The Mighty Logo

How COVID-19 Forced Me to Deal With My Hidden Anxiety

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Editor's Note

Elements of this story have been published with permission from the author’s son and daughter.

“You look depressed.”

Someone who has known me for a long time said that recently. No one has ever said that to me.

I didn’t realize how much I needed to hear it.

As a child, I was pretty much always happy. Of course, life could be sad or disappointing at times — but overall, I was someone who had a positive outlook regardless of the situation. This carried on into my adult life. Even when I had my two small children home all day, while running a home daycare and barely having any time to myself, I was “fine.” Everything was “fine” because I wasn’t giving myself the space to feel otherwise. 

I have always filled a significant amount of my time, and many of my friendships, with a deep desire and need to please. To me, pleasing people meant helping them solve all of their problems. No one really ever asked that of me, I placed it onto myself. And when you do that sort of thing, you divert attention off of yourself and onto everyone else. I genuinely would think, “I don’t have time to not be OK when so many people around me are already falling apart.” I saw people as an opportunity for me to be some sort of hero. Of course, I have come to the place in my life where I know those mentalities are unhealthy, and yet I still find myself living within that reality at times. Knowing that people have messes that need cleaning is what has kept me going for so long. Too long. People are messy. I am messy.

I just never wanted anyone to know that.

Prior to the pandemic, I started to notice some consistencies in my emotional behavior that shone a spotlight on some areas of my life that I wasn’t dealing with. I was tired, drained and overwhelmed. Giving more than I had, and running after anything that would validate me as the most selfless helpful person in the world. (LOL, insert eye roll.) So I guess you could say that mom life and trying to be everything for everyone is where it all began. What did I do about it? Honestly, at that point, nothing. Because you see — when you spend 30 years of your life worrying about everyone else’s problems, you don’t really know how to deal with your own. That would mean being faced with a new person to save.

Being the hero in your own story is hard when you have never been forced to do it.

Then, welcome to the stage: COVID-19.

Having to deal with a pandemic in our time is so completely mind-blowing. Of course, no one is happy that it happened (obviously), but I am happy that it forced me to see the mess that has been inside of me for a very long time. The problem of the pandemic wasn’t one that I could fix, and most people went into a survival mode of their own. The time away from friends and family was truly eye-opening for me. I was off the hook — forced to look at myself long enough to realize what was wrong. Sometimes we have to pause long enough to see the entire mess. You cannot heal what you won’t allow yourself to feel.

I do want to mention, though, that none of this means I have or ever will stop supporting others and being there for my friends and family when they are in a time of need. It just means that I am more aware of my temptation to use that as a way to hide my own struggles. Being a helpful person is good when it comes with boundaries and self-awareness.

This year, for Mental Health Awareness Month, my goal was to finally bring awareness to my own. I live with anxiety. There, I said it. Finding out that I have experienced anxiety more often than I was allowing myself to admit is still really hard. For example: I am realizing that my capacity to love being around people doesn’t match up with my emotional capacity to deal with it all of the time. This is still something I am working through. I have also realized that my anxiety manifests as anger.

People aren’t supposed to know that about me.

My son is has autism and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and my daughter who is not yet diagnosed at the very least has ADHD as well. This leads to a very emotionally charged household at times, which is a huge trigger for me. So unfortunately, there can be a lot of screaming, saying things I don’t mean and slamming doors aggressively. I have even knocked things over, breaking them, and one time I picked up a vase and slammed it onto the table causing it to shatter. Not my finest moment.

It was very important for me to understand where my anger has been stemming from because it came into my life all of a sudden. This confused me. I was not an angry or aggressive-acting child, so figuring out that my anger is an outward manifestation of my anxiety has been a crucial part of my journey. Why is my anxiety coming to the surface all of a sudden, in any capacity? Well, because you can only hold back big emotions for so long. Eventually, unchecked, anything will start to surface as something.

Of course my anxiety doesn’t always manifest this way. Sometimes my heart is racing and I just want to cry. In those moments I have made it OK for me to stop whatever I am doing, and redirect myself toward the things that bring me peace. Prayer, listening to music and laying in bed with my weighted blanket are some of those things. For so long, I didn’t understand my anxious feelings, so my ability to cope with them was nonexistent.

“You look depressed.” 

I don’t remember if I was actually depressed in the moments that person was referring to, but there have absolutely been times where my un-dealt with anxiety has led to depression. Either way, what they were observing is that I was not OK. The reason I needed to hear that is because it made me feel seen. “How are you?” isn’t always enough to fully open the door. It’s simply a knock — giving the person on the other side the option to not answer. This person opened the door and stated the obvious. It didn’t make me uncomfortable. It made me feel free.

Sometimes even though we hide, we actually do want to be found.

You know what I hate and yet still participate in? Instagram filters. I hate them because they are a constant reminder of how our lives can look exactly the same — signs of imperfections or vulnerabilities completely hidden. My own
anxiety is very often this thing that I manage like a social media account — deciding which filter to use and intentionally masking what I don’t want others to see. I think the more time we spend on social media, the easier it is to justify all the filters we place over our real life.

The reality is that I love my life. I feel blessed, grateful and loved by so many. But also, sometimes I am not OK. Of course that doesn’t mean I’m not doing well as an overall perspective — I actually feel really great about where I’m at with my anxiety. At the beginning, I mentioned having to be the hero for myself rather than always for other people. I think there is power in that mentality, but what if I didn’t need to be a hero right now at all? I know that I am loved by God, and that this is actually not a problem that I need to fix all on my own.

But I can take off the filter.

When I do that, I may not be free from
anxiety in those moments, but I am experiencing freedom within it because I am telling myself that it’s OK to not be OK.

Photo by Marcos Paulo Prado on Unsplash

Originally published: June 2, 2021
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home