I usually run around my block in the morning. Since the sun is rising later, I have turned to the gym to run on the dreaded treadmill. I hate the treadmill, but I’m afraid to run in the early, dark hours. I am scared that something bad is going to happen to me and I won’t see it coming. Women are vulnerable when it is dark and they are alone. This is the norm society has built around us. So, as I train to run a half marathon, I also have to keep in mind my safety.
Half of my concern is legitimate because women do get assaulted while they are out running or walking. That is the world we live in. The other half of that fear is from my anxiety, which enhances the mindset from cautious to down right fear. My anxiety causes me to fear things like crowded rooms with few exits, open areas of large crowds, tight spaces, and the dark. I avoid opening day at the movie theater, I’m not a fan of parades or festivals, I sleep with a light on, planes make me extremely nervous, and I usually don’t go out after dark. This is my life.
Parenting with a mental disorder is no easy feat. Raising children is hard enough on it’s own, now imagine doing it when you are constantly at war with your own head. It’s kind of like trying to rescue someone from drowning when you don’t know how to swim. It’s scary, it’s exhausting, and it’s a lot of work. There are day’s when you are not quite sure how you are going to get through it. You’re trying to keep yourself afloat through toddler tantrums, dinner struggles, and bed time wars. You’re running on little to no sleep, and your patience is being tested, constantly.
Fighting a mental illness of any type is draining. It sucks all of your energy while you fight to be “normal.” It’s a never ending battle that takes every ounce of that energy. When you think you have gotten a hold of it, the darkness comes out of no where and consumes you again. You deal with this torture while you do your best to raise a little human.
“You didn’t fail,” I told myself as I sat in the doctor’s office. I was waiting anxiously for her to return. I sat there, spinning my wedding ring. I occupied my mind with the posters on the wall, but they couldn’t stop my heart from racing, my palms from sweating. My chest tightened as the minutes ticked by. I stared at my feet as I tried to ignore the spinning room and the ache in my stomach. No matter how hard I had tried, I could not silence the loudness in my head, the chatter that came from all different directions. How did it come to this?
“You didn’t fail,” I told myself as I watched the doctor type the pharmacy address into her computer. Her fingernails clicked across the keys and the taps echoed in my ears. I could feel the tightness make its way to my throat. I struggled through each breath as I forced my lungs to work. Was this necessary?
“You didn’t fail,” I thought as I watched the prescription notifications ding on my phone. The bings appeared to ring louder than the others. A simple notification grabbed my attention for minutes at a time. A simple reminder drawing me in, refusing to let go of my gaze. The mental battle continued in my head. The negativity spiraled out of control as I debated the outcome. What will they think of me?
“You didn’t fail,” I told myself as I listened to the silence on the other end of the phone. “Babe, do you want me to stop by the pharmacy?” My husband patiently waited for a response as he drove home from work. I felt the tightness in my throat again as I responded. I hung up the phone. Was I really going to do this?
“You didn’t fail,” I thought to myself as I held the bottle in my hand. The letters on the label blurred as my heart raced. The weight felt different. My hands shook as I twisted off the lid. I had opened many prescription bottles in my life. Once for concussion headaches, many times for a pregnancy complication, a few for pain, but none for this. Why was this any different?
You didn’t fail if you manage your mental illness with medication. Regardless of what society says. Don’t let the world tell you that it’s all in your head, that you are too weak. When the self help doesn’t work. When you struggle to stay above water no matter how hard you try. When you need something more than exercise, healthy food, and lavender. When your doctor see’s that you have hit a wall. Do what you need to do to take care of you.
You didn’t fail! You succeeded in not allowing your mental illness to take control of you and your life. You chose to protect your mental wellness from the darkness that tries to break it a part. Good for you! Celebrate the fact that you made it through another day. When things weren’t working, you started a new healing journey. You payed attention when your body was screaming out for help, and you acted! You refused to ignore the signs. You’re a fighter, not a failure! Don’t you ever think otherwise when it comes to your mental health, and don’t let anyone tell you what you need in order to heal.
You didn’t fail because your doctor told you that medication may be the best form of treatment for your mental illness. Trust what your doctor is telling you and ignore anyone who tries to make you feel bad for it. They’re not fighting the battles that you are, and they are not living with the darkness that you have to live with, every day. This is your journey, not any one else’s. This is your road to a healthier you.
You didn’t fail if your current dosage or medication concoction isn’t working and you’ve been struggling with managing your symptoms . Every one’s experience is different, and everyone battles their struggles differently. So what if you take a lot or a little. So what if you have to mix and match different managing treatments. You didn’t fail when you are constantly on the phone with your doctor because you feel like it’s not working. Call them 100 times! Try different treatments, medications, dosages, and managing techniques until you find the perfect mixture of stability. Find what works for you and forget what anyone else thinks of it. That’s not failing, that’s fighting!
I didn’t fail because I finally decided to say yes to medication for my anxiety. I decided to take medication because I refuse to fail. I refuse to give up on my daughter, on my family, on myself. I refuse to drown, and I will take that next step. Whatever is necessary to stay afloat. To keep going. To be the mother my daughter needs me to be. To be fully present each and every moment of the day. To fight through the fear and the chaos.
I didn’t fail because the self-managing was no longer working, and I needed tougher armor. Even if that means being judged by the rest of the world. I said yes to medication because I am willing to do what I have to do. I did not fail! I am not going to let the treacherous waters consume me. I will swim out of the deep end.
I didn’t fail. The fight is not over. With my shield, my sword, and my new armor, I prepare for the next battle. So, I hold my life in the palm of my hand, a glass of future endeavors in the other. I place courage on my tongue, and I swallow my pride.
I didn’t fail; I prevailed, and I am ready to set sail through stormy waters.
Parenting with anxiety can get extremely difficult. For me, it effects how I respond to my child during a time she really needs me. In the middle of the night, when she’s frustrated, when she’s overwhelmed and erupts into a tantrum, and when she hurts herself. During a time when I need to be calm and appropriately responsive, my anxiety makes me feel overwhelmed, irritable, or panicked. For me, this is the toughest struggle I have while parenting with anxiety. I want to be there for my child, I want to teach her how to respond to her own emotions, and I want to be the one she turns to because she knows I will help her. So, I battle the chaos within my mind as much as I can so that I can be the mother my child needs.
Adjusting to motherhood was difficult for me. I struggled with it. I was a mess that couldn’t quite get it together. The house would go unattended for almost weeks, dishes sat in the sink for days, and showers were few and far in-between. I felt inadequate in my role and I struggled between managing my anxiety and taking care of my baby. My postpartum recovery was long and frustrating. My attempts to exercise would fall flat after just a few days. Discouraged by discomfort and lack of results, I’d give up quickly.
Slowly, I accepted my recovery journey, stopped forcing the mother role I had hoped to be, and I embraced the mess. From pregnancy, to baby’s first year, the journey was difficult. After a year, however, I finally felt like I had found my place as a mother.
Organization, meditation, exercise, sleep, and human interaction are all key ingredients to help manage anxiety and depression. Beyond the care recommended by your doctor, there are countless articles and studies that suggest how to manage your symptoms. You see it everywhere, “Steps to minimize anxiety”, “Natural ways to reduce the effects”, “Reducing Panic Attacks”. In these articles you can find things like yoga, drinking enough water, getting outside, creating a schedule or reducing your schedule, staying organized, and so on. All of these suggestions can be categorized into exercise, organization, interaction, eating healthy, and relaxation.
After a year of trying to be accustomed to all the changes and chaos, I was finally doing it. I bought a planner and scheduled outings with the baby, exercise, and days for cleaning. I even started pre-planning meals that were healthy and easy to make.
I meditate almost every night with a hot cup of lavender tea, and I am even starting to get up with the baby in the middle of the night. I feel like I am finally figuring it all out. I dropped my baby weight, I can fit into my old clothes again, my skin looks better, and I am even getting up early.
I am doing all the right things and I am sticking to it, for the most part. I’m responding to my daughter with calm and control. I can sit with her during her tantrums and calmly talk her through her emotions. In the end, we end with a hug. I have been patient through her frustrations as she tries to figure out her rings and her puzzle. I let her feel her feelings without completing the task for her. “I know you’re frustrated, and that’s ok, but the puzzle piece is not something we throw. Placing the cow in his spot will get easier with practice.” I’ve been nailing it!
So, why am I sitting here today with a twisted chest. Today, why has my mind started to race with all of the old what if’s. Just when I thought the storm was over, here it was again.
Why am I telling my daughter to “Stop it,” because she is whining out of her own frustration. Why do I feel my throat tighten as I work through an on coming panic attack? If I am doing everything right, then why am I sitting here for the second day in a row in the same clothes, with no energy to get outside, and no ambition to roll out the matt. I sip my cold coffee wondering where the hell I went wrong.
It’s not supposed to be like this, all of those articles, and the doctor said it would get better. They all said it would help, so why am I feeling this way today?
The truth is, anxiety doesn’t stop. It doesn’t stop when you are at your best, and it doesn’t take a break when you are at your worst. It doesn’t leave and it’s doesn’t turn off. It is always there, lurking in the dark, waiting for the perfect opportunity to crawl out again. Even when you feel as if you have left it behind; it stays.
In my recovery journey, I have been learning to embrace the struggle, and that includes my anxiety. Acknowledge that I am feeling overwhelmed, panicked, and irritable. Name it as a feeling and not as a place I am stuck in. Embrace it when it comes and take a moment to recover. Just like you would if you were physically sick. Most importantly, don’t give up and don’t get discouraged, but some day’s it’s just not that simple.
Some days you have to skip the to-do list, close up the planner, turn off the notifications, hand your kid a snack and plop them in front of Frozen and just take a moment to catch your breath. When managing anxiety fails, sip coffee in silence and shrug off the dust that settles on the furniture. When managing anxiety fails, call your doctor to set up an appointment. Maybe what you are doing isn’t working and you need to re-evaluate your strategy, or maybe you just need to check in. Maybe you just need a break.
When managing anxiety fails, don’t give up. Don’t get discouraged. When managing anxiety fails, respond to it, don’t ignore it. Acknowledge it and treat it, then keep going. Keep moving, keep opening up that planner, keep getting up and getting dressed, and keep going. When managing your anxiety fails, don’t settle into it and don’t let it consume you. You have come so far, and you have accomplished so much in your journey. It is never ending, and exhausting, I know, but keep fighting. For you, for your family, for your babies. Show them how to embrace their own emotions and show anxiety who the boss is.
When managing anxiety fails, take a break, but then keep fighting.
My anxiety comes with a fistful of triggers, which I do my best to avoid, or plan around. As a parent, however, some of those triggers are unavoidable, especially when it involves my little one. Struggling with her to let me change her diaper, driving in the car while she screams and cries in her car seat, and a public meltdown are just a few of these triggers. The hardest of them all, however, is trying to get her back to sleep in the middle of the night. On a bad night, I usually struggle with this and have to get my husband to tag me out before my brain spirals out of control. Normally, I don’t last more than an hour. A few mornings ago, my little girl and I passed out on the couch together after a successful three-hour attempt to get her back to sleep. “Successful” you exclaim. How is three hours successful?
For me, it’s a win. My daughter has been getting up between 12 and 3 for the last few days, and it has been a trip trying to get her to fall back asleep. I have no interest in sleep training her, and for the purpose of not wanting to gear off topic, I won’t go into explanation as to why I don’t. Besides, it’s 2019, and how I raise my child is mine and my husband’s business. Long story short, she wants to be close to mom or dad, and wakes up looking for comfort.
Wanting to be there for my daughter, during the late hours, has been something I have spent a long time trying to work on. As an anxiety trigger, however, it has been extremely difficult. This has been the hardest part in regard to dealing with my anxiety, and it has brought on depression and panic attacks. I want to be there for her, regardless of what time it is, but when I’m functioning on little to no sleep, it is difficult. Not enough sleep increases my anxiety, but being unable to comfort my daughter when she needs me is just as debilitating. I suffer either way, and in the end, so does my baby.
Our little one occasionally struggles with sleep. This is expected, considering she is just a child. I am 30 plus years old and I still struggle with sleep myself. I’m not a pro and I defiantly don’t expect a little person to be either. The reasons for her night time wakening’s are different each time, but she usually falls into a bad pattern for a week or so.
Sometimes it’s because the temperature is not comfortable, and this can continue for a few nights, especially when the temperature outside constantly changes. Getting the temperature inside to be just right can take several attempts before she starts sleeping through the night again.
Sometimes, her reflux bothers her, and she has to sit up for a period of time. Other times, her choreographed sleeping pattern has changed and she is struggling with settling into a new routine. Most nights, she wakes up lonely in her caged in crib and she just wants to be close to somebody.
When these patterns start, however, so does my anxiety. The first couple of nights, my husband and I probably spend about four hours between the two of us getting her back to sleep. As the nights roll on, the exhaustion has amplified my anxiety, and I am up multiple times checking on the baby, punching my husband to stop him from snoring, chasing the cats out of the room because they decided to have a cat-fight in front of the crib, double checking the dogs pill alarm, double checking the door, double checking the stove, and checking off the never ending list inside of my head. By 1am, I have made a complete round of the entire house, and have gotten out of bed 15 to 20 times.
Around 1:30 to 2am, as sleep finally creeps in, I hear rustling in the crib. Baby is now up and needs our attention. Frustrated, I climb back out of bed and I spend an hour to an hour and a half getting her back to sleep. During this time, my brain fills up with all of the issues I am currently having, turning the anxiety dial up even further. My arms hurt from holding her for so long, I am completely exhausted and just want to sleep, I’m too hot, I’m too cold, my hair is falling in my face, I have an itch on the edge of my noise and I can’t reach it. My thoughts become cluttered with negativity and my anxious filled mind screams for release. Just when I feel like I can’t take much more, she falls asleep. I attempt to place her in her crib, but she quickly wakes up.
A simple task of picking her back up and starting over is overtaken by an overwhelming feeling of needing to cry. Drained from being so exhausted and frustrated that I can’t be calm enough to sooth her, my anxiety goes into over drive. I can feel the weight start in my chest and my throat starts to ach. Tears build up in my eyes as I struggle to hold myself together. I find myself saying, “Just go to sleep,” to a little girl who is struggling just as much as I am.
Finally, my husband steps in and I crawl into bed, defeated and angry. The guilt consumes me as I hear my little girl whine for her Mama. Tears fall onto my pillow as I hold my breath, waiting for the silence of a sleeping baby to settle the knots in my stomach. I have allowed the anxiety to win again and I can feel the misery circulate through my veins. The depression seeps in.
As the nightly pattern continues, I’m overtaken by multiple days of sadness, irritability, exhaustion, and lack of enthusiasm. I sit on the floor during the day and watch my daughter play with her blocks. She looks up at me and smiles. I muster up the strength to smile back, but even as my mouth turns in the direction that it is supposed to, I still feel numb. I wear the same clothes for multiple days at a time and the dust gathers around the house. The laundry and the dishes pile up. The minutes tick by and the hours just mush together.
The days continue to roll on and the weight in my chest grows heavier. By the fourth or fifth night, I don’t even move when my daughter stirs in her crib. I don’t have the energy or strength to sit up. I just lay there and let my husband comfort her. The weight increases and the darkness consumes me.
Before crawling out of bed the following morning, I cry in to my pillow because I can’t do it. I can’t be her mom today. I can’t be anything except a heavy pile of darkness underneath the bed sheets. It’s hard to breathe, but I dig deep and find whatever strength I can, and I push myself up. I know that I have to. I stumble to the bathroom and wash away the tears right before I face my child and husband.
These are usually the days I find myself clutching on to the walls of the bathroom, waiting for the demons within to finish with their torments. I struggle through a panic attack while my daughter sleeps quietly in her bed during her afternoon nap, not aware of the hell swirling on in the next room. I collapse to the floor and catch my breath as the darkness slowly fades away to its original resting place, where it waits for the next go-round.
After the damage is done, I spend the next couple of days putting my tiny, little world back together, quietly so no one else notices the chaos around me. Only me. I suffer alone, and then I clean up alone. The disadvantage of a silent illness.
Once the disorder is put back in to place, I can resume my responsibilities. I can meet my daughter at her crib side at two in the morning, I can tend to her needs effectively, and she can fall asleep in my arms – certain that she is taken care of. I can place her gently beside me on the couch, kiss her forehead, listen to her breath and be there to settle her back to sleep when she wakes up. I can be thankful for that moment when I get to be there, fully present and calm. As I watch her sleep, I pray that I will be a little bit stronger the next time the darkness creeps in and tries to take this moment away from us.
For the purpose of explanation, let’s take a second and imagine a rush hour scenario. It’s Monday morning, you’re on your way to work, or an important appointment. You’re already running 10 minutes late, and you are stuck in bumper to bumper traffic. You’re at a standstill. On this day, you have to present a very important project or complete important paperwork. This project/paperwork is not finished, and your plan was to leave early to get it done before the big meeting / appointment. You are angry, overwhelmed, frustrated, and anxious. You’re just not going to get there in time. This feeling is the absolute worst. Imagine feeling like this all the time. Could you handle this? All the time? This, for me, is what living with an Anxiety Disorder feels like.
Every person with Anxiety experiences it differently, but this is what it feels like for me. It feels like I am constantly sitting in bumper to bumper traffic, running late on an important day. I feel this way when strapping my daughter into the cars seat, trying to zipper up a jacket, and even answering a phone call. Every day tasks become overwhelming scenarios and my brain tells my body to panic. It’s like I’m stuck at stage left, ready to give a big speech to an auditorium full of people. Except I never move. I am stuck in that overwhelming feeling of fear and angst and I can’t shut it off.
Let’s envision another scenario. Let’s imagine the same highway, the same car, and you are still running 10 minutes late with an unfinished project / paperwork due. Let’s change the scenario a little bit. This time there is no traffic, so you’re speeding down the thruway, rushing to be on time. You’re weaving in and out of traffic and you’re racing against the clock. Now, let’s imagine a large, tractor trailer tire, bouncing fiercely down this same highway, and it’s heading right towards you. You’re overwhelmed! You already have so much going on and now, you have a large object barreling toward you. You’re panicking! Your emotions are running high! You could die! Your sweating, your breathing has accelerated, and you’re in full survival mode! Your chest hurts, you’re throat tightens up, your breakfast is churning so fast in your stomach. You are freaking out! This is what a panic attack feels like for me.
Now, imagine these scenarios with a baby strapped in the back seat. This is what being a parent with anxiety can feel like. I’m usually not in a car, I don’t have a tire coming at my windshield, I’m just trying to comfort a crying baby. My brain puts my body into survival mode without any real threat present and I can’t control it. Depending on how severe, it’s extremely hard to stop it or even slow it down. My brain is constantly telling my body that I am in a dangerous situation and I could be doing something as simple as changing a diaper.
If you are a parent with Anxiety, then you understand how difficult days can be and how overwhelming simple tasks can get. Stressful situations burst into chaotic emergencies and you are talking your brain down from the ledge.
I can feel this way for hours, and even for days at a time. I’m in a constant state of alarm and I’m caring for a child while feeling this way. It’s overwhelming – it’s exhausting, and when you’re trying desperately to parent your children, it’s exceptionally frustrating.
When you are a parent with Anxiety, you don’t get to put your duties on hold. Your emotions are a hurricane inside of your head and you have to be fully present for someone who depends on you. You have to be emotionally sound during a child’s meltdown and you’re barely able to keep it together yourself. You’re drowning while you’re attempting to rescue someone else.
During these days, you can’t call your partner and tell them that you need them to come home. You can’t tell them that you’re having a hard time and just expect them to hand you a life line. Anxiety doesn’t make it on the list of emergency situations, and you’re forced to get through it, alone.
It’s not their fault, they just don’t understand. It’s hard to grasp the severity of an anxiety disorder when you don’t experience it yourself.
You mostly just tell people you’re fine and you do your best to handle it, and you try to be a decent parent in the process.
You pat yourself on the back because you made it through another day. You managed to change diapers, feed empty bellies, and you held yourself together during the nap time struggle. You feel defeated but you made it to bed time. The anxiety creeps back in as you rest your head on the pillow because you wonder how the hell you’re going to do it tomorrow. You toss and turn, and your mind doesn’t shut off. It’s constantly on and you’re always tired because you exert so much energy worrying and wondering. The night fades away, the morning creeps in and the little one stirs. You take a deep breath right before you head off, down the same, destructive highway.
*Disclaimer – Statements made in this post are of my own opinions, views, and thoughts. I am not a professional and should not be regarded as such.
*This work, as well as other posts published by Messy Mama, are protected by copyright laws.