Mental Health Awareness Month – My Story

Today is the first day of May – which means it’s now Mental Health Awareness Month, a topic that is really important to me because of my own struggles. Given the recent circumstances, everyone’s mental health is being tested, so I thought it was important to share my own story – in solidarity with others.   It’s funny, lately, as I’ve been trying to navigate this quarantine with a clear head, people have been calling me super mom. Which is hilarious because I feel like the opposite pretty much every day. 

It’s only been recently that I’ve been forced to take my anxiety more seriously and tried to do things to mitigate and lessen it, where it’s possible. I certainly became more anxious when I became a mother, but I sort of just labelled myself as inflexible and uptight. Never really had the time or the energy to talk to anyone about it.  Sure, I’ve been in therapy for years, but had never reflected on that aspect of my life.  It wasn’t until last fall that I really felt the brunt of it and a therapist recognized that what I was battling was more than just ‘being a mother’ or ‘being a worrier.’

At the time, work was growing increasingly busy and I’d taken over two programs, almost immediately regretting doing so. I would often sign on at home in the evenings, which while a privilege to be able to do so (since it’s so uncommon at the Agency), often left me feeling like I never got a real chance to turn off. At home, things were piling up. From the normal everyday frustrations to the fact that Travis started having accidents (which turned out to be a medical issue), we were dealing with being a one-car family, and Holden was still waking up multiple times overnight, I was at my wits-end. It wasn’t necessarily even that all these things were happening at once, it was that all these things were happening, and I felt like everything was my fault – and I couldn’t figure out how to deal with it all. I was failing. I ended up in my therapist’s office in tears. I almost left the Agency, thinking I could find a better work/life balance if I could find a job that in my eyes was better suited for having a family. 

The thing was though, I had a boss that was always supportive of my decisions, co-workers that always were willing to listen, and a husband who bends over backwards to help me and couldn’t be a better father to our children.  So leaving the job wasn’t the answer – it was like something inside me was broken. I never felt good enough, I worried about every little detail, that I always felt like I something bad was going to happen. 

But that’s the way I’ve always felt. I’ve always worried incessantly – I still have nightmares about conversations I had as a child or a young adult. When someone gives me a quick response, they are obviously mad at me and I’ve ruined that relationship. I have to force myself to be positive – these things don’t just come naturally. And it’s not just the constant worrying – that worry turns into mind-numbing fear, sometimes coming along with physical symptoms, especially headaches, sometimes migraines. Some days I struggle to get out of bed and face the day. Some days, I get out of bed just fine and then the littlest thing can set me off.

People mistake my anxiety for being just a worrywart, but it’s something I physically can’t turn off. It’s being up half the night because what if there’s a fire and Jeremy’s at hockey and I’m forced to choose between my children – who do I choose first? But it’s not just a passing fear that keeps me up once in a while – sometimes it’s every night for weeks. We’ve talked to Travis about a fire plan, we’re as prepared as we possibly could be, and still I worry to the point of severe nausea. It’s feeling like lifelong friends don’t actually care about me, it’s constantly feeling like I let my kids down because I lost my temper once – that one day.  When they cry when I leave them, I am certain that I’m screwing up their emotional stability or that they’re going to die in a freak accident, and I’ll have never the chance to say goodbye.  It’s having a panic attack in the bathroom at work because I’m certain my boss or coworkers think it’s ridiculous that I have a hard time leaving my kids for a work trip. It’s the constant fear that I’m not enough for my family, that I’m not doing enough – and then having that fear control me to the point that I can’t breathe.  It’s so many more things that I can’t put into words. 

Recently I saw a quote about anxiety that really resonated with me.  “Anxiety is feeling nervous before an interview or a party days in advance — but it’s also feeling nervous when you have nothing to be nervous about. When you’re sitting in your house and everything is technically fine, when there is technically nothing to worry about, but you still feel uneasy and can’t figure out why.” 

So now, I sit here in the midst of COVID-19, trying to tell myself that everything is going to be okay – that my prone-to-breathing-problems toddler will remain healthy, that work will remain closed until Maryland gets a chance to really flatten this curve, all the while trying to parent two children who don’t understand why they’re not allowed to leave the house and cry when I tell them they can’t visit their friends or family.  Every day, I try to manage this anxiety because the fear that I could somehow pass this on to my children is more than I can bare. 

If you have someone in your life that suffers from anxiety, please check on them. And please remember that anxiety presents itself in many different ways, from incessant worrying with physical symptoms like mine to anxiety that causes depression or even rage.  Just because symptoms don’t present themselves classically, doesn’t mean that they aren’t struggling. Everyday life can alone be a challenge, but this – this is a whole new level of hell.