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We Need to Stop Thinking Anxiety Decreases With Age

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Editor's Note

If you have experienced emotional abuse or suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

“It’s getting worse! Shouldn’t your anxiety improve as you get older? Yours gets worse year after year. I can’t take you anymore!”

When my husband would say things like this to me, it left me frustrated and hurt and angry. Did he think I wanted to worry about everything?

When I was a kid, I worried about being forgotten, about tornadoes hitting the house while we slept, about losing my homework, having to stand in front of the class, not having someone to sit with at lunch, and about having to be left alone with my mother and her boyfriends.

Be strong, don’t flinch, don’t show fear and never show emotion.

As I became a preteen and teenager, I worried about school — would I be made fun of that day? Would I fail a test? Would my boyfriend try to make me go too far again? Would he figure out I don’t really like boys? Would anybody like me if they really knew me? What mood would my grandma be in when I got home? She was as scary sober as she had been when drunk. Would anybody ever love me?

Poker face, try to fit in, don’t let them know you cry.

Then, I went to college and moved in with my boyfriend at 16. That brings a whole new level of anxiety. How bad were we going to fight that day? Would I find my way to class, or get twisted around trying to sort out which building was which? Would I ever have friends? Was I going to say the wrong thing — again? Would he want me to have sex with one of his friends again? Could I get out of it?

Keep quiet, go dead inside, ignore the hurt.

Then we got married and started having kids. My worries were supposed to decrease?! Was he crazy?! I check them to see if they are still breathing at night — even now, when they are teenagers. I worry I will never fit in with the other moms or have any friends who really get me. When I hear that moms from church or dance class get together for dinner or coffee or joint family outings, I wonder what is so wrong with me that I can never be included. I worry my kids are going to hate me when they grow up. I worry I’m too strict, not strict enough. Am I going to fail them? I worry I’m not a good enough mom, a good enough Christian, a good enough anything. I was the reason our marriage is failing. God Himself could never love me.

Then, he died.

And now, all I can do is worry. I am the only parent. Which means, if I fail, there is no one to catch my mistake. If I die, there is no one looking out for them. If they don’t answer their phones, I am sure they are in a ditch, dying. And I know moms joke about that, but I’m serious. If I can’t get hold of one of them, I will repeatedly dial their number, in a complete panic that something is wrong. I can’t leave my house in the morning without checking the stove five times, the coffee pot, the hair dryer, anything that could possibly start a fire while my children are still asleep. Doors are locked, unlocked, and relocked — then checked all over again. I have always been a person who is early or on time, but now I am late to work almost every morning. I lie awake worrying about their futures, about life, and death, and if I remembered everything I have to remember, and if I said the wrong thing, and if they know I love them, because I forgot to hug or tell them that — I was too busy lost in my thoughts, worrying.

I replay conversations over and over, sure the reason a friend isn’t texting me back is because I said something “stupid” or because they realized I’m not good enough, not deserving of friendship. Was I too sarcastic? Was I too honest? Don’t be too much, don’t be a bother, don’t be a burden. I’m lonely.

My mind is a battlefield. I am awake for about 20 hours out of every 24, and it is rare to have a moment of peace. My heart pounds. My head hurts. I can’t breathe. And no one can see that, because if they knew… well, I just have to hide it. Keep my walls up and never tell the truth about what I’m feeling or thinking. Don’t talk about anxiety, fears, sadness, loneliness, wanting to disappear, hoping to die and fearing death all at the same time. Don’t be me. Because that would certainly scare them off.

People say how strong you are, how well you have handled everything, what an incredible mom you are, and that you seem like superwoman. I want to scream! I can’t do this! I am not as strong as everyone seems to think… as everyone wants me to be. I am dying inside. Maybe I have been dead inside for a long time. But that can’t be true, because I feel everything. I try not to, try to stand strong, to hide everything, to protect myself… but in the dark, when no one is looking, I can’t hold it back and I want to die.

But… I can’t. I have three kids who need me. So, I go to counseling. I exercise and eat right. I try to find healthy ways to engage in self-care. I set up safeguards. I have a safety plan in case I ever become tempted to give into my suicide plan. This is a daily struggle and will continue to be a struggle for the rest of my life. One day at a time, some days just one minute at a time, I have to put one foot in front of the other and stay strong. I may never feel free from the anxiety, but I know it’s worth it to keep fighting to live.

Getty Images photo via KatarzynaBialasiewicz

Originally published: February 14, 2019
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