Coping with Life While Struggling with Anxiety
Editor's Note: May 4 -- 10 is National Anxiety & Depression Awareness Week. 60 million Americans are diagnosed with either anxiety or depression, but as this post below points out, so many more are affected by mental illness when someone in the family is diagnosed. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) has resources on their website if you or someone you love is experiencing mental illness including understanding different diagnoses and places where you can get help. --Mel
Have you ever started out your day normally, woke up, made breakfast, kissed your husband and child, felt all the happiness in the world and then BAM!... are overtaken by a wave of indescribable fear? Your heart starts pounding, heat rushes quickly across your face, your extremities start tingling. You get dizzy, can’t form a single rational thought and no one around you understands. I have. Many of you might not know this about me, but I suffer from chronic anxiety.
It has been something that I have struggled with since childhood. As a child, I had a specific disorder called Trichotillomania, where I would pull hair from my body. I would yank out my eyelashes, eyebrows, the hair from my head, and tweeze hair from my legs. These actions were soothing to me.
Throughout my life, my anxiety has changed and taken on many different forms. Some days are manageable, other days it is debilitating. I have been through therapy and medication. Therapy did not help. Medication worked, but I found that I could not function without it. When we decided we were going to try for a baby, I weaned myself off and never looked back. I refused to live my life dependent on pills. This was a very painful time for me. The pain that your body can feel because of your mind is frightening. I learned to meditate during this period. I learned how to slow down my breathing and my mind. This helped me through my pregnancy, but after the birth of my daughter, I found that it was becoming unmanageable again.
I never know when an episode or an attack might occur. Some come on suddenly and hard. They may enter in a flash and hit the unbearable and then fizzle out within an hour’s time. Some present themselves more subtlely, leaving me feeling emotionally drained, lightheaded, and scared. This can last for days or for weeks. This is a difficult reality for me. It makes it even more difficult when trying to take care of a toddler. I am not always able to be the kind of wife and mother that I would like to be, but I try my best.
Today was my daughter’s weekly gymnastics. It is always a challenge getting through a 45 minute class with my rambunctious child. Today was worse. During her class, Mai was her usual self. She was running around the mats instead of waiting in line to go through the obstacle course. She was being a toddler.
As I was chasing her, an all too familiar feeling came over me. I suddenly became uncomfortably hot. The tightness in my chest triggered a series of burps brought on by stress-induced acid reflux. A million dizzying thoughts started jumping around in my head, making me feel as if I was out of my body looking in. My movements became more sluggish and it was a struggle to propel my body forward to retrieve my running daughter.
In a panic, I told her “We need to go home.” She cried and said “Nooooo, mama.” I told her that she needed to stay still, that “Mama doesn’t feel good.” She settled down just long enough to get me through the end of her class. I felt a pang of guilt. My daughter doesn’t understand. She is just enjoying being a happy kid.
When we returned home, I set my daughter down for a nap in her crib. I meditated and prayed in her bedroom as I watched her sleep. Her soft breaths and sweet face brought some peace back to my tense spirit.
The truth is my family is the best therapy that I can ask for.