I was lucky when my oldest was born. Somehow I managed to not fall victim to the postpartum depression my brain is wired to get. Maybe I did have it, I don’t really know because I was too busy trying to figure out how to be a mama and how to figure out how to be a wife and all these new things that were happening in my life. I was good at it through with her. I fell into it all fairly easy and even survived a brutal fight with colic which I now realize was likely reflux. Poor baby vomited on everything. But I only remember feeling sad a couple of times. Once when I couldn’t figure out the breast pump and then, as I sat on the floor and watched as everyone passed her around. I hurt, felt overlooked and that was probably the first time anxiety lied to me. I didn’t complain I had to sit on the floor because anxiety told me it was selfish to want a seat and that was rude to expect someone to help me, instead of the fragile baby I was supposed to be taking care.
Yeah, I am pretty sure that was when anxiety and I met for real.
I mean, growing up I struggled with all the what ifs. But what teen doesn’t? And it wasn’t till adulthood that he really came at me. And with a vengeance.
By the time I was pregnant with baby number two, I was fully saturated with motherhood. And I was thrilled he was coming. My big girl would be welcoming a brother and I could not wait. But as the due date approached I would cry, often, in the red bathroom of our tiny, two bedroom condo afraid of what I’d done to her and wondering how I’d ever have enough love or time or energy for two. I’d wake up most mornings around 3 am, run the bathtub and cry. His labor started in the night. I called the midwife who sort of ignored my, “I think this is it” and told me to rest and eat. I took my little girl to breakfast and for a yoga ball and waited, scared I wasn’t really in labor. And I waited too long and sobbed in the hall when I couldn’t walk to the door myself. Never have I been so happy to see my husband walk through the door. I almost had Davis in the hospital hall. The midwife who delivered him had food in her teeth and didn’t know my name. I waited to push till everyone got there, anxious I’d hurt someone’s feelings if I didn’t wait, let people in the room before I was ready and I didn’t keep my little girl with me because my anxiety told me my gut was wrong. They gave him a bottle without my permission and he didn’t latch correctly for weeks but my anxiety told me to be quiet. The doctor knows best. I walked the length of SUPER Target with a three-day old, nipple shields in hand, convinced someone was going to take them away from me because I wasn’t a good enough mother to nurse a baby or stand up for a baby or raise a baby. The day after I brought him home, I sat on my porch and cried on the phone wishing my mom would get their faster. I was afraid to sleep. Anxiety told me he might die… anxiety told me I might too.
These last two years have been a tough go. If you’ve followed this blog at all you know that there has been this series of events. If I was honest with you all, it’s been more than the two years I have written about it. Moving to Pennsylvania ignited the liar anxiety like nothing I’ve ever seen. Things were supposed to be different here for me. Another lie I told myself thanks to anxiety. I felt like I’d check into our new place and that everything would be different. I neglected to realize that I too would have to change. Anxiety lied though and told me while I was “fine” nobody would ever like me. Ever. I listened. Especially when my newly found church friendships dissolved over something as ridiculous as who led a mother’s group.
As I added two more children, to the three children I’d moved across the country, anxiety grew and grew. Telling me I shouldn’t have a big family. I didn’t tell anyone about Dexter, my fourth till 12 weeks pregnant and Dixon, baby number five, I waited till almost 22 weeks. And if it were up to me, I would have delivered him before I told a single person about him at all. Lucky for me I was overweight and people mostly ignored me so my pregnancy was easy to hide. I hid that little boy like he was wrong because anxiety told me 5 kids was too many. Anxiety was wrong. He was not wrong. And no one should judge how many children I have. Even when it’s with the best intentions.
And that’s not the first time anxiety was wrong. Two years ago my gut told me something was off and I didn’t listen… it will probably be the biggest regret of my life. Not standing up for myself, because anxiety told me I was overreacting. I wasn’t, and it changed everything.
But now, now I am fighting back.
A little over 18% of the adult population suffers from an anxiety disorder. That’s 40 million adults. FORTY MILLION. Statics shows that while anxiety disorders are very, very treatable only about 36.9% of people are getting treatment. That number is even larger for teens. Only 1 in 5 teenagers that suffer are being treated. And should you suffer from an anxiety disorder you’re also likely to suffer from depression and vice versa. That’s a lot for a brain. A lot.
Women are more commonly affected than men. And anxiety often presents as a debilitating fear. For me, it often came in the shape of losing my children. So much so, I was afraid to seek help because I was so afraid someone would take my kids from me for being “crazy”. And when I finally hit rock bottom, I didn’t seek help until the suicidal ideations got so bad, I wasn’t sure I could stop them anymore. Yet anxiety still told me therapy was wrong and meds would steal my creativity again. I listened because anxiety was right about the creativity once. Only it just wasn’t the right med or meds… I wasn’t patient enough to ride it out and find the right medication for my mental health. Anxiety won, again. But only briefly. I eventually sat, filled with shame, in a chair, waiting to meet my therapist. The shame lifted when her blue hair peaked out through her beanie cap and the tattoos showed through tattered sleeves. It took a couple of sessions to raise my head but eventually, anxiety got its eviction notice.
I will have an anxiety disorder for the rest of my life. Every single day will be a battle to win against it and the abusive bipolar/depression/disorders I fight every single minute of every day. And there will still be moments that the disorders win minutes back in my life. But those minutes are getting fewer and farther apart. I can look at last spring and know someone else’s mental health issues were winning and it wasn’t me but themselves, that they were really talking to.
You probably wonder how you can help someone with an anxiety disorder. I can’t answer for everyone. Honestly, it’s hard to answer for me. But here goes:
- Remind me that I am okay. There have been days I wasn’t sure and sat and wondered if these things actually were happening or if it was the anxiety telling me they did. So, when I ask you for the 90th time if this is really happening or if it really happened, please tell me it is. And if it isn’t or didn’t, please tell me what actually happened. I want to live in the truth and not what my mental illness painted as the truth. I’ve seen first hand what that looks like and it’s not pretty.
- Don’t ask me if my period is coming. This isn’t about female hormones. I get weepy all times of the month and not just because my period might be coming. Sometimes I just get slammed with an anniversary or a memory. For example, this Monday, I watched a video of my brother, and I cried all day. It was a deep throat cry I couldn’t explain. He’s been gone over a year but it was as if he’d died that day. That wasn’t my period…. it was my sad.
- Don’t tell me to choose happy. I don’t have a switch in my brain that goes, “oh you’re right. I am being crazy.” Sometimes I am irrationally sad or anxious and I don’t know why. Come into it with me. You don’t have to fix it. I just need you to make sure the anxiety doesn’t win. Don’t let the sadness take me too.
- If I am being irrational, be gentle in telling me. There is nothing more embarrassing and hurtful than when someone reacts to me as if I am dumb or well, irrational. Sometimes I don’t know. So tell me, without making me feel stupid. If I react badly, forgive me; help me learn to react better next time. And please, don’t ghost me. Tell me, so I don’t wonder forever what I did wrong. We sometimes have friends for seasons. The truth is easier for me than the what ifs.
I know this is a lot for people. I know *I* am a lot for people but I don’t want to be and I am doing the work. Lots of us are.
Anxiety lies. If you’re listening to it right now, it’s lying. Trust me I know.
To learn more about anxiety disorders, click here.