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What I Miss Out On as a Parent With Anxiety

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I tucked my 2-and-a-half-year-old into bed last night. I softly sung the words of “Rock-a-bye Baby” while cuddled up to him so tight. I rubbed his hair. I kissed his rosy cheeks.

After some pillow talk, he fell asleep. I held him closer. I looked at him, so innocent, so sweet. Listening to him breathe in and out, I whispered into his ear, “I’m so sorry for being me.”

Earlier in the day, he had jumped into the front seat of my car while I was trying to get him inside from preschool. He was pretending to drive the car. I was so stressed. It was cold. I am so pregnant.

I just wanted to get him inside so I could sit down. I didn’t want to stand in the cold. He laid on the horn. I looked around to make sure no one was disturbed by this, and I yelled at him.

“Mommy said no!”

“Stop!”

I felt my anger building. I threw down all of the stuff I had in my hands, and I pulled him out of the car. He threw a fit in the middle of the road. I hated this moment. I hated that he wouldn’t listen. I hated that I couldn’t stand to be out there any longer, and I hated mostly that I couldn’t “enjoy the moment,” a moment he was enjoying so much.

Anxiety robs you of so many precious moments.

So what is there to be anxious about in this moment? Well, it’s not necessarily one trigger in one moment. It is the anxiety that builds all day, every single day.

You grow tired. You physically hurt. You cry. You obsess. You struggle with simple decisions others wouldn’t think twice about. You wake up every morning wishing it were bed time. You count the days until it is the weekend when you can have some help.

You cry because you hate feeling that way. You feel guilt. You have a wonderful husband, a beautiful child and one on the way. You have a steady job, a home. You live comfortably. You are blessed.

You are ungrateful? That’s what you will tell yourself. Reality? You are plagued by your own mind.

Anxiety robs you of peace of mind.

There is never a moment you feel at ease. You will check everything 100 times. You will look for potential dangers, and you will fix them. You will worry about 10 minutes from now, 10 hours from now and 10 years from now in one minute. Your mind will race, and you will be completely exhausted.

You are a problem solver in your mind. If you don’t fix it all right now, then it won’t get done and something terrible will happen. It will be your fault. When someone, anyone, breaks your train of thought, you will lash out at them. Don’t they see how important it is that you figure everything out right now?

Unfortunately, it might be that sweet, innocent, rosy cheeked 2-year-old asking for more milk, or trying to jump on you for attention. You love him so much, and you’re trying to solve any potential problem for him. All he wants is a glass of milk and a hug.

Why is this so hard?

This post originally appeared on Jack’s Mom of Many Trades.

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 Image via Thinkstock.

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When Your Happiness Gives You Anxiety

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I posted earlier this week on social media late at night, in a full-blown anxiety attack, about how it’s OK to admit you struggle. But, being the human I am and feeling fearful of judgment and letting people see the “messy, not so funny, not so inspiring” side of me, I took it down.

I’ve been trying to figure out why I felt like I needed to remove that part of my story. Was I ashamed? Was I worried about exposing myself? Was I sharing too much?

Then today, with this heaviness on my heart, feeling completely overwhelmed and overworked on everything in my life, I cried. Not a few tears and a laugh about it after — a meltdown. A lock-yourself-in-your-bathroom, sob-’til-you-can’t breathe, gut-wrenching, heartbreaking cry.

It was then I realized just how much I was carrying around. I’m a conundrum. I’m a happy anxious person. Being happy and anxious is confusing. It’s like you’re on a high wire and you’re balancing just to keep it together.

The thing is, my anxiety doesn’t give a sh*t if I’m happy or not. It comes, and I get overwhelmed. I start to think about how whatever is making me feel happy might end up falling through, or what if someone is silently judging me and doesn’t think I deserve it? What if I actually don’t deserve it? Oh man. I didn’t know this room could spin. Maybe I should sit down and cry. And that’s how I ended up on my bathroom floor.

My point to all this? Yes, I’m happy. I’m grateful for my incredibly blessed life. I believe each day is a blessing and so is this life I’ve been given.

And I’m anxious — sometimes to the point of being frozen by dread. Can’t-breathe, can’t-speak, can’t-think kind of dread.

And I am learning I can be both, and do as I have always done — keep on embracing each day, the good and the bathroom-floor-crying bad. Just talking about it makes me feel better.

Follow this journey on Surviving Shelby.

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To Anyone Else Who Has Anxiety About the Presidential Election

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Hillary Clinton. Donald Trump. One of those names will mean so much more the day after tomorrow. And I am terrified. I am not going to say who you should vote for or even who I am going to vote for. All I’m going to say is it is a potentially life-changing election for many people.

My anxiety has been mounting as the big day nears. Every day I think I could not be more anxious or fearful. Then another day dawns, and I am all the more terrified. I know that it is such a hot-button topic for many. I am outspoken about who I want to win, and the more I find more reasons to vote for that person, the more I see the opposition in stark contrast to the future I am envisioning, my hopes and dreams for the country and the American people. I have become seriously and extremely fearful of the results. It would be a polar opposite vision appearing in front of me.

I woke up this morning with a pit in my stomach. At first, I wasn’t quite awake, and I didn’t understand where it was coming from. Even when I realized it was because the election was tomorrow, I was still confused because this will be my third presidential election to be voting in. But I am also much older and have more complicated health needs this time around. With my need of mental health care and ongoing care for an autoimmune illness, some factors — such as healthcare and treatment by government, by health care providers, and even by other people as a person with chronic health issues — are at the forefront for me. My insurance could go away. My insurance could change, so I’m unable to qualify. Recognition and treatment of mental health issues in government may change drastically, and as the government changes, so too could the people I deal with every day — the people who help me, the people who love me, the people who treat me and the people who judge me. These groups are sometimes interchangeable and frequently changing.

I guess in the end, explaining my fear may be as simple as that. Maybe I am just afraid of change. I hear from many people that, whether they want to vote for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, they have seen and experienced change in the way people are being treated on both sides. As someone with a predisposition for anxiety, times of uncertainty can bring out the worst in my mental illness. Some people may even experience this anxiety to such a degree that it’s impossible for them to go out and vote, which restricts their ability to have control over their futures. I have heard from friends who have had to turn off their social media, trying to hide their head in the sand, to get away from nonstop election stimulation.

I already warned my husband today that if the election turns out the way I am afraid it might, I will cry, I might have a panic attack, and I will need him to be there for me to help me through it.

If you are one of those people having extreme anxiety over this state of affairs, I encourage you to find someone you feel safe with — your friend, your SO, your parents, your pastor, someone you can be honest with — and ask them to help you through this. To go with you to vote. To sit with you as you learn these results.

Know that you are far from alone in these times. The person you choose may also feel anxiety, even if it is not to the extent you do. We are united in this. And we will be united after this.

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Image via Thinkstock Images

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To the Friend I Stood Up Because of My Anxiety

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Dear friend,

I’m sorry.

This isn’t the first time this has happened, and even though I’d like to deny it, it probably won’t be the last.

I didn’t show up.

Trust me, I had planned to. In fact, in my head, I already had: We were sitting in that little coffee shop, right in the middle of wealth and big business. Our initial embrace was a bit awkward (you know with me, it always is), but after I politely turned down coffee (in favor of taking what I thought were hidden sips from my Nalgene), we were back to our old rhythm. We talked and laughed and even cried about life — about how it didn’t turn out at all like we planned. How although we were unsure of what our next steps would look like, it was going be OK, because at least we knew we weren’t alone.

But my dear friend, I’m learning dreams and reality are two very different things.

While I did put a great deal of effort into accounting for the steps I would need to take to physically get to you (even factoring in potential monkey wrenches along the way — you know: detours, traffic jams, train delays and even my inability to effectively use a map), I forgot to accurately account for the one thing that proved to be (once again) my downfall: my mental state and my anxiety.

See, having lived for so long in a world of my own making, I can sometimes overestimate my ability to cope with intensely stressful situations. This mainly includes situations with factors outside my control, like navigating planes, trains and automobiles (OK, maybe not planes). And unfortunately, included in this “intensely stressful” category — and even more nerve-wracking than the aforementioned transportation issues — is meeting up with friends I haven’t seen in months. Did I say nerve-wracking? Perhaps paralyzing is a more accurate description.

Yes, I knew my anxiety would surely spike right before I needed to leave to meet up with you, but I truly thought I had been proactive in taking the necessary precautions to control it. After a lifetime of both talk and behavioral therapy, I feel I should’ve known better than to allow my extremely negative thoughts to have power over me. I knew ruminating was my “kryptonite” and I would need to just turn my attention to something else — something like cloudy skies, green pine trees a la Bob Ross, and the raging ocean smacking up against the rocky shore — all signposts of my “happy place.”

Not surprisingly, however, despite the vivid images I was able to conjure up in my mind, my anxiety still emerged the victor, taking me down in the process. The morning of our meeting, I intentionally ignored all 15 alarms I had set on my phone — each with a different sound — and I pushed away the intense sense of guilt that coursed through me each time I attempted to return to my anything-but-peaceful slumber. At least if I was able to fall back to sleep, I would be able to offer you a legitimate excuse as to why I didn’t show up.

No, I am not proud of this. I am completely aware “I didn’t wake up to my alarm” or “I’ve been so busy, I’m so sorry, I completely forgot” are tired excuses. And when I remove my layers of rationalization, I’m able to see they are also lies.

Nevertheless, for me (and for so many others who struggle with debilitating anxiety), it’s so much more complicated than simply a decision to “show up” or “not show up.” From all external appearances, I know it can be difficult to see that. It’s likely difficult to understand the way being presented with an invitation to “catch up,” even if it’s just over the phone, makes my brain go into overdrive, frantically searching for answers to questions that have not yet been asked — or the way my heart beats faster and faster until it feels like it might actually burst from exhaustion.

This isn’t an isolated incident. I’m not sure if you are aware this sequence of events has been my “normal” for as long as I can remember. From kindergarten Polly Pocket play dates to high school graduation parties, this is the “dance” I perform, the game I play time and time again.

But no matter how intense my feelings or how paralyzing my fear, I treated you poorly. I wasn’t honest with you about my situation. I didn’t trust you would understand. But that’s not fair. Because you have also experienced the depths of life and witnessed your fair share of fear, pain and heartbreak. Because you have also tried to cross the ravine and build that bridge between will and action. Because you have also struggled to get by in this game of life.

So dear friend, I’m sorry. But I pray you understand now, and that you give me another chance.

Image via Thinkstock.

Follow this journey on Danica’s website.

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How MercyMe's 'Welcome to the New' Changed My Life as a Christian With Anxiety

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Mental illness creates all kinds of challenges for those affected. Although faith is a great comfort, being a Christian with a mental illness comes with its own unique set of challenges. Church members who don’t understand mental illness may tell you if you had more faith, it would go away or all you need is to pray more. Being a Christian with clinical anxiety and a sometimes-dysfunctional conscience has, at times, made me my own worst enemy.

Since long before I realized I had anxiety, I have struggled with a confusing conscience. Whenever I woke up with that vague yet overwhelming sense of unease, I thought it must be because I had done something wrong. I would spend hours trying to figure it out and apologize for everything I could think of. I would second guess myself on even the simplest decisions, such as what to wear. I remember so many days of feeling like God must be mad at me or like I was a disgusting human being. Once I realized I was struggling with my mental health, I felt that if I were a strong enough Christian, I should be able to handle this on my own with no outside help.

Since that time, I have learned so much. I now know that my Jesus does not speak through general senses of guilt — anxiety does. I have learned that His love for me is not based on how I feel that day and I do not have to face my problems alone or “have it all together.” The past few years have been a journey of recognizing and becoming better acquainted with my mental health.

One of most influential helps I have received came in the form of a new CD by my longtime favorite Christian band, MercyMe. Take the time to listen to a few of their lyrics, and I think you’ll understand why.

“Now I know that on my worst days, how You love me simply will not change. It’s never really been about what I do, but what You did. Oh yes it is! This ain’t wishful thinking, it’s just how it is…” from Wishful Thinking

“Bring your tired, and bring your pain. Bring your guilt, and bring your shame. Don’t you know that’s not your name? You will always be much more to Me…”

“Every day I wrestle with the voices that keep telling me I’m not right, but that’s all right, cause I hear a Voice and He calls me redeemed, when others say I’ll never be enough…” from Greater

“You are holy, you are righteous, you are one of the redeemed, set apart, a brand new heart, oh you are free indeed…” from Dear Younger Me

“No matter the bumps, no matter the bruises, no matter the scars, still the truth is… the Cross has made you flawless. No matter the hurt, or how deep the wound is, no matter the pain, still the truth is… the Cross has made you flawless.” from Flawless

And my favorite line of all…

“Take a breath, smile, and say, right here, right now, I’m OK, because the Cross was enough.”

In other words, I don’t have to pay for any sins because Jesus already has. When He looks at me, He sees me as flawless. Even on the days anxiety freezes me, even on the days I can’t handle human interaction, even for the hours when I’m walking in a fog. These songs give me truths I can cling to. They have spoken so much healing into my heart and mind. I don’t know whether the songwriter has experience with mental illness, but I do know his music has helped me to differentiate between my mental and emotional health, and my worth as a child of God. And for that, I am so grateful.

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When Anxiety Comes, I Tell It Stories of Better Days

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This morning I woke up at 7:18 a.m. and the first thing I saw was the time, the first thing I felt was the anxiety. Here’s what I feel: shaky, unwound, overwhelmed, overstimulated. Here’s where I feel it: in my stomach, in my arms.

If my anxiety were an animal, right now it is a baby koala hugging my stomach begging me to fold over and just start again tomorrow.

I don’t have that choice though. I have a to do list, I have work, I have the life I love to live on good days, and need to actively immerse myself in on bad ones because it’s my form of self-care. Doing things that make me happy serve as a reminder that good days exist, even if today isn’t one.

One of the most frustrating parts of having anxiety, depression or the feels  —  whether you’ve been clinically diagnosed or not  —  is how little control you have over your ups and downs.

I’m not choosing to feel like this today, or any day I have bad anxiety. Shit, I’m coming down from a really good yesterday. I not only published my most vulnerable essay, but on top of that I decided to share it with a couple of people in my life who are new, and I’ve never chosen to open up to in that way before.

Maybe that’s what I’m coming down from. Regardless, here I am and for as overwhelmed as I feel right now, I’m grateful I sat in yesterday as much as I did.

I didn’t let the day just pass me by. We live in a world of back-to-back moments of instant gratification and authentic moments of triumph get lost in them. Moving on to the next one is easy because the last moment taught us that the next one will come.

On bad anxiety or depression days though I don’t have the luxury of knowing. On those days I don’t know how long the anxiety will exist on top of me, I’m unsure of how long this episode of depression will last. So all I’m usually left with are reminders that on any given day this usually made me happy.

I’m grateful I sat in yesterday as much as I did because right now I’m telling my anxiety the story of yesterday.

At 10 a.m. I texted my mentor this:

At 4 p.m. I g-chatted my friend this:

At 9 p.m. I was on the phone with my best friend telling her that the essay were thoughts I have only ever shared in therapy. I was writing like I was in therapy and it felt fucking amazing.

Writing was making me happy and anchoring me again.

Fear hadn’t stopped me. I chose to invite people into my uneven world and for the first time in a long time it felt like a choice I could make. Today I’m grateful for those small choices that led to a big moment of bravery for me because they led me here.

I’m in my apartment in New York City, writing in real time about the anxiety I’m feeling. I haven’t changed out of my pajamas, breakfast is a thing I will think of in a while. I’m anchoring myself in writing right now because the rest of the world is unsteady.

There’s something about putting these words down that frees me of their weight  —  maybe it’ll take the baby koala off my stomach and turn it into a baby kitten.

This piece originally appeared on Medium

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