alone. I would not be the woman, mom or wife I am without the support of mental health professionals.
There is no shame in talking about what you’re feeling. In fact, it’s the opposite. Actively working on your mental health is the most commendable thing a human can do. The other things in your life will never mean as much if you don’t feel good on the inside.
I’m not perfect, and that’s OK. You don’t have to be perfect either, but I will always encourage people to talk about their struggles. Being a mom is so rewarding and we’ve all heard the advice about “enjoy the little moments because they go fast.” But, I’m here to tell you that sometimes those moments are overwhelmingly exhausting and you will get frustrated and that is OK.
Being able to talk these things through can be such an incredible release.
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