Inside the Mind of a Mom Experiencing an Anxiety Attack in Public


“Please stop, please stop crying,” I’m telling my 2-year-old daughter as she begins screaming for seemingly no reason in the middle of the restaurant. I stand up and carry her to the lobby in hopes that she will calm down. I’ve been tired all week. I’d barely eaten, and my mother suggested we stop to eat after our shopping. She could see in my face I’d been dealing with anxiety and could probably use some food and relaxation. Unfortunately, the moment we’d sat down in the restaurant, my daughter decided lunch was not something she was interested in.

I walked outside, still holding my crying toddler in my arms, bouncing her, asking her what was wrong.  She was not going to let up. I could feel myself cracking. Of course, she was just acting like a toddler. Nothing I should be surprised with at all, but I’d started today already on edge, and this was the final push.

I carried my child back to the table where my mother was waiting, and sat down. “I’m so sorry,” I said. My mom immediately told me not to worry and called the waitress over, instructing her to pack up the food she’d just delivered to the table so we could leave. My mom took my daughter, and I sat, blank-faced, unable to do much more other than hold back tears. I felt myself shutting down.

I can’t take this. Everyone is staring at me. They must think I’m such a horrible mother. Oh, please. Don’t start crying in front of everyone. I’m a terrible mom. Why won’t my daughter stop crying? I just can’t deal with this. Why am I letting all this get to me? Stop it, just stop it, and get a grip! I’m so ashamed. I can’t even snap out of it. My daughter deserves so much better.

I felt so ashamed, for a moment I could hardly move. I looked over at my mom, who was waiting patiently while the waitress returned with the cartons. She knew I wasn’t myself. “Honey, it’s OK. She’s just being a 2-year-old. Don’t worry,” she reassured me. Robotically, I managed to put some of the food into the empty containers. My mom told me she’d grab the bags and meet us outside.

I carried my daughter to the car and clicked her into her car seat. Safely behind the wheel with the doors closed, I began to sob loudly. I couldn’t control myself. I sobbed because I was stressed out. I sobbed because I was ashamed at my inability to play it cool, something I’m usually so good at doing. Big, fat tears ran down my face where my sunglasses couldn’t hide them. I saw my daughter’s face in the rearview mirror. She looked concerned. “Mommy crying,” she said, and I cried even harder. A few minutes later, I managed to start getting my bearings, wiping away the tears before my mother slid into the passenger seat.

“Mom I’m so sorry,” I choked.

My mother looked at me with that knowing stare. She said, “I knew you weren’t feeling well. You’re tired, you’ve had anxiety, and you haven’t eaten all day. It’s all OK. You’ve done nothing wrong. When babies cry, it can get to you. It’s how it is.” I nodded, stifling back the sobs that threatened to re-emerge. “Let’s go home and try to eat something, shall we?” my mother asked. Finally feeling a bit more normal, I turned on the car and drove out of the parking lot.

I knew I hadn’t ruined lunch. I knew my daughter was just being a toddler. I was used to her having tantrums every now and then. It’s what little kids do. Usually I’m great at dealing with these situations, but not this time.

There are times when I’m simply prone to anxiety. I’d had a rough week, and sometimes it’s not possible to always be calm. Sometimes I don’t have a choice, because I’m not able to fight the feelings that overcome me. When anxiety takes the reins, it’s just a matter of waiting until I can regain control of my mind again. There are periods of shame. There are moments I wonder what others must be thinking, if they can see the panic behind my eyes. I wonder, Do they notice? I can only hope the majority of my worry is in my mind, because this is what it’s like to experience panic in public, and it is far from a positive experience. It comes with feelings of fear, worry, shame, and embarrassment. Though thankfully these days my anxiety attacks are few, and relatively far between, it doesn’t change the impact they have once they decide to surface once again.

It’s difficult not to feel self-conscious when experiencing an anxiety attack in public. The truth is, the people surrounding us may not even notice anything is wrong at all, as much of the trauma is happening within. For mothers, there is an added stress because we often feel we are expected to be super human. With the responsibility of caring for a young one, there is less room for mistakes, less forgiveness from those believed to be standing in judgment. But it’s important to realize that everyone has a low point. People are not robots. We are filled with emotion, flaws, worries, and stresses. Though it may be a challenge, it’s important to try to keep in mind that you don’t always have to display an image of perfection. It’s OK to have a miserable human moment; though it may be terrifying or embarrassing at the time, it’s important to give ourselves a pass. No one can keep it together every minute of every day despite the pressure we place on ourselves.

It’s part of being human — there is no shame in that.

Image via Thinkstock Images

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