Hi. Care to join me on an exploration of living with an anxiety disorder? Yes? Great!
Living with an anxiety disorder is a lot like living with an incontinence issue. You can’t control it and it gushes out of you like a secret flow of stress and physical reactions that only you know is in progress.
I’ve been debating ways to talk about anxiety. Do I go full on serious? Can I still approach it from a place of humor while offering empathy and helpful tips?
Well, after these considerations I decided to approach it with at least a touch of humor. After all, that is sort of my M.O.
However, I also realize that some of you find yourselves at the beginning of your journey, or still fighting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. If this is you, please do not be ashamed of the current state of your mental health.
Anxiety is not just “all in your head”.
If you have recently had a baby and believe you are experiencing postpartum anxiety (PPA) or are experiencing increasing generalized anxiety, please talk to your healthcare provider as soon as possible.
My Anxiety Journey
Looking back, I see signs of anxiety disorder that go all the way back to elementary school.
For example, I think I went to the nurse’s office nearly EVERY SINGLE DAY. I don’t remember if that was all of the elementary school years or just a couple of grades, but I remember years later running into the school nurse and sure enough, Mrs. Meyer still remembered my daily visits.
For the sake of argument, let’s just say this was the beginning of becoming a nervous hypochondriac. And now I’m raising a hypochondriac – Sorry, Mom and Dad!
A hypochondriac is someone who always believes they are sick even when they aren’t.
Some things from school stick out.
I was just plain awkward and easily embarrassed.
My self-esteem was not very resilient.
One part of anxiety disorder that I just adore is worrying about things I said in 7th grade.
I mean, my mind has literally dredged up the stupid, insensitive thoughtless things I said as a middle schooler and WORRIED ABOUT THEM. So maybe I need to go through like a twelve step program to stop thinking about them? Make peace with all the people I offended with my loose childish lips? Can I just facebook message them?
As I went through high school, I was both shy, introverted and awkward. Truth be told, I’m still introverted and awkward, but I’m finally ok with that. It’s how God made me. Now, I just let all this awkward hang out. Come what may.
Unfortunately, shyness comes across as ice cold people hater. Being introverted makes it hard to enjoy a party, and being awkward is just so awkward!
To all of that let’s add some garden variety anxiety disorder.
Being Social Was Challenging
I didn’t want to go to football games and basketball games because I would have to walk in front of people and people would be looking at me! ACK.
If there were people on my path on my walk home I would find another way around, because PEOPLE. ACK.
You want me to raise my hand in class and speak up? ACK.
Keeping healthy and active in band, choir, swimming, and cross-country skiing made a big difference, I wasn’t great at any of it, but it was fun! I’m sure that all that physical activity helped to keep the full extent of my anxiety in check.
An Anxiety Disorder Free Version of Myself
All the while, confident, adventurous Brit was hanging out just below the surface. Occasionally, she would poke her beautiful head out and convince me to do crazy things.
That Brit spent a month in the Canadian wilderness between her junior and senior year of high school doing a canoeing program.
That Brit headed to college four hours away from home even though she was hopelessly attached to her family.
That Brit went to Australia for a year and traveled by herself, jumped out of a perfectly good plane, and went to work in the vineyards and grape farms of northern Victoria in Australia between semesters. I also kissed my first and last Scottish man. (PS- Best first kiss story EVER, if you enjoy hilariously embarrassing first kiss stories.)
She Didn’t Stay
I always wanted to stay that fun, confident Brit. Unfortunately, she didn’t stay long. She probably had important shopping to do.
During my internship to be a Medical Lab Scientist, I was looking at my loan debt one evening and had my first legitimate panic attack. I had no idea what it was at the time. But it wouldn’t be the last one.
My debt still gives me anxiety, but now I just drink some wine and play scrabble and pretend we don’t have school debt and mortgage debt and kids.
Then, I started my first real job as a Medical Technologist in a real lab.
At this point, anxious Brit entered the scene like a loud, obnoxious, drunk pirate. Anxious Brit was ready to steal some booty and a whole lot of joy.
My job, and living away from home, alone, created an incredible amount of stress. I was depressed. I was anxious. I was being a terrible employee. When I started working seven days in a row on evenings and then switching to days over and over for nine years, my body signed an eviction notice for my mental health.
I worked hard to be valuable to our team and change the impression I had made at the beginning. I couldn’t talk to my boss without my face flushing, my heart rate accelerating, and my palms sweating. Every encounter would take hours to process and move on from.
Being so far removed from myself, I couldn’t see how much of a problem my anxiety had truly become.
Being a Mom Was Hard
Let’s be honest, being a mom IS hard. Full stop. That’s the name of the game.
I struggled to be a good mom when my twins were born. Take the stress of having one, multiply by two. Now add the stress of a chronically sick infant who had his first bout of pneumonia at four months and another one with a misshapen head that needed a helmet.
Let’s throw in some normal first parent worries about breathing, sleeping, pooping, and eating and then just for shits and giggles – anxiety.
Between work stress, trying to somehow nurse my boys, and never sleeping, things were pretty ugly.
After I was diagnosed with postpartum depression with the boys due to MASSIVE hormonal shifts from a twin pregnancy, I was able to find a little relief from the anxiety when I was treated for the PPD. I didn’t actually realize then how much it was helping the anxiety half of the equation.
With my second pregnancy, I weaned off of it and from there on out, I figured I was ‘managing’ my anxiety like a champ.
I Wasn’t Okay
No one should be internally hysterically melting down in the back seat of a car because they are going to be three minutes late for a wedding.
No one should have a complete panic attack and have to hand one of their newborn twins off to dad because they saw a flesh colored mole on the internet that was doomed to be fatal.
No one should be standing in a shower wondering what would happen if a meteor came into the building and subsequently rush out of the shower faster than usual.
But with anxiety, no matter how much your brain knows you are being ridiculous, it doesn’t matter. The physical reaction is the same.
Everyone’s experience of a panic attack is probably a little different. In my case, a panic attack completely sucks. The adrenaline rush makes me lose feeling in my arms. I struggle to catch my breath. If I’m holding a baby, I have to put them down so if I die, I don’t suffocate them and take them with me. My brain is like a hummingbird that cannot find a good place to land, with thoughts racing in so many different directions. It feels like the end is coming. Imminently.
Enough is Enough
Finally, after spending an entire labor and delivery with my fifth son apologizing for EVERYTHING. Yes. I made apologies all the way through my induced labor.
Oh, is my lavender essential oil strong enough the average human can smell it? I’m SO SORRY.
Oh, I’m at that point where all my clothes are coming off? I’m SO SORRY.
Is it okay if I get an epidural now? I’m SO SORRY.
I just punched my husband in the face? Meh. He’ll live.
At my post-baby follow-up appointment, it was finally time. I was done making apologies for being alive. I was not ‘in control’ of my anxiety as I had claimed for so long.
I was making myself, and probably the people around me miserable when I had panic attacks and anxiety issues.
It took a very long time to realize that life could be better. It could be better for me, for my husband, and for my kids.
It also took me a long time to realize that it’s okay to admit you need help.
I finally got the help I needed and went on a low dose of sertraline (Zoloft).
Anxiety disorders are medical conditions.
Not character flaws or weaknesses.
Finally, I am beginning to feel like myself again. After a full two years of being on the medication, I can say without a doubt that life is significantly better.
It probably helps that I left the job where I never got any regular sleep to stay at home with my babies… so I could continue to get irregular sleep. The little dictators are pretty tough on me too, but it’s so amazing to be home to watch them grow and learn.
My Advice to You
You Are Not Alone
There are a TON of people that are on this road with you. Most of us don’t talk about it much. Aren’t ready to admit it. Or don’t have many people they can confide in.
There’s something a little shameful about admitting my brain doesn’t work completely the way it should. There’s not really anything shameful about it at all. It’s okay to talk about it. Calling your doctor and making an appointment is an easy and pretty painless thing to do. They will have access to everything you need to take back your life from the anxiety demon.
If someone opens up to you about their own struggles, make sure you point them in the direction of their healthcare provider.
Take control, anxiety disorder doesn’t get the last say.
Watch for Postpartum Anxiety
After my fifth pregnancy, PPA definitely took hold. I found I was having many more anxiety problems and even a couple of panic attacks.
My midwife was informed right away, and we decided to keep an eye on it. If it had gotten any worse, I would not have hesitated to increase the dose of my medication to keep it in check. Thankfully, it seems to have settled down. It’s only been four months though, so I will continue to watch for it very carefully.
Know Your Triggers
The best way I’ve found to keep my anxiety in check is to avoid my triggers whenever I can.
Sometimes triggers are unavoidable. If finances and bathing are a trigger, you will still (probably?) have to face those. I found that I needed to find additional strategies to deal with unavoidable triggers as they came up.
Know Your Strategies
What are you going to do when panic hits? Who are you going to call? How are you going to deal with a situation that will most likely increase your anxiety?
Having a plan makes it a lot more manageable.
Maybe that plan is calling your husband, taking a walk, praying and trying to nap. Maybe that plan involves copious amounts of mint chocolate chip ice cream. Who am I to judge?
Thanks for sticking through to the end.
I hope that if it’s time for you to reach out to someone else you do it. Today. There’s an anxiety controlled version of you somewhere, probably having a pretty great time without you, which makes no sense since it is you. But then we get into weird third person time-space continuum stuff…
Until next time my friends.